Much has been made of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry over the years, although for my money the so-called “rivalry” didn’t really earn its name until the 2003 season, as the teams locked horns in the first of consecutive classic seven-game American League Championship Series. For a rivalry to exist, one presumes that both sides are relatively evenly matched, and prior to the 2000s this generally wasn’t the case for a good majority of Yankee-Red Sox teams.
In addition to the Red Sox of the aughts finally fielding a team as-good-as if not outright-better-than the Yankees, also helping dramatically ramp up the intensity between the two franchises was MLB’s implementation of the unbalanced schedule at the outset of the 2001 season. This of course expanded the number of times the Sox and Yanks faced off from 12-13 games a year to 18-19.
To illustrate just how closely matched the Yankees and Red Sox have become, the following two graphs depict the Yankees’ and Red Sox’ offense and pitching staffs since 1995, which seemed like a notable cutoff as it marks the advent of LDS play. There’s too much information presented to include labels, so if you’re interested in the raw data behind the creation of the graphs, please feel free to click here.
The two teams have been in a near-dead heat offensively since 1995, with the Yankees leading all of baseball with a .351 wOBA during that time frame (112 wRC+) and the Sox boasting the second-most-potent offensive attack at .349 and 107 wRC+. While the Sox have generally out-slugged the Yankees, the Bombers have typically been a tad more adept at getting on base. Additionally, given the favorable offensive environment that comes with playing 81 home games at Fenway Park, the Yankees have led the Red Sox in adjusted offense (wRC+) in 12 of these 17 seasons despite only bettering the Sox in wOBA in nine of them. Perhaps even more impressive regarding the Yankee offensive attack is that it’s been above average (100 wRC+) in each and every season depicted here, while the Sox actually posted below-league-average offensive attacks in 2000, 2001 and 2006.
On the flip side, the rich offensive environment at Fenway makes pitching in Boston a tougher-than-normal task — that difficulty level has helped propel the Red Sox to tie or better the Yankees in adjusted ERA (ERA-) in 10 of these 17 seasons, and even more impressively, tie or better the Bombers in adjusted FIP (FIP-) in 13 of the last 17 seasons. However, one thing I was not expecting to find was that the Yankees actually lead the AL in both ERA and FIP since 1995, with 4.25 and 4.17 marks, respectively. The Sox are fourth in ERA, at 4.32, and second in FIP (4.19).
Even though the rivalry didn’t really heat up until the early aughts, if you go back to 1995 the two teams really have been quite even head-to-head over the last 17 seasons. Since 1995, the Yankees are 145-134 against Boston, with a 75-64 record at home and 70-70 mark at Fenway Park. However, if you change the cutoff to 2003, the Yankees have actually been slightly outplayed by the Red Sox, with an 82-84 record (42-41 at home and 40-43 at Fenway). Additionally, since 2003, the two teams each feature identical MLB-leading .352 wOBAs (though the Yankees get the slight edge after park adjusting, with a 114 wRC+ to Boston’s 111).
After years of essentially playing each other at a .500 clip, things spiraled comically out of control last season, as the Yankees started the year out losing eight of their first nine against Boston (a showing of ineptitude eerily reminiscent of the 2009 team’s 0-8 start against the Sox), due in part to an obscenely prolific Boston offense that was treating seemingly every member of the Yankee pitching staff as if they were Jose Cano in the 2011 Home Run Derby. However, instead of rallying to tie the season series like they did two years prior, the Bombers ultimately finished 2011 with a 6-12 record against the Sox — the Yankees’ worst winning percentage against Boston in a season since going 4-8 in 1999.
Despite dropping 12 of 18 contests against a heated division rival, the Yankees still managed to not only win the 2011 AL East, but also finished the season with the best record in the league, while the Fenway faithful had to endure perhaps the most historic (and horrific) late-season collapse in baseball history. Of course, even though the Red Sox have now missed the playoffs two years running — while boasting the top offense in baseball this past season (116 wRC+) and the second-best in 2010 (109 wRC+) — and haven’t won a postseason game since 2008, they remain one of the top teams in the American League and will undoubtedly give the Yankees fits again in 2012.
For one, if Josh Beckett can come close to approximating his 2011 against the Yankees — a season in which the Bombers acted as if they’d somehow never before seen Beckett, whose 1.85 ERA vs. New York in 34 innings was bettered only by Brandon Morrow’s 1.74 among pitchers who threw 20 or more innings against the Bombers — they’ll be trotting out a near-unhittable righty in probably five to six of the 18 games the two teams will play.
For another, if Jon Lester returns to his pre-2011 form, which saw him toss to a 1.19 ERA against the Yankees in 2008, a 4.43 ERA in 2009 (if you take out the aberrant 2.1-inning, five-run outing on September 25 of that year, the ERA drops to 2.70) and a 2.13 ERA in 2010 — including carrying no-hitters into the sixth inning in both his August and September starts — they’ll be trotting out a near-unhittable lefty to take up another five to six of the remaining games, which means Boston will likely have a big-time pitcher on the mound in more than half their contests against the Yankees. Throw in Clay Buchholz, who has historically tended to struggle against the Yanks but appeared as though he’d finally figured something out in limiting the Bombers to two runs over seven innings in his last start against them on May 13, and Boston looks to have as formidable a top three in its rotation as any team out there.
With punching bag John Lackey out for the year and Daisuke Matsuzaka not expected back until late May, question marks abound surrounding the fourth and fifth slots in the Boston rotation — can Daniel Bard successfully make the transition from top-flight fireballing set-up man to successful starting pitcher? Will southpaw Felix Doubront or old friend Alfredo Aceves grab hold of one of the available holes in the rotation? And can the Red Sox’s starting pitching situation possibly be as bad again as it was in September of 2011, when they were forced to give nine of 27 starts to the troika of Andrew Miller, Kyle Weiland and Tim Wakefield while watching their stalwarts turn in enough ineffective performances to let the Rays come all the way back and sneak past them on the very last day of the season? Fortunately for Boston — whose pitching staff turned in a 5.84 ERA in the month of September — the answer to the latter question is almost certainly no, although whether any of the in-house candidates can step up and solidify the team’s biggest area of need will likely determine if the Sox make it back to the playoffs or get relegated to their couches for a third straight October.
Though they lost elite closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies during the offseason, new Boston GM Ben Cherington rebuilt his bullpen on the fly with a series of interesting moves, acquiring former Athletics closer Andrew Bailey for outfielder (and designated-player-who-gets-a-hit-every-time-up-against-the-Yankees-even-though-he-sucks-against-everyone-else) Josh Reddick, and replacing Bard with former Yankee wunderkind Mark Melancon, acquired for Jed Lowrie (see Reddick’s description). Given the fungibility of relief pitching performances, I wouldn’t expect the Red Sox ‘pen — which actually finished the year with the fourth-best ERA and top FIP in the AL despite a wretched April — to miss a beat. Expect Aceves to log his share of relief innings, while Michael Bowden, lefty Franklin Morales, Matt Albers and Andrew Miller appear to be on their way to at least starting the year in the Boston bullpen.
As for the 2012 Red Sox offense, while I’m certainly pleased as punch that flies-in-the-ointment Lowrie (.330/.423/.534 career against the Yankees) and Reddick (annoying walk-off hit) are gone, Boston’s offensive attack remains relatively unchanged from the relentless machine that pounded out an MLB-high .347 wOBA last season. Jacoby Ellsbury will look to prove the doubters that the adjustments he made are here to stay, while Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis (if he can finally stay healthy) and Adrian Gonzalez make for one of the most potent hearts of any order in all of baseball. Add in another presumed solid season from David Ortiz (who is apparently immune to the dead cat bounce) and a year that has no choice but to be better from Carl Crawford (whenever he returns from the DL), and the Sox have no holes from 1-6 in their lineup.
Additionally, as if they weren’t already potent enough as it is, this is a crew of hitters that seems to save its best work for when they play the Yankees — Pedroia hit .406/.463/.565 (!) across 81 PAs against the Bombers last year, and has a career .392 OBP (again, !) against the Yanks; Youk has a career .313/.442(!)/.498 line against the Yanks; Ellsbury tagged the Yanks for a ridiculous .375/.439/.708 line last year to bolster his .291/.356/.443 career line; and of course, there’s Big Papi, who hit .282/.378/.577 with five bombs against the Yanks in 2011 and has utterly annihilated the Bombers throughout his career to the tune of a .303/.391/.559 line across 741 PAs, including 800,000 (fine, 36) career home runs. Given these numbers, it feels like nothing less than a minor miracle any time a Yankee pitcher can actually retire one of these batters.
However, some cracks in the armor start to appear in the lineup’s lower-third, where new manager Bobby Valentine will generally be starting some combination of Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.319 wOBA in 2011), Cody Ross (.321), Ryan Sweeney (.306), Mike Aviles (.307 wOBA, though .338 as a Red Sock) and Nick Punto (a completely out-of-character .350 wOBA in 2011; .296 for his career). While Saltalamacchia looked like he was finally coming into his own last season none of these players seem overly threatening, although then again I’m sure I would’ve said the same thing about Mark Bellhorn had I been blogging during the 2003-2004 offseason, who rebounded from a .296 wOBA in 2003 to post a .360 mark in 2004 after he joined the Red Sox. For whatever reason, donning a Boston uniform seems to turn even the scrubbiest of players into superstars from time to time, so I’m prepared to eat my words when Boston’s bottom third starts tearing the cover off the ball.
CAIRO has the Red Sox at 92-70, tied with the Rays for second place in the AL East; PECOTA pegs them at 90-72, also in second place in the ALE; and Oliver has them at 92-70 and second-best record in the AL. All three of these scenarios would entail the Sox securing one of the two AL Wild Card berths and playing the one-game playoff to advance to the LDS round, and so barring another disaster, Boston is most likely playoff-bound in 2012.
The Yankees’ first set of the season against Boston is at Fenway Park from April 20-22, and as ridiculous as I find conspiracy theories, at this point I almost can’t help but wonder whether the schedule-makers have it in for the Yanks by once again scheduling an April series at Fenway. Since the advent of the unbalanced schedule in 2001, the Yankees are — believe it or not — a ridiculously bad 8-22 at Fenway Park in April, and have only won their annual April set at Fenway against the Red Sox once (back in April 2010) in that 11-year span. Not only that, but prior to their April 2010 series win, the last time the Yankees had won an April set against Boston at Fenway was in 1975. So yeah, needless to say I’m really excited to be playing the Red Sox in April at Fenway again, you guys.
Following the conclusion of the chapter about the Yankees in the 2012 Baseball Prospectus Annual — a tome edited by The Pinstriped Bible’s (and now Bleacher Report’s) Steven Goldman, and, given his expertise, presumably also featuring his contributions to the chapter devoted to the Bombers — I was inspired to do some research in response to the seemingly endless number of accusations leveled at the team regarding its supposed reluctance to deploy its young pitchers in favor of established veterans.
Now, anyone who reads Steve over at the Pinstriped Bible with any regularity — and lest this post come across as derisive, I’ve long been a big fan of Steve’s work, and have enjoyed his intellectual, verbose and witty take on the state of the Yankees at the Pinstriped Bible ever since I discovered the wonderful world of Yankee blogs back in 2004 — is no doubt familiar with this particular war cry, which seemed to come to a boiling point in the aftermath of Brian Cashman signing journeyman Brian Gordon to spot start against the Rangers on Thursday, June 16, instead of letting one of Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, David Phelps or D.J. Mitchell make their first career Major-League start (and in the case of the latter three, first Major-League appearance). Brien Jackson of IIATMS wrote an eloquent rebuttal at the time (and as also noted by our own Moshe, the Gordon decision was likely entirely driven by not wanting to add a player to the 40-man roster just to make two starts), but in light of this favored Goldman criticism littering not only the team overview in the Annual, but basically the capsule for every pitcher in the Yankees’ system, I was curious to see just how much water it actually carried.
The below chart lists the number of starters Age 25 or below by team that made their Major League debuts in the last decade. This data was compiled utilizing Baseball-Reference’s Play Index.
As you can see, the Yankees, with nine hurlers, ostensibly fall in the middle of the pack when it comes to letting youngsters make their MLB debuts as starting pitchers. Toronto has debuted the most starting pitchers under 25 during this time frame, with 16, and Seattle the least, with five. The MLB average? 10, or just one more than the Yankees have. This means that, on average, an MLB team will debut one starter under age 25 per year.
There were also cries of despair a little over a month after the Gordon incident, when it looked like Adam Warren might get a shot to start the second game of a doubleheader against the Orioles, but that plan was ultimately scuttled when Ivan Nova — who to that point had already somewhat established himself as a viable, under-25-year-old pitcher — was deemed fit to start. Now I’m not trying to argue that Warren, Phelps, et. al. shouldn’t have been given the opportunity to start one of these games, but rather, in a historical context, Goldman was twice looking for the Yankees to do something — let an under-25 pitcher make his MLB debut as a starter — that many teams let happen maybe once a season.
Further expanding on that point, it seems to me that if the Yankees truly believed that if one of Phelps, Warren or Mitchell were indeed ready to toe the MLB rubber last June, then they would have had that happen. Not that I don’t want to see a young kid be given a chance to succeed, but on the flip side, no one knows these players better than the Yankees. There’s an assumption being made here that just because the AAA pitchers have youth on their side they are going to automatically perform as well or better than hypothetical alternatives.
As much as everyone’s been talking about the starting pitching depth the Yankees have, both at the Major League level and at AAA, it’s being conveniently overlooked that the Warrens, Phelps and Mitchells of the world have all continually been scouted and described as #4/#5-type starters at best. For all the hand-wringing the Brian Gordon decision seemed to result in last year, clearly Cash felt that particular move gave the Yankees a better chance to win at that moment in time than bringing up a kid with back-end starter potential. Gordon gave the Yankees two starts, and they went 1-1 in those contests. Could one of the kids done the same thing? Perhaps, but what happens to, say, Warren’s development if he comes up and pulls a Chase Wright, whose career essentially ended after he gave up four consecutive home runs to the Red Sox? The only reason they went to guys like Wright and Matt DeSalvo that season to begin with was because they had no choice, not because they were stud prospects lighting the world on fire at AAA and forcing their way into the MLB picture.
For all the talk about stalling development, it seems like Warren, Phelps and/or Mitchell would’ve been given a chance in the Majors by now if the team deemed them ready or felt like any of them had an opportunity to be a legitimate part of the future. Ivan Nova — who the team apparently thought so little of that he was actually left unprotected in the 2008 Rule 5 draft — turned his career around and impressed Yankee brass enough to deservedly get his shot. Even Hector Noesi — though many would have liked to have seen him start earlier in the season last year — got his shot in relief. There was a fair amount of statistical evidence that supported these promotions.
The Yankees have also given Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain every chance in the world to prove themselves at the MLB level — Joba for one has never been back to the minors — even if I haven’t always been a massive fan of the way the team has handled each pitcher’s development — underscoring that when the team believes it has elite, young, sub-25 talent on its hands that need to be in the Majors now, they will get their opportunities.
While there’s certainly value in back-of-the-rotation starters, that type of pitcher is less valuable to a team like the Yankees that typically requires frontline starters to compete in the gauntlet that is the American League East. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if any or all of the members of that triumvirate found success in the National League.
Here are the nine under-25 starters that have made their MLB debuts as a Yankee during the last decade:
|1||1||Ian Kennedy||22.256||2007-09-01||TBD||W 9-6||GS-7 ,W||7.0||5||3||1||2||6||1||96||63||0.090|
|2||1||Tyler Clippard||22.095||2007-05-20||NYM||W 6-2||GS-6 ,W||6.0||3||1||1||3||6||1||95||65||0.166|
|3||1||Phil Hughes||20.306||2007-04-26||TOR||L 0-6||GS-5 ,L||4.1||7||4||4||1||5||0||91||37||-0.133|
|4||1||Chase Wright||24.068||2007-04-17||CLE||W 10-3||GS-5 ,W||5.0||5||3||3||3||3||1||104||45||0.030|
|5||1||Jeff Karstens||23.332||2006-08-22||SEA||L 5-6||GS-6||5.2||6||3||3||2||2||2||93||45||-0.027|
|6||1||Sean Henn||24.011||2005-05-04||TBD||L 8-11||GS-3 ,L||2.1||7||6||5||2||0||0||72||19||-0.462|
|7||1||Chien-Ming Wang||25.030||2005-04-30||TOR||W 4-3||GS-7||7.0||6||2||2||2||0||0||81||55||0.259|
|8||1||Brad Halsey||23.126||2004-06-19||LAD||W 6-2||GS-6 ,W||5.2||5||2||2||1||3||1||108||53||0.125|
|9||1||Brandon Claussen||24.058||2003-06-28 (2)||NYM||W 9-8||GS-7 ,W||6.1||8||2||1||1||5||1||105||55||0.216|
Outside of Ian Kennedy and Chien-Ming Wang, none of these players went on to anything approaching sustained success as a Major League starter.
The list unsurprisingly expands if you change the input to relievers under 25 making their MLB debuts, and if you take the list and add the pitchers who have since spent their careers starting or are expected to primarily start — Ross Ohlendorf, Nova, Noesi and Dellin Betances — the Yankees’ total rises from nine to 12. And I realize we can play that game with every other team, but the overarching point is that it’s simply not true that the Yankees are afraid to give their young pitchers a shot.
|1||1||Andrew Brackman||25.292||2011-09-22||TBR||L 8-15||6-7||1.1||1||0||0||1||0||0||32||0.000|
|2||1||Dellin Betances||23.183||2011-09-22||TBR||L 8-15||8-8||0.2||0||2||2||4||0||0||27||-0.004|
|3||1||Steve Garrison||24.316||2011-07-25||SEA||W 10-3||9-9f||0.2||0||0||0||0||0||0||9||0.000|
|4||1||Hector Noesi||24.112||2011-05-18||BAL||W 4-1||12-15f,W||4.0||4||0||0||4||4||0||66||0.450|
|5||1||Ivan Nova||23.121||2010-05-13||DET||L 0-6||7-8f||2.0||2||0||0||0||1||0||30||0.002|
|6||1||Michael Dunn||24.104||2009-09-04||TOR||L 0-6||7-7||0.2||0||2||2||3||0||0||19||-0.002|
|7||1||Mark Melancon||24.029||2009-04-26||BOS||L 1-4||7-8f||2.0||1||0||0||1||1||0||22||0.024|
|8||1||Anthony Claggett||24.277||2009-04-18||CLE||L 4-22||2-3||1.2||9||8||8||2||2||2||60||-0.108|
|9||1||Humberto Sanchez||25.113||2008-09-18||CHW||W 9-2||8-8||1.0||0||0||0||0||1||0||11||0.002|
|10||1||Alfredo Aceves||25.267||2008-08-31||TOR||L 2-6||8-9f||2.0||0||0||0||0||3||0||19||0.014|
|11||1||David Robertson||23.081||2008-06-29||NYM||L 1-3||6-7||2.0||4||1||1||0||1||0||33||-0.025|
|12||1||Ross Ohlendorf||25.034||2007-09-11||TOR||W 9-2||9-9f||1.0||0||0||0||0||1||0||11||0.002|
|13||1||Joba Chamberlain||21.318||2007-08-07||TOR||W 9-2||8-9f||2.0||1||0||0||2||2||0||33||0.006|
|14||1||Jose Veras||25.289||2006-08-05||BAL||L 0-5||7-8f||2.0||0||0||0||1||0||0||24||0.005|
|15||1||T.J. Beam||25.293||2006-06-17||WSN||L 9-11||6-7 ,H||1.1||3||2||2||0||1||1||33||-0.065|
|16||1||Jorge De Paula||24.299||2003-09-05||BOS||L 3-9||8-9f||2.0||0||0||0||0||0||0||23||0.003|
|17||1||Jason Anderson||23.295||2003-03-31||TOR||W 8-4||9-9||0.0||2||2||2||0||0||0||8||-0.015|
Whether or not they merit that shot is clearly a different story. In the cases of Warren, Mitchell and Phelps, simply being young doesn’t necessarily mean “better,” especially if the Yankees ultimately don’t see these players fitting into their long-term plans.
There have also been some rumblings about how the return of the 40-year-old Andy Pettitte to the rotation will further impact the development of the AAA contingent (my pal Brad Vietrogoski has a typically well-thought-out response to that development), to which I say, great — hopefully the rotation crunch will motivate Warren, Phelps and Mitchell to pitch their butts off, throw to mid-2.00 ERAs in the International League, and absolutely force the Yankees to have no choice but to give them a chance. I’d love to see them make it to the Show, but make it because they absolutely deserved/earned it, not just because they’re young. We’ve seen the Yankees bring young guys up when they weren’t ready and after a couple of turns, the results were less-than-pretty and derailed careers. Maybe, just maybe, the team is learning from its mistakes.
At this point the wonderful news of Andy Pettitte‘s return to the fold has already been covered to death, and so there’s no need to rehash all of the details here. As a Yankee fan I’m thrilled, and as a statistical analyst I’m equally thrilled (I did something of an ode to Andy a little over a year ago, so be sure to have a look at that). Andy has been a pillar of consistency throughout his career. To wit:
1995-2003: 3.94 ERA (86 ERA-)/3.73 FIP (83 FIP-)/3.41 xFIP (77 xFIP-), 6.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 49.3% GB%
2004-2006: 3.38 ERA (77 ERA-)/3.58 FIP (81 FIP-)/3.41 xFIP (77 xFIP-), 7.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 50.4% GB%
2007-2010: 4.08 ERA (92 ERA-)/3.89 FIP (88 FIP-)/4.05 xFIP (93 xFIP-), 6.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 46.9% GB%
However, today I’m primarily concerned with reviewing Pettitte’s stuff, and thankfully with Brooks’ excessively robust and reclassified new PITCHf/x database, we can have a more advanced look at what Pettitte did during the last few seasons of his career than ever before. The following table I’ve compiled details takes a look at each of Pettitte’s five pitches during the last three years he was active across a variety of categories. PitchIQ is ostensibly the equivalent of OPS+/ERA+; 100 is league average, while anything above is above-average and below is below-average. This is outstanding, as it gives us an idea of how well or poorly Andy’s pitches fared in comparison to his peers.
While he’s never had blow-you-away stuff, Andy’s been an incredibly successful Major Leaguer (and perhaps borderline Hall-of-Famer) due in part to his ability to hit his spots and change his speeds with a variety of secondary pitches that play off his 90mph fastball. According to Lucas’ and Harry’s reclassified PITCHf/x data, during his last three seasons in pinstripes Pettitte threw a fastball, sinker, cutter, curveball and changeup. Interestingly, ESPN’s Stats & Info blog put up a post last week detailing how one of the keys to Pettitte’s success in 2010 was his slider; however, according to this data Pettitte throws no such thing. I don’t know what data ESPN is being supplied with, but I’m inclined to go with the guys who manually reclassified more than 3 million pitches.
Per our data, Andy’s bread-and-butter — at least on a whiff/swing basis — has been his cutter, with a whiff/swing% an impressive 37% better than league average in 2010. None of his other pitches generated an above-average percentage of whiffs/swing. Part of the reason Andy’s able to get away with not having overpowering stuff is that his sinker and changeup each got him ground balls more than 50% of the time in 2010.
The one aspect of the PitchIQ Scores I’m still trying to get a firm read on is how to interpret them when it comes to LD/BIP and FB/BIP. I have an e-mail into Dan Brooks about this, and I’m pretty sure that we need to be looking at the PitchIQ Scores for these two categories as if they were “minus stats,” (i.e., below 100 is above-average and vice versa), given that general baseball convention holds that lower flyball and line drive percentages are thought of as a good thing. If my interpretation is indeed correct, both Pettitte’s curve and cutter have helped him limit the percentage of line drives, although the cutter is his only pitch that yields a FB% higher than 30%.
I also compiled Pettitte’s platoon splits from 2007-2010, although I won’t make your eyes glaze over by also posting a JPEG of that chart; feel free to download it here if you’d like. The gist of it is, Pettitte, as one would expect, handles righties and lefties with equal aplomb, although he’s really really good against same-side batters, with a PitchIQ whiff/swing of 148 on his cutter against lefties. For comparison’s sake, Jon Lester’s cutter against lefties during the same time period was 16% above average; while Cliff Lee’s is, rather surprisingly, 4% below league average. That doesn’t seem like it could be right, although then again for as good as Lee is I guess he’s always been a bit more about generating weak contact than outright overpowering hitters with strikeouts (though it’s not as if a 7.6 K/9 since 2007 is anything to sneeze at).
Conclusion and projections
So how well will Andy fare? Clearly if he can come close to throwing the way he’d been throwing during 2010, the Yankees will be adding a bona fide #2/#3 lefty starter at some point in May, which is just awesome to think about. Of course, only Andy knows how his soon-to-be 40-year-old body will react to returning to the grind of retiring Major League hitters and whether he still has the craftiness he’ll need to succeed.
Mike covered Pettitte’s ZiPS projection earlier this week, which sees a 4.45 ERA and 1.5 WAR for Pettitte in 125.1 IP. Marcel has Pettitte at 73 innings of non-adjusted 4.07 ERA/4.06 FIP ball; while SG’s baseline forecast (which is park- and league-adjusted) calls for 127 innings of 4.01 ERA/4.00 FIP ball. The 65% CAIRO forecast is even sunnier, with 140 innings of 3.69 ERA/3.64 FIP ball. All things considered, those are some pretty robust projections for an older player who skipped an entire season of work, and if he’s able to approximate some sort of amalgam of those numbers the Yankees will be in very good shape.
After an offeason’s worth of projections, it’s finally time to aggregate everything and see just how good our beloved pinstripers look on paper. Loyal readers will recall I did this last year, as well.
Below you’ll see each player’s final 2011 line, along with their average 2012 projected line. In this instance, the average has been compiled from the eight major projection systems — Bill James, CAIRO, Oliver, Rotochamp, PECOTA, ZiPS, Steamer and Tango’s Marcel. Despite the variations in calculation method with each system along with the fact that they’re not all park- and league-adjusted, I’ve found that a straight average of the systems’ projections generally winds up being a fairly reasonable benchmark.
Additionally, I’ll repeat the immortal words of SG one last time: “Projections are inherently limited, so remember to take these for what they are. They are rough estimates of a player’s current talent level, and are not predictions.”
The Yankees will, for the umpteenth year in a row, feature a robust offensive attack in 2012, with no starter projected to have a below-league average (.316 in 2011, for your reference) wOBA. Derek Jeter looks to be the weakest component of the offensive attack, though he’ll outhit that .324 average projected wOBA if he comes anywhere close to replicating his second-half surge last summer. Derek’s high-water projection is James’ .333 wOBA, while ZiPS thinks Derek is essentially cooked, with a .309 projection.
After a bit of a disappointing campaign with the stick in 2011, Brett Gardner should get on base more frequently assuming he gets his IFFB% closer to his career figure of a still-worse-than-league-average 14%, rather than last year’s 19.6% (which nearly lead the league). Rotochamp loves itself some Gardner, with a .343 projection, while Oliver is unimpressed and thinks Gardner will continue to hit the skids with a .320 wOBA.
Russell Martin projects for more OBP and less power than he showed in 2011, though I think we’ll see a stronger campaign from Russell in 2012, due in part to a presumed increased comfort level along with a desire for a substantial free-agent pact. James likes Martin for a high-water .355 wOBA — a level he’s only exceeded once — while Marcel has Martin falling to .311.
Both Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano are projected for significantly less-potent seasons, though in my opinion those are pretty conservative estimates and I feel comfortable expecting at least a .375 wOBA out of the Yankees’ two most potent offensive forces. Rotochamp likes Granderson at .379, while Marcel and Oliver are each at a much more bearish .351; Rotochamp also has the high-water projection got Cano at .369, while Steamer is at .355.
The Yankees’ two former heavyweights, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, are also expected to help continue to carry the offense. At .370, Tex actually has the most significantly improved average projected wOBA on the team, representing a .009 increase from his actual 2011 production. James likes Tex for a .382 wOBA; while Marcel has him at a non-park-adjusted .357 for the low-water mark. A-Rod‘s average .361 projected wOBA is exactly what he put up in 2011, although component-wise the systems see slightly more power for Alex and slightly less OBP. While at this point I don’t know that it’s reasonable to be disappointed with Alex posting another .361 wOBA year in his age 36 season, if he can stay healthy it also doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect a wOBA somewhere in the .370s or higher. Strangely enough, PECOTA — which doesn’t really like anyone, and generally saves most of its venom for aging veterans — actually boasts the most optimistic A-Rod forecast, pegging him for a .509 SLG and making him one of only 15 players in all of MLB the system even projects to SLG above .500 (Tex is in there, too). On the flip side, the ever-negative Oliver sees Alex regressing to a non-park-adjusted .350 wOBA.
If we plug each player’s projected OBP and SLG into Dave Pinto’s Lineup Analysis tool, we get a lineup projected to average roughly 5.3 runs per game against lefties (with Andruw Jones at DH), and the same against righties (with Ibanez at DH). The Yankees’ runs-per-game averages for the last five seasons starting with 2011 are 5.4, 5.3, 5.7, 4.9 and 6.0, so 5.3 for the starting lineup should be just fine.
Though Sweaty Freddy is expected to begin the year in the bullpen I’ve thrown him in for comparison’s sake. Unsurprisingly Freddy also projects as the least-effective of the six starting candidates. Despite a horrid season, most projection systems still love Phil Hughes, with Bill James going so far as to project a 3.71 ERA/3.82 FIP (albeit in 102 innings), while the ever-pessimistic PECOTA also appears to still be a Hughes fanboy, projecting a 3.84 ERA over 135 innings.
None of the systems think Ivan Nova can reproduce his 2011, although Marcel’s non-park-adjusted 3.88 ERA/3.89 FIP is the most optimistic. On the flip side, PECOTA thinks Nova’s a joke, with 156 innings of 5.03 ERA ball.
Both Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda‘s average projections seem eminently reasonable to me in the AL East; truly, if the Yanks can record a second straight season of three starters giving 100-plus innings of sub-4.00 ERAs (thanks to CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia) — something that hasn’t happened for the Yankees in back-to-back seasons since 2001-2002 — needless to say they will be in excellent shape.
For those interested in simulations, the most recent iteration of CAIRO (run over a month ago) had the 2012 Yankees as the best team in baseball, at 97-65 (five games ahead of Tampa Bay); Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA also has the Yankees with the best record in baseball, at 95-67 (five games ahead of Boston); and even THT’s get-off-my-lawn Oliver forecasting system has the Yankees with the best record in baseball, at 95-67 (three games ahead of Boston).
While, as per usual, many things will need to go the Yankees’ way for the team to reach these projections, it’s tough to quibble with a roster universally projected to be the best in baseball heading into the season.
One of the bitterest pills to swallow in the aftermath of the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade was the fact that the Yankees were removing what many expected to be a substantial cog in the offensive machine, not only in 2012 but for years to come. Prior to being traded, Montero’s average projected wOBA for 2012 was .360 (his revised projections as a Mariner average out to a .347 wOBA, or .272/.334/.461), which was the fifth-best projected wOBA of the projected starting Yankee nine.
Interestingly, for all of Brian Cashman‘s skill at building an incredibly talented roster on the offensive side of the equation, getting robust production out of the DH slot in the lineup has never really seemed to be a primary interest. To wit (as always, click to embiggen):
Of the 14 Yankee teams Cash has presided over, they have received below-league average production (sOPS+) out of the DH slot five times. That may not seem like a lot, but it is a tad eyebrow-raising given how robust the Yankee offense has been with Cash at the helm. Only four times has the team received DH production 10% better than league average in the last 14 seasons, which seems like a fairly large waste of resources when considering we’re talking about a lineup slot solely extant to produce offense.
Cashman’s high-water mark DH season was 2009, the year in which Hideki Matsui had primary designated hitter duties and responded with a DH campaign 19% better than the league. The Yankees also got a surprising amount of production out of the 2008 DH, which was mostly filled by Jason Giambi, along with Matsui and Johnny Damon. The only other really standout year for DH production above was 1998, which saw Darryl Strawberry, Rock Raines and Chili Davis collaborate on a .276/.378/.493 line.
That .360 projected wOBA for a Montero as a Yankee worked out to roughly a .270/.360/.470 triple slash, mighty fine production out of a 21-year-old, not to mention a line that would’ve been among the better performances the Yankees received from the DH during the last 14 seasons. However, for all the hullabaloo about the Yankees wanting to fill Montero’s vacated production, it appears they’ll have a pretty good shot at doing just that with the platoon of Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez.
In 2011, Andruw Jones put up the following slash against LHP in 146 PAs: .286/.384/.540, .400 wOBA.
In 2011, Raul Ibanez put up the following slash against RHP in 437 PAs: .256/.307/.440, .322 wOBA.
If you average those lines (and obviously this is exceptionally rough math, as the PAs are not even close to comparable), you get a .271/.346/.490, .361 wOBA hitter. Docking for the fact that PAs against RHP are roughly double those against LHP and you’re probably close to a .340 wOBA hitter, which is right around the average of SG’s 2012 CAIRO-projected platoon splits for Jones (.337 vs. LHP) and Ibanez (.349 vs. RHP).
While Jones probably won’t produce a .400 wOBA against LHP again, on the flip side Ibanez seems like a fairly reasonable bet to outdo a .322 wOBA against RHP with 81 games at Yankee Stadium, and taken together I don’t think it’s terribly unrealistic to expect the duo to combine for somewhere in the neighborhood of a .350 wOBA. While that may not quite be Jesus Montero territory, it should be enough for the Yankee offense to not miss much of a beat, especially when considering the ~.309 wOBA received from Jorge Posada in the majority of DH plate appearances in 2011.
Inspired by the advance copy I received of former Yankee PR director Marty Appel’s outstanding “Pinstripe Empire” — which, as far as I can tell, is the definitive and authoritative history of The New York Yankees franchise, and an absolute must-read for die-hards and casual fans alike — I was inspired to do some no-hitter research.
By my count, there have been 117 no-hitters in the AL (including postseason play), per MLB.com, and 133 in the senior circuit, though of course the NL also has more than a quarter-century of additional history over the junior circuit. Of those 117 AL no-nos, only 12 have been perfect games, and three of those 12 have been authored by Yankees. The National League, believe it or not, has only recorded eight perfect games in its 125-plus year history.
I was also curious to see how many seasons it had been since each team in baseball had been no-hit:
In pulling together this research I was actually pretty surprised at how many teams in baseball haven’t been no-hit in more than a decade. The Cubs are the current MLB leader, going on 46 seasons of not being no-hit. Oddly, the Pirates are right behind them, having not been no-hit in 40 seasons. The AL team with the longest no no-hit streak is Oakland, at 20 years. The Red Sox are right behind them, with their last no-hitter-against coming all the way back on April 22, 1993, against Chris Bosio. Even the Mets, for all of their laughable hijinks, have been able to avoid being no-hit since 1993. Of course, on the flip side, the Mets remain one of two MLB franchises (the other being the Padres) to never have had a pitcher author a no-no. For a list of all-time franchise no-hitters for and against, make sure to check out nonohitters.com.
The Yankees have thrown 11 no-hitters (including the three perfect games) in franchise history, with 10 coming during the regular season. The franchise’s first-ever no-no was thrown by George Mogridge on April 24, 1917, against the Red Sox (being 1917 this game is not captured by B-Ref’s Play Index). Here are the remaining 9 regular season no-hitters in Yankee history:
|1||David Cone||1999-07-18||MON||W 6-0||9.0||0||0||0||0||10||0||88||97||0.259|
|2||David Wells||1998-05-17||MIN||W 4-0||9.0||0||0||0||0||11||0||120||98||0.477|
|3||Dwight Gooden||1996-05-14||SEA||W 2-0||9.0||0||0||0||6||5||0||134||86||0.644|
|4||Jim Abbott||1993-09-04||CLE||W 4-0||9.0||0||0||0||5||3||0||119||85||0.351|
|5||Dave Righetti||1983-07-04||BOS||W 4-0||9.0||0||0||0||4||9||0||92||0.509|
|6||Allie Reynolds||1951-09-28 (1)||BOS||W 8-0||9.0||0||0||0||4||9||0||92||0.235|
|7||Allie Reynolds||1951-07-12||CLE||W 1-0||9.0||0||0||0||3||4||0||88||0.796|
|8||Monte Pearson||1938-08-27 (2)||CLE||W 13-0||9.0||0||0||0||2||7||0||92|
|9||Sad Sam Jones||1923-09-04||PHA||W 2-0||9.0||0||0||0||1||0||0||86|
Interestingly, nearly half of the team’s no-hitters came during the 1990s. Since their last no-hitter on July 18, 1999, there have been 25 no-hitters thrown in MLB, four by the Red Sox and three by the Phillies. The Yankees have also been on the receiving end of a no-no during that time, the unforgettable six-pitcher debacle on June 11, 2003, which I had the bad fortune of attending. However, to even it out, I was also in attendance for Doc’s no-no in 1996.
Rather impressively, despite more than 100 years of history, the Yankees have apparently only suffered a complete-game no-hit shutout a mere five times since 1919 (and one was a rain-shortened six-inning affair). The last time the Yankees were no-hit for nine innings prior to the 2003 Astro debacle was on September 20, 1958, against Hoyt Wilhelm. The last time the Yankees were no-hit for nine innings at home pre-Astros was August 25, 1952.
All of this no-hit talk got me thinking that the Yankees seem somewhat due to no-hit another club, although clearly they’ve gone through much longer droughts than 11 seasons. As a Yankee, CC Sabathia has 15 starts of 7 or more innings and 3 or fewer hits:
|1||2010-04-10||TBR||W 10-0||GS-8 ,W||7.2||1||0||0||2||5||0||111||80||0.314|
|2||2010-09-02||OAK||W 5-0||GS-8 ,W||8.0||1||0||0||3||5||0||95||82||0.470|
|3||2009-09-26||BOS||W 3-0||GS-7 ,W||7.0||1||0||0||2||8||0||96||81||0.475|
|4||2011-07-26||SEA||W 4-1||GS-7 ,W||7.0||1||1||1||3||14||0||102||82||0.167|
|6||2009-08-08||BOS||W 5-0||GS-8 ,W||7.2||2||0||0||2||9||0||123||82||0.503|
|8||2009-07-07||MIN||W 10-2||GS-7 ,W||7.0||3||1||1||1||3||1||100||69||0.167|
|9||2009-05-19||BAL||W 9-1||GS-7 ,W||7.0||3||1||1||1||7||0||105||73||0.393|
|10||2010-06-03||BAL||W 6-3||GS-7 ,W||7.0||3||3||3||1||7||2||94||65||0.135|
|11||2009-06-26||NYM||W 9-1||GS-7 ,W||7.0||3||1||1||0||8||1||99||75||0.249|
|12||2010-09-28||TOR||W 6-1||GS-9 ,W||8.1||3||1||1||2||8||1||111||79||0.358|
|13||2011-07-16||TOR||W 4-1||GS-8 ,W||8.0||3||1||1||3||8||0||110||77||0.339|
|14||2009-08-13||SEA||W 11-1||GS-8 ,W||8.0||3||1||1||2||10||1||105||80||0.178|
|15||2009-09-07 (1)||TBR||W 4-1||GS-7||7.0||3||1||1||4||10||1||118||73||0.371|
Sabathia may have come closest to his first career no-hitter this past summer, when he was absolutely cruising against the punchless Mariners before multiple rain delays ruined what could have been the latest chapter in team history (not to mention seemed to derail what had been an utterly glorious run of pitching).
Still, this year’s team may be as poised as ever to take a run at a no-hitter, given the strikeout-heavy tandem of CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda.
A couple of Fridays ago a bomb was dropped on the analytical baseball community. However, in this case, it was perhaps the greatest bomb ever deployed. You see my friends, Dan Brooks of the renowned Brooks Baseball announced with zero fanfare that Brooks — a terrific asset as far as individual game data goes, but lagging behind TexasLeaguers.com and JoeLefkowitz.com in multi-seasonal data — would not only now be carrying Player Cards featuring seasonal data, but that the PITCHf/x data dating back to 2007 (the first year data became available) had been manually reclassified by PITCHf/x gods Lucas Apostoleris and Harry Pavlidis.
That’s right; somehow, someway, Lucas and Harry sifted through three-and-a-half-million pitches worth of PITCHf/x data, so that amateur analysts like myself would have the most accurate data possible to play with.
Why is this important? Well, for starters, pretty much any time I’ve talked about Ivan Nova over the last six months, it came with the caveat that we knew his second-half success was due in part to increased deployment of his slider, but I didn’t have the data to back this assertion up, as the PITCHf/x system stubbornly insisted that Nova only threw a slider 3.9% of the time. Now we know the truth.
Check out the following table, showing Nova’s non-reclassified 2011 PITCHf/x data, against Lucas and Harry’s reclassified 2011 PITCHf/x data:
The four-seam classification was pretty much on the money, as was the curveball, but the rest of Nova’s repertoire was pretty butchered by PITCHf/x. As you can see, Nova actually threw his slider 13% of the time instead of 3.9%, while the reclassification also determined that Nova threw a sinker, not a two-seamer. He also threw about half as many changeups as the un-reclassified data said he did, and he doesn’t actually have a cutter at all.
However, Lucas and Harry could’ve called it a project and we would’ve been plenty happy simply having accurate PITCHf/x data. But no, they decided to go even further, providing pitch and sabermetric outcome breakdowns by pitch type, and while some of these categories have been available at T-Leaguers and Lefkowitz, never before has all of this data been available in one place. In particular, the Whiff/Swing% on an individual pitch level is simply astounding, and something that’s never been freely available. Check out the remainder of Nova’s 2011 stats:
Now, we had a pretty good idea that Nova’s new-and-improved slider was nasty, but I don’t think anyone realized it was 43.1% Whiff-per-Swings-Taken nasty! As a frame of reference, CC Sabathia, who boasts one of the top sliders in the game, recorded a Whiff/Swing of 40.9% last season (though in fairness, he also threw it 27% of the time).
In the aftermath of this insane treasure trove of new data, I couldn’t help but wonder whether they’d be adding league average data (helpful as an additional reference point), and also if we could expect to have manually reclassified data for the upcoming 2012 season, as it’d be quite helpful to have the full spectrum of accurate data when looking at a given pitcher’s offerings across multiple seasons. Incredibly, both Lucas and Harry confirmed via e-mail that they do indeed plan to reclassify pitches on an ongoing basis throughout the season.
This is probably one of the most important sabermetric projects undertaken in the last 10 years. It’s incredible that not only have they devoted their time and energy into delivering a product any of us can access free of charge, but that they’ve also committed to maintaining an accurate set of data on a go-forward basis is just mind-blowingly awesome.
Several of you asked for a bullpen version of the “best pitches in the rotation” post, and so here you go. Instead of just the 2011 season I’ve gone back and corralled the last two seasons worth of data for this post. The columns headed by “w” and “w/100″ are the pitch type’s linear weights (representing the total runs that a pitcher has saved using that pitch) and linear weights per 100 pitches (the amount of runs that pitcher saved with that pitch type for every 100 thrown), which provide some level of insight into a pitch’s relative level of effectiveness but should not be analyzed in isolation, as they are subject to the whims of both sequencing and BABIP. I’ve ranked the hurlers by their respective Whiff rates, as the ability to generate a swing-and-miss is probably the most transparent indication of pure stuff.
(Note: This post was researched and written prior to the release of the reclassified PITCHf/x data at Brooks Baseball — which I’ll be chiming in on next week — and the numbers are from TexasLeaguers.com and Fangraphs. Given that relievers typically have less variation in their repertoires than starters, I feel comfortable that the data presented below is mostly accurate.)
Rafael Soriano‘s generated the highest whiff percentage on the four-seamer out of the six primary members of the Yankee bullpen, though that is probably partially propped up by his excellent 2010. As far as pitch type linear weights go, David Robertson‘s four-seamer has been the most effective at 12 runs above average, while Cory Wade‘s was most effective on a per-100-pitch basis, at 2.17 runs above average.
Without looking at the numbers I’d have assumed that Mariano Rivera would easily lead in cutter Whiff%, but he actually lags both Soriano and D-Rob. Of course, having even an 8.1% whiff rate on a pitch you throw 86% of the time is still absurd.
For all the crap Boone Logan gets, his slider’s actually pretty outstanding, generating a whiff nearly one out of every four times he throws it. Joba Chamberlain also has a big-boy slider, though at times (cough cough full count cough) he’s fallen a bit too in love with it, occasionally making it painfully predictable.
David Robertson has the best curveball in the ‘pen by a pretty substantial margin, though Cory Wade’s isn’t terrible. Joba’s had a decent amount of success with his curve though he throws it pretty infrequently.
It’s Cory Wade by a landslide here, though he wins by default as no one else in the ‘pen really throws a changeup. It hasn’t been an outstanding pitch by linear weights, but it was his bread-and-butter in a terrific season for the Yankees in 2011.
I need to preface this post by saying that I’ve made it abundantly clear that I’m a huge Nick Swisher fan, and assuming he turns in a fourth straight 120-plus wRC+ offensive campaign in pinstripes this coming season, I’d expect the Yankees to look to retain the pending free agent’s services on a multi-year deal. So long as his contract requirements remain within reason, anyway.
By “within reason,” I’d say anywhere from the three-year, $21 million ($7M average annual value) deal personal favorite Josh Willingham signed with the Twins this winter (which still seems like the steal of the offseason) to Michael Cuddyer’s three-year, $31.5 million deal ($10.5 million AAV) with the Rockies. However, since breaking into the league in 2004, Swish has been the superior all-around player by a not insignificant margin, and being that he’ll be two years younger than Cuddyer was this past offseason he definitely has a case for a bigger deal than Cuddyer’s, and a strong case for a bigger contract than Willingham’s sweetheart deal. Between his apparent superiority to these similar players and the fact that this will be his first foray into free agency, I’d expect him to start out at the very least looking for something that will pay him $13 million a year.
Given the incredible value the Yankees have gotten out of Swisher thus far — since 2009, Swish has been paid $21.2 million for his services by the Yankees, and according to FanGraphs’ $/WAR calculation, has been worth $47.6 million — $13 million seems like an eminently reasonable ask; however, at the end of the day I’d expect length to be a bigger sticking point than AAV. As an outfielder coming off his age 31 season next winter, one has to think Swish will be looking for enough financial security to take him as close to the end of his career as possible. I could see his initial ask starting at five years, but I don’t see the Yankees being interested in committing any more than three years to their switch-hitting right fielder. Maybe they’d go to four, but I’m not sure I’d expect the Yankees to hand out a four-plus-year contract to an outfielder on the wrong side of 30 that isn’t named Curtis Granderson, who — barring an unforeseen precipitous decline in production — the team will be looking to re-sign after 2013.
So, in the event that the Yankees and Nick Swisher can’t arrive at a happy medium next winter, the Bombers may in fact be finding themselves in the market for a right fielder. Enter B.J. Upton, slated to be a free agent for the first time in his career next offseason. As an outside observer, it seems as though the Rays have been waiting for Upton — the second overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft — to become the superstar many predicted he’d blossom into forever.
BJ will always leave a portion of this fanbase wanting. There’s a portion of this fanbase that finds Upton to be an unmotivated and lazy waste of talent that the Rays need to move. There’s a portion that is disappointed with him but are holding out hope that 2012 is a lot like 2007. There’s a portion that appreciates him for what he is rather than what he is not. I think he could go 30/30 in Yankee Stadium given his best swings are when he goes the other way, but he is never hitting .300 again without some serious BABIP help. He goes through hot streaks that are really hot and then slumps for long periods at a time while tinkering with his swing. He made some changes with his legkick late in the season over the final 6 weeks that yielded positive results, so it bears watching. There is a level of A.J. Burnett hate with him with a portion of this fanbase that sees nothing wrong with booing him after a strikeout or when he’s thrown out on the basepaths. However, there is a larger portion that will miss him when he leaves and hopes that he does not hang around the American League to blossom as it is tough enough to watch Carl Crawford do the same for Boston. In the end, he always leaves fans wanting something; the degree of that want comes from each fans attitude toward Upton.
Upton was drafted as a shortstop back in ’02, but was an unmitigated disaster at the position, and despite posting a respectable .323 wOBA as a 19-year-old in 177 plate appearances in 2004, his defensive woes helped demote him to AAA Durham for the entirety of the 2005 season. Upton didn’t make it back to the bigs until August 1, 2006, but he struggled mightily (.275 wOBA in 189 PAs) while playing third base, a position he’d never played professionally prior to that season.
At the outset of the 2007 season, Upton was shifted to second base to start the season, with the idea that he could play anywhere from second to short to third to the outfield on any given day. Upton responded to his first camp-breaking with the Rays by exploding out of the gate, posting a .471 wOBA in April 2007, and ultimately finishing the year with a career-high .387 wOBA (138 wRC+), shifting into center field full-time and seemingly finally establishing himself as the offensive force everyone had been waiting for. Only it didn’t last.
Upton followed his monster 2007 with a good (.354 wOBA, 118 wRC+), but disappointing 2008, given the new baseline he’d established the year prior. Upton’s OBP was still monstrous (.383, after .386 in 2007), but his power mysteriously vanished, and his slugging dropped over 100 points to .401. Upton continued his slide in 2009, falling to a below-average .310 wOBA (88 wRC+), which was easily his worst full season in the bigs. Upton has since recovered a decent amount of his value, posting near-identical 2010 (.337 wOBA, 113 wRC+) and 2011 (.337 wOBA, 115 wRC+) campaigns while providing above-average defense in center, though his erratic performances these last several seasons have rendered Upton’s true talent level something of an enigma.
One aspect of Upton’s game that would undoubtedly be very appealing to the Yankees is his ability to draw walks. Upton has a career 11.2% walk rate, well above league average. His career OBP is a respectable .342; however, the reason it’s not higher is because Upton also has a propensity to strike out. A lot. Upton’s career K% is 24.8%, and his 25.2% K% was the fifth-worst in the AL last season. His strikeouts have dramatically suppressed a batting average (career .258) that one would expect to be a good bit higher for someone with a carer BABIP of .327. Upton also has a career 11.3% HR/FB%, also an above-average rate, and the high BABIP and HR/FB% show that when Upton does put a bat on the ball, good things tend to happen. Unfortunately this isn’t as common as an occurrence as one would hope. Perhaps there’s something in Upton’s swing that Kevin Long can fix?
Upton would also probably be the best defensive right fielder the Yankees would hypothetically have fielded since perhaps Raul Mondesi, and an outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Upton seems like it would be hands-down the finest defensive outfield in the game. The dropoff in offensive production from Swisher to Upton would be fairly substantial, but not massive (Swish is a 117 career wRC+ hitter; Upton 110), while Upton would make a lot of the difference up in fielding.
Upton’s patient/hacker dichotomy — his 3.86 pitches seen per plate appearance (P/PA) ranked 31st in the AL last season, ahead of the likes of Derek Jeter, Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez, among others, while his swinging strike percentage of 20% that was the 4th-highest in the league, and well above the 15% league average — is somewhat reminiscent of Curtis Granderson’s, although Grandy led the league in P/PA in 2011 and recorded a 16% swinging strike percentage.
Given his abilities I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the 27-year-old Upton’s (turning 28 in August) best-case-scenario is blossoming into modern-day Curtis Granderson — if you compare the first five years of each player’s career, the results are remarkably similar, with one elite season early on followed by some good — though not great — subsequent campaigns. Upton’s got the edge in OBP, though Granderson certainly has the edge in power. Some may argue that Upton’s running out of time to get there, but his 2007 shows that it’s not crazy to envision him finally putting it all together on a consistent basis as he enters the prime of his career, similar to the way Granderson turned in a career year in his age 30 season.
The parallels between Granderson and Upton become even more apparent when you look at their WAR graphs:
And cumulative by age:
Also, for those curious about the righty Upton’s splits, while he unsurprisingly hits lefties better (career 118 wRC+), he’s playable against righties (101 wRC+).
So after all of this analysis, we haven’t even answered perhaps the most important question — how much will Upton be looking for, and what can he reasonably expect to be offered? Unfortunately for B.J., as a career .339 wOBA hitter, it seems unlikely he’d see anything close to the mega-deal his former teammate Carl Crawford signed prior to the 2011 season, as Carl has been the superior player (not to mention a massive disappointment one year into his monster Boston contract); although to play devil’s advocate, Carl’s career wOBA was only .008 points higher than Upton’s at the time of his free agency, so perhaps I’m selling Upton a bit short. Upton is making $7 million in his final year as a Ray, and will obviously look to exceed that on an annual basis.
With teams seemingly increasingly shy to commit mega dollars and years to anyone outside of elite talent, it seems like a stretch to see anyone signing Upton for longer than five years, and given his erratic offensive play, I’m not sure he’s worth more than $10-$12 million a year (although FanGraphs’ $/WAR valuation has him worth an average of $17.3 million over the last five years).
Upton will probably start out asking for something like seven years and $105 million ($15M AAV), but I’d ultimately expect him to end up signing for something closer to five years, $60 million — which, if the Yanks can’t agree to terms with Swish, should very seriously consider Upton if his price does fall to this range — unless he has another year like 2007 in him in 2012. In that case, all bets are off.
The following is a guest post by my dear friend David Meadvin, with some assistance from me on the statistical/research front. Dave previously contributed to TYA as an occasional guest poster, and is probably the world’s biggest Pascual Perez fan. We’re talking about someone who, as a nine-year-old, literally filled three nine-card binder sheets up with nothing but the same exact 1990 Topps Pascual Perez card seen at the right (that’s twenty-seven (!) identical cards) for reasons that remain unclear to this day.
On a warm Dominican spring morning in 1957, Pascual Gross Perez came into this world – and Major League Baseball would never be the same.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m not an advanced stats kind of guy. I’ve never been that interested about baseball on paper; I love the game because it’s unpredictable in a way that stats can never fully capture. When Larry and I were growing up dodging beer bottles at Yankee Stadium and trading Topps cards, I was never a huge fan of the big stars. Sure, I loved Don Mattingly and Darryl Strawberry (I know he was a Met, but good God what a swing) – but my heart was always with the oddballs. And there have been few odder balls in MLB history that Pascual “I-285” Perez.
One of the many strange things about Perez is that his Minor League performance was mediocre at best. Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1976, Perez spent five years in Pittsburgh’s minor league system putting stats that hardly screamed “I’m ready for The Show.” In 1979, at AAA, he threw 103 innings of 5.50 ERA ball with an ugly 4.5 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9. He improved considerably the following season at AAA, throwing 160 innings of 4.05 ERA ball with a 5.9 K.9 and 2.7 BB/9, and he made his MLB debut on May 7, firing six innings of three-run ball, then getting sent right back down for his troubles. At the age of 24, Perez started the 1981 season at AAA for the third consecutive year. Today, it’s hard to imagine a pitcher with his minor league stat line ever seeing the bigs, but with a staff that was fronted by John Candelaria, a struggling Rick Rhoden, an ancient Luis Tiant and no one else anyone’s ever heard of, the Pirates were clearly desperate for pitching.
As a result, despite a 4.94 ERA and a worse walk rate (4.1 per nine) than strikeout rate (a paltry 3.2), Perez earned a Mid-May call-up. At the Major League-level, Perez actually pitched slightly better than his MiLB number might have indicated, but still, he was hardly a star. He tossed 86.1 innings of 3.96 ERA/3.57 FIP ball — numbers that few would frown upon from a middle-of-the-rotation starter these days, but back in 1981 were 10% and 1% worse than league average, respectively. Not to mention the fact that Perez still wasn’t striking anyone out, with a 4.8 K/9. Unimpressed, the Pirates demoted Perez back to AAA for the start of the 1982 season, which prompted the Dominican to consider leaving Major League Baseball and returning to the Caribbean League. Fortunately for all of us, the Atlanta Braves decided to take a chance on him and acquired him in a trade for Larry McWilliams, who had pitched to a putrid 6.21 ERA/1.91 WHIP the season before, but somehow managed to put up two solid years for the Pirates in 1983 and 1984.
The Braves may not have known exactly what they were getting in the rail-thin Perez, but it didn’t take long to find out. On August 19, 1982, Perez was scheduled to make his debut start in Atlanta. As game time approached, Perez was nowhere to be found. When Perez finally showed up – well after the game began – he explained that he drove around I-285 three times looking for the ballpark before finally running out of gas. Here’s how the story was reported in Sports Illustrated:
“When I get lost, I been in Atlanta for four days,” says Perez. “I rent a car and get my driving permit that morning, and I leave for the stadium very early, but I forget where to make a turn right.”
Thus handicapped, Perez made an afternoon-long ordeal out of what is normally a 15-minute ride. Circling helplessly, he finally pulled off the freeway at about 7:10 p.m., well north of Atlanta and running on fumes, and using gestures and his minimal English, persuaded a gas-station attendant to pump $10 worth of free gas for him. “I forgot my wallet, too,” says Perez.
The incident earned Perez the nickname “I-285,” which he proudly wore on the back of his warmup jacket. As Yankees fans are well aware, the Braves’ manager at the time, Joe Torre, is not known for treating rookies kindly – much less rookies who miss their first start. In fact, a famed poster commemorating the incident is described as including a mural of Torre, looking baffled, staring at his wristwatch. If anyone owns this poster or can unearth even a JPEG of it, please let us know [UPDATE: We finally secured a copy of this poster during the summer of 2012].
Surprisingly, Torre stuck with the enigmatic righthander. Incomprehensibly, Perez’s mishap lit a fire under the Braves. Heading into his Braves debut, the team was mired in a 2-19 slump. Yet, according to Sports Illustrated, the team “found the mishap so hilarious that they laughed their way into a 13-2 winning streak and then went on to win the National League West, thereby making Perez’s ride more familiar to Atlanta schoolchildren than Paul Revere’s.” The title run was also helped by Perez’ 79.1 innings of 82 ERA-/89 FIP ball for the Braves that season despite a K/9 of just 3.3(!).
Perez also began establishing a reputation around Major League Baseball that season for on-field antics that included shooting batters with an imaginary finger-gun, peering through his legs to see what kinds of leads baserunners were taking, regular beanings and threats, an occasional eephus pitch (which would come to be known as the “Pascual Pitch” in certain circles), and of course his gleaming curly locks. As one opposing manager proclaimed, “there’s not enough mustard in the State of Georgia for Mr. Perez.” Perez’s response? “Everybody mad at me because they think I try to hit somebody, but I don’t try to hit nobody. The coaches tell me, ‘Don’t be afraid sometimes to pitch inside,’ so I do it.”
Coming into the 1983 season, the Braves saw Perez as an emerging star, and he lived up to their expectations, posting the best season of his career. He threw 215.1 innings of 3.43 ERA (90 ERA-)/3.39 FIP (87 FIP-) ball, with a 6.0 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9, worth 4.1 fWAR. Sadly, Perez found himself jailed in the Dominican Republic in the offseason on drug charges. After his release, he returned to the Braves in May 1984 and proceeded to win 14 games the remainder of the season. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that if not for his jail time, Perez would have been a 20 game winner in the ’84 season.
In 1985, everything fell apart. Perez served three stints on the disabled list with shoulder pain before earning a team suspension in July for disappearing somewhere between New York and Montreal. After finishing the year with a heinous 1-13 record, Perez, who just a year earlier was seen as an emerging ace and probably would have been unanimously elected mayor of Atlanta, was released by the Braves.
1986 is a complete mystery. There is no record of Perez throwing a single pitch in any organized baseball league, or even what he did with his time.
Fortunately, the Pascual Perez story was not over. Prior to the 1987 season, the Montreal Expos managed to track him down and signed him to a minor league contract. Visa problems kept him from entering the United States until May, but after several months of minor league ball, Perez made his return on August 22, 1987, throwing five innings of three-run ball against the Giants. He finished the year a perfect 7-0. This time, Perez appeared to have finally figured it out with Montreal, enjoying the finest three-year stretch of his career as he threw 456.2 innings of 2.80 ERA (80 ERA-)/3.05 FIP (85 FIP-) ball, upping his K/9 6.7 and walking almost no one, with a 2.1 BB/9. In 1988, he pitched a rain-shortened, five inning no-hitter.
After an uninspired 1989 season, the Yankees came calling. Coming off two straight fifth-place seasons and utterly desperate for starting pitching (their starters pitched to an MLB-worst 121 ERA- from 1988-1989), the Yankees decided to invest 3 years and $5.7 million in Perez.
The big-bucks investment didn’t exactly pay off. Prior to throwing a single pitch for the Yankees he arrived seven days late to spring training with what the Yankees described as yet more “visa problems,” prompting then-Expos manager Buck Rodgers to describe Perez as “a time bomb that the Yankees will have to monitor closely.” In his third start that season, Perez departed with an ailing arm that required rotator-cuff surgery that August. He also could have invested in a datebook or personal assistant, as Pascual showed up 10 days late to spring training in 1991, and five days late in 1992.
The thing is, when Perez actually took the mound he was effective, putting up a 2.87 ERA and 3.60 FIP in 1990 and 1991. But he only pitched a total of 87.2 innings spread out over two seasons. For whatever reason, he just couldn’t stay healthy (or present) for long stretches during his time in pinstripes. It all came crashing down in 1992 — the third and final year of Perez’s big contract – when he was suspended by MLB violating the league’s drug policy. This forced him to forfeit the remaining $1.9 million left on his contract.
Despite these myriad setbacks, the Yankees were actually interested in retaining Perez’s services. The New York Times reported that general manager Gene Michael placed about 60 calls to him over the offseason, but never heard back. Perez, who once referred to himself as “one of five twin brothers,” (one of those five, Melido, of course also pitched for the Yankees, and gave the Bombers quite a bit more than Pascual ever did, posting a 4.06 ERA/3.84 FIP over 631.1 innings from 1992-1995) had fallen deep into the Dominican Republic, far from the grasp of Major League Baseball.
Despite the Yankees’ best efforts, to this day, Pascual Perez has never been found. He may be gone, but his legacy lives on in the hearts of fans everywhere who consider him a hall-of-famer in baseball’s theater of the absurd.