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Guest: Matt Klaassen of FanGraphs. If you follow him on Twitter, @devil_fingers, you’ll know that he’s pretty die hard on the Royals. For which we pity him.

There’s plenty to talk about, both about the upcoming series and about the Yankees, uh, not ideal play for the past week or so.

Remember to email in your questions before Friday’s show (recorded Thursday night), podcast at riveraveblues.com.

You can also give us a call us at 716-393-5330 and leave a voicemail. We’ll play it on air and answer it. It’ll feel more radio-like that way.

Categories : Podcast
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Solarte Swings

Love Solarte’s full-effort swings. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

We all want to believe his emergence is real. He’s had 200 plate appearances. He has slumped and made us think that the spell was broken. Just when we think it’s over, he comes back and starts hitting again.

Where would the Yankees be without Yangervis Solarte?

Actually, don’t answer that. We read your comments and your tweets. The answer would only depress us.

Much joy as his early season performance has brought, Solarte has a long way to go before he proves he’s for real. History just isn’t on his side. Players typically don’t debut at age 26 and hit like borderline stars.

Hell, players don’t debut at age 26 and even qualify for the batting title. Only 44 have done it since 1901, and three quarters of them did it before 1950. Of those, only seven of them did so in what is termed the Expansion Era (1973 to present).

Even of those seven, two were Cuban defectors: Yoenis Cespedes and Alexei Ramirez. No, they didn’t have MLB experience before their age-26 seasons, but they also weren’t prospects who toiled in mediocrity before suddenly breaking out.

That leaves us with just four decent comparisons to Solarte (Rookie of the Year voting finish in parentheses).

Rk Player OPS+ Year Tm G PA H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB BA OBP SLG
1 Yoenis Cespedes (2nd) 139 2012 OAK 129 540 142 25 5 23 82 43 102 16 .292 .356 .505
2 Yangervis Solarte 129 2014 NYY 53 214 56 12 0 6 26 21 23 0 .298 .366 .457
3 Dan Uggla (3rd) 112 2006 FLA 154 683 172 26 7 27 90 48 123 6 .282 .339 .480
4 Chris Singleton (6th) 105 1999 CHW 133 530 149 31 6 17 72 22 45 20 .300 .328 .490
5 Chris Sabo (1st) 105 1988 CIN 137 582 146 40 2 11 44 29 52 46 .271 .314 .414
6 Alexei Ramirez (2nd) 104 2008 CHW 136 509 139 22 2 21 77 18 61 13 .290 .317 .475
7 David Eckstein (4th) 89 2001 ANA 153 664 166 26 2 4 41 43 60 29 .285 .355 .357
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/5/2014.

Dan Uggla

When I thought of players who debuted at 26 and thrived, Uggla immediately came to mind. It wasn’t long ago at all that the Marlins selected him in the Rule 5 draft, inserted him into the starting lineup, and watched him smash 27 home runs.

Uggla didn’t have a terrible minor league career; it just took him three-plus years to get out of A ball. He actually thrived at AA in 2005, but apparently it wasn’t enough for the Diamondbacks to place him on the 40-man roster.

Solarte could do worse than to emulate Uggla’s career. Sure, he’s toast right now, at age 34, but he had a pretty good run for about six years, hitting .258/.343/.482 (116 OPS+).

David Eckstein

Yes, everyone’s favorite scrappy underdog didn’t debut until age 26. He’d actually hit pretty well throughout his minor league career, but struggled a bit upon hitting AA in 2000. The Red Sox placed him on waivers and the Angels claimed him.

In 2001 he debuted and hit not so great, .285/.355/.357. That might be remarkable in today’s game, but back then it was an 89 OPS+. He did go on to have a few decent seasons after that, including a 101 OPS+ in the Angels’ 2002 championship season.

Chris Singleton

A second round pick in 1993, Singleton struggled early in his minor league career. He didn’t flash even half-decent power until age 23, and didn’t have a good season until age 24. After that good season, the Giants traded him to the Yankees for Charlie Hayes. But he proceeded to have a bad season, so the Yankees traded him to the White Sox for some guy you’ve never heard of.

Singleton broke camp with the Sox in 1999 at age 26 and proceeded to hit .300/.328/.490 and finish sixth in the AL Rookie of the Year Award voting. Singleton would never produce even average numbers again (his slash line was good for a 105 OPS+ in 99).

Chris Sabo

Yes, the goggled dude took a while to incubate in the minors. In fact, he spent two full seasons at AAA before making his debut. He certainly hit well enough to earn it. In his first season he hit .271/.314/414, a 105 OPS+ that earned him the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Two years later he won a World Series.

Sabo had a few good seasons, including a pretty monster 1991 season, but he peaked in his late 20s. As did most of these guys. As do most players, really.

The craziest part about this list: Solarte right now has better numbers than all of them. You’d have to count the Cuban players to find one who put up full-season numbers better than Solarte is currently producing. (Cespedes, obviously.)

At the same time, he probably has the least impressive minor league track record among the five drafted players who debuted at age 26. He certainly spent the longest time down there. Sabo, Eckstein, Singleton, and Uggla all got drafted out of college. Solarte was signed as an amateur free agent at age 17 and debuted stateside at age 19.

Given the thin history of players who debuted at 26, it is still difficult to believe that Solarte can keep up his hot hitting. Not only are there few players who debuted at 26 and qualified for the batting title, but none of them, save for Cuban defectors, hit nearly as well as Solarte.

Still, I want to believe. There has to be some magic about this team. Right?

Categories : Players
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Soriano strikes out

Lot of this going on lately. (Elsa/Getty Images North America)

The Yankees are bad right now. They weren’t bad the whole season. They might not be bad in a week or so. But for the past few weeks they’ve been pretty bad.

When the going gets rough, people want a shakeup.

“If George were alive [insert desired shakeup here].”

…because George presided over nothing but winning teams, and they definitely didn’t build the 90s dynasty while he was out of the picture.

A shakeup sounds great. It means that ownership is taking action to correct a problem. Mistakes were made, and someone is to blame. Someone has to pay.

Where would such a shakeup start with the Yankees?

Brian Cashman? He’s the one who built this roster. Why should he get a free pass for its poor performance?

Perhaps Cashman has worn out his welcome with the Yankees. I’ve always been a fan, but there could certainly be some Stockholm Syndrome aspect to that opinion. But is the time now to fire him?

Absolutely not. What would that accomplish? The draft is tomorrow. The Yankees have spent months preparing. It’s not as though you can just let them draft guys and then fire everyone. (Because if you fire Cashman, you fire the entire front office essentially.) They still have to sign those guys.

Hell, when the Cubs finally fired Jim Hendry, they kept him on for nearly a month after making the decision. Why? Because a new general manager — or worse, and interim GM — would probably fare worse than the guy they were firing in dealing with the roster at the trade deadline.

A new GM is rarely, if ever, a savior. He or she might bring a change of philosophy, but it can take years for that philosophy to make a difference on the field. A new GM will not turn around a team that is underperforming.

Cashman’s contract is up after this year. If they want to get rid of him, they have the opportunity to do so soon enough. (Although as Buster Olney said on the podcast, there is every indication that the Steinbrenners will opt to bring back Cashman even if the Yankees miss the postseason.)

There is one thing the Yankees can do to shake things up, at least a little bit.

They can DFA Alfonso Soriano.

Getting Soriano at last year’s trade deadline worked wonders. He went on an immediate tear, and kept the Yankees relevant for a month longer than they had any business being relevant. But his role diminished early in the off-season, when they signed Jacoby Ellsbury. Unless they traded Brett Gardner, Soriano would have to DH or play out of position. Signing Carlos Beltran meant DH, a non-position Soriano had vocally opposed in the past.

The Yankees have four outfielders once Carlos Beltran is healthy. Both Kelly Johnson and Yangervis Solarte have some experience playing out there, so they can act as emergency options. Zoilo Almonte can come back up at some point and be the fifth outfielder if the Yankees feel they need one.

We know Soriano can go on ridiculous hot streaks. Mike and I discussed that on the latest podcast. But can you really count on that happening this year, given how absolutely terrible he’s looked? His lone hot streak this year lasted 12 games, during which he hit four doubles and three homers. In the other 41 games? Nine doubles and three homers.

The Yankees can’t exactly afford to wait on Soriano at this point. They need to turn around a stagnant offense. Getting improved production from Brian McCann, Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury would help. Keeping Mark Teixeira healthy would help as well.

You know what else would help? Replacing the least productive starter with someone who is potentially very productive*. Replacing Soriano at DH with Kendrys Morales, a process they can start as early as Friday, could jolt an offense that has struggles going on a month at this point.

*Sorry, they’re not replacing Jeter. Cry about it if you want, blame everyone for letting it happen. Just understand that you’re arguing with reality.

There isn’t much the Yankees can do with the current roster. Is there anyone who should be getting less playing time — other than Jeter, who I mentioned, and McCann, who is in a similar position? Brian Roberts? With whom would you replace him, and would it be enough of an upgrade to the offense?

The Yankees lose little by replacing Soriano with Morales. It costs them some money, but there will be a return on that investment.

Like Morales or not, he’s the most efficient and potentially effective upgrade at this point.

Categories : Rants
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Guest: Former RAB weekend writer Hannah Ehrlich. She’s out in the bay area and makes it to her share of A’s games. It’s very nice to catch up with an old friend.

After lamenting the weekend series against the Twins, Mike and I launch into what became a state of the Yankees segment. From what I remember of the conversation, it all made sense. It also led to the poll question below.

Remember to email in your questions before Friday’s show (recorded Thursday night), podcast at riveraveblues.com.

You can also give us a call us at 716-393-5330 and leave a voicemail. We’ll play it on air and answer it. It’ll feel more radio-like that way.

Will the Yankees DFA Alfonso Soriano and sign Kendrys Morales?

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Guest: Brandon Warne of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He’s also on a Sunday radio show with Jack Morris, which is pretty cool. We’re talking about the plucky Twins, just three games under .500, and the familiar faces we’ll see this weekend.

Jay and I are, of course, discussing the successful road trip, including the recent series win against the Cardinals. We do bring up Cliff Lee, of course. I don’t think I mentioned him in the previous podcast

Admin note: For consistency’s sake, we’re going with a Tuesday and Friday show schedule.

Remember to email in your questions before Friday’s show (recorded Thursday night), podcast at riveraveblues.com.

You can also give us a call us at 716-393-5330 and leave a voicemail. We’ll play it on air and answer it. It’ll feel more radio-like that way.

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Guest: Will Leitch of Sports on Earth, New York Magazine, and formerly of Deadspin. He’s a noted Cardinals fan who talks avidly of the organization.

(Unfortunately, the first 10 or so minutes of the conversation ended up being garbled or nonexistent. So the conversation starts at an, um, awkward position. But it’s still a damn good talk.)

Mike and Jay had long weekends, so I’m solo. Thankfully, we got a bunch of questions. That kept me busy for a few minutes. Remember to email in your questions before Friday’s show (recorded Thursday night), podcast at riveraveblues.com.

You can also give us a call us at 716-393-5330 and leave a voicemail. We’ll play it on air and answer it. It’ll feel more radio-like that way.

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Guest: Dave Brown of Yahoo’s Big League Stew. He knows his White Sox, and is one amusing dude. He’s on Twitter @AnswerDave, and you can check out his Big League Stew page.

But lemme tell you, it was a relief to see a win yesterday after 17 innings of futility against the worst team in the majors. Jay and I talk a bit about the series, and some more about Jeff Samardzija.

The other Chicago team isn’t all that great, but Dave really sheds some light on the positives and what we can look forward to in the series.

iTunes link: subscribe here

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed.

You can find us on Stitcher.

There are also plenty of iOS and Android apps that will grab the pod.

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OOTP 15 start screen

You might remember a review of Out of the Park Baseball 14 from about a year ago. For those who don’t, OOTP is a powerful baseball simulation game that provides a fully customized experience. If you like the management aspects of The Show, but think that actually playing the games takes too long*, OOTP can scratch that itch.

* From what I’ve read, The Show is much more manageable this year due to a number of new features. It’s also apparently not impossible to score runs in The Show 14. Too bad this is the year I decided not to buy it.

For a full treatment of OOTP, please click the link above and read last year’s review. There are also some great points in the comments from long-time OOTP players. The beauty of OOTP is that the engine largely stays the same from year-to-year. Yet there are always changes that make the newest version better than the previous.

3D Live Simulation

OOTP 15 3D play

If, for some reason, you would like to watch and manage one of your games, OOTP has a new feature to make it more worthwhile. You can actually watch the game in 3D mode. It might not be my bag — I want to plow through seasons and see the fruits of my labor — but OOTP has at least made the sim process interesting.

I imagine in a few years they’ll have actual 3D player models to stand on the 3D field. A few years after that, actual pitches and swings. For now we have this. It’s not the most compelling feature, but it certainly beats the old watching method, if you prefer to play the dramatic games rather than just hit the sim button.

All sorts of leagues

OOTP 15 Leagues

You don’t have to play starting at the 2014 MLB season. You can start from many historical points, which is part of what makes this game stand out. It’s pretty fun to start a historical team and sim like crazy.

You can also create a completely custom fictional league, even with fictional players. Have ideas for different rules? You can implement them. If you want to play with an international league — Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Cuba, Netherlands, Italy — you can do that, too.

The ratings system

One thing I love about OOTP is the ratings system. When you set up a new league, make sure that scouting is on. You’ll have to hire a scouting director, and the strength of your scouting director will determine how well you evaluate players.

For instance, your scouting director might rate a guy as having five-star potential, but the default ratings might have him as two-stars. If you have a great scout, you might have a diamond in the rough on your hands. But your scout can be wrong. To me this is one of the most realistic aspects of the game.

You can, if you’re so inclined, eschew the star rating and put guys on the 20-80 scale. It’s not for me, but it might give you some granularity you don’t get with the 10-point system (half stars).

The ratings seem to be stronger this year, too. There are a number of ratings, both actual and potential, that underlie a player’s star rating. It’s a lot of information to process, but it ultimately makes the game satisfying.

Strongest suggestion: make trades hard

If you leave trades at the default setting, they’re far too easy. There is just no way the Pirates would deal a healthy Jamison Taillon for Jeff Samardzija and a three-star prospect. Yet that’s what happened during the first year of my first franchise. It’s almost like MVP 2004: if you make enough trades, you can get a team full of four- and five-star prospects and players.

If you bump up the trade difficulty one setting, you’ll have a much more difficult time trading. That makes it more realistic. If you have a poorly performing reliever on a one-year contract, you won’t get any offers for him. That’s the way it should be. Teams just don’t do that; otherwise maybe the Mets could have traded Kyle Farnsworth. It also means that you can’t go plucking top prospects from teams. They don’t trade them unless there’s a need and it makes sense for them.

iOOTP 2014

OOTP #TANAK

I also got a chance to check out iOOTP, the stripped-down iOS version of the game. For $5 you could do a lot worse. It gives you the most basic version of the game. There is no minor league system, just a list of 20 to 30 minor leaguers who you can call up and send down at will. They develop, but they don’t play any games while in the minors.

I find the interface a bit obnoxious, but that’s because I’m used to the desktop version. You have to tap through a few screens to edit your lineups. In fact, the entire problem with the UI is the sheer number of times you have to tap the screen. But other than that, it’s a nice alternative if you’d rather just lay on the couch and sim some seasons.

Where you can get it

Head over to OOTP Developments website to pick up a copy of OOTP 15 for Windows, Mac, or Linux. It costs $39.99, so less than a copy of The Show. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find myself engaged in OOTP for far longer than I am with The Show or any other console baseball game.

You can get iOOTP 2014 from iTunes. Again, it’s $5. Not bad at all.

Categories : Reviews
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Guest: Christina Kahrl of ESPN. She writes for the SweetSpot blog (her archive here). We talk about the upcoming Cubs series, but really more about the woeful state of the team and what they’re doing to get back on track. Plenty of Jeff Samardzija talk, as you might imagine.

We also dive into social issues in sports, where Christina plays an active role. You can follow her on Twitter, @ChristinaKahrl.

Before that, Jay, Mike, and I talk a bit about the Pirates series. Lots of prospect talk going on during that 35-minute opening segment. I guess it’s appropriate, since Mike and I talk a bit more about the week in the minor league system.

iTunes link: subscribe here

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed.

You can find us on Stitcher.

There are also plenty of iOS and Android apps that will grab the pod.

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The 2008 free agent signings

So long ago. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The 2008 season might not have been as bad as 2013, but Yankees fans would still like to forget it. It seemed that every little thing went wrong that season. Whenever it looked as though the Yankees might have a charge in them, the suffered another blow.

Let’s consider a (perhaps incomplete) list of those maladies:

  • Both Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, top prospects who showed promise in 2007, started off the season in disastrous fashion.
  • Then Hughes got hurt.
  • Darrell Rasner started 20 games.
  • Much worse: Sidney Ponson started 15.
  • Save for a brilliant start here and there, Andy Pettitte was thoroughly mediocre.
  • The only two starters under age 30, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, had wholly disappointing seasons. Cano was benched for lack of hustle, while Carbera got sent back to AAA after more than two service-time years in the bigs.
  • Jorge Posada, fresh off signing a new contract, played the first half with a bum shoulder which required surgery, forcing a cast of offensively inept backups into starting roles.
  • Hideki Matsui‘s balky knees limited him to under 400 PA and sapped him of his power.
  • Chien-Ming Wang suffered a foot injury that would indirectly end his career.
  • Derek Jeter had his worst season since 1996. (Sure, he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award that year, but we’d come to expect more of him.)
  • Joba Chamberlain dazzled out of the pen, and then in the rotation — until he suffered a shoulder injury that cut his season short (and probably ended up causing a lot more long-term damage than we typically account for).
  • They traded a reasonably effective Kyle Farnsworth and got back a wholly terrible Ivan Rodriguez.
  • Xavier Nady hit .330/.383/.535 before the Yankees traded for him, .268/.320/.474 for them.
  • Damaso Marte was terrible and then broke after the trade. Thankfully, they didn’t end up giving away anything of consequence.
  • All told the Yankees used 27 — twenty-seven! — pitchers.

What went right? Mike Mussina’s resurgence was nice to watch. Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi both stayed healthy and produced decent numbers. Alex Rodriguez wasn’t his 2007 MVP self, but he was still a top-five hitter. Unfortunately, he started his streak of six straight years on the disabled list. (Which he’ll have snapped at season’s end.) The Yanks did discover Al Aceves, which was nice, and Brian Bruney, which was nice for a very short period of time.

Despite all that, had there been a second Wild Card, or had the Rays improved by 22 wins, instead of 31, the Yanks would have made the playoffs. So how bad could the season have been?

It could have been a fatal sign going forward. The franchise players were getting older. Each had been hurt or saw diminished production during the 2008 season. The only starters under age 30 took steps backwards. Maybe it didn’t feel like it at the time, but the potential for disaster loomed during that off-season. The Yankees needed big changes, and that’s not easy to achieve through free agency.

Thankfully for the Yankees, the 2008-2009 free agent class featured a number of players who fit their exact needs. Even more thankfully, they shed a number of their biggest, and in some cases worst, contracts at the exact right time.

The 2008 payroll was a then-franchise-record $209 million (just a bit more than the 2005 payroll). Without some of those bigger contracts coming off the books, there’s now way that even the Yankees can afford to add contracts for CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira (and to a lesser extent, Nick Swisher). But the exact right contracts expired at the exact right time.

Jason Giambi cost the club $22 million in 2008. They essentially shed $17 million, though, since they had to pay him a $5 million buyout on his 2009 option.

Carl Pavano cost the club $11 million in 2008.

Bobby Abreu cost $16 million, but with a $2 million buyout the Yankees saved $14 million.

Mike Mussina cost $11 million, but the Yankees probably weren’t glad to be rid of him at that point.

Andy Pettitte cost $16 million. Worthwhile in 2007, but not so much 2008.

They also saved some money when Ivan Rodriguez’s contract expired. Trading away Wilson Betemit’s $1.6 million was like finding some loose change in the couch cushions.

In total the Yankees shed more than $70 million in salaries, mostly for players they were glad to be rid of, of who were considerably overpaid in 2008.

Time to reallocate those resource to more productive players.

Add up the guys they signed. At $23 million for Sabathia. $22.5 million for Teixeira, $18.5 million for Burnett, and $5.3 million for Swisher, plus another $5.5 million for bringing back Pettitte, you get $74.8 million.

They were able to fill their needs with such high-priced guys, because they had a number of lower-cost players on both sides of the ball. It took some faith in them rebounding, but Cano and Cabrera cost them a combined $7.4 million in 2009. Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes earned the minimum, as did almost everyone in the bullpen. If they didn’t have those major-league-ready younger players, then spending $75 million on top-tier players makes less sense. You can have a core of great players, but you still need 25 players on the roster.

At the end of 2008, the Yankees were in a tough spot. Their younger players saw their flaws exposed during the season. There was plenty of uncertainty about the tested veterans. Without the perfect free agent class and money to lure them, the 2009 Yankees might not have been much better than 2008. Without some of those younger guys returning to form, or performing well for a change, the successful free agent signings might not have mattered.

The Yankees found the exact guys to fill needed spots. It cost them plenty, but each of the free agent signings (and trade bounty, in Swisher’s case) added significantly to the 2009 team’s production. Perhaps just as importantly, the Yankees stuck with those younger players and saw their patience rewarded. The entire off-season could have gone a lot differently. But it played out perfectly. We all know the reward.

Categories : Days of Yore
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