Game 55: House of Horrors

(Photo Credit: Flickr user via Creative Commons license)

For the longest time, it seemed like Angels Stadium was a complete nightmare for the Yankees. They won just five of 24 games in Anaheim from 2005 through the 2009 All-Star break, which is absolutely dreadful. But for whatever reason, the Angels and their stadium are just like any other team now. I don’t think many of use dread playing the Halos anymore, likely because they’re clearly a team in decline  and (of course) the 2009 ALCS. Good times, good times. Here’s your starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Russell Martin, C
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Brett Gardner, LF

Ivan Nova, SP

Dan Haren Update: RAB fave Sam Miller reports that Haren will have tomorrow’s scheduled start pushed back to Tuesday because of his back issue. I assume the Angels will just bump Ervin Santana up to Saturday and Joel Pineiro up to Sunday. Thursday’s off day allows them to pitch on normal rest, so that’s not an issue.

A.J.’s trade value, or lack thereof


A lot has been written and said about A.J. Burnett recently and many fans are calling for him to be traded.  The obvious answer to that is that A.J. is untradeable.  For the most part that is true, but clearly if the Yankees really wanted to trade him they could, it would just cost them a ton of money.  Without getting too unrealistic and saying the Yankees should eat $40 million (of the $49.5 million remaining on his contract), what could they possibly get for him?  Let’s take a look at some possible candidates in a Burnett trade and decide if shipping him out of town would be worth it.

Derek Lowe– The Braves had interest in Burnett when he was a free agent, reportedly offering him a 5 year/$80 million contract.  When they couldn’t get him, they settled for Lowe at 4 years the $60 million.  Lowe has two years and $30 million left on his deal, so the Yankees would certainly have to eat some of the cash on Burnett’s extra year.  Would you trade Burnett and $10 million for Lowe, essentially paying $40 million for 2 years of Lowe, who hasn’t pitched in the AL East since 2004 and has a 4.37 ERA in the NL East the past two years?  Though it would be tempting to have one less year of expensive mediocrity, A.J. has had success in the AL East much more recently than Lowe and has more upside.

Barry Zito– Zito has 3 years and $64.5 million remaining on his contract (including a buyout).  I don’t think I need to go much further discussing this one do I?  Despite Zito not being a total disaster the past two years (and that’s a compliment), there’s no way he’d have success in the AL East at this point in his career.  As frustrating as A.J. can be, I cannot imagine watching Zito and his 85 MPH fastballs in the Bronx for the next 3 years.

Carlos Zambrano– A few months back I would consider this an absolute no.  Now I think the Cubs would.  Zambrano is owed just under $36 million over the next two years, so while the AAV is similar to A.J.’s, the extra year owed to Burnett is huge.  Burnett has obviously been a disaster lately while Zambrano has been on a tear.  Since being put back in the rotation in August Zambrano is 7-0 with a 1.27 ERA.  Those numbers are a bit fluky, but there’s no doubt he’s looked much better since coming back.  Zambrano of course has had several disciplinary and attitude issues with the Cubs, would they jump at the chance to get him out of their clubhouse and bring in the well-liked Burnett?  I doubt it, and again, because of the extra year, the Yankees would have to chip in some cash.  If the Cubs were interested in the swap, that could tell us a lot more about his relationship with the Cubs and maybe more behind the scenes issues we don’t know about it.  If that’s the case, would you want the Yankees to bring him in?

Other than these three there aren’t many pitchers out there that you could even consider matching up in a trade.  Dig into position players and you can find the untradeable players due to their contracts such as, Vernon Wells (4 years/$86 million), Alfonso Soriano (4 years/$72 million), Alex Rodriguez (oops).  Clearly trading A.J. would not be easy, and no matter what you get back you’re not guaranteed an upgrade.  Like it or not, A.J. is here to stay, so you might as well treat him like everyone’s crazy uncle. We have to deal with him, but he’s family, so just get ready to grind your teeth for the next three years while A.J. takes the mound.

Sunday Morning Links

Here are some links while we have to wait all day for the Moseley vs. Dice-K pitchers duel (good luck to ESPN selling this game).

Here’s a good read on maple bats and the potential fix to the very real problem of them breaking.  Within the piece there are several other links to good articles.  Barry Bonds being one of the first players to use maple bats might end up having a bigger impact on the game than Bonds being one of the thousands to have used PED’s.

An update on Mark Mulder and the cautionary tale of pitching . Mulder’s career is a great reason why the Yankees are cautious to lock up their young arbitration eligible pitchers early and will likely continue to do so with Hughes going forward.  Through the age of 27 Mulder already had 97 wins and seemed to be well on his way to a great, Pettitte like career. He won just 6 more the rest of his career and is now trying his hand at golf, still just 33 years old.

I think instant replay in baseball is just a matter of when, but not if at this point.  Still, the more it’s talked about, and the more awful calls that cost teams games, the quicker it will be here.  Bob Costas was recently on the Dan Patrick show and ripped Bud Selig over the lack of replay in baseball.  Here is a quick rundown of what he had to say, and here is full audio of the segment.  I certainly will celebrate the day there is a good replay plan in place in MLB.

Jon Heyman took a look at some of the question marks plaguing all of the playoff contenders.  People that focus solely on the Yankees can certainly point out their flaws, but there’s certainly no perfect team out there.  Heyman also notes that the Yankees aren’t likely to go all out for Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth.  While this makes sense to anyone who’s paid attention this year, many in the MSM still are fitting Crawford for pinstripes in the offseason.  I just don’t see it myself.

Another kind of Wild Card

While the Andrew Brackman call-up story has been all over the map, it was confirmed on Thursday that Brackman has indeed been activated.  We still have no idea if Brackman will throw his first major league pitch this year (Thursday would have been an ideal time).  If he does, and he’s a success, could we see Brackman on the postseason roster?

The pitching roster for the playoffs is far from set and the possibilities are being debated all over the place and I’m sure within the Yankees organization.  If Brackman gets some garbage time innings in and dominates, I could see him replacing whoever is currently penciled in for the last spot on the roster.  While it sounds crazy, Brackman has upside that Moseley, Vazquez, Gaudin and Mitre just don’t have.  If he comes in and dominates for 5-10 innings over the next 10 days, why not?

This idea all stems from how valuable Francisco Rodriguez was for the Angels in 2002.  He wasn’t called up until September and didn’t throw his first major league pitch until September 18th.  He was 20 years old with 317.2 minor league innings, Brackman is 24 with 247.1 innings, so it’s not like Rodriguez had a huge advantage in experience, especially considering Brackman went to college. K-Rod established himself quickly and despite just 5.2 major league innings, there was no way the Angels could leave him off their playoff roster.  They were rewarded when Rodriguez’ domination continued into the playoffs and helped the Angels to the title.  I don’t think Brackman has it in him to dominate like K-Rod did, but he could also pitch 5 or 6 innings if needed in an extra inning or a bad AJ kind of game.  He could truly be a wild card.

I will say that I don’t expect this to happen, but I would love for Brackman to get his feet wet in the majors and pitch well enough for him to even be in the discussion.  While the last spot on a playoff bullpen may not matter much, if he pitches well enough to get real innings in, he could be extremely valuable.  The value of relievers is greatly overrated in the regular season, but dominating performances out of the pen can go a long way in a tight postseason series.  We’ve seen enough of Mariano Rivera over the past decade and half to know how valuable a shutdown reliever can be, but he hasn’t been alone.  He’s the only one who has done it consistently, but there’s no way the Angels win in 2002 without Rodriguez, or the Sox in 2004 without Foulke, or the Cardinals in 2006 without Wainwright all dominating out of the pen.  What do you think, if Brackman pitches and dominates over the next 10 days, would you want to see him on the mound in October?

Gardy or Grandy in 2011?

Elsa/Getty Images

On twitter recently Stephen R. from TYU threw out a question about what you would give up for Colby Rasmus. It wasn’t considering team needs, salary, etc. but he wanted to know how Yankee fans valued their prospects vs. Rasmus. There were interesting responses, and one of the often repeated arguments was that Yankee fans would rather trade Gardner than Granderson. This brings me to my question: Who does more for the Yankees in 2011?

I’ll start by saying I am a big proponent of Granderson. I think going forward for 2011 and 2012 (at least) Granderson will outproduce Gardner. Looking at their 2010 seasons this assertion seems a little off the wall, but I think we have seen the worst of Granderson and the best of Gardner. Granderson has been a valuable player this year, Gardner has played at an All-Star level. I get that. My concern is going forward. Aren’t we seeing the absolute peak of Gardner’s abilities this year?

If the 2010 Granderson is the player he is going forward, he still provides value as an average offensive player with above average defense in CF. Working with Kevin Long has helped Granderson recently, though there is no way we can directly correlate that Long’s help “fixed” Curtis. Whether it was Long’s help or not, Granderson’s bat has picked up in the past month. Long will likely be around next year and Granderson is a willing listener and learner. Either way, Granderson definitely has room for improvement. Will he ever be the beast he was in 2007 and 2008? Probably not, though at just 30 years old on Opening Day 2011, he’s still in his expected prime and is definitely capable on improving his 2010 season. Granderson’s 2010 BABIP is .283 vs. a career BABIP of .316. I can’t ignore that his 2009 BABIP was .275 so I don’t want to say he has been unlucky for two straight years, but his batted ball data hasn’t seen any major shift in 2009-2010 from the rest of his career. His career LD% is 20.7 which he is matching this year and was at 21.2% in 2009. With his speed and line drive rate, I have to think his BABIP is due for a rise next year. Even if it doesn’t, he’s still valuable.

If the 2010 Gardner is the player he is going forward, he provides a ton of value. I’m just not convinced Brett will keep this up going forward, this is likely his peak. What can he realistically do better than he is doing this year? He’s not going to hit for power. I doubt he’ll become a .420 OBP guy. Are more of his balls in play likely to fall in for hits? Doubtful. His defense is great and isn’t something that he’ll necessarily improve going forward. Gardner to me is the epitome of a sell high piece right now. We don’t know that Gardner can repeat this next year. If he does, that’s great. If he doesn’t, then you’ve just lost a very valuable trade chip and might have a 4th OF on your hands. Noted Yankee hater* Keith Law is still not sold on Gardner. He doesn’t believe Gardner’s skill set will allow him to continue producing at this level. Whether it turns out to be true or not, that’s a fair assessment. I don’t advocate trading Gardner for a middle reliever, but if there are teams out there that are sold on Gardner’s 2010 as his true level, you have to investigate. Considering the financial cost, I believe Gardner, at least to some teams, would be more valuable on the trade market than Granderson anyway.

*not really

In 2011 Gardner could certainly be a more valuable player than Granderson, but Granderson is far more of a sure thing. Granderson’s potential peak is higher, but more importantly Gardner’s potential floor is lower.  Maybe the Yankees are 100% sold on Gardner and like his cheap production, but if these guys come up in trade talks during the offseason, I’d much rather Gardner be the one packing his bags.

Are you ready for some football?

Since it’s the start of the NFL season I wanted to intertwine football and the Yankees. Let’s take a look at some professional athletes with ties to the Yankees and the NFL.  Which ones made the right choice?

Pat White- As has been discussed here, White was recently cut from the Miami Dolphins after being a 2nd round pick just last year.  His football prospects are not looking great right now (there are rumors he received zero phone calls once cut), so it would be interesting to see if he has considered heading back to the diamond and soon after writing that White signed a deal with the Royals to return to baseball, though he may not be completely done on the gridiron.  As we know, the Yankees drafted him in the 48th round of the 2009 draft, but he was also drafted three other times, in the 49th round in 2008 by the Reds, in the 27th round in 2007 by the Angels and in the 4th round in 2004 by the Angels (passing up 6 figures).  He got a college education and $2.4 million guaranteed so despite his recent axing, he likely made the right choice.

John Elway- It’s pretty easy to say John Elway made the right choice, but he was a good baseball player as well.  Two years before he was drafted in the NFL, the Yankees spent their 1981 2nd round pick on Elway.  In 1982 he played 42 games for Oneonta and put up an impressive .318/.432/.464 line.  If the Baltimore Colts didn’t cede to his trade demand, maybe he would have actually stuck with baseball.  Who knows if he ever would have made it to Yankee Stadium.

Drew Henson- Drew Henson turned out to be the anti-Elway.  He did stick with baseball but wasn’t quite good enough and went back to football.  That didn’t work out so well either as he has appeared in just 9 NFL games with one start.  Had he stuck to one sport or the other coming out of High School he definitely would have had a better chance, but we’ll never know if stepping away from the football field would have allowed him to learn how to hit a curveball.

Daunte Culpepper- Culpepper’s struggles with academics almost led him down the baseball path.  While he was recruited by big schools like The U and Florida out of high school, he didn’t have the test scores to get in (seriously the couldn’t sneak him into The U?).  He did find a home at the University of Central Florida where he committed to playing quarterback.  Had he never found a college to call home, he just may have joined the Yankees, who drafted him in the 26th round in 1995.  Culpepper must have been a pretty menacing dude on the mound at 6’4 and 250+ pounds with a great arm.  There is no doubt Culpepper made the right call as he has earned a ton of money in the NFL.

Deion Sanders- Deion primarily went the football route where he became a Hall of Famer and one of the best cornerbacks of all time.  He did stick around baseball long enough to play in 641 games and put up a .263/.319/.392 line, that’s not too shabby considering his two sport status.  Deion was terrible as a Yankee with a 55 OPS+, and his most famous Yankee moment is probably pissing off Carlton Fisk which almost led to a brawl.

Bo Jackson- Deion and Bo were undoubtedly the biggest two sport athletes in the past 25+ years.  Bo, who went on to have very successful, but injury shortened careers in both MLB and the NFL was originally drafted out of high school by the Yankees in the 2nd round in 1982 (a year after taking Elway in the 2nd round). Jackson went unsigned and chose to go to Auburn to play both football and baseball.  Jackson had Hall of Fame talent in both sports, and had he stuck to one sport and avoided injury he likely would have made it.  He’ll have to settle for being in the Tecmo Bowl Hall of Fame.

Dave Winfield- Mr. May definitely made the right choice in sticking to baseball and spent 9+ years with the Yankees.  Along with being a first round pick in baseball (as a pitcher, no less) he was drafted in the 17th round of the NFL draft despite never playing college football.  Winfield was also drafted in the both the NBA and ABA drafts.  While football was probably never a serious choice he likely could have made it in pro basketball, but not with the success he enjoyed in baseball.  Despite being drafted in several sports, in the recent Baseball Analysts draft, Winfield waited by the phone but never got the call. (that last sentence might not be entirely true).

Others of note:  Brandon Jones of the Seattle Seahawks was drafted by the Yankees in 2001.  World Cup goalie Tony Meola (ok, that’s futbol not football but he did try out for the Jets) was drafted by the Yankees.

Buyer Beware……….in 2015

Felix Hernandez recently became the 3rd youngest player since 1950 to reach 1000 career strikeouts.  While the offseason extension he signed may have put a damper on the King Felix to NY dreams, he still will hit free agency at the age of 29.  Next time around don’t expect much of a team friendly deal though, and the Yankees will certainly be in the mix barring a disaster for Felix on the way.

What are the odds of this disaster?  As a young guy with a ton of pitches already on his arm, is he more predisposed to injury or burning out too soon?  I decided to take a look at other pitchers who reached 1000 strikeouts before their age 26 season.  Since 1950, 11 pitchers have done this.  Let’s take a look at who they are and how they performed until they were 25 and how they performed from 29 (when Felix will likely become a FA) to 35.

Future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven is 1st on the list.  While he was still a very good pitcher, he saw decreases in his K/9 rate (to 6.7) and K/BB rate (to 2.79).  Also, his ERA+ dropped from a stellar 132 to a decent 118.  His best years certainly came before hitting 29 but he was very productive into his mid 30’s.

Everyone is aware of Dwight Gooden’s problems and his career certainly peaked early, but if his early workload was a factor(likely), it was only one of many.  Doc certainly battled his demons throughout the years.  Ages 29-35 were not pretty for Doc, with a 6.1 K/9, 1.44 K/BB and a 96 ERA+.  He was done at the age of 35.

Sam McDowell’s last good year as a major league pitcher came at the age of 28 (after a league leading 305 innings at 27).  He was done at 32.  From 29-32 he was bad, with a 6.9 K/9, 1.23 K/BB and 87 ERA+.  After a very solid start to his career, McDowell was out of the game at an age where Randy Johnson had just 104 wins.

Fernandomania is next.  Even though he came along later than most of the guys on this group, Valenzuela still came up in an era where pitch counts were mostly ignored.  While he also battled some conditioning issues, I think the workload certainly caught up to Fernando.  After a stunning start to his career, Fernando’s last good season came at 25 and was less than mediocre after the age of 29.  From 29-35 Fernando had a 4.8 K/9 ratio, 1.38 K/BB ratio and 91 ERA+.  He retired at 36.

While Don Drysdale is in the Hall of Fame, his late career was not great and he retired at 32.  From 29-32 his K/9 ratio was 5.8 with a strong 3.17 BB/9 ratio and about a league average ERA+ of 105.  Leading the league in starts for 4 straight years from 25-28 (eclipsing 300 innings every year) certainly couldn’t have helped him in his twilight.  He basically did nothing after the age of 28 that bolstered his Hall of Fame chances other than compile a few more wins.

Frank Tanana was a great young left handed fireballer (I’ve heard Jon Lester as a good comp.) who was one of the best pitchers in baseball before he hurt his arm. He came back and  reinvented himself as a soft tosser.  While he was pretty successful afterwards, he never again approached his early career success.  From 29-35 he had ratios of 5.9 K/9, 2.12 K/BB and a 107 ERA+.

Denny McLain had some Gooden like off the field issues, but was out of baseball at 28 primarily due to serious arm problems.  At ages 24 and 25 he threw 661 innings combined and threw just 384.1 the rest of his career.  He appeared to be on his way to the Hall of Fame (114-57 thru 25) but clearly never came close.  He never even reached his age 29 season, but from 26-28 he struck out just 4.3 batters per 9 with a 1.46 K/BB ratio and a 73 ERA+. The workload certainly got to McLain soon after he was old enough to rent a car.

Larry Dierker’s career got started at 17 (and think of how impressive what Jesus Montero is doing in AAA at the age of 20).  Shockingly enough (or not shocking at all), Dierker was done at 30.  At 29 and 30 Dierker had a 4.7 K/9, 1.34 K/BB and an 87 ERA+.  Good thing he threw those 305 innings at the age of 22 though.

Former A and Yankee Catfish Hunter is up next, and while he stuck around long enough to be enshrined in Cooperstown (his worthiness is another discussion) Catfish’s career also ended early and his career as a great pitcher ended as soon as he hit 30.  He actually wasn’t a great pitcher from 19-25 but racked up a ton of innings getting him plenty of strikeouts.  His best years came from 25-29 but was about average after that.  From 29-33 he struck out 4.5 batters per 9, had a 1.84 K/BB ratio and a 103 ERA+ that includes his 144 ERA+ at 29.

Last on the list is Joe Coleman who was done at 32 and threw just 378 innings after 29.  He had a 4.9 K/9 and a 1.25 K/BB to go along with a 101 ERA+.  At 18 he threw 93 innings between the minors and majors.  At 19 it was 208.  Too bad Tom Verducci wasn’t around to save the day.

I didn’t know what I was going to encounter when I started this post, but maybe Nolan Ryan should take a look.   A lot of these guys burned out early and it would be interesting to see what they could have accomplished with today’s workloads and pitching programs.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of these guys were out of the game so early, and none of them could match their early successes.  While I don’t think too much can be culled from these comparisons I think it’s interesting nonetheless.   Clearly Felix has been groomed differently as a big money bonus baby whose every move and pitch has been tracked since he signed.  Still, there is no guarantee he will be healthy down the road, and some believe you only have so many bullets in an arm before its shot.  I hope Felix is sitting there as a big free agent at 29 because that will mean continued health and success for him.  If he ends up on the Yankees down the road, lets just hope he breaks the mold of the list of guys above.