Aside from the clean-slate record, an awesome thing about the start of the new season is the batch of new players that comes in. Whether they be rookies coming up from the minors, off-season trades or free agent/pre-arbitration signings, it’s always interesting to see who’s becoming a Yankee this year.
Of course, with the arrival of new Yankees, others depart. Some of which we’re glad to see go, be that due to injury or ineffectiveness, and others we long to have back. I’d bet there’s a pretty strong correlation between who’s performing away from the Bronx and who would look better if they were back for another year in pinstripes. Considering the attention paid to the Yankee rotation and some recent bullpen drama, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the pitchers the Yanks let go and see how they were doing around the league.
Wood rode into the bullpen like a knight in shining Cubbie armor in the 2010 season, wowing everyone. It’s imagine everything aligning better for Wood during his short stay in pinstripes: none of his bequeathed runners scored, his stuff was great, he was saving rear ends left and right. Though Wood had an expensive option, there was no way the Yankees were paying closer money to a man who would almost certainly not repeat his unsustainably good 2010 performance. Wood raced back to the Cubs and signed for $1.5M. He’s racked up an impressive 2.15 ERA and 4.49 FIP, though the 95% LOB is likely to drop. Even so, the 2:1 K/BB ratio is extremely promising.
The spot-starter/longman for the Yankees signed at the pitcher’s heaven of Petco Park and has found himself a home in the Padres’ rotation. He’s making a comfortable $900k and is, uh, pitching his brains out, to say the least. In his five starts, he’s pitched to a 1.99 ERA (3.90 FIP). The Adrian Gonzalez-less Padres offense, which is slightly feebler than a dead rabbit, has really gotten behind his strong performance, and helped him go…… 0-3. In his five starts, the Padres have scored him a total of two runs. Pretty sad. Although his numbers are likely to go up (Moseley isn’t likely to hold down his .243 BABIP or hold up his 81% strand rate), it’s pretty freaking impressive as is.
Gaudin also making $900K in the NL, though his home is located across the country in Nationals Park. The man’s picked up right where he left off with the Yankees, throwing spectacularly mediocre stuff and getting knocked all around because of it. In his 8 innings, he’s given up 12 hits, six ER (one homer), and eight walks. The only positive thing about his line is the 10Ks, but it’s not helping anything else. I wonder if Riggleman will have the same fascination with him that Girardi did.
All right, I know you’re really interested in hearing about: the man that Marc Carig of the Star Ledger calls The Experience. Although he technically started off the year as a Yankee, Mitre’s been shipped over to the Brewers in exchange for Chris Dickerson. In his tiny 9 IP sample, he’s managed to give up six hits, three ER and a homer, and walk more batters (3) than he’s struck out (2). Of course, this is a tiny sample, and Mitre could get his act together and become the Rolaids Relief Man Closer we all know he could be. Right? Right?
The man they call Ace fought injures all through 2010, and because of that (and who knows what else), Cashman decided not to tender him a contract. The Red Sox picked Aceves up for a microscopic $650k. He’s been pretty effective for them too, making six appearances and racking up a 2.25 ERA. Way less impressive is his 5.80 FIP, helped out by the two home runs he’s given up. It’s hard for me to want a guy in Boston to succeed, but Ace was pretty awesome for the Yankees when they needed him, and I don’t know if I’m quite ready to let him go just yet. Silly sentimental me.
Two trips to the Bronx still couldn’t cure Javy’s problems: a dead fastball and a reputation that wasn’t going to leave once it stuck his first time around. Vazquez has over 2,600 IP on his arm – I don’t even want to know how many pitches he’s thrown – and that wear and tear is becoming evident. Vazquez signed with the Marlins for $7M and he’s basically the same old Javy: a junkball and some other stuff being whomped around by better hitters. He’s made four starts and walked more than he’s struck out, even if his h/9 is still under one. 20 IP is too small a sample to really paint a picture, but here’s some food for thought: his average fastball velocity was 89 MPH in 2010. His average fastball velocity in 2011 so far is 88.4.
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The Yankees pitching staff is pretty band-aided together right now, but quite frankly I don’t have a problem with it. If Nova wants to go 6.1IP and feel good about, awesome. If Colon wants to show off his amazing two-seamer and a 96 MPH fastball, even better! Honestly, if the worst thing that happens to Freddy Garcia is that he gives up a home run to Jose Bautista, things are going pretty well. Yeah, Garcia is going to throw some crappy pitches. But luckily, there are lots of crappy hitters out there to compensate. Plus, it’s basically impossible not to have Bautista homer off you these days. That should not be the standard of judgment. Also, go Freddy. And someone give the guy a towel, will you? He’s looking kind of shiny out there on the mound.
One of the best things about the beginning of the season is that we are presented with statistics that are mildly nuts to absolutely absurd. It’s not unusual for players to go through slumps and streaks, but when they happen in July or August, the numbers are evened out by what the player in question has been doing for the rest of the year. If he’s absurdly hot for two weeks, he’ll be bogged down by his crappy season, and vice versa. The beginning of the season doesn’t have any of that.
In light of this dramatic game (and the not-so-dramatic game from yesterday), I’d like to present some of the streaks and slides the Yankees have been going through so far, only extrapolated to fill the entire season. Blowing the numbers up to 162 games just makes them look even sillier than they do now, and hopefully the craziness of the numbers are enough to calm down anyone freaking out about some of the struggling players on the roster.
Here are some crazy hitter numbers:
Jorge Posada: 86 hits in 152 games (last year, he had 95 hits in 120 games). 57 of those hits will be home runs. He’ll also strike out 152 times.
Russell Martin: 162 hits, 54 home runs, and a 1.132 OPS. He’ll steal 18 bases and not get caught once.
Mark Teixeira: 54 home runs (he’s only had one 40+ homer year), 154 hits (one more than last year), and 144 RBIs (he had 108 last year).
Alex Rodriguez: .370/.483/.826 with almost as many homers (45) as strikeouts (54). Also, his 99 walks would be better than every year except 2000, when he had 100.
Robinson Cano will have 9 walks all season. On the other side, Nick Swisher will have a career-high 108 walks. Swish will also rock a career-low 72 RBIs, which might have something to do the fact that he’ll hit zero home runs.
Derek Jeter’s projected slash line? .243/.308/.271 with 36 RBIs and 18 doubles. That RBI number is pretty depressing, but considering he’s batting after Brett Gardner (projected: 72 hits, 18 doubles, and a .207 OBP), you can’t really blame him.
And some pitchers:
Bartolo Colon will throw 172IP with 191 strikeouts and only 48 walks and 67 ER. I’d take that for sure.
With today not factored in, Freddy Garcia’s numbers look like this: 117 IP, 9 ER, 81 Ks. Yes please.
AJ Burnett: 210 IP, with 210 strikeouts (that would be the second best in his career, behind 2008), and 95 walks (also two behind his career high of 97). He’s also projected to give up a whopping 38 (!) home runs.
It’ll be an even worse season for Soriano, though, who would, in 76 IP strike out as many as he walked (57) and give up 57 ER.
Luckily, Mo is slated to have another awesome season behind him. 86IP with 19 ER and 67 strikeouts.
It just goes to show you that early-season numbers can turn into some crazy longer season numbers. I’m pretty sure Burnett won’t be giving up 38 homers, and if Soriano is striking out and walking the same amount of people, we have a major problem. Likewise, if if Teixeira really does hit over 50 homers this year, I think that would be a pretty awesome surprise. Nick Swisher will eventually get something out of the park. Don’t put too much stock into what players have done already, because while it may be impressive (or really depressing), things tend to even out.
You are Joe Q. Starter. So far, you’ve given up 2 ER in 8IP and your team, the Tennessee Corndogs, is up 3-2. You’ve managed to load the bases with one out and your manager is coming to the mound to take you out of the game. You resist quite a bit, but he yanks you anyway. The problem is, everyone knows your team has a terrible bullpen, and the first thing Adam J. Reliever does in the game is give up a grand slam. You are charged with three of those runs, lose the quality start and the win, and your team goes on to take the loss. Bummer.
We all know ERA has some weird quirks – that’s why FIP has grown fairly prominent, especially in the sabermetric community – but I’ve always been very interested by the concept of inherited runners. Admittedly, the starter should have some kind of responsibility for the runners left on, but it seems extremely unfair to me for one pitcher to take responsibility – any kind of responsibility – for another pitcher’s actions. The Yankees are lucky this year that they have a strong bullpen and a high-strikeout fireman in David Robertson, but obviously he won’t ride in on his white horse and save A.J. Burnett’s rear end every day. The league average strand rate is about 70%, so D-Rob will be getting out of two bases-loaded jams and giving up a grand slam in the third. Whoops.
What the bullpen is doing with a pitcher’s inherited runners can have a pretty interesting effect on a pitcher’s ERA – and whether or not we like how ERA is calculated, it’s still a statistic that factors into most important pitcher-related decisions. It still tells us a lot, especially combined with FIP/xFIP. It still correlates very nicely with Cy Young victory – most Cy Young winners have ERAs under 3. The complaints that ERA also encompasses the strength of the defense has already been pretty hashed out, but how can you possibly blame one pitcher for the home run of another? I’m certainly not going to blame anything Ivan Nova does on CC Sabathia or Freddy Garcia. It doesn’t seem fair if one pitcher leaves the bases loaded and a second pitcher gives up a bases-clearing double and then gets out of the inning. If all the runs are earned, both pitchers screwed up – but you’re laying all the blame on the starter and none on the reliever.
Let’s play with some numbers. I’ll be using BQR (bequeathed runners) and BQS (bequeathed runners scored) from Baseball Reference. In 2009, Burnett had a 4.04 ERA, which is pretty good. He pitched 207 innings and allowed 93 ER. That year, he left 19 BQR, and only one of them – a single one! – scored. If we bump this up to the league average of 30% and round up, seven of of them score, and Burnett’s ERA crawls up to 4.34. That’s a fairly significant uptick. Similarly, Burnett was exactly league average in 2010, where 6 of his 18 BQR were converted to BQS. If we bump up the relieving effort behind him and say only 2 of them score, then Burnett’s 5.26 ERA goes down to 5.07, which, while still a career worst, is a definite improvement.
Relievers have a complimentary stat: IR (inherited runners) and IS (inherited scored). Even Mariano Rivera has a career average IS of 29%, though this is buoyed by a particularly bad 2003 (49%!) and 2000 (42%). In 2010, his IS% was a slightly more godlike 19%. Last year, the fireman Robertson held an exactly league-average IS% of 30%, letting 10 of 33 runners score. Pedro Feliciano has been an excellent LOOGY, holding an IS% under 20% for the past two years and a career average of 24%. Unless Feliciano comes back this year, we’re stuck praying for Boone Logan to work his career average 29% down a few ticks. Last year, he let 8 of 33 runners score, good for a decent 24%.
I’m not saying that starters shouldn’t take some kind of responsibility for the runners that they leave on, but in the case of ERA, you’re basically flat-out pinning the blame of a bases-clearing triple on the pitcher who did not give it up. This is just another aspect of ERA that the pitcher has no control over. We all groan when we see Joba coming in in one of his bad phases, but I couldn’t imagine sitting there watching someone else compound my failure. A starter must already feel crappy about getting into a jam and not being trusted to or not thinking that he could get out it, and then some other guy just comes in a screws everything up even worse. We talk about luck and defense helping and hurting pitchers all the time, but having another guy exacerbate (on a bad day) or perfectly clean up (on a good day) your mess is certainly another element where a team can help or hinder a player’s ERA.
No two ways about it: Brett Gardner is in the midst of an awful slump. He was given the coveted leadoff spot in the order and has thanked the Yankees for the present by batting a miserable .150/.227/.225 to start the season. In a lineup where the 7-8-9 hitters are no joke, Gardner appears to be trying to put a hole in the Yankees lineup right at the top. There’s no way he sticks there if he keeps up with this performance. He doesn’t have to be amazing – just get on base and steal a lot of bases and avoid the double plays with a certain shortstop and noted new groundball machine coming up behind him. But it’s not happening at the moment.
It doesn’t really matter to the Yankees whether Gardner bats first or ninth in the long run – according to David Pinto’s lineup analysis, they gain just 0.045 runs with Gardner’s 2010 numbers leading off over him batting ninth, which comes out to about seven runs all season. For a team that’s showing as much offensive power as this one is, seven runs over 162 games is a drop in the bucket. But maybe it matters to Brett Gardner. The leadoff spot in an order, while perhaps not as important in the giant scheme of all things baseball, does have a certain prestige about it. Certain players like to hit leadoff. Certain players don’t. Whatever that intangible is, maybe it’s bogging Gardy down. Let’s see.
Admittedly, we’re still dealing with fairly small sample sizes when we look at his plate appearances in only these two spots. It’s odd to think that this is only Gardy’s third year as anything other than a September call-up, and only his second year where he’ll be showing up in, ideally, more than 110 games. Additionally, no one really knows if Gardner’s poor second-half 2010 was all wrist injury or pitchers adjusting to him but I’m willing to bet it was some combination of both. Halfway through the year, scouting reports are coming in on a guy. Gardner’s must have looked something like, ‘throw strikes.’ We’ll do what we can with the number we have and take the results with a grain of salt.
Gardner has 264 plate appearances leading off in 59 games, all but two of which he started. In those games, he’s batted a mediocre .256/.338/.348, with a tOPS+ (OPS+ relative to total OPS+) of 92. In comparison, he’s started 116 games in the nine-hole, giving him 419 plate appearances and a slightly worse line of .240/.333/.312 and a tOPS+ of 81. There’s good news and bad news here. Good news: the numbers are better for the leadoff spot. Bad news: the numbers go down with the increased PA, so the second line is probably closer to what we might see over a larger sample. However, the numbers are so close that it honestly doesn’t matter. Not surprisingly, there’s also a change in the stolen base approach: Gardy only stole five more bases in those additional 155 PA batting ninth, and was also caught an extra five times. And if the sizes were equal, he would also have more walks from the leadoff spot as well: 48 BBs in 419 PA batting ninth vs. 25 BB in 264 PAs leading off.
One interesting thing to note is that that Gardner’s BABIP batting ninth is .286, which is a little lower than average. Bat him leadoff, however, and his BABIP shoots up to .337. I’m not sure why this is: could be luck, could be a different approach at the plate, could be the pitchers throwing him balls he can get better hits off of. Either way, that leadoff number is much, much closer to his career .321 BABIP than the nine-hole one. While we’re on this topic, Gardner’s 2010 BABIP of .340 and makes his current 2011 BABIP of .222 look pretty depressing.
There’s a lot of different elements to take into account here, but even with the small samples it seems like batting leadoff doesn’t bother Gardner, which is definitely a good thing for the Yankees and for the speedster. Let’s hope that we can all look back in a few years and have much larger samples that prove he is an amazing leadoff hitter and should never leave that spot. Then we can all roll our eyes at his 2011 April slump and talk about how unlike him that was. For now, all we know is that Gardner’s not doing too well and it probably doesn’t have anything to do with where he’s batting. Let’s hope his new approach figures itself out or he returns to whatever was working in 2010.
The following post is written for commenter Ross in Jersey, who told me he would donate $1 for every Tex RBI to the RAB Pledge Drive if I wrote an entire article without periods or ending punctuation and still had it make sense, and I figured the flame comments I’d get from people lacking in reading comprehension were a small price to pay for helping inner city kids
One of the reasons the Yankees are such amazing winners is that they have the financial power to make up for a lacking farm or surround the farm talent with high-powered free agents like CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, and one of the places that that virtually unlimited cash flow comes from are the droves and droves of fans that pour through the gates of Yankee stadium to see these people play – the “Yankee Universe,” as it’s been coined by the Yankees organization, is one of, if not the biggest fan following in professional sports, and plenty of fans are at home ready to shell out cash, hop on a subway, train, car or bus and head to the House that Ruth (or perhaps Jeter, nowadays) Built, and people take notice when the seats aren’t filled in the stadium in the Bronx – no matter what the reason is for that and regardless of the numbers that count or the rest of the stadiums around the country, and quite frankly, the attention that has been drawn to the record-setting lows in the new stadium (sounds scary now, huh?) is pretty absurd
The record-setting low that was set for attendance in Yankee Stadium 3 was 40,267 – only 40,267, really – and that seems like a decent number of fans to turn out for one game in any sport, in any organization, and keep in mind, it doesn’t matter to the Yankees how many people actually show up to a game, just how many people buy tickets, because even if you make the stadium look empty on TV (and on a cold day, Legends needs no help with that, zing), you’re still contributing to the massive Yankees cash flow, and honestly the bottom line is all that matters when we get down to the nitty gritty of the whole thing, because looking embarrasing on TV does not pay Mark Teixeira, but buying a season ticket package and deciding not to go to a game does
Those people with season tickets who decided not to come are not, by default, Yankee haters, nor does that make them terrible fans, especially because a usual April day in New York is chilly, with a cold breeze and often rain and the third game of the year has no leverage for people to brave the weather to show up, such as is the case during Opening Day – that record low was set on a cold (average 49°F, with a low of 41°F), rainy, windy day – just the kind of day no one wants to be outside for an extended period of time for, and if you have season tickets and don’t mind blowing the money, the perfect day to skip a ballgame or StubHub your tickets, and unless you’re desperate to see the Yankees, no one on StubHub is flying to pick up tickets for such a miserable day, and that’s really what it comes down to after all – people go to ballgames to have fun, after all, and sometimes the weather just makes having fun impossible, and so there’s no reason to show up
For a little perspective on the matter, a table:
Obviously, small sample size applies, but all of these teams have played two different teams at home, and I’m fairly sure that the oh-so-terrible showing of 40,267 fans will not lead the Yankees to become bottom feeders or force them to start shedding salary – what matters to the team’s wallet is how many tickets are sold, not how many people show up, and the wallet is the most important part of an organization that uses its massive financial might to help itself win
Moral of the story: no one likes going to a baseball game when it’s miserable out, even if your team is amazing, even fewer people are interested in low-leverage April games that happen to fall on those miserable days, and the Yankees, once again, have the power to make something that means absolutely nothing newsworthy
Opening Day has come and gone and there’s lots of serious baseball in front of us. It goes without saying the the Yankees have a terrible team that will in no way make the playoffs and will certainly finish in last place and go under .500, whereas everyone else will have a surging year. Wait, sorry, I was just reading Keith Olbermann’s blog again. Whoops. Anyway, Thursday’s win was, as Mike put it back then, textbook: score runs, have good pitching, hand it over to the shutdown bullpen. While the amazingness of the bullpen may have only gone up over the offseason (despite the price tag involved), there’s one part of that pen that’s been around for a while now. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell this audience who.
Mike posted this graph on Thursday, but in baseball you have to use both a combination of your eyes and the numbers to get a complete feel of the team. This Opening Day is just another example on the 15-year pile of examples of why the Greatest Ever’s name stretches across the top of that graph and no one else can get a lock on the closer role quite like the Yankees. Relievers are volatile creatures, as we all know, and it’s weekends like these where we remember that most closers are just relievers who were good enough last year to close the ninth this year.
Dan Bard, of the Red Sox, was the go-to closer in case of continued meltdown by Jonathan Papelbon. Bard was extremely good in 2010, making 73 appearances and posting a 1.93 ERA, a 3.37 FIP, and a K/9 over 9. Not bad for a 26-year-old, and certainly deserving of a shot at keeping Opening Day tied, right? Bard’s line from yesterday looks something like this: .2 IP, 4R, 4ER, 1BB, 1K. He took the loss in the top of the ninth. Somewhere, Papelbon was feeling just a tiny bit more secure in his job. Or let’s look at John Axford, who inherited the closer roll from Trevor Hoffman: last year, he picked up the job early due to Hoffman’s inability to not blow a game, and showed he deserved it with ERA of 2.48, a FIP of 2.14, and strike out to walk ratio pushing three – with almost 12 K/9. In 2010, he picked up 24 saves in 58 IP. In 2011, he’s already managed to blow his first save of the year, giving up a 3-run last-licks home run to Ramon Hernandez and taking Edison Volquez off the hook for the three homers he himself allowed. Then there’s Brandon Lyon, in the second year of his three-year contract (what have we said about multiyear contracts for relievers?) starting the Astros off to another cellar-dwelling year. He helped out the Phillies’ push to 162-0 by getting only one out and allowing six singles, giving up the game-winner to John Mayberry Jr.
While all these other guys were running around blowing games for their teams, our guy, the guy, if I may, is coming in and getting it done. Thursday was a perfect Mariano performance, a 1-2-3 topped with strikeout looking of Alex Avila. Yes, I know there’s some obvious narrative bias going on here. Yes, I know it’s one save out of what will be many. Yes, I know that this is only one game out of 162, most of which have yet to be played. Yes, I know Mo will almost certainly blow a save at some point during the year even if I’m loathe to admit it. Yes, I know the fact that Mariano Rivera is amazing isn’t breaking news. But there’s a difference between knowing how amazing Rivera is (among other things, he’s all-time ERA+ leader with 205), and having your belief re-affirmed for yet another year. While other teams’ closers melt down, Mo’s presence effectively ends the game in the 8th. While other teams’ rotate through closers, Rivera is the go-to guy every year for the Bombers, and every year he shows everyone – including the fans – why he’s the greatest of all time.
And come on, who wants to say they blew the save on Opening Day?
It can only take one game – one play, even – to make a career. With a single pitch, throw, hit or game, a player can lock in their legacy forever. The funny thing is, the play that makes the player can be absolutely nothing like the rest of his career. I don’t think this is Yankees or even baseball specific. Olli Jokinen, once a New York Ranger, will always be remembered by Rangers fans for the shot he missed in the shootout in the last game of the regular season last year, knocking the Rangers out of the playoffs and allowing the Philadelphia Flyers to go on their Stanley Cup run, even though they were bested by the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals. Jokinen had been, by most hockey measures, at least a half-decent player all his career. The one-play legacy is the ultimate example of small sample size, the very thing that we basement-blogging nerds rage against. Small sample size is the worst enemy of most statistics. Alex Rodriguez batting .156 looks pretty terrible before you find out that’s only in eight games. Francisco Cervelli batted .360 with a .848 OPS….in April 2010.
Think about it. As Yankee fans, we’ll always remember Aaron Boone’s game 7 home run off Tim Wakefield. Boone played major league baseball for thirteen years, and out of all those years (4329 career plate appearances), he showed up in a hundred games or more for only half of them. He was traded for in the middle of 2003 and appeared in only 54 regular season games with the Yankees. He never hit over 30 home runs. He never batted over .300. His career batting numbers are .263/.326/.425 with a 94 OPS+. There is absolutely nothing notable here. He was a Randy Winn or a Josh Towers. But then, of course, he came up in the eleventh inning of the ALCS Game 7 after pinch running in the eighth, and now no one will ever forget him. The ad on his baseball reference page even features the play. My favorite part about the Aaron Boone home run is that we lost that World Series against Josh Beckett’s Marlins, and this never, ever comes up in the Aaron Boone discussion. That memorable home run, viewed through the lens of contemporary Yankees success mentality (World Series or bust!) was ultimately futile. It did nothing aside from give Yankees fans one more year to rub “the Curse of the Bambino” in Boston’s face. Little did we know what awaited us next year….
Just like Boone’s single plate appearance lifted him from forgettable bench player to historical Yankee figure, one play can make fans think a good ballplayer is worth absolutely nothing. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to go into detail about Luis Castillo given my audience, but he dropped a routine pop-up in an effectively meaningless summer game, allowing the Yankees to score two runs, win the game, and eventually win the World Series. Okay, maybe the two things weren’t connected, but Castillo’s error lead to an exaggeration in his vilification (which was already prevalent) by Mets fans and a massive increase of ribbing by everyone else in baseball. When Castillo was released not too long ago, even Sandy Alderson was quoted over at ESPN saying, “I don’t think there’s any question that there’s some linkage between his situation and a perception of the Mets that has existed to this point. That’s something that was taken into account. At some point, you have to make an organizational decision that goes beyond just an ability to play or not play.” As Mets blog Amazin Avenue, pointed out, Castillo was certainly good enough to be on the Mets: his career .290/.368/.351 is solid, and the 2009 where he hit .301 is closer to his norm than the .234 he hit in 2010. It’s worth noting that he also only played in 84 games last year due to a lingering foot injury caused by a nasty bone bruise. Castillo’s not a bad baseball player, but the fact that everyone knows him for one error makes him seem far, far worse than he actually is.
Bill Buckner. Bucky Dent. Armando Galarraga. Dallas Braden. These names have plays – or in the case of the two pitchers, games – that stand out in their careers. Despite throwing an almost-perfect game (for our purposes, it was perfect on Galarraga’s end), the Tigers wouldn’t even carry him on their roster in 2011, and he’s now pitching for Arizona. Braden’s 4.00 FIP and 4.20 ERA are not as remotely impressive as the perfect game he threw on Mother’s Day. It’s these kind of events that highlight the unpredictability of baseball and, even more so, remind both us as fans that anyone can do anything – but when you’re trying to build the best baseball team you can or blame a losing streak on someone, it’s probably worth looking at the long-term numbers and not just remembering the best or worst play you can think of.
As we inch closer to Opening Day, things become settled. The AA and AAA kids are down at their respective camps, besides Manny Banuelos. The great mystery of Yankees Offseason-Spring Training ’11, the starting rotation, has been solved. Bartolo Colon is in the bullpen. That’s okay, though: if you thought that he would even have a fraction of a chance of making the rotation when we signed him, I’m calling BS until you show me proof. I don’t think anyone had anything other than, ‘eh, minor league deal, we’ll cut him in March,’ to say when this first happened. Understandably so, of course: Colon was an aged pitcher with an injury history who pitched only in winter ball last year and spent a grand total of 97 days on the 15-day DL in 2009, more than half of that with elbow problems. But Colon knew there was something still left in the tank. He was still a two-time 20-game winner and had a Cy Young award perched on his mantle, after all.
The first time Colon was mentioned on MLB Trade Rumors was November 15th, where he was said to continue to “maintain conversations” with Rockies, Cardinals, Tigers, and our very own Bronx Bombers. Keep in mind, though, that Cliff Lee didn’t sign till December; at this point, the Yankees probably had very few eyes on Colon and were full steam ahead at working on wooing Lee, while we all pounded F5 on our computers waiting for the announcement that a deal was in place. Between then and January 26th, Lee would sign with the Phillies, shunning his AL Champion Texas Rangers and the giant bags of cash offered by the Yankees. While we waited on Andy Pettitte to return to the team like a knight in shining armor, Colon signed a minor league deal worth $900K and the ability to be cut if he wasn’t on the Opening Day roster. Our article on this, written by the lovely Joe Pawlikowski, is about as skeptical as you’d expect. Joe wrote “there is little indication that Colon can handle a starting job in the majors at this point,” and that he “[found] it nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which Colon can help the team.” I think it’s safe to say that many people, if not everyone, was on this bandwagon. The comments ranged from a handful of “eh, minor league deal, who cares” all the way to “Mark Prior has better odds of starting a regular season game for the 2011 Yankees than Colon” and “I would have taken a shot at Pedro.” There were questions regarding his position on the ‘Better than Mitre’ scale. There were also, of course, the requisite fat jokes. At that point, Justin Duchscherer was the pitcher most Yankees fans wanted to see the club sign.
Of course, about ten days later, Andy Pettitte retired, sending shockwaves through both the organization and the fans. There were suddenly two rotation spots open for Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Colon, and the newly-signed Freddy Garcia. Let the pitching battle begin.
Out of everyone, Colon surprised me (and I imagine many of you) the most. While he could no longer pump out the high-powered gas he’d had before the bone spurs in his elbow, his reduced velocity hardly hindered him at all. In Colon’s first outing, he threw what Mike referred to as “meh,” allowing one run in two innings, walking one and striking out none. It was his second outing, on March 4th, that would raise some eyebrows: against the Boston’s admittedly mostly minor-league team, he struck out five in three innings, giving up only two hits and no walks. While the hitters were not exactly the biggest challenge to throw at a guy, Colon located his pitches well and proved he was worth consideration. He followed this up with another fairly decent outing on March 9th, throwing four innings and allowing two runs on four hits, and striking out seven. According to his mlb.com game log, every one of his 30 pitches was a strike save for a single ball.
His crowning Spring Training achivement, though, would be his start against the Rays. Tampa Bay rolled out most of (if not all) their major leaguers, including Evan Longoria, Johnny Damon, Reid Brignac, BJ Upton, and noted Yankee killer Dan Johnson. Even against familiar names, Colon threw six strong innings, giving up two hits, a run, striking out five, and throwing all of his 32 pitches for strikes. Small sample size and Spring Training caveats apply, but had there been a true competition, I find it hard to believe this wouldn’t win him a rotation spot: in his 15 IP (fourth-most on the team), he has a 2.40 ERA with 17 strikeouts, one walk, and one home run. He’s getting the ground balls. He’s pounding the strike zone. Even if he gets injured sometime during the season, the stuff itself is there.
I don’t know about you, but I’m personally ready to give up my bias against Bartolo Colon. It’s hard to get one’s mindset back into the groove of thinking positively about a player when they’ve been racking up the disappointing numbers, but everything about Colon’s spring performance is positive. Let’s see if he can take these strong Spring Training numbers and turn them into something that counts. I’ve decided rather than spitting on everything he does, it’s more fun to look forward to it.
We’re about two weeks from Opening Day and we’ve had plenty of spring storylines to discuss, both of the important and eye-rolling variety. Joba is fat. Joba is injured. Manny Banuelos is amazing! Bartolo Colon is fat (but also good?). AJ Burnett is cured (or not)! Michael Kay’s endless angst regarding Posada’s move to DH. Derek Jeter’s contract. Derek Jeter’s house. Derek Jeter’s swing. And of course, Hank. No lull in Yankee baseball is apparently complete without Hank Steinbrenner opening his mouth and sticking his foot as far down his throat as it will go.
Hold on, there’s something missing. There’s something that we’ve all become accustomed to in our Spring Trainings and it’s not here. As a matter of fact, it seems like there is a noted absence of one particular quantity.
Wait. You mean there’s absolutely no A-Rod scandal this spring? How about this offseason? Cameron Diaz, his girlfriend, fed him popcorn in his luxury Super Bowl suite? That’s it? The best you can come up with for Alex Rodriguez, destroyer of baseball, tradition-mauler extraordinaire, is his girlfriend fed him popcorn?
For years, we’ve become accustomed to Spring Training being about – or at least featuring, in some way – how Alex Rodriguez sucks. In 2007, it was about the 2006 ALDS, where he infamously got on base a grand total of twice in his fifteen plate appearances (.071/.133/.071): a single and a hit-by-pitch. If the Yankees had won, this probably would have been framed as The Yankees can win without A-Rod!, a narrative that we see every so often. Instead, they were effortlessly swept out of the ALDS by the magical 2006 Tigers, who beat them by four runs or more in three of the four games. It was, quite obviously, Rodriguez’s fault. Duh. In 2008, it was his World Series opt-out and subsequent massive contract signing (also a Hank news item), the Best Worst contract that we are still dealing with today and will be dealing with for a long, long time. 2009 was probably the worst, what with the steroid drama explosion combined with the hip surgery. Not only was Rodriguez going to come back old and feeble after his labrum was fixed, he was also obviously going to be incapable of hitting any more home runs – even though his leaked steroid use was during his Texas years. Even his 2009 postseason tear and finally achieving True Yankee™ status couldn’t stop the steroid drama from rolling into 2010, with the indictment of Dr. Galea in October.
For the first time in at least four years, we’re having an Alex-Rodriguez-drama-free Spring Training. It is glorious. It seems like this is work of his new PR team, which has adapted the much more fan-friendly campaign of having him hit a lot, look good, talk about how much he loves helping the team, and crack the most well-placed popcorn joke ever. I don’t actually know if he has a new public relations team for real, but it’s hard to argue with the change in results. Even if he sometimes comes off as being a bit fake, that’s certainly preferably to being a cheater (twice), unclutch, an attention whore, and/or only in it for the money.
The only thing we have to say about new and improved Alex Rodriguez is that he is thin and Cameron Diaz feeds him popcorn while he’s at the Super Bowl. That’s it? That’s really the only thing the massive Alex Rodriguez hate machine can come up with? Wouldn’t you want Cameron Diaz to feed you popcorn in your zillion dollar luxury suite for the Super Bowl? I suppose there’s always the standard fallbacks of his Best Worst contract and his down season that included thirty homers and 125 RBIs, but these are overplayed and overshadowed by more recent problems in both departments. The Rafael Soriano contract has taken over the spot for ‘most talked about bad contract,’ and Derek Jeter’s terrible season was far, far worse than A-Rod’s. To make things better for the superstar, Soriano is requesting not to pitch in games and Jeter is batting a measly .303/.343./364 in comparison to Rodriguez’s .406/.424/.906, with one home run in each of the past three games he’s played in. Here’s hoping that in 2012 Spring Training, we’ll be talking about how he hit a home run in each of the four winning World Series games and donated a bazillion dollars to charity.
While it’s safe to say A-Rod will never be ignored by the media, his relatively quiet, team-supportive attitude and absolute victory over the popcorn ‘scandal’ seems to predict that there’s a new Rodriguez in town. Without him stirring his own pot, the media is seemingly is finding less crap to talk about him. Instead, this new guy is interested in hitting a lot of home runs, winning another World Series and making as few waves as possible, and hey, what more can you ask for from a ballplayer?
The first Spring Training cuts of the season have come out, but it’s also good to see that no one has been cut off the roster, just sent off to their respective minor league camps. Today, we bring you some expert analysis (heh, heh) over who will be next to go. Keep in mind that I am not a member of the Yankees organization, and some other excellent predictions from this blog include Yankees will be unable to draft Andrew Brackman (from Mike) and, more recently, they won’t sign Eric Chavez (from yours truly). Five guys were cut this time, I’ll round down and make it an even four: two hitters and two pitchers.
The 24-year-old Venezuelan has seven at-bats in seven games and has nothing to show for it besides a walk. To his credit, though, he doesn’t have any strikeouts, either. The other thing working against him is that he’s a catcher, and the Yankees are absolutely set there. They’ve got an everyday catcher in Russell Martin and ambitious super-prospect Jesus Montero waiting in the wings. If that’s not enough, there’s also Francisco Cervelli, who’s most likely itching to get out of the boot cast and back into the catcher’s gear. Even if none of these work out (which seems unlikely), I’m willing to say Austin Romine is higher up in the depth chart than Gil. If Montero makes the bigs and Romine is in AAA, we might see him in Trenton. He played a lot of first base in Spring Training this year, though there’s a lot blocking him from that angle too.
Doug Bernier signed first with the Rockies as an amateur free agent in 2002 and has showed up in two big league games since then. He’s spent the past four seasons in AAA for three ballclubs: Colorado, Pittsburgh, and the Yankees twice. He shown up in twelve Spring Training ballgames this year. He’s scored a run and gotten two walks, but he’s also struck out in nearly half his plate appearances (6Ks in 13 ABs) for an unimpressive batting average of .154. To make his Bronx chances worse, he plays shortstop, and is blocked by Derek Jeter, Ramiro Pena, and Eduardo Nunez. He’ll likely head to AAA again if he’s in the system.
(Originally this paragraph was about Robert Fish, but at the time of writing this article, he was picked up off waivers by the Royals.)
Daniel Turpen is quickly proving why Boston left him unprotected for the Yankees to pick up as a Rule 5 pick. His numbers are unimpressive – to say the least – in the 3.2 IP he’s pitched this spring. He’s given up three hits and three earned runs along with four walks and four strikeouts. Although it doesn’t mean much, he’s blown both save opportunities that have been given to him. I wonder if the Red Sox will want him back? If so, he’ll most likely start in AA, where he was last year. Also, I couldn’t find a decent picture of him in Yankees attire with proper attribution, so that might say something – I just don’t know what it is yet.
(Edited to add: Turpen is going back to Boston, from the Star Ledger.)
Garrison hasn’t necessarily been the worst this Spring Training, but he certainly hasn’t impressed anyone, giving up ten hits and 5 ER in six IP. On the bright side, he’s only walked one, but he’s also only struck out one. He’ll only be 24 this year, so he’s got some time to work on his stuff before clubs begin to see him as ‘too old.’ Garrison has pitched up and down the ranks in the Padres’ minor league system, and it’s difficult to say where he’ll get planted in the Yankees system if they decide to keep him. He’ll most likely be headed to A ball if he stays, simply because the Yankees have so much good pitching floating around already.