Mailbag: Lui, Zhang, Sabathia, A-Rod, Payroll

Wow, I asked for questions last night in the open thread, and you guys responded big time. Over 20 questions hit the inbox, so don’t feel bad if yours isn’t featured below. We’re actually going to post another mailbag or two today just because there were so many good submissions and we want to get to them all. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box whenever you want to send in a mailbag question in the future.

Ed asks: What is the current status of the Chinese players the Yankees signed 3 or4 years ago?

He’s talking out lefty pitcher Kai Lui and catcher Zhenwang Zhang, who the Yanks signed back in June of 2007. Both were 19 when they signed, and obviously they have not yet come to the United States to begin their pro careers. They did however play for China in the World Baseball Classic last spring, with Lui getting lit up in two relief appearances (1.1 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1 HB … so what’s that, a 16.7% strand rate?) and Zhang failing to reach base in six plate appearances while striking out three times.

Wikipedia says both players were released at some point, and we all know wiki is never wrong. Neither Lui or Zhang was much of a prospect anyway, but they were instead the Yanks first venture into the completely untapped baseball market of China. It was a way to get some positive press in the most populated country in the world, and really just the first step in the process. At some point the Yanks will sign another player from China, then another, and after a while one of them will actually be pretty decent and come to the States. It’ll be a slow a process, but a process that started three years ago.

Vinny asks: When C.C. made his start against Toronto the other day, people began to worry that he wouldn’t be in great shape for the post-season because he would be pitching with 8 days rest. I’ve always found these kind of things to be stupid. I once pitched, for my high school team, and I would throw about every 6-7-8 days. Granted, I’m no C.C. and I only threw 65 mph, I feel that it’s not reasonable to think that C.C. wouldn’t be prepared. Whenever I made starts with many days of rest in between, I always felt stronger than ever and the results were pretty good….obviously not good enough, as I currently live with my parents. Awkward. What are your thoughts?

More than anything, I’m just worried about Sabathia’s command coming off the eight day rest. I’m sure he’ll be fine physically, if not stronger than usual, but if he’s having trouble locating his pitches it won’t matter. The last thing the Yankees need is for the other team to work him hard early in and force him out after five or six innings. I’ll admit though, my concerns about the rest are probably overblown.

Planks asks: If A-Rod hadn’t opted out of his contract in 2007, he would be a free agent this year. What kind of contract could he expect to sign?

That’s a mighty fine question. Given his age and the fact that his performance has dropped off a bit this year (.366 wOBA after no worse than .385 since 1998), not to mention the hip issues and PED stigma, you’d have to think that he’d get a smaller deal than Adrian Beltre. That said, power is at a premium these days, and Alex has proven that he can still hit the ball very very far very very often. Maybe he wouldn’t get $20M+ annually, but I bet he’d find something like $13-15M a season for three years on the market. For the record, Joe thinks that’s a little light on the salary.

I’d like to hear from the commentors on this one, because I really don’t feel like I have a hold on A-Rod’s market value at all. I just don’t see too many obvious fits for him, besides maybe the Tigers or Angels.

Mark in VT asks: What is the breakdown for next year’s salaries? I’m concerned that the Yanks won’t be able to “afford” Cliff Lee if they are serious about keeping payroll around $200 million. Also, are you worried with Lee’s workload and recent struggles (small but noticeable)? Is he going to pull a Santana? Thanks.

I broke down the money that’s coming off the books in the very first RAB Mailbag, and for the most part those figures still hold true because none of the trade deadline pickups will be back next season. Back then we narrowed it down to about $50M coming off, with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera still having to be re-signed. Add in Lee and you’ve probably blown the $50M right there. Good thing they’ve got a bunch of cheap options to fill out the bullpen and bench. Cot’s has an in-depth breakdown that shows the Yanks’ payroll situation through 2014, so I recommend checking it out.

The Yanks were willing to go over their reported $200M budget at the deadline this year, and I suspect they’ll be willing to do so next year for a guy like Lee. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if they drag the Jeter and/or Rivera negotiations out a bit. It would be a lot easier for Brian Cashman to go to the Steinbrenners in December and say “hey, I need more money to re-sign Derek/Mo” than it would be to say “can I have some more to sign Cliff?”

As for the concerns about Lee’s workload, yeah sure there’s a chance he breaks down at some point, in fact it’s likely just given the nature of pitching. Saying a pitcher is going to get hurt is the safest bet in sports. Lee’s not a terribly big guy (listed at 6-foot-3, 190 lbs.) and his workload over the last three years has been considerable (700.2 innings since Opening Day 2007 not including what he throws this postseason), but he has no history of arm troubles. I mean, yes it’s a concern, but no more than with any other pitcher.

Mailbag: Lee, Darvish, Granderson, Bats, ALDS

Are you guys digging the mailbag? I thought it would be a good way to interact with readers, but I don’t want it to come off as cheap, lazy content. I want it to actually be informative and interesting and stuff. Let me know what you’ve thought of the RAB Mailbag experience so far in the comments.

This week we’re going to tackle Cliff Lee vs. Yu Darvish, Curtis Granderson‘s surprising power, maple bats, and the best potential ALDS matchup. If you want to send in a question, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Kevin asks: This offseason say Cliff Lee hits the market, Yu Darvish is posted, and Andy Pettitte wants to come back, which two do the Yankees chase? Or do they try to find a way to get rid of Burnett and chase all three?

If Pettitte wants to come back, he comes back, guaranteed. That’s not a decision that has to be made, it’s a given.

Between Lee and Darvish, I would think the Yanks prefer Lee. He’s a known commodity in the American League, they’re obviously obsessed with him given how many times they’ve tried to acquire him the last year-and-a-half, and there’s bidding process involved. It’s true free agency. While Darvish is a great young pitcher (younger than Phil Hughes!), he’s a complete unknown when it comes to his ability to succeed in MLB and transition to a new culture and everything. Plus the long-term track record of Japanese starters in MLB isn’t great, though they generally have one or two strong seasons before regressing. That may have something to do with going from a once-a-week schedule to a once every five days schedule. There’s simply much, much more risk.

As much as we might want it to happen, A.J. Burnett‘s not going anywhere. Too much money left on the deal ($49.5M), and they’re not going to eat a chunk of it so he could pitch for someone else. For better or worse, A.J.’s here to stay.

Shai asks: Curtis Granderson is a power hitter. How does he generate so much pop, being a small guy who doesn’t look very muscular/strong?

Don’t be fooled, Grandy’s jacked. Watch some Yankees on Deck or something like that when they show him wearing something other than a uniform and you’ll see it. He’s thin, but I bet if you poked him in the chest with your finger it’d be like poking a rock.

Also, pure muscle doesn’t result in homers. A lot of it has to due with bat speed, and too much muscle mass can actually hinder that. Brute strength isn’t everything when it comes to hitting homers.

Joe asks: I was writing to see if you had an opinion on the use of maple bats. Do you think that MLB should ban them from the game for safety? Damon would shatter tons of those last year.

Maple bats are a problem just because they shatter so much more than ash bats. Obviously there was the Tyler Colvin incident a few days ago, but there was also the less publicized Rick Helling incident a few years ago, when a 15-inch piece of a broken bat lodged three inches into his left arm. Yeah, how about that for an under-reported story?

Broken bats are part of baseball, but that’s not a reason to blindly accept the dangers of maple bats. They don’ crack like ash bats, they shatter and splinter and become dangerous projectiles. It’s only a matter of time before a shard of a bat flies into the stands and does something horrible to a fan. I mean, it’s inevitable. Attendance is too high and there are just too many broken bats. Players use maple because they feel like the ball jumps off he bat better, and in fact they’re more expensive than ash.

You would think that the teams themselves would be interested in getting rid of maple bats because those are their players on the field and I imagine they want to protect their investments. The Yanks go to great lengths to monitor Phil Hughes’ workload, but shouldn’t they also want to do away with maple bats to avoid a possible injury to CC Sabathia? I don’t want to tell baseball how to run their league, but the safety of the players and (especially) the fans should be the first thing on their minds.

I guess I never answered the question. Yeah, get rid of them. Easier said than done, of course.

Drew asks: Long-time reader, first-time emailer. I have a slightly controversial question for you and the readers: do we want our Yanks to actually win the Wild Card instead of the AL East? The reason I ask is that the stars appear to be aligning for us to face the Rangers in the ALDS, and I’m more afraid of their rotation than the Twins’. The way the playoff schedule lines up, teams can realistically go with three starters in each series, meaning we’d be facing this Rangers front three: Lee, C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis. For the Twins, it’d be Liriano, Pavano and Scott Baker. I’d rather face the Twins’ three than the Rangers’. And if we win the AL East we’d almost certainly face the Rangers – whether the Twins grab homefield advantage or not – while if we get the Wild Card it’s almost a lock we play the Twins.

What do you think? Obviously I never like my teams to stumble into the playoffs, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing if the Rays won this series and held us off the rest of the way, right?

(This was sent in a few days ago, obviously)

I’d prefer a matchup with the Rangers, for many reasons. One, I don’t think the difference in the rotations is all that big. Yes, potentially facing Lee twice in a five game series is scary, but it’s not like facing Liriano instead would be any easier. The Yanks have had their way with Wilson a few times this season, but Lewis is an admittedly tough matchup because he’s got a good changeup and the Yanks have never seem him before. That’s a big double whammy right there, though perhaps the two negatives cancel out into a positive, I dunno. Pavano, despite his past in New York, has pitched well this season and Baker has actually been tough against the Yanks historically. I’d rather face Wilson (who’s thrown more innings this year than he did in 2007, 2008, and 2009 combined) and Lewis (who’s never been in any kind of playoff race in his life) than the duo Minny has backing up their ace.

Two, the Rangers without a healthy Josh Hamilton just aren’t the same. He’s been getting cortisone shots like they’ve been going out of style for his ribs and whatever else, and there’s still no concrete date for his return to the lineup. That dynamic, anything is possible at any time force is missing from their lineup. Yes, the Twins are without Justin Morneau, but their depth makes his loss more tolerable. If Hamilton’s not 100%, I’d much rather take my chances with Vlad Guerrero, Ian Kinsler, David Murphy, and Nelson Cruz than Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, and Delmon Young. Of course Hamilton might be healthy and productive by the time the ALDS starts and that would change things, but that’s far from a safe assumption.

Three, for most part the Rangers are playoff virgins. Vlad, Lee, and Darren Oliver have been in playoff games before, but that’s pretty much it. Not their number two or three starters, not their closer or setup men or middle reliever, not most of the lineup. The Twins have all been there, done that before. I don’t want to make a big deal of the experience factor, but I absolutely believe it means something in the postseason. Not as much as I might be making it sound, but I don’t think it’s a negligible factor.

I know they seem completely incapable of beating the Yankees in the Bronx and history is against them, but the Twins scare me more in the short series. They’re playing better right now, have been for the last few months really, and they just seem like a deeper and more dangerous club. This isn’t the NFL where the better team basically always wins, anything can happen in a short series in baseball, but I’d still rather face the team that’s gone 30-27 since mid-July than the one that’s gone 45-17.

Mailbag: Cy Young, Top 100 Prospects, Managers

This week’s mailbag features some questions about pitching stats, top 100 prospect rankings, and potential replacement for Joe Girardi. If you want to send in a question, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Anonymous asks: BRef updated their WAR calculation by adding park factor adjustments. As a result, CC leads both Felix and Liriano. In conversations about the CY race, we mostly talk about raw stats and do not talk much about the park factors. Does this change you guys’ mind about who should be CY?

No, not particularly. WAR is a great way to measure a player’s production, but it’s not the be all, end all. Felix Hernandez and Francisco Liriano not only benefit from their pitcher friendly home parks, but also because they play in weaker divisions than the AL East. It might make more of a difference if the three were close in terms of performance, but it’s clear CC Sabathia lags behind the other two. Let’s look:

Felix: 225.2 IP, 2.5 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, 0.6 HR/9
Liriano: 178.1 IP, 2.8 BB/9, 9.5 K/9, 0.2 HR/9
CC: 217 IP, 2.8 BB/9, 7.4 K/9, 0.7 HR/9

Liriano clearly has the best peripheral stats of the bunch, and really it’s not even that close, but he’s thrown 47.1 fewer innings than Felix and 38.2 fewer than CC, which is a ton. That’s what, five or six starts worth? If it was five or ten innings, fine, but 40? Eek. Sabathia’s peripherals are the worst of the bunch, but the difference between his homer rate and Felix’s is negligible, and the same could be said when you look at their road stats (0.8 HR/9 for CC, 0.7 HR/9 for Felix). The Mariners’ ace obviously has a big advantage in FIP (.301 to .356) given the strikeout and walk rates.

I get the ballpark factor, but I think Felix has just been so absurdly good and it hasn’t mattered where he’s pitched. That’s up for debate and not for me to decide, but that’s my two cents.

Anonymous asks: You are allowed to remove one measuring statistic (such as RBI, Batting Average, UZR, FIP) from the public’s consciousness. In addition, you are allowed to make one statistic mainstream. Which one do you choose for both, and why?

I’d probably trade pitcher wins for FIP. A win doesn’t tell you anything, just that a starter completed at least five innings and left the game with a lead, regardless of size or how he actually pitched. FIP at least provides some context and removes the things the pitcher can’t control, which actually gives you an idea of how he pitched.

If wins were called something else, like say “times left with a lead,” perhaps they wouldn’t be so highly regarded. The term “win” absolutely has some connotations to it that can cloud judgement. Bartolo Colon was maybe the 20th best pitcher in baseball when he won the Cy in 2005, but he had those 21 wins. Just doesn’t make sense to reward a guy with a personal counting stat when his teammates do half the work, if not more.

Will asks: Can you see Montero, Romine, Betances, Brackman, and Banuelos all in the top 100 prospect ranking? If so, where?

Yes, I definitely think all five can crack just about any top 100 list. Montero is one of the five best prospects in the game, so he’ll be right up there. Even if someone feels like being particularly harsh about his defense and uncertain future position, the bat still makes him a top ten prospect. Anything lower than that and there’s some Yankee hate factoring in.

The pitchers are very tough to sort out because they’re all so close. Based on how I feel right now, Banuelos is the best prospect of the three, followed closely by Brackman and then Betances. Either way, they’re all legit 30-60 range pitching prospects, and while that seems like a large gap, it’s really not. The difference between the 30th best prospect and 60th best prospect on a typical top 100 list is very small and not worth getting upset over. What is important is that all three are not quite elite pitching prospects just yet, but they’re all very good and among the best in baseball.

Romine’s prospect standing has taken a bit of a hit this year because he struggled so much in the second half (.237/.292/.349 after June 1st, though he did finish strong and has played well in the playoffs), and even though we understand this is his first full season as an everyday catcher, that’s not a get out of jail free card. He’s still a good prospect and should comfortably slot in the 60-100 range. If you want me to be more specific, 70-80 sounds about right.

Anonymous asks: Next year if the Yankees don’t resign Joe Girardi, who do you think would the be best fit for the job?

Girardi’s future with the team is in question thanks to this latest and oh so ugly slump, though I’m almost certain he’ll be in the dugout running the team next year. But if not, if he’s instead in Chicago or the broadcast booth again or whatever, let’s look at some options to replace him.

I think the Yanks would prefer to replace him with someone familiar with how they do things, meaning someone either in the organization right now or someone who was in the recent past. Bench coach Tony Pena is an obvious candidate, and third base coach Robbie Thomson could receive consideration as well, though his lack of managerial experience at the MLB level works against him. Both have been linked to other managerial jobs recently. Triple-A Scranton coach Dave Miley has big league experience with the Reds and is certainly familiar not just with the “Yankee Way,” but also the players he’s coached (Brett Gardner, Phil Hughes, etc.) and worked with in Spring Training (all the vets, basically).

Don Mattingly’s name is sure to come up, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to take over for Joe Torre in Los Angeles after the season. Tony LaRussa’s contract is up in a few weeks but he should be a zero factor. He’s probably the worst-case scenario when it comes to a new manager. Padres’ first base coach Rick Renteria is generally considered to be one of the best managerial prospects out there, but he has no prior relationship with the Yanks or big league managerial experience. I really don’t know too much about potential managers beyond that, unfortunately.

In terms of traits, basically every manager needs to have patience and be able to command the respect of his players, but a Yankee manager needs absurd levels of patience and must be good with the media. If he’s not, it can get real ugly, real quick. You’re not going to find a perfect manager that does all of that, but you have to hope to get someone close to that.

Mailbag: Cy Young Award, Mo, White, Rasmus

Another week, another edition of the RAB Mailbag. This week we’re going to cover the Cy Young Award debate, Mariano Rivera benefiting from his reputation, Pat White, and a potential Colby Rasmus trade. If you ever want to submit a question, just use the Submit a Tip box under The Montero Watch in the sidebar.

Andreas asks: During the recent Cy Young discussions I asked myself if the run support (and therefore maybe the wins of a pitcher) changes the whole stats of pitcher: Take CC Sabathia for example, who normally gets a good run support (or just for the sake of the argument we assume that he gets it). Isn’t this changing the way he is pitching? For example trying to throw a lot more strikes, trying to avoid the big inning, getting lifted after 6 or 7 innings to keep his workload down, etc. Where on the other hand pitchers like Greinke who have to be perfect all time to grind out a one run victory for their team have a different approach pitching? At least in the later innings? So the question is: Do you think that the different approaches of pitching with a big lead compared to a close game affects a pitcher’s statistics?

This is the “pitching to the score” argument, which I’ve always found silly (that’s not directed at Andreas, just saying in general). Theoretically, a pitcher should always pitch the same way and try to give up as few runs as possible, but we know that doesn’t happen all the time. Like you said, guys will change their approach depending on what kind of lead they’re working with, and that will absolutely impact their statistics in some form. The question is how much, and I’m not sure that’s something we can quantify. For all we know, it might be completely negligible.

Let’s use Sabathia and Felix Hernandez as examples, since they seem to be the front runners for this year’s Cy. The Yankees have scored a total of 173 runs in Sabathia’s 30 starts, but the Mariners have scored just 95 runs in Felix Hernandez’s 30 starts. CC has gotten more starts with 6+ runs of support (14) than Felix has with 4+ runs of support (13). Just six times have the Yanks scored two or fewer runs for their ace, but the Mariners did it seven times in a row to Felix from mid-July to mid-August, and 13 times overall. Clearly, CC has had some more wiggle room to work with, enabling him to just throw strike after strike and not worry that every little baserunner might cost him the game.

So to answer the question, yes, I do think “pitching to the score” affects a pitcher’s statistics, though I just don’t know how much. If we can’t measure it, I don’t see the benefit of guessing at it’s impact and letting it affect judgments about awards, Hall of Fame votes, etc.

Anonymous asks: Does Mo benefit from his reputation these days when facing younger hitters? Obviously he still has great stuff so it’s not like he needs the help, but I was watching him against Travis Snider (the other day)  and I thought that Snider must be thinking “I’m facing Mariano frickin’ Rivera, I have no chance here!”. How much does a pitchers reputation come in to play during at-bats?

Oh sure, a guy’s reputation definitely comes into play. Aside from the intimidation factor, there’s also pretty strong evidence that a guy like Mariano Rivera will get the benefit of the doubt on borderline strikes. Umpires favor the veterans for whatever reason, that’s why guys like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were able to work with a 22-inch plate later in their careers. It does work both ways though, if Barry Bonds didn’t swing at a pitch late in his career, then it was a ball dang it, because Barry knew the strike zone better than anyone including the umpire.

I’m not saying it’s fair, because it’s obviously not, but that’s the way it goes.

Matt asks: Hey just wondering if the Yankees still own the rights to Pat White? The Dolphins cut him :) if not, would he be a baseball free agent or enter the draft again? Also, what position does he play? Got a scouting report and upside?

The Yanks drafted White in the 48th round of the 2009 draft and it was a bit of a surprise because he hadn’t played baseball in so long. White was a big time prospect coming out of high school, but instead went the football route and never played baseball at West Virginia. It’s hard to argue with his decision, he got a deal worth $4.5M with $2.4M guaranteed from the Dolphins when they made him a second round pick two years ago. White wouldn’t see $2.4M in baseball until he reached the big leagues and probably hit arbitration for the first time.

Anyway, the Yanks do not still own his rights. Because he was out of college eligibility, they held his rights for a full year after drafting him, but they lost those rights at this year’s draft. White is now a free agent, able to sign with any team. He’s been away from baseball so long that it’s tough to imagine him making a successful comeback, but stranger things have happened. Here’s a snippet of Baseball America’s scouting report from 2004, when White was coming out of high school…

He has emerged this spring as the best athlete in the prep class. White is an explosive runner whose quick hands at the plate and power potential evoke Devon White comparisons, and his power/speed combination is unmatched in the state. He hit .487-12-48 with 26 stolen bases this spring. To see White’s power, scouts have to watch him take batting practice; his approach means it’s usually absent during games. He’s shown more polish than expected in center field, and may not make it out of the third round.

I’m sure that’s changed a whole bunch over the years, but that gives you an idea of what he once was.

Pablo and many, many more asked: I’d be interested to know how much you’d give up for Colby Rasmus, if you would trade for him at all. Personally, I would give the Cardinals the option of picking any three of Betances, Banuelos, Brackman, Romine, Heathcott. Is that too much in your view?

A dozen people must have sent this question or some variation of it in this week, and understandably so. Rasmus is one of the best young players in all of baseball, and that’s before you consider last night’s 4-for-4, two homer game that raised his season batting line to .276/.360/.514 (.370 wOBA). He and Tony LaRussa apparently had some kind of falling out that led to Rasmus requesting a trade and getting called out by Albert Pujols. Imagine if Alex Rodriguez did something like that. But I digress.

It looks like the two sides are headed for a divorce in one way or another. LaRussa and Pujols might not appreciate Rasmus’ abilities, but I’m sure GM John Mozeliak and the rest of the front office do, so I don’t expect them to just give him away to resolve the clubhouse conflict. The only absolute negatives in his game at the moment are his strikeout rate (32.3%, fourth highest in baseball) and his platoon split (.386 wOBA vs. RHP, .327 vs. LHP). It’s worth noting that Rasmus’ strikeout rate in the minors (22.6%) was tolerable, and that he showed a much less pronounced platoon split (.860 OPS vs. RHP, .826 vs. LHP). His struggles in those departments probably have more to do with him being a 24-year-old in the big leagues than anything else.

I’m not sure letting them pick any three of those five prospects would work, because I know I’d want a more established player in return for a guy like Rasmus. Would I do it? Yes, though I might ask them to take two pitchers tops, just for depth reasons. A Jesus Montero for Rasmus trade doesn’t appear to make sense for the Cards since they have Yadier Molina at the plate and Pujols at first, though maybe they go for it if they don’t believe they can re-sign Pujols after next season. That seems extremely unlikely though.

Both Erik Manning and Peter Hjort, people much smarter than I, ran some numbers on Rasmus, and came up with trade values of $40.6M and $48.1M, respectively. Let’s split the difference and call it $44.4M for simplicity’s sake. In terms of prospects, that’s equivalent to a boatload according to Victor Wang’s research, basically three players ranked on the back half of a top 100 list. So yes, the proposed three of five package does fit the bill, but like I said, I’d want established players, not unproven prospects for a guy like Rasmus.

Let’s start a package around Brett Gardner, since the Yanks would need to displace an outfielder if they acquired Rasmus and because he seems like a LaRussa kind of guy. I pegged his trade value at $53.3M a few weeks ago, but I was using different dollar values than Manning and Hjort. They used roughly $4.5M per win, mine was closer to $4.8. I probably overshot Gardner’s value a bit (in fact, I know I did), but just looking at it subjectively, you have two outstanding defenders in center (by reputation, UZR isn’t a fan of Rasmus in a relatively small sample) that both profile as high OBP lefthanded hitters. The difference is that one player uses his speed to steal bases, the other hits homeruns. Homers are far, far more valuable than stolen bases.

Frankly, if Gardner’s the starting point for a Rasmus deal and the Cards are open to it, I don’t see how the Yanks could pass. Rasmus is three full years younger than Gardner, and how much room for growth is there in Brett’s game? It’s very possible that what he is right now is what he’ll be for the next five years, and not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s easy to see how a player with Rasmus’ ability can be more valuable down the road. Even if they have to include someone like Ivan Nova, that’s a fine deal. He’s expendable the Yanks given their upper level pitching depth.

I will qualify this answer by saying that I fully expect this year’s outfield to return next season, and that Rasmus will be traded somewhere, just not to the Yanks. If I had to put money on it, I’d guess either the Red Sox or Rays get in on the action. We can still dream, though.

Mailbag: Montero, Jeter, Injuries, Stats, Mets

Time for another edition of the RAB mailbag. This week we’ll tackle questions about Jesus Montero‘s future power, Derek Jeter‘s future everything, pitching injuries, ways to measure a pitcher’s volatility, and how I’d fix the Mets. If you ever want to submit a question, just send it in via the Submit A Tip box underneath The Montero Watch in the sidebar.

Sheepmeister asks: Guys, why all the hype around Jesus Montero. Everyone tabs him as a 40 HR guy but this year he has 18 in 417 ABs (Ed. note: this was sent in a few days ago, he’s at 19 HR in 438 AB now), what makes him so special with the bat (other than the C position)?

You’re looking at this entirely the wrong way. He’s 20-years-old, he hasn’t physically matured yet. Montero will add power naturally that way, and also by benefiting from a big league coaching staff, a big league training and conditioning program, big league advanced scouts and video, all of that. Albert Pujols played one year in the minors and hit 19 homers. Miguel Cabrera never hit more than ten homers in a minor league season. I could go on all day. You don’t want players to peak down in the minors.

Montero is also a .314 career hitter in 1,560 plate appearances, and he has a good enough approach at the plate to draw his fair share of walks (though I don’t think he’ll ever be a 90-100 walk guy). He’s a complete hitter, not just a mindless brute that will club 40 homers while hitting in the .220’s with 200 strikeouts. He’s a very natural all-around hitter, and that’s extremely exciting.

Shai asks: Is there any chance that Jeter’s pride will make him decide to retire and not have anymore of these embarrassing seasons? He doesn’t need the money, so whats in it for him?

Zero. He’ll play next year to get his 3,000th hit at minimum, and probably play a few years beyond that. I doubt it’s just about money, Jeter was set for life financially before he signed this soon-to-expire monster contract, there’s probably a huge part of him that just wants to win.

Also, I certainly wouldn’t call his season embarrassing. Disappointing yes, but not embarrassing. Cesar Izturis is embarrassing. Chone Figgins is embarrassing. Jason Kendall is embarrassing. Jeter’s just been a letdown compared to his lofty standards.

Anonymous asks: It was disappointing and alarming to see Stephen Strasburg go down. What really hit me was that they say it was a sudden thing – i.e the elbow was 100% fine for one pitch, then the next pitch, hello Tommy John. No lingering problems building up over time, no mismanagement of his young arm by the Nats, nothing. My question is: are all pitchers essentially time bombs that could go off at any instant? We all take for granted that CC has been in perfect health during his Yankee career – is he somehow at less risk for the next pitch being his last?

Yeah, pretty much. It can go at any moment. Some guys are lucky with health, others aren’t. It really is that simple. A guy could have fine mechanics, good genetics, be in great shape, and it still might not matter. All it takes is one pitch, one mistake with his delivery, to pop that UCL.

That said, some guys obviously manage to stay healthier over the long term like Sabathia, but I have no idea what makes him less of an injury risk than say, Rich Harden. It could be his size, but Roy Oswalt’s skinny as a twig and he’s been a horse all these years as well. If I knew the answer to this question, I’d auction the info off to whatever team offered the most money for it.

Wade asks: Do any of the advanced pitching metrics take into account volatility? I assume (certainly for a team like the Yankees) a pitcher who goes out and gives you 7 IP and 2 or 3 ER every single time is more valuable than one who goes 9 shutout innings in half his starts and 5 IP with 6 ER in the other half. I couldn’t find any metrics that consider this, so maybe I’m just wrong in assuming it matters over the course of a year.

Not that I know of, everything’s generally based off the big picture. If there was such a thing as a stat that measured volatility, I’m guessing A.J. Burnett would lead the league in it. I suppose one way you could do it is by have something that’s the opposite of a Quality Start, say a Weak Start at 6 IP, 5 ER, then use a +/- system. A guy gets +1 for a Quality Start, and -1 for a Weak Start. The closer a guy is to zero, the more unpredictable he is.

Looking quickly at the Yanks’ rotation, I come up with this:

  1. CC Sabathia, +20
  2. Andy Pettitte, +12
  3. Phil Hughes, +8
  4. Javy Vazquez, +4
  5. A.J. Burnett, +4

For the fun of it, I get +23 for Felix Hernandez and +2 for Kevin Millwood. I took a quick glance at the bottom of the ERA leaderboard and couldn’t come up with anyone in the negatives (that made 20-something starts). Last year Sabathia was at +17, Burnett +16, and Pettitte +11.

My arbitrary definitition of a Weak Start could be tweaked (you could say the same for Quality Starts), but I guess this general approach works as a way to attack the volatility question. I’m not sure how useful a stat like this would be for analytical purposes, but it is a nice reference number and obviously you’d prefer a more consistent starter.

Tom asks: Congratulations! You have been given a job in the Mets organization (Maybe I should have said “My condolences”) your task is to clean house and fix the broken organization. What steps do you take to fix it? Who do you fire? Who do you hire to take their place?

Oof, I don’t even know where to start. Since you can’t fire the owner(s), I guess I would start by cleaning house with the field staff (Jerry Manuel, Howard Johnson, all of ’em) and re-assigning Omar Minaya. He’s pretty bad as a GM, but he’s actually got one hell of a scouting background. He’s the guy that found Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Ryan Church, and a bunch of others with the Expos and Rangers way back when. Just make sure he’s not in a position to trade them away. With something like four years left on his contract, some kind of advisory role works. He can be an asset when used in the right capacity. Bring in a new scouting department (both pro and amateur) and a new(er) school manager. Call me crazy, but I’d at least consider David Cone.

As for the player personnel, the first step is figuring out who is part of the team’s core going forward and who isn’t. David Wright absolutely is, he’s your franchise cornerstone. Johan Santana is. Ike Davis, Jon Niese, and Bobby Parnell probably are. Carlos Beltran and the one year left on his contract aren’t, ditto the dreck like Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. A decision will have to be made about Jose Reyes, who has just one year (an option year at that) left on his deal. I’d probably take advantage of a barren shortstop market and trade him, but that’s easier said than done, especially with no obvious replacement available.

It all starts with strength up the middle, and frankly the Mets have very little of it. Josh Thole is a nice young catcher, but very few project him as an every day player. Is this Angel Pagan’s career year, or his true talent level as a centerfielder? Who plays second? What about short if Reyes is dealt? Lots of questions, almost no answers. Finding those answers will not be easy, but that’s where you have to focus your efforts. Acquire as many young up-the-middle players as humanly possible, then sort it all out later.

I’d also at least try to do something with CitiField. Bring the walls in, shorten them up, do something. Part of the problem are getting people in the seats, and a more offense friendly environment helps with that problem a little bit. I’m not saying you turn the place into Coors East, but league average is a nice start. At least make an effort.

Fixing the Mets will take some time and patience, but thankfully it doesn’t have to be a total rebuild given their above average financial flexibility. You could probably turn this team around the “right way” and compete by 2013, maaaybe even 2012. The Phillies aren’t getting any younger, ditto most of Atlanta’s key pieces. Ownership needs to be convinced to go big on the draft and international market, which is where it all starts. When you spend big bucks on free agents, spend it on complete players capable of impacting the game in multiple ways and power pitchers that miss bats. Quite simply, I’d just follow the Yankees blueprint.

Mailbag: Killer B’s, Garcia, Wood, Bad Contracts

Time for another edition of the RAB mailbag, which I hope will one day be as awesome as KSK’s Sex/Fantasy Football Mailbag. Yes, I like to dream big. These week will discuss the futures of two prominent pitching prospects and one former prominent pitching prospect, whether or not Kerry Wood will be with the Yankees beyond this season, and my personal favorite, ugly contracts.

If you ever have a question you want answered, send it in to us via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar under The Montero Watch.

Anonymous asks: Who do you like more, Betances or Banuelos on reaching their ceilings?

I like Manny Banuelos‘ chances of reaching his ceiling because he’s got a much better track record when it comes to the health of his arm. Yeah, he missed a big chunk of this season with an appendectomy, but that kinda stuff happens. Other than that, he’s had no arm problems during his time with the Yankees.

Betances, meanwhile, dealt with some nagging elbow issues before finally having reconstructive elbow surgery last year, and he also missed over a month with a sore shoulder back in 2008. He has yet to have a full, healthy season starting in April and finishing in September in his three-plus year career while Banuelos did it just last year. If you can’t stay healthy, you can’t stay on the field and develop into the best player you can be, so that’s why my pick is on ManBan.

Mike asks: Whats the latest on Christian Garcia? Is he back from injury and are the Yankees looking to re-signing him to a minor league deal?

In his interview with NoMaas this week, Mark Newman said they “haven’t had a discussion with (Garcia) or his agents about (rejoining the organization on a minor league deal). He’s got a ton of rehabbing to do.” It doesn’t get more reliable or up-to-date than that.

Anonymous asks: We all know about how poorly (predictably) Cashman’s moves have gone this year, and you’ve already talked about Kearns, but what are the chances of Kerry Wood staying with us? He seems completely revitalized by a playoff hunt and is throwing well. Will his closing experience put him out of our price range? Will we go cheap in the pen to sign Lee/Crawford/Werth etc?

Why is it predictable that his moves failed? So typical.

Anyway, the Yankees have gone cheap on the bullpen for three years now, and I really don’t expect that to change. Taking a one year, $1.2M flier on Chan Ho Park is a lot different than committing multiple years and big bucks to someone like Wood. Cashman has built the bullpen around cheap strikeout pitchers with enough depth that anyone who’s ineffective can be replaced with someone from Triple-A. It really is the best way to build a relief corps, having plenty of cheap and interchangeable options rather than putting all your eggs in one basket.

However, when I first read this question, something popped into my mind. Given his injury history and the current market, there’s zero chance Wood will get another multi-year deal worth $10M+ annually this winter. What if the Yanks could woo him with say, a one year deal worth $3M and incentives that could put another $5M or so in his pocket with the promise that if Mariano Rivera decides to call it a career after 2011, Wood gets the closer’s job as long as he’s healthy?

Obviously that’s a bit of a reach, because a guy with Wood’s pedigree should be able to find a closer’s job on the open market, and saves equals money the next time his contract is up. Maybe the lure of being Mo’s heir apparent is enough to keep him in pinstripes, but I’m sure his number one goal is to secure as much money in his next deal as possible to make sure he, his kids, and his kid’s kids never have to worry about a thing financially.

Kevin asks: If it was decided that every team could clear one contract from their payroll with no penalty, who do you think the Yankees would choose? A-Rod is such a vital part of the team, but they couldn’t blink on getting rid of those last seven years could they?

It has to be Alex Rodriguez. I love the guy, he’s a great player, the best I’ve seen in a Yankee uniform, but that contract is just awful. There’s still $174M and seven years left on that sucker after this season, and that doesn’t include the extra $30M he could earn thanks to the historic homerun milestones. There’s basically no chance of A-Rod retiring before the contract is up and forfeiting whatever is left on it because we’re talking generational wealth here. And you know what? If I was in the same boat as him, I’d do the same thing.

I love the guy, but I’m sorry, I’d shed him and his contract in a cocaine heartbeat if given the opportunity. I think A.J. Burnett‘s would be a close second, or maybe I could preemptively say whatever Derek Jeter gets after the season, which is almost assured of being too much for too long.

Mailbag: Laird, Cano, Waivers, PitchFX

Another week has gone by, so it’s time for another mailbag. This week we’re going to talk about Brandon Laird and his future role with the Yankees, the great Robbie Cano vs. Dustin Pedroia debate, replacing the … ugh … Core Four (hate that term, why do we have to come up with nicknames for everything?), waiver trades, and PitchFX. If you want to send in a question, and I highly encourage you to do so, just use the Submit A Tip box under The Montero Watch in the sidebar.

Kevin asks: If the Yankees can get Brandon Laird to fake it in the corner outfield spots, could he become Eric Hinske 2.0 for the team?

There’s two big differences between Laird and Hinske. The first one is obvious; Laird’s a righthanded batter, Hinske’s a lefty. It might not sound like much but it is significant, especially when he would be calling the New Stadium home. Being a lefty batter opens up more possibilities for platoon situations and matchups and all that. The right side of a platoon always gets the shaft, that guy gets about a third of the playing time or so. So right off the bat, Laird’s at a disadvantage.

The other difference between the two is plate discipline. Laird’s career high in walks is 40, which he set with Low-A Charleston in 2008. He’s at 38 right now, so he’ll assuredly eclipse that total this season. Meanwhile, Hinske never walked fewer than 40 times in his minor league career, and he did that as a 20-year-old playing 74 games in a short season league. Hinske’s career minor league IsoD (Isolated Discipline, it’s just OBP minus AVG and tell us how much a batter gets on base on something other than hitss) is .095, Laird’s is .058.

Remember, plate discipline doesn’t just mean taking walks, in fact that’s just a byproduct. The real advantage of being disciplined at the plate is getting in favorable counts and better pitches to hit, because a hit is always better than a walk. Hinske has a significant advantage in that department compared to Laird, who is known for his power, not necessarily his eye.

Getting back to the question, yeah, I think Laird can be some kind of super sub for the Yankees, filling in at the four corner spots. How valuable is that though, when he’ll get maybe two starts a week? If that’s his ultimate ceiling with the Yanks, which is very possible considering the players entrenched in those spots in the big leagues, then his biggest value to the team is as a trade chip. Don’t keep him around to come off the bench, trade him while his stock is high and maximize the asset.

Steve O. asks: In my conversation with Angelo the other day about Cano vs. Pedroia, it got me thinking that although Pedroia benefits a lot from Fenway, he is still an outstanding player. My question is: considering all factors including offense, defense, age, contract, etc, who would you rather have: Robinson Cano or Dustin Pedroia (the latest injury notwithstanding)? I would stick with Cano, but the gap between the two players isn’t as big as some people make it seem. Thanks guys. Excellent job with the mailbag.

Well, age isn’t much of a factor here, just to get it out of the way. Cano is ten months older, which isn’t all that significant. I wouldn’t consider that a dealbreaker or anything.

Obviously they’re different players offensively. Cano is a super high batting average/over the fence power guy, Pedroia is more of an on-base/gap power guy. It’s absolutely true that Pedroia benefits from Fenway Park (career .385 wOBA at homer, .341 on the road) while Cano hits wherever you stick him (.353 at home, .356 on the road). I’d feel more confident about the Yanks’ second baseman going forward offensively.

It’s not all that close on defense, however. Cano’s career UZR at second is -30.5, Pedroia’s is +24.6. Robbie has definitely improved over the last few years, and the numbers bear that out, but he’s still not on Pedroia’s level. Is it enough of a difference to make up the gap in offense? No probably not, because you can’t make the other team hit the ball to second. You can guarantee a player three plate appearances per game though.

Pedroia is signed for the next four years at a total of $33.5M while Cano was/will be paid $54M over that same chunk of his career, though that would require a pair of rather expensive options to be picked up by the Yanks in 2012 and 2013. It’s not fair to compare the contracts since each player signed their extension at different points of their career and in different economic climates. Obviously Pedroia’s a better bang for the buck, no disputing that.

I think that through their prime seasons, basically age 27-32 or so, they could both average around 5.0 WAR per season, perhaps a bit more. I’d feel safer with Cano though, since the game comes much more naturally to him. You don’t have to worry about him throwing out his back with a giant from the heels swing. They’re both excellent, excellent players and I would happily take either on my team, I just feel more comfortable with Cano going forward. Perhaps that’s my bias, but too bad, it’s my site and you asked.

Corey asks: Do you think we’ll ever see a “Core Four” that has meant so much to the Yankees in our lifetime?

I do not. We’re talking about a Hall of Fame shortstop, a borderline Hall of Fame catcher, a borderline Hall of Fame starting pitcher, and the greatest reliever to ever live. What they’ve meant to the team, both on the field and off it, is something that I can’t ever see being replicated. We’ll see great cores in the future, no doubt, but nothing like that. Hell, Nick Swisher, Robbie Cano, CC Sabathia, and Phil Hughes is a rather fantastic “Core Four” as well, and we’re still leaving out Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

But those four guys doing what they did for that long and at those positions … I can’t ever see it being done again. If Brian Cashman or any future GM tries to replicate that success, he’s wasting his time. We’re talking about a monumental amount of luck for four players of that caliber to come up with the same team at the same time.

Anonymous asks: Could you explain the process of waiver trades?

After July 31st, any player on a 40-man roster has to go through trade waivers to be traded. Minor leaguers not on the 40-man roster are home free. These trade waivers are completely revocable, meaning if another team claims a player, his original team can pull him back and keep him with no consequence. You can put up to seven players on waivers per day, and every team will put basically their entire roster on waivers in August. Part of it is to hide players. If the Yanks are interested in dealing say, Brett Gardner, and his name popped up on the waive wire with six other Yankees, no one will figure out what’s up.

Anyway, once a player goes on waivers, one of two things happens: he either gets claimed, or he goes unclaimed. If he goes unclaimed, the team is free to trade him to any other team out there. If he’s claimed, then they can only trade him to the team that claims him, that’s it. If they try to put the player through waivers again, they are irrevocable, meaning the claiming team gets him (and his entire contract) no matter what. When the White Sox claimed Alex Rios last year, the Jays could only trade him to Chicago, but they decided to let them take the player and the full $50M+ left on his contract instead. They also had the option to pull him back and keep him.

I’m terrible at explaining things, so here’s another primer that explains the process better than I did. That’s probably easier to understand. Just remember, a player has to be on the 40-man roster before Sept. 1st to be eligible for the postseason roster.

HyShai asks: Two questions: 1) Who does the pitch selection and location on Pitch Fx and Gameday, is it a person or computer? It seems near impossible to tell the location of a pitch unless you’re  standing right there (with the angles of the cameras being off centered). How would a computer get the location correct?

This article explains it well, but basically it’s a series of cameras that take high speed photographs of the ball in flight, and those are used to calculate things like velocity, acceleration (or really, deceleration), spin angle, all of those nerdy physics’ properties. That can then be used to calculate trajectory, horizontal and vertical movement, break, etc., and then that is used to classify the pitches. There are mistakes, but not as many as you think. The classification has been improving each year as they work out the kinks as well.

I’m not sure how exactly the system determines the location of the ball out in space, but I assume it uses some kind of reference point and measures off that. MLB Advanced Media is responsible for collecting all the data, which you can find here.

2) It seems that a huge part of a pitcher’s success is how well he hides the ball in delivery (CC supposed to be great at this), and there is no method currently used to measure this, statwise.  Is there something in development? Maybe measuring at how many feet the batter picks up the ball etc. Thanks.

Deception is definitely a big part of a pitcher’s success. The later a batter picks up the ball as it’s being pitched, the less likely he is to hit it. CC Sabathia is good at this because he has that little hesitation with his arm behind his body before he goes to the plate. J.A. Happ is another guy known for having a ton of deception in his delivery. Ivan Nova is on the opposite end of the spectrum, he’s known for having very little deception in his delivery, making it easier for batter to pick up the ball out of his hand.

I’m not sure how this could be measured statistically, but I’m sure someone has/will try. Perhaps you could look at each pitch individually and measure the amount of time between when the instant when you can clearly see the white of the ball in the pitcher’s hand and the instant when it crosses the plate or something. This would be very interesting to see, but the general rule of thumb is the longer you hide the ball, the better.