Archive for Analysis
By OPS+, Curtis Granderson had the seventh-worst 40+ homer season in baseball history last year. That’s kind of a silly thing to say because a 116 OPS+ is still really good, but it was well-below the 142 OPS+ he managed one season ago. The performance drop was most notable in the second half, when Granderson hit .212/.278/.480 (98 wRC+) with a 31.8% strikeout after managing a 130 wRC+ (25.9 K%) in the first half. His postseason performance, as you know, was abysmal (-9 wRC+ and 48.5 K%).
Granderson will turn 32 in March and he’s right on the prime years bubble — you would expect his performance to start to slip naturally due to age, but you wouldn’t expect it to completely crater yet either. I know he’s done it two years in row now, but I have a hard time expecting Granderson to hit 40+ homers against this coming season. He certainly has the ballpark going for him and it’s not like his power (.260 ISO) was a concern last year, but hitting 40+ homers in a season is a very tough thing to do. Doing it three times in a row, regardless of age, is damn near impossible. He seems like a lock for 30+ if he stays healthy, however.
Despite his age and the unlikelihood of another 40+ dinger season, there are some reasons to expect Granderson’s overall performance to rebound a bit next season. The big one is his .260 BABIP, which was a career-worst and well-below his career .305 mark despite a career-high line drive rate and his lowest fly ball rate in five years. Batted ball data is fickle and one man’s line drive is another’s fly ball, but the important thing is that he was not hitting the ball in the air more than he had previously in 2012. Balls hit in the air turn into outs relatively easily, yet Granderson had no significant change in his batted ball profile.
Now, it’s worth nothing that the career .305 BABIP number probably isn’t a great frame of reference. Granderson, as you know, overhauled his swing mechanics with Kevin Long in August 2010 and from that point through the end of the 2011 season, he managed a .292 BABIP. It’s not a huge difference but it’s a difference nonetheless. I’m more comfortable using the .292 as his baseline BABIP rather than the .305. Either way, there will hopefully be a little correction coming in 2013. It won’t be a ton, but getting the BABIP back up to .290 or so should be enough to get his average out of the .230s and back into the .250s and .260s. Add in his typically high walk rate (11.0% in 2012) and that should get his OBP back into the .350-ish range.
Another thing worth noting is that Granderson was behind in the count more than usual last season as pitchers threw him a first pitch strike 55.7% of the time, his highest mark as a Yankee. The difference in expected outcomes between falling behind 0-1 and jumping ahead 1-0 is enormous for all players, Curtis included. Granderson always works deep counts — his 4.27 pitches per plate appearance rate was the fifth highest in baseball last year — and he tends to take the first pitch, so it might be worth it to get a little aggressive this year and jump on a few first pitch fastballs in 2013. That obviously isn’t something that will just happen on its own like BABIP magic, Granderson (with some help from Long) will have to work on it.
Since he’s due to become a free agent next offseason, it would behoove Curtis to have a really strong season in 2013. His power will get him paid regardless, but getting those batting average and on-base numbers back to their pre-2012 levels could be the difference between a Cody Ross contract (three years, $26M) and a Nick Swisher contract (four years, $56M), for example. I do think that if Granderson had been with another club last year or the last two years or whatever, we’d be talking about him as a bounceback candidate the Yankees should look to acquire in a trade. The Yankees are going to need the power production this summer after losing Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, but if I could get greedy for a moment, it would be really awesome if Curtis put together a huge walk year overall as well.
Kevin Youkilis is famous for many reasons, including his rather unique batting stance. He bounces around with his hands separated and high above his head … it’s not something you would teach to kids in little league. Let’s put it that way. It worked for him so it stuck, but that’s going to change next season. With his production declining, Youkilis and hitting coach Kevin Long have examined some old tape and worked on a new setup this offseason.
“We looked at old film and compared it to 2012,” said Long to Dan Martin earlier this month. “We saw some considerable differences, mainly in his stance and it looked like the adjustments had an impact … I think we can get him back to being an all-star caliber player.”
Jack Curry followed up by reporting that the specific adjustments include a wider base and deeper crouch at the plate, as well as a lower hand position. Dropping hands is a classic adjustment made by older players losing bat speed because it helps get them into the hitting position sooner. Rather than having to bring his hands down and then start to load the swing, Youkilis’ hands will already be down and require less movement to begin his load. Make sense? It cuts out a step. The wider stance, on the other hand, creates a bigger base and helps balance. Albert Pujols has a very wide base at the plate, for example.
Since Youkilis has continued to annihilate left-handed pitching in recent years, I assume these changes are geared towards helping him hang in better against right-handers. With some help from the indispensable Baseball Heat Maps, here are Youk’s heat maps against right-handed hitters over the last three seasons…
I highly recommend clicking the image for a larger view, but from left to right that’s 2010, 2011, and 2012. The red is good (above average production on pitches in those spots), the blue is bad (below average), and the green is about neutral (average). Youkilis has always been a dead pull hitter, so it’s not a surprise that he’s had the least success on outside pitches these last three years. You can kinda see the blue spots gradually drop within the strike zone over the years, which makes sense given the position of his hands and the assumed loss of bat speed. He simply has a long way to go to reach those pitches and can’t do it as well as he once did.
Here’s the thing though: Youkilis never was and most likely never will be someone who can consistently take that outside pitch the other way. He’ll do it on occasion, no doubt about it, but given his struggles against down-and-away pitches last year, the goal is more along the lines of “well at least now he has a chance.” If Long and Youkilis can do enough that those down-and-away pitches become something other than automatic swings and misses, it should help him get better pitches to hit because we know he has the eye to lay off stuff out of the zone and can still do an okay job against pitches on the inner half.
The Yankees were painted into a bit of a corner a few weeks ago when news of Alex Rodriguez‘s hip injury broke, as the free agent third base options included Youkilis, Mark Reynolds, and a bunch of utility infielders. They opted for the most accomplished of the bunch, but unfortunately they’re not acquiring the Youkilis of 2008-2010. He’s still a serviceable hitter though, especially against left-handers, and it’s good to see he and Long are putting in work this offseason in an attempt to improve his overall production. Long as helped turn Curtis Granderson into one of the game’s best power hitters and Robinson Cano into an elite all-around hitter, now all he has to do is get Youkilis back to being himself.
Since we last met, the Yankees addressed nearly all of their arbitration business by signing Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, and Joba Chamberlain to one-year contracts that were a bit more pricey than MLBTR’s projections. Here’s an updated look at the team’s payroll situation for the upcoming season…
- Existing Contracts ($121M): Alex Rodriguez ($28M), CC Sabathia ($23M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Derek Jeter ($17M), Robinson Cano ($15M), Curtis Granderson ($15M), David Aardsma ($500k)
- Players Signed In Offseason ($70.525M): Hiroki Kuroda ($15M), Andy Pettitte ($12M), Kevin Youkilis ($12M), Mariano Rivera ($10M), Phil Hughes ($7.15M), Ichiro Suzuki ($6.5M), Boone Logan ($3.15M), Brett Gardner ($2.85M), Joba Chamberlain ($1.875M)
- Remaining Arbitration Cases ($3.55M max): David Robertson (filed for $3.55M, team countered with $2.85M)
- Buyouts & Dead Money ($8.75M): A.J. Burnett ($8.5M), Pedro Feliciano ($250k)
Assuming Robertson wins his arbitration hearing (doesn’t make a big difference either way), the Yankees already have $203.825M in real dollars (not average annual value for luxury tax purposes) tied up in 17 roster spots. They’ve opened each of the last five seasons with a real-dollar payroll in the $203-214M range, meaning they have approximately $10.2M to spend on the remaining 23 40-man roster spots if they’re willing to again open the season at a similar level.
The 15 players on the 40-man but not in the big leagues will earn less than the league minimum — the pro-rated minimum in the show and something much less in the minors. I’ve seen those players estimated at $2.5M total which I think might actually be a little light in the Yankees’ case. Remember, Alex Rodriguez and Michael Pineda are going to open the season on the 60-day DL and will have their 40-man spots occupied by other players. Let’s call it $3.5M for the non-active roster 40-man players.
Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Chris Stewart, Frankie Cervelli, Eduardo Nunez, and Clay Rapada are in their pre-arbitration years but project to open the season on the 25-man roster. They’ll earn something close to the league minimum, so $3M for the group ($500k each). Those six combined with the 15 non-25-man players brings us to $210.325M for 38 players. Jayson Nix and Matt Diaz are the early favorites to fill out the bench, and they signed minor league contracts that will pay them $900k and $1.2M in the big leagues, respectively. We’re now at $212.425M for a full 40-man roster.
The Yankees still have a number of holes to fill, but at this point I think we should all stop expecting them to find a legitimate starting catcher. Maybe (hopefully) they’ll claim George Kottaras and his meager $1M salary to, if nothing else, compete for the job in the camp. It’s not like they’d be taking on a huge financial commitment or anything. They still need a DH and miscellaneous depth pieces, both on the bench and for the pitching staff. More minor league contracts are inevitable, but there still appears to be some room left in the payroll to acquire a real big leaguer who improves the club. I expect that to happen at DH.
When the arbitration dust settled late last week, the Yankees had reached agreements with all of their eligible players except for David Robertson. The two sides filed salary figures — Robertson filed for $3.55M while the team countered with $2.85M — before Friday’s deadline, and those numbers will be used during a potential hearing late next month. It’s important to point out that Robertson and the Yankees can agree to a new contract of any size between now and a hearing.
As we know, Hal Steinbrenner is not a fan of contract extensions. We also know the team is willing to bend the rules a bit to sign players long-term before they hit free agency. The Yankees did it with Robinson Cano prior to the 2008 season and they were willing to do it again with Russell Martin last winter. Robertson is not due to become a free agent until after the 2014 season, but he’s an exception candidate for the no-extensions rule given the impending departures of Mariano Rivera (retirement) and Joba Chamberlain (free agency) next winter.
Robertson, 27, has emerged as one of baseball’s most dominant relievers over the last two seasons. His 1.84 ERA and 2.15 FIP both rank sixth among all bullpeners since the start of 2011 (min. 50 IP) while his strikeout rates (12.79 K/9 and 34.8 K%) both rank fifth. Robertson’s also thrown a ton of important innings these last two years, as his 1.57 gmLI (leverage index when entering the game) is the 27th highest overall and the third highest among non-closing relievers (arbitrarily defined as guys with fewer than ten saves). Sure, the walk rates are high (3.82 BB/9 and 10.4 BB%), but they aren’t astronomical. Robertson makes up for it by missing bats and getting grounders (45.6%).
Unsurprisingly, the number of non-closing relievers who have signed extensions two years before free agency is very small. That has much more to do with the teams wanting to limit risk than the players not being open to it, obviously. The only guy from that group who is remotely comparable to Robertson is Glen Perkins, who inked a three-year, $10.3M extension with the Twins during Spring Training last year. The left-hander had just one year as an elite reliever under his belt (2.48 ERA and 2.41 FIP) at the time of his extension and it wasn’t even as good as Robertson has been the last two years. We’re running very short on comparables here.
We know Robertson’s camp values his second year of arbitration-eligibility at $3.55M — a $1.95M raise from last season — thanks to their filing figure. MLBTR projected a $2.8M salary for next season, which is right in line with the team’s filing figure. Maybe that means the Yankees have a good chance to win a hearing, but I don’t think that’s a safe assumption. The club has been to just two arbitration hearings this century, beating both Rivera (2000) and Chien-Ming Wang (2008). That doesn’t mean much though, I’m sure they’re eager to work out an agreement with their setup man before having to step in front of a three-person panel next month. No one likes to go through a hearing, they tend to get ugly.
The Yankees would presumably look to sign Robertson for at least three years, which would buy out his final two seasons of arbitration-eligibility and one free agent year. Tacking on a club option or three at the end would be ideal for the team but not the player. I’m just going to spitball some numbers here: they could look at something like $3M in 2013 (a bit below the midpoint of the filing figures), $4.75M in 2014, and $6.5M in 2014 with a $250k signing bonus and a $500k buyout of a fourth year club option worth say … $9M. That’s a three-year, $15M guarantee that gives Robertson a $1.75M raise annually and the team a $5M luxury tax hit. He’d hit free agency at age-31 if the option was exercised.
Contract extensions are a two-way street since each side is giving something to get something else. The player trades maximum earning potential for financial security while the team trades the risk of performance decline for cost certainty. The unique twist here is Robertson’s role. If he were to assume the closer’s role at some point this year or next, his earning potential would skyrocket because saves pay. Given Rivera’s age and the likelihood of retirement after this coming season, you don’t have to try to real hard to envision a scenario in which Robertson becomes the closer within ten months or so. His agent is surely aware of that.
The other thing we have to remember is that Robertson is a reliever, and those guys have a tendency to fall apart without warning and for no apparent reason. Just using fWAR as a quick example, the three best relievers in baseball two seasons ago were Carlos Marmol, Brian Wilson, and Heath Bell. Four seasons ago Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood, and Brad Lidge were in the top five. It’s a volatile position and no matter how much we like Robertson and believe he’ll be different than the rest, he’s just as risky as every other reliever, especially when you factor in his less than stellar command. Given the team’s newfound dedication to staying under the luxury tax threshold, having ~$5M in payroll tied up in a risky reliever might not be the wisest thing in the world, even if they envision him as Rivera’s heir.
I don’t expect the Yankees to explore a long-term agreement with Robertson even though the two sides were unable to find common ground prior to last week’s filing deadline. Brett Gardner and Boone Logan didn’t sign until after the filing deadline last year, and there were no extension talks there as far as we know. Getting cost certainty from a reliever — especially a non-closing reliever — isn’t a huge priority for any team, so working out a multi-year contract with Robertson probably isn’t worth the hassle even though the club is likely to lose both Rivera and Joba after the upcoming season.
Three years ago, a then 36-year-old Derek Jeter looked dangerously close to being finished. He hit .270/.340/.370 (93 wRC+) across 739 plate appearances in 2010, by far the worst full season offensive performance of his career. The Cap’n rebounded in mid-2011 thanks to some mechanical work with former hitting coach Gary Denbo, and he rode those adjustments to a .316/.362/.429 (117 wRC+) showing last season. It was his best season since 2009 and second best since 2007.
An ankle fracture that may or may not be related to the bone bruise he played on for most of September ended Jeter’s season during Game One of the ALCS back in October. He had surgery a few weeks later and his rehab is progressing well based on last week’s update. Jeter has yet to do any baseball activities such as swing a bat or field some grounders, but he’s riding a bike and running in a pool. So far, so good, so right now he’s on track to be ready for Opening Day.
Great players tend to age differently than others, but no matter how iconic he may be, Jeter is 38 years old and Father Time is lurking. The number of full-time shortstops who qualified for the batting title at that age (or older) and managed to be above-average offensively is three, and only one has done it in the last 60 years. That was Jeter in 2012. Factor in the ankle injury, the significance of which should not be downplayed, and I think it’s far to say the Yankees captain is more of a question mark now than ever before, even after that disappointing 2010 season.
In a recent Insider-only ESPN piece, Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to look at the next three seasons of Jeter’s career. The standard disclaimer goes here: projections are not predictions, they’re an estimation of a player’s true talent level. Szymborski notes that even high-BABIP hitters like Jeter (career .354) tend to fall off rapidly in their late-30s, to the tune of 30+ BABIP points in a single season. Based on that alone, ZiPS measures the Cap’n at .288/.338/.396 next season, which isn’t far off from his 2010 effort. That does not factor in the ankle injury, however.
Szymborski notes that players who missed 30 or so days due to a leg injury — which Jeter would have done had he injury occurred in say, June instead of October — tend to underperform projections the following year. When he plugs the leg injury into ZiPS, it spits out a .277/.334/.369 projection for Jeter in 2013. That almost exactly matches his 2010 season, when he was close to 10% below league average. You can see Jeter’s ankle-reflecting projections in the table on the right, and they aren’t particularly pretty.
The league average shortstop hit .256/.310/.375 (86 wRC+) this past season, and that’s atrocious. So the good news is that even an old and somewhat hobbled Jeter projects to be an above-average hitting shortstop for at least the next two years, which, coincidentally, is how long he remains under contract (assuming the player option for 2014 is exercised). The bad news is that those projections are a big step down for the Cap’n, which is not what the Yankees need at a time when they’re losing offense in right field and behind the plate. Maybe at DH and third base as well.
Projections are wrong all the time, of course. ZiPS is consistently the best out there on a macro level, but on a micro level there are a ton of hilariously poor misses. The system projected a .280/.347/.393 line for Jeter last season, just as one example. I have no worries about Jeter preparing himself for the season, but I do worry about a potential setback if he pushes himself too hard. Just look at what happened to Andy Pettitte last summer. We all know Derek is going to put the necessary work in, but at some point the clock is going to strike midnight. Maybe it happens in 2013, maybe it happens in 2015. When you add the ankle problem on top of his age, the chances of Jeter’s production taking a big step back becomes even greater, and that’s one of the last things the club needs right now.
Since our last installment, the Yankees have signed Kevin Youkilis, re-signed Ichiro Suzuki, and avoided arbitration with Brett Gardner. Here’s an updated look at the team’s payroll situation for 2013…
- Existing Contracts ($121M): Alex Rodriguez ($28M), CC Sabathia ($23M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Derek Jeter ($17M), Robinson Cano ($15M), Curtis Granderson ($15M), David Aardsma ($500k)
- Players Signed In Offseason ($58.35M): Hiroki Kuroda ($15M), Andy Pettitte ($12M), Youkilis ($12M), Mariano Rivera ($10M), Ichiro ($6.5M), Gardner ($2.85M),
- Projected Arbitration Salaries ($13M): Phil Hughes ($5.7M), Boone Logan ($2.8M), David Robertson ($2.7M), Joba Chamberlain ($1.8M)
- Buyouts & Dead Money ($8.75M): A.J. Burnett ($8.5M), Pedro Feliciano ($250k)
That’s a total of $201.1M for 17 roster spots in terms of real dollars, meaning actual 2013 salaries and not the average annual value for luxury tax purposes. The Yankees have opened each of the last five years with a payroll in the $200-2014M range (again, real dollars), leaving them approximately $13M to fill the remaining 23 40-man roster spots assuming they’re willing to spend a similar amount.
The 15 players who are on the 40-man but will not be on the 25-man active roster will earn less than the league minimum. Those guys have split contracts that pay them one amount in the show (something close to the league minimum) and another in the minors (much less). I’ve been estimating those guys at $500k each to make life easy ($7.5M total), but I’ve also seen others estimate that total at $2.5M. Either way, it eats up a chunk of that remaining $13M or so.
Chris Stewart, Eduardo Nunez, David Phelps, Ivan Nova, and Clay Rapada are all in their pre-arbitration years and will pull down a combined $2.5M or so in 2013. That gives us to $203.6M for 22 roster spots, but the 15 non-active roster guys bring us into the $206.1-211.1M range. Two of those last three roster spots could go to Matt Diaz ($1.1M) and Jayson Nix ($900k), who are not on the 40-man at the moment. Either way, the Yankees have something like $3-8M to fill out the roster if they intend to open the season at a similar to level to the last five years.
I don’t expect New York to acquire a real starting catcher at this point, so their remaining holes include a DH and various bench pieces (right-handed hitting outfielder, utility infielder, etc.). Diaz, Nix, and Nunez could fill out the bench, but I hope they’ll seek out at least one more quality reserve player and some minor league contract guys to provide competition in camp. As much as I’d like to see them acquire Jason Kubel, I don’t see it happening. If the Yankees are only willing to spend that $3-8M or so for those remaining spots, the pickin’s will be very slim.
In case you missed it, earlier today I took a super early look at the team’s 2014 payroll situation.
Although the calendar just flipped to 2013, I think we’re all looking ahead to 2014 as far as the Yankees’ payroll is concerned. The club plans to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold one year from now, and because of the way the tax is calculated, they’ll have to stay under that amount for the entire 2014 season. The Yankees haven’t finished a season with a sub-$189M payroll in about ten years, so it’s a significant cut o matter how much ownership and the front office try to downplay it.
The luxury tax is based on the average annual value of contracts* on the 40-man roster and is basically adjusted daily, meaning the “tax hit” for players who don’t spend the entire season on the 40-man (called up late, traded, etc.) is pro-rated. Bonuses count as well, as does the team’s portion of the league’s player benefits. Players benefit costs are shared equally by the 30 teams and will be valued at a touch less than $10.8M in 2013, but they are expected to go up to about $12M for 2014. Just like that, the $189M is really $177M as far as what can actually be spent on players.
Obviously a whole lot is going to change over the next 22 months, but the Yankees have started to plan for 2014 by going heavy on one-year contracts this offseason. Here is where the current 40-man roster stands with regards to the 2014 payroll…
- Under Contract For 2014 ($80.9M): Alex Rodriguez ($27.5M), CC Sabathia ($24.4M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Ichiro Suzuki ($6.5M)
- Contract Options For 2014: Derek Jeter ($9.5M player option)
- Arbitration-Eligible In 2014: Brett Gardner (third time), David Robertson (third time), Frankie Cervelli (first time), Chris Dickerson (first time), Ivan Nova (first time), Michael Pineda (first time), Clay Rapada (first time), Chris Stewart (first time)
- Pre-Arbitration In 2014: David Adams, Zoilo Almonte, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Cody Eppley, Ramon Flores, Corban Joseph, Brett Marshall, Melky Mesa, Eduardo Nunez, David Phelps, Jose Ramirez, Austin Romine, Francisco Rondon, Nik Turley, Adam Warren
- Potential Bonuses For 2014 ($37.5M): A-Rod ($6M each for 660, 714, 755, 762, and 763 career homers), Jeter (up to $7.5M based on awards)
- Free Agents After 2013: David Aardsma, Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Kevin Youkilis
The Yankees have just four players under contract for 2014, but those four soak up 42.8% (!) of the $189M limit, or 45.7% of the $177M limit, if you prefer. There’s a decent chance two of those players (A-Rod and Ichiro) will be non-playable and need some kind of replacement. It seems like a safe bet that Jeter will exercise his player option, though I suppose he could decline the option and demand a multi-year contract if he has a huge year. That would be something.
Obviously A-Rod won’t hit all five of those homer milestones in 2014. He’s sitting on 647 career homers right now and will miss about half of 2013 due to his hip injury, and you know what? It would be pretty great for 2014 payroll purposes if he managed to hit 13 homers next season to take care of that first milestone. He’d need to have a monster campaign in 2014 to trigger the 714th homer bonus, which is unlikely to happen at this point. Even A-Rod in his prime would have trouble hitting enough homers to trigger that bonus. Saving that $6M would be pretty big in the grand scheme of things, think of it as the ability to acquire a $17-18M player at the trade deadline.
Nova would need to spend about four months in the minors next season to avoid being arbitration-eligible in 2014, which doesn’t seem all that unrealistic if he continues to pitch the way he did in the second half. Pineda would need to spend about three months in the minors to delay arbitration, but remember, he will collect service time while on the DL at the start of the season. He’d have to be activated off the DL when healthy in May or June, then be optioned down and basically spend the rest of the season in Triple-A. I could see the Yankees sending Pineda down for the two or three weeks to delay free agency a year, but not three months to delay arbitration, especially if he’s healthy and throwing well.
Ten players who project to be full-time big leaguers in 2013 are due to hit free agency next winter, including three starting pitchers and half the bullpen. Cano’s free agency is the elephant in the room, as he’s expected to command a nine-figure contract in an age when so many teams have so much money to spend. You don’t have to try all that hard to envision the Tigers, Dodgers, Angels, Red Sox, Nationals, Rangers, Mariners, Cubs, or Giants making a run at him. I expect the Yankees to re-sign him to a huge contract, and if it’s worth say $23M annually (eight years, $184M?), the Yankees will be left with $73.1M to spend on 35 (!) 40-man roster spots during all of 2014. Doable for sure, but it won’t be easy given the current market.
* I get questions about this every single day. The luxury tax is based on the average annual value of the contracts. Front-loading, back-loading, side-loading, or whatever else you can think of won’t help. MLB will also step in should there be any blatant luxury tax circumvention, such as signing Cano to a one-year, $5M deal for 2014 with a nine-year, $200M player option. It won’t help at all.
The Yankees are trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014 and are therefore fixated on signing free agents to one-year contracts this offseason. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte will have to be replaced next winter, and so will Phil Hughes. The 26-year-old right-hander is due to hit free agency next offseason, when he’ll be the only starting pitcher on the market on the right side of 30. If he has a good (not even great) walk year, Hughes will get paid handsomely on the open market.
As you know, team policy is to not negotiate a new contract until the current one expires. The Yankees broke that policy to sign Robinson Cano long-term back in 2008, and they were willing to break it again last offseason by offering Russell Martin a three-year pact. Hughes, who has been inconsistent and hurt and homer-prone during his time as a big league starter, doesn’t jump out as someone the club could look to extend before he hits the open market. Given the uncertain futures of Michael Pineda (shoulder) and Ivan Nova (terrible 2012) and Phil’s relative youth, perhaps they should.
Most starting pitchers who get to within one year of free agency do not sign contract extensions. The most notable exceptions are high-end pitchers like Cole Hamels (six years, $144M) and Jered Weaver (five years, $85M) or older guys who just had their first taste of success like Ryan Vogelsong (two years, $8.3M) and R.A. Dickey (two years, $7.5M). Hughes is somewhere in the middle, which leaves us short on contract comparables. With some help from MLBTR’s Extension Tracker, here are the only two starters remotely comparable to Hughes who have recently signed extensions one year prior to qualifying for free agency.
|Joe Blanton||Wandy Rodriguez||Hughes|
|Previous Three Years fWAR||9.7||10.3||5.0|
|Previous Three Years bWAR||2.5||8.5||3.1|
|Previous Three Years RA9||10.6||10||5.3|
|Platform Year fWAR||2.0||3.7||1.9|
|Platform Year bWAR||2.4||2.3||1.5|
|Platform Year RA9||3.5||2.1||2.2|
WAR is far from perfect but I’m going to use it here just as quick tool for comparison. I prefer bWAR and RA9 (more on that here) myself because they are runs allowed-based and not peripheral-based like fWAR. Ultimately I think a pitcher should be judged by how well he keeps runs off the board regardless of how he does it. We can then use things like strikeout and ground ball rates to look at how sustainable a performance is in a separate analysis. A pitcher is only as valuable as the runs he prevents. Anyway, all three WAR versions are presented here.
The current version of Hughes lags behind Blanton and Wandy at the time of their extensions mostly because of his lost season in 2011. Had he managed a full healthy season, his numbers would be much more comparable but probably still a little short. The necessary adjustments for ballpark and league and all that are built into the stats, so Phil shouldn’t get any extra credit for pitching in the AL East. He doesn’t have any 200+ inning seasons to his credit, but he is younger than those two at the time of their contracts (several years younger than Wandy).
Blanton signed his deal prior to 2010 while Wandy signed his prior to 2011, so we do have to consider inflation. The spending caps applied to the draft and international markets basically force teams to put money into the big league roster, and as a result free agent prices have climbed this winter. Not necessarily salaries, but everyone seems to be getting that one extra year. Hughes is in a unique spot given his age in that he probably wouldn’t want a long-term contract. A shorter term deal, like the three years Blanton and Wandy received, would still allow him to still hit free agency before his 30th birthday.
My concern about signing Hughes long-term is the homers. He pitched to a 1.6 HR/9 this year and 1.3 HR/9 over the last three years, which is astronomical in these offense-suppressed times. Since we’re talking about locking him up for another three years, here’s the list of pitchers to post both a 1.3 HR/9 and an above-average ERA during their age 27-29 seasons over the last 25 years.
There are a handful of pitchers within five percentage points of a league average ERA (Sterling Hitchcock and Javy Vazquez being the most notable), but that’s the list. Obviously we should ignore Wakefield because he’s a knuckleballer, but the rest of those guys were nondescript mid-rotation arms who were more about bulk innings than high-quality innings. They were all considered top pitching prospects once upon a time as well (all made at least one Baseball America Top 100 Prospects List), so Hughes isn’t unique in that regard.
Can Hughes improve his homer-prone ways? Of course, but it would be a very risky assumption. The Blanton and Wandy contracts suggest he would be in line for a three-year deal worth $24-30M if he signed an extension this offseason, an $8-10M average annual value for luxury tax purposes. Hughes is projected to earn $5.7M through arbitration this winter, so he’d be signing away two free agent years for a guaranteed $18.3-24.3M. Assuming Phil repeats his 2012 season in 2013, I don’t think an AL East proven 27-year-old starter would have much trouble fetching $9M+ annually on the open market. Shouldn’t have much trouble at all.
The Yankees are projected to have something like $80-90M coming off the books next offseason, but only $50-60M of that will be reinvested in the team given the 2014 payroll plan. A big chunk of that money is going to Robinson Cano, so it’s really like $30M or so address the rest of the team, including potentially three rotation spots. Pineda recovering well from shoulder surgery and Nova putting together a strong season would make life a lot easier, but those are far from guarantees. Committing $8-10M in 2014 dollars to Hughes right now isn’t the smartest move with regards to the payroll plan, but the Yankees would always have the option of trading him down the line.
The contract is still pending a physical (hardly a slam dunk given his recent back problems), but the Yankees agreed to sign Kevin Youkilis to a one-year contract worth $12M yesterday. The deal shores up the third base position in the wake of Alex Rodriguez‘s new hip injury, and it also gives the team some lineup balance after losing the right-handed hitting Russell Martin and switch-hitting Nick Swisher. Youkilis has been trending in the wrong direction the last few years, but he is just one year removed from a 126 wRC+ season.
As a right-handed batter, there’s no doubt Youkilis benefited from playing in Fenway Park all those years. In fact, during his peak years from 2008-2010 (.308/.404/.560, 150 wRC+), no hitter was more productive when it came to pulling the ball. Youkilis hit .478/.476/.959 (280 wRC+) (!!!) when he pulled the ball during that three-year stretch, thanks in very large part to the Green Monster. As a right-handed batter, all he had to do was take aim for that sucker and watch routine fly balls go for doubles.
Youkilis won’t have that luxury in Yankee Stadium. It’s a good park for left-handed hitters thanks to the short right field porch, but left field and left-center field in particular are a different story. The park is almost exact league average when it comes to surrendering doubles and homers to right-handers according to the park factors at StatCorner, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means righties don’t get the same ballpark boost as lefties. Youkilis remains a pull hitter, with 47% of his balls in play going to left field this season and only 22% going the other way to right. Here’s his spray chart for the season (courtesy of Texas Leaguers)…
Most of his hits came to the pull side, but Youkilis did hit for some power to right field (.239 ISO) and that’s what you’re looking for in Yankee Stadium. His natural stroke isn’t to the opposite field like say, Martin’s and Derek Jeter‘s, but there’s enough opposite field ability to allow Youkilis to take advantage of the short porch on occasion. He’s a pull hitter, but not an Andruw Jones-esque dead pull hitter who couldn’t go the other way if his life depended on it.
As friend of RAB Patrick Sullivan pointed out yesterday, Youkilis hit just .158/.248/.237 (!) in his 242 plate appearances outside of hitter-friendly Fenway Park and U.S. Cellular Field last season. It’s not a huge sample but it is definitely a little worrisome to see a road performance that poor, especially when a guy is outside of two parks tailor-made for his swing and approach. There’s some evidence that Youkilis can take advantage of the short right field porch, but for the most part Yankee Stadium will not help his offense much this season. It’s not an ideal fit, but the options were limited.
Two weeks ago I looked at the Yankees’ infield defense over the last decade using a real simple BABIP-based analysis. The club was a well-below-average defensive team against ground balls in six of the last ten years, including each of the last three years and four of the last five. With an aging Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter on the left side of the infield, the poor infield defense wasn’t a surprise.
Today I’m going to shift to the outfield and look at how the Yankees have done when it comes to converting fly balls into outs. Not counting infield pop-ups because they’re in their own little analytical world, fly balls turn into outs far more often than ground balls and line drives. It’s worth noting that available batted ball data, which reliably dates back to 2003, is not perfect. Baseball Info. Solutions records the data with human stringers who watch each game and classify each batted ball. Ground balls are pretty straight forward, but one person’s fly ball is another’s line drive. There is some scorer bias involved. We’re going to stick to regular old fly balls today. Here’s the data, and apologies in advance for the cluttered table…
|#FB||NYY BABIP||AL BABIP||xOuts||aOuts||dOuts||Primary Outfield|
|2012||1,339||0.133||0.128||1,168||1,161||-7||Ibanez, Grandy, Swisher|
|2011||1,414||0.124||0.137||1,220||1,239||19||Gardner, Grandy, Swisher|
|2010||1,456||0.118||0.139||1,254||1,284||30||Gardner, Grandy, Swisher|
|2009||1,418||0.118||0.136||1,225||1,251||26||Damon, Melky, Swisher|
|2008||1,358||0.137||0.138||1,171||1,172||1||Damon, Melky, Abreu|
|2007||1,542||0.130||0.137||1,331||1,342||11||Matsui, Melky, Abreu|
|2006||1,591||0.140||0.141||1,367||1,368||1||Melky, Damon, Abreu|
|2005||1,499||0.154||0.133||1,300||1,268||-32||Matsui, Bernie, Sheff|
|2004||1,619||0.153||0.133||1,404||1,371||-33||Matsui, Bernie, Sheff|
|2003||1,559||0.150||0.128||1,359||1,325||-34||Matsui, Bernie, Mondesi|
xOuts: Expected number of outs based on the league BABIP.
aOuts: Actual number of outs recorded.
dOuts: The difference between actual and expected outs, so aOuts – xOuts.
Just to be clear, homeruns are not counted in the fly ball total because they aren’t a ball in play. A ball isn’t in play if the defender doesn’t have a chance to catch it, which they can’t do when it sails over the fence.
As you probably remember, the Yankees had some miserable defensive teams in early-to-mid-aughts. The Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams-anchored outfields from 2003-2005 were good for 30+ fewer outs converted than the league average, which is an enormous number. Adding Melky Cabrera and (to a lesser extent) Johnny Damon to the mix improved things greatly in 2006, though the Yankees were still league-average. Bobby Abreu was a defensive nightmare who prevented the unit from being above-average.
The 2009 season is when things really improved. Abreu’s wall-fearing ways were replaced by Nick Swisher, who is a solid defender and far better than his predecessor. Brett Gardner also started to earn more playing time. The 2009-2011 outfields were well-above-average as the Matsuis and Damons and Abreus were replaced, though the 2012 defense took a hit when Raul Ibanez handled left field in the wake of Gardner’s injury. The Yankees have boasted an average or better outfield defense (with regards to fly balls) in six of the last seven years, and in several of those seasons they were much better than the league average.
As I mentioned two weeks ago, ground balls are relatively harmless. They usually go for singles when they sneak through the infield and that’s the end of it. Fly balls, even the ones that don’t go over the fence for homers, are much more dangerous. Misplayed fly balls often turn into extra-base hits, which can be a nightmare for the pitcher. It’s one thing to have a man on first after a ground ball finds a hole, but it’s another when a fly ball dunks in and a man is instantly on second or third. The Yankees have done an excellent job of turning their outfield ranks over in recent years while improving the fly ball catching ability without sacrificing offense.