Friday Links: Ichiro, New Commissoner, Draft

The Yankees and White Sox continue their four-game series later tonight, so here are some links to help pass the time before the long holiday weekend.

Ichiro Wants To Pitch
Ichiro Suzuki has adapted to his new role as an extra outfielder very well so far, and he told David Waldstein that if the opportunity arises, he’d like to get back up on a mound at some point before his career ends. He pitched in the 1996 All-Star Game in Japan (video above) and would like to give it another shot. “Fastball and slider, but like all Japanese pitchers, the splitter is my bread and butter,” he joked. “If they need 100 pitches, I would have to get stretched out.” Obligatory “he couldn’t be worse than Alfredo Aceves!” joke goes here. Needless to say, Ichiro pitching needs to happen before the end of the season.

Reinsdorf Unhappy With Search For New Commissioner
Bud Selig is retiring after the end of the season, yet the search for his replacement has been unusual, according to Michael Schmidt. No search firm has been hired, a list of internal and external candidates has not been put together, and most meetings and interviews have happened in secret. The belief is Selig wants MLB COO Rob Manfred to take over, and ChiSox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is not happy because he feels the owners should conduct the search for the next commissioner since they have the most at stake. Reinsdorf has long been a Selig supporter but he’s also been very outspoken about labor relations and making sure things are fair for both sides. He’s right when he says Selig should have little input into the next commissioner because Selig has little to lose.

The Value Of Draft Picks
Over at Hardball Times, Matthew Murphy put together an in-depth analysis looking at the value of draft picks in today’s age, as teams get better at scouting and developing players (part one, part two, part three). There is some pretty gory math in the first two parts, but the third is a nice and neat recap. Long story short: the first five picks of the draft are insanely valuable (duh), but after that there’s very little difference in expected production between picks 6-10 and, say, 20-30. (The Yankees pick 55th overall this year and the expected value of that pick is about $4.5M in 2014 dollars.) There are a lot of teams who would benefit on the field from forfeiting a pick in the back half of the first round to sign a qualified free agent that aren’t doing it. Draft picks are both super important and overvalued.

Unofficial 2014 MLB Players Census
The folks at Best Tickets put together an unofficial census of 2014 MLB players. It includes things like salary information, number of years in the league, player size, countries and states of origin, race data, education levels, age distributions, all sorts of fun stuff. Check it out. I was (very) surprised to see which state produced the most big leaguers per capita.

Must Read: The Story of Masahiro Tanaka’s Splitter

In his worst start of the season last night, Masahiro Tanaka struck out eleven and held the best offense in baseball (by runs per game) to two runs in 6.1 innings. He did that thanks in large part to his trademark splitter, which has generated an insane 58.02% swing-and-miss rate so far. That’s unreal. Johan Santana’s changeup peaked at a 50.86% whiff rate in 2007, for comparison.

How did Tanaka learn that splitter? Jorge Castillo looked into the pitch’s history and it turns out a magazine article about a journeyman American-born pitcher you’ve probably never heard of was the inspiration. I don’t want to give away too much (read the article!), but Tanaka modified the forkball he had been throwing into his current splitter and his career took off. “I probably might not even be here,” he said when asked what would have happened had he never seen the magazine. Here’s the link again. Make sure you check it out. Castillo’s article comes with RAB’s highest recommendation.

Sunday Links: Beltran, TJS, Pitchers, Ice Cream

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees and Angels do not play the final game of their three-game series until 8pm ET tonight — I dislike ESPN Sunday Night Games and am anti-night game on weekends in general — so here are some spare links to get you through the day. Enjoy.

  • David Laurila at FanGraphs spoke to Carlos Beltran last week about hitting. Specifically about making adjustments from year-to-year, his approach, thriving with runners on base, stuff like that. Beltran’s an ultra-smart hitter, so, needless to say, check it out.
  • ESPN’s Jayson Stark put together the best and most thorough take on the recent Tommy John surgery epidemic that I’ve seen so far. I thought the most interesting nugget was that while the rate of elbow injuries continues to increase, the rate of shoulder injuries has actually gone down in recent years.
  • With that in mind, Eno Sarris of Sports on Earth wrote about young pitchers and their tendency to get worse through the years, not better. There is no real peak age. Guys show up in the big leagues, hopefully maintain their performance level for a seasons, then start declining. Obviously there are exceptions, but in general everything starts trending downward immediately.
  • Another post from Eno, this time at Hardball Times. He looked at the Great Ice Cream Riot of 2009, when fans and vendors in the Legends Seats were throwing free ice cream sandwiches to the fans in the slightly less rich seats. It generated some headlines and the Yankees weren’t happy. It was kind of a big deal.

Sunday Links: Tanaka, Puig, Cardinals, Pitchers

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox do not play the final game of their four-game weekend series until tonight (8pm ET on ESPN), so here are some random links I have lying around to help pass the time. Most of them aren’t Yankees-related but they’re all worth reading. I wouldn’t link to them otherwise. Enjoy:

  • Tom Verducci put together a great article on Masahiro Tanaka and it covers pretty much everything. His career in Japan, the pursuit from various MLB teams, blending into the clubhouse, the cultural differences — “The [toilet] washlet is a system in Japan where you press a button and water comes out and washes your ass. Not having that is a big difference,” he said — and a bunch of other stuff. It’s really good, so check it out.
  • Yasiel Puig might be the most polarizing player in baseball today. He’s insanely talented but prone to dumb plays (overthrown cutoff man, etc.) and dumb off-field decisions (speeding arrests, showing up late), and that makes him a popular target for the media. Dan Le Batard, who is a bit of a dope on television/radio but a brilliant columnist, penned this excellent piece on why it’s difficult for us to understand why Puig doesn’t just change. Culture, man.
  • The Cardinals are the premier player development organization in baseball right now, and Derrick Goold wrote this article on their strategy for scouting and developing pitchers. They specifically look for guys with arm strength and athleticism, two traits that can not be taught. In the minors, they emphasize weak contact (not necessarily on the ground) and throwing all pitches to hitters on both sides of the plate. Patience as well. They don’t mind if players take five or six years in the minors to develop.
  • With that in mind, here’s an article by Travis Sawchik on fastball velocity, the average of which continues to increase around the league. The recent emphasis on young players means more fresh arms who can really cut it loose. Velocity isn’t everything, obviously, but it sure does give a pitcher more margin for error. The Pirates, who have flame-throwing former Yankees first rounder Gerrit Cole, are one club that has placed more emphasis on pure heat.
  • And finally, I enjoyed this post by Drew Fairservice about making advanced stats work for television. The Astros show stats like WAR and BABIP on their broadcasts, but most fans don’t care about that stuff and explaining it each time isn’t practical. I think less is more on television broadcasts.

Sunday Link: Breaking the language barrier with Masahiro Tanaka

Looking for some Sunday morning reading? Here’s a great piece from Jorge Arangure on Shingo Horie, Masahiro Tanaka‘s translator. Arangure goes into Horie’s background (he applied for the job despite having no translating experience), the relationship between the two men (they first met the day of Tanaka’s introductory press conference), and why Japanese players are given individual interpreters rather than sharing one. It’s really interesting stuff, so check it out. Comes with RAB’s highest level of recommendation.

Saturday Links: Sizemore, Sabathia, Prospects

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This is the last baseball-less Saturday until sometime in November. The Yankees open their exhibition schedule against Florida State on Tuesday, then they begin Grapefruit League play against the Pirates the following day. Here are some stray links and notes as we gear up for real, live baseball.

Sizemore’s Opt-Out Dates

According to Chad Jennings, infielder Scott Sizemore has two opt-out dates in his minor league contract: May 1st and August 1st. I assume he has to be added to the 25-man active roster on those dates, not just the 40-man roster. That’s usually how these things work.

Sizemore, 29, has played in only two games over the last two years due to back-to-back torn left ACLs. He is competing for the final bench spot in camp and I get the sense he might have a leg up on guys like Eduardo Nunez and Dean Anna. That’s just a hunch though. If Sizemore doesn’t make the team, the Yankees will have about a month of Triple-A time to evaluate him before his first opt-out comes into play.

Sabathia’s Biomechanics

Following his disastrous 2013 season, CC Sabathia spent part of the winter at Dr. James Andrews’ institute in Alabama having his mechanics analyzed, report Jennings and Bryan Hoch. It’s a biomechanical analysis, so they strap a bunch of sensors to him and the data is recorded electronically. Sabathia had the same thing done following the 2003 season and the analysis showed there has been little change in his delivery over the years.

“It was brought up, and I thought it was a great idea, because I knew they had the data,” said Sabathia. “It’s the same as it was ten years ago. Pretty much, except the rotation in my hips. You get old. You get bad hips when you get old, right?”

Sabathia said he changed his arm angle in 2012 to compensate for the bone spur in his elbow, but apparently things were back to normal last year. The bone spur was surgically removed last winter. “I think they talked a lot about my arm angle and stuff like that, but it’s been the same … But where I was at last year is where I should be,” he said. With his mechanics looking good, Sabathia focused on adding strength this winter.

“I feel good. I feel strong. I don’t feel any fatigue or anything like that,” he said after throwing to hitters yesterday. “It’s just strength,. I’ve been doing a lot of long toss this year, and like I said, I threw all offseason. I’m ahead of where I was last spring, maybe even the spring before, just from all the work I’ve been doing. I’m encouraged by the way I feel. My arm angle seems to be good, getting the ball out. My arm just needs to catch up with the rest of my body.”

Baseball America’s Top Prospects By Position

Baseball America published their list of the top 100 prospects in baseball last week, a list that included only two Yankees: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (#4) and C Gary Sanchez (#35). I don’t consider Tanaka a prospect given his lengthy career in Japan, but whatever. It’s their list and they can do whatever they want.

Following the top 100 list, Baseball America published lists of the best prospects by position. Here’s the index and here are the Yankees’ farmhands who made the cut:

Sanchez is second to only Austin Hedges of the Padres (an elite defender with a promising bat) behind the plate, which surprised me. I guess they love the bat enough to overlook his long-term defensive concerns. Other than that, the Yankees don’t have many guys near the top of the various positional rankings (again, Tanaka doesn’t count in my opinion) and that’s why their system ranks among the bottom half fo the league.

Masahiro Tanaka Links: Transition, Scouting Report, Igawa, Quotes

(Koji Watanabe/Getty)
(Koji Watanabe/Getty)

In about an hour, the Yankees will (finally) introduce Masahiro Tanaka with a press conference on Yankee Stadium. As you may have already heard, he spent nearly $200k to charter a massive Boeing 787 from Tokyo to New York over the weekend, which the New York Post is already trying to turn into a controversy. If you’re not going to use your $155M contract to charter 787s around the globe, well then I just don’t get the point of it all. Here are some stray Tanaka links from around the web.

The Transition From NPB To MLB

Buster Olney (subs. req’d) had some really great stuff about the transition from NPB to MLB in his blog today. The whole thing is worth reading, but the most important takeaway is that Tanaka has already embraced the Yankees’ throwing program as he prepares to go from starting every seven days to every five days.

“This is not something unusual. It’s like a guy moving from the AL to the NL. He’s going from 20 to 25 starts to 32, and you’re forced to work and make adjustments,” said Brian Cashman. “You can’t make someone do something they’re not comfortable doing. That would be doomed for failure.”

We’ve already heard that Tanaka was using an MLB ball during his between-starts bullpen sessions last year, but Olney says teams were impressed with the quality of his splitter with the MLB ball during the World Baseball Classic last spring. Daisuke Matsuzaka had trouble throwing his splitter over here and it essentially took away his best pitch. Make sure you check out Olney’s post, it’s well worth the read.

Scouting Reports

Tim Dierkes polled several non-Yankees officials who have extensively scouted Tanaka, and in general they are very optimistic. More than I expected, really. They all agreed he has three better than average big league pitches — one evaluator said they like his slider more than his splitter — and an extra gear for his fastball in tight spots. At least one deemed him a number one starter.

“He pitches inside, he doesn’t pitch away from contact a lot,” said one evaluator. “Some guys in Japan, they’re not as aggressive. He has more of a Western style that he’s not afraid to go up and in, he’s not afraid to pitch inside. He pitches kind of with a little chip on his shoulder.”

He’s Not Kei Igawa

This goes without saying, but Jack Moore went through the trouble of writing it up anyway. Tanaka and Igawa have pretty much nothing in common outside of their nationally, as Tanaka was a considerably better pitcher in Japan with better stuff. There is no comparison statistically — Jack didn’t mention that Igawa’s inferior stats also came in Japan’s DH-less league — and the idea that Tanaka will be another Igawa is click bait at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. Tanaka might be a total bust, it could happen, but if he does, it won’t be for the same reason as Igawa, who simply lacked the stuff for the big leagues.

Some Quotes

Nothing really groundbreaking here, but the Japan Times has some quotes from Tanaka before he left for New York over the weekend. “I’ve heard that the New York media can be severe,” he joked, “but I don’t want to be overly concerned about what’s going on around me. I would rather focus on the things I need to do.”