Halladay leaving Toronto would be good news for Yanks

The Blue Jays started the 2009 season as hot as can be. On May 12 they were 23-12, a game up on the Red Sox in the AL East and 6.5 ahead of the Yankees. While some thought they were for real, it looked more to me like a 2005 Orioles job. Lo and behold, almost two months later they’re 43-41, seven back of the Red Sox and six back of the Yanks. They’re not out of it, but it would take an incredible run to charge back in this powerhouse AL East.

What does this mean for the Jays? Ken Rosenthal thinks it means they’re ready to take offers for ace Roy Halladay. It’s not the first time we’ve heard Halladay speculation, but with a year and a half left on his deal the Jays will never find a bigger haul for him than they will this month. General Manager J.P. Ricciardi has said that the team’s best chance to win next year is with Halladay in the rotation, and that’s true. But is it their best long-term option?

What further complicates the situation is that the Jays owe gobs of money to Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, who are both underperforming, through 2014. The Jays just have to hope they produce, because there is little or no chance of trading either without eating a significant portion of the contract. Moving Halladay, who rightly would be the highest-paid Jay next year, could improve the team not only with prospects, but with a bit of financial flexibility that they could use to make another deal in the off-season.

There are almost no bad scenarios for the Yankees here. Rosenthal’s list contains only three American League teams: the Yanks themselves, the Red Sox, and the White Sox. Obviously, the Yanks don’t want to see Halladay starting at Fenway any time soon, but almost any other scenario, including acquiring him themselves, looks just fine.

What about acquiring him? Rosenthal notes that Ricciardi would deal within the division, though we all know there’s a premium there. Any package would probably have to start with Phil Hughes, and then include one of the Yanks’ precious few bats, likely one of the catchers. Would Hughes, Romine, and a third prospect, probably of the top-10 variety, be enough to land Halladay? Would the Yankees be wise to make such a move?

There’s no doubt that acquiring Halladay would leave the Yankees with the best rotation in baseball. In the short term, they’d be as well off as any other team, probably better off. In the long term they’d be giving up prospects, sure, but prospects can bust. It looks like Phil Hughes is finding his way, and it would probably suck to face him four or five times a year. But it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as facing Halladay that many times.

Chances are, Halladay stays put. Teams are more reluctant to part with prospects than ever, especially because of their economic value. The Blue Jays will request a ransom for Halladay, and rightly so, but other teams might not be so keen to part with young, cheap, controllable players to acquire an expensive one whose contract runs only through 2010. If there’s a deal to be made, though, I expect the Yanks will at least kick the tires.

The familiar story of Kyle Farnsworth

When the Yankees acquired Kyle Farnsworth prior to the 2006 season, he was coming off one stellar 2005 campaign. It started off in Detroit, where he tossed 42.2 innings to a 2.32 ERA. He was then traded to Atlanta, where he proceeded to mow down the Senior Circuit, striking out 32 and walking just seven in 27.1 innings, amassing a 1.98 ERA and a 0.805 WHIP. With the loss of Tom Gordon and a generally meager setup crew, the Yanks needed an arm and Farnsworth was on their list.

The results, as we saw, were terrible. Farnsworth walked too many guys and was seemingly incapable of turning in a 1-2-3 inning in a big spot. Unsurprisingly, we are now seeing more of the same in Kansas City. The Royals, in a moment when reason abandoned them, signed Farnsworth this winter to a two-year, $9 million contract. They later signed Juan Cruz for less than that.

You might look at Farnsworth’s BR page and think, “What’s wrong with that?” After all, he has a 3.43 ERA and a 1.095 WHIP through 21 innings, not to mention a 4.2 K/BB ratio. Those are sterling numbers for sure, ones the Yanks thought they were getting when they signed Farnsworth. However, as in most cases, the numbers don’t show everything.

We turn to the world’s foremost expert on the Kansas City Royals, Joe Posnanski. After marveling at Farnsworth’s career, JoPo turns to his performance. The reason Farnsworth has been so good is that, for the most part, he’s pitched in the lowest of low-leverage situations. That’s for good reason, though. He kind of blew a few games early on, much to everyone’s surprise.

On Opening Day, Farnsworth came into a 2-1 game, Royals leading, and he gave up a three-run homer to Jim Thome. So, as they say, he announced his presence with authority.

A week later, he came into a 2-2 game … gave up a double, a single, balked, another walk and came out of the game with a loss. Four days later, he came into a 5-5 game in the ninth in Texas and promptly gave up the walk-off homer to Michael Young.

Of course, between the Thome homer and the balk game, Farnsworth managed to strike out the side against the Yanks. Go figure. After these three blown games he was inserted into 13 straight situations of the lowest possible leverage, games where the Royals were down 8-3 and 10-0. He did get one decently big spot, with runners on second and third with a 5-2 lead and pitched out of it. Go Kyle! It did fall apart last Thursday, though, when the Royals inserted Farnsworth into a tie game only to have him promptly blow it, recording no outs before the game-winning run crossed.

I do not miss Kyle Farnsworth. Despite the stretch last year where he actually pitched well, he was nothing short of disaster for the Yanks. That shouldn’t have been surprising, though. The Yanks had to have known when they signed him that he wouldn’t live up to the contract. There was no way he could. He was an every-other-year guy, and with the Yanks he couldn’t even pull that. It’s a bit of schadenfreude, of course, to talk about him now. The whole situation just highlights exactly why I’m glad the Yanks will never have him in the bullpen again.

Ohlendorf on draft value: “On average, the player brought twice the return”

One Yankee I always admired, though he didn’t pitch all that well during his tenure, was Ross Ohlendorf. I suppose it’s an affinity for a guy who has some brains to back up his athletic skill. It’s a shame, really, that more wasn’t made of Ohlendorf’s Princeton thesis while he was with the Yanks. It’s topic: the amateur draft and the return teams get on their investments compared to what players produce before reaching free agency. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian has a wonderful report on Ohlendorf and his thesis. In it, the 6’4″ righty deftly demonstrates that playing skill doesn’t necessarily correlate with understanding of the game.

Here’s Ohlie on his thesis:

“Many of the players in the study did not make the major leagues,” Ohlendorf said. “However, many of those who did produced tremendous returns for the teams who drafted them. When looked at as a group, the internal rate of return on all the draft picks in the study was 60 percent. This is an extremely high rate of return. It is saying that if you invest $1, it will grow to $1.60 after a year and $2.56 after two years, and so on … I believe the stock market has had a historical rate of about 7 or 8 percent, prior to the last year. So even though many of the investments did not work out, the upside on those that did was so great, signing the high picks to large bonuses appears to have been a very smart investment.”

“So based on the assumptions I made in my paper, the A’s signing Giambi was the biggest winner in top-100 picks of the 1989 through 1993 drafts because he played extremely well in his first six years of major league service,” Ohlendorf said. “The White Sox did the best job in these drafts, with an internal rate of return of 217 percent. Their best signing was Frank Thomas.”

The ESPN article has a chart with the best returns on investment for drafted players. They’re all familiar names, and three current and former Yanks appear on the list: Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, and Mike Mussina. Unfortunately, the Yankees drafted none of them.

The the entire article is a great read. After Ohlendorf explains the parameters of his thesis, which received an A and got him membership in the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society, his teammates and former coaches gush about his intelligence and baseball prowess. Chances are Ohlendorf will never break through as a top-flight starter, but if the guy wants a future in baseball he’s got it.

A mid-Saturday Joba roundup

On Thursday we spent a couple of posts talking about Joba Chamberlain‘s role. While we talk, analyze, and debate, the Yankees are surely doing the same. They want to make sure they handle their roster and farm system in the manner which benefits them best in both the short- and long-term. It’s not easy, of course, with different roster permutations bringing different results.

Since Ben, Mike, and I have made it clear what we think the Yankees should do, perhaps today we should listen to what the Yankees themselves are thinking. Thankfully, they’ve provided some fodder in the way of quotes. We’ll start with Joe Girardi via Pete Caldera:

Quickly, here’s what Joe Girardi said when asked about the possibility of Joba Chamberlain heading to the bullpen to accomodate Chien-Ming Wang: “That is not something we’ve talked about.”

As Pete notes, that’s not to say that they won’t talk about it. For now, though, it appears there are no plans to mess with Joba’s role. Which is a good thing. As I wrote on Thursday (in the very first link in this post), the Yankees have no reason to make any moves right now. They have a good problem. With Wang, Hughes, and Chamberlain still out to prove something to some degree or another, the Yankees can afford to move forward in this manner and reassess in a few weeks. Not many teams have this luxury.

The new Newsday beat writer Erik Boland has some quotes from Cashman on the situation; “It’s just a topic we have to deal with,” Cashman said, stating the obvious. But then he lays into B-Jobbers (again, our euphemism for those who want Joba in the pen):

“That’s all crap,” he said. “Wake up and smell the coffee. If he’s on national television on ESPN and throws 91 on the 22nd pitch, why would you think if he comes in in the eighth inning protecting a 4-3 lead [he’d throw 96]? Stop, he’s a starter.”

It’s hard to get more definitive than that. “Stop, he’s a starter.” Good to see Cashman sticking to his guns on this one. It’s frustrating to watch Joba struggle during the first innings of his starts, but the idea is to keep working him and get him used to the role. The man has, after all, been a starter his entire life.

Meanwhile, Tyler Kepner compares Joba to Johan Santana. Others have made this comparison too, and for good reason. Santana started off in the Twins’ bullpen, though he certainly wasn’t the designated eighth inning guy. The Twins saw the talent they had on hand and transitioned Johan to the rotation in mid-2003. By the time the playoffs started he was their Game 1 starter, and the next season he won the Cy Young. Despite Joba’s relative struggles in the rotation this year, his ERA is still two full points better than Santana’s through each player’s first 21 career starts (each had his 21st start at age 23). Joba also has a better K/9 at that point, and has fewer walks in more innings pitched.

Still, the best commentary for this comes from a comment to Kepner’s post:

I no longer believe that Joba should be moved to the bullpen. Instead, as I’ve posted twice elsewhere, I strongly believe that he should be moved completely out of the Yankees organization. He is an over-rated distraction. if the Yankees spent one-fourth the energy they’ve spent on Joba on either Wang (who is a proven winner) or Hughes (who shows great character) or Aceves (who shows great resolve), the team would be much better off. We would be best served by just trading Joba for a potential Mariano replacement—if anyone would be willing to take him off the Yankees’ hands.

Quick! Get this guy on Jimmy Fallon’s writing team. They’d increase the comedic talent tenfold with this MSS Rao guy.

In all seriousness, I’ve had a discussion like this with Mike, Ben, and a number of friends over the past few days. It boils down to this: 1) The Yankees could trade Joba straight up for any closer in the game right now. Not only that, but the other GM would be in a rush to get it done, in case Cashman decided to change his mind. 2) If the Yankees did trade Joba to another team, he’d be in that team’s rotation. The question, of course, is why Yankees fans want their team to play by different rules. I understand doing things differently in an attempt to exploit inefficiencies. But since when is putting a guy in the bullpen at the cost of a long-term rotation cog exploiting an inefficiency?

We’ve presented our argument numerous times, and obviously feel it is a stronger one than the Joba to the bullpen counterpart. It doesn’t mean we’re right, per se; baseball isn’t always black and white like that. But because of baseball’s random nature, it’s best to find the optimal strategy and stick to it. If you follow a good process, good results will follow, even though they won’t follow in every instance. Still, the debate will rage on, even if Joba turns a corner and starts pitching into the seventh with regularity. Hell, it will probably rage on even if he gets to 100 wins and picks up a Cy Young. To that extent, Joe Girardi has the last line:

“The good thing about the presidential debates is that they end. … This one doesn’t.”

The extraordinarily streaky Hideki Matsui

This is, by all practical views, Hideki Matsui‘s last season as a New York Yankee. Much celebrated when he joined the team in 2003, Matsui became a fan favorite during his first contract, putting up good numbers all around. However, since he signed his new contract following the 2005 season he has played just one full season, missing significant time in 2006 and 2008 (wrist and then knees). The Yankees were hoping to get some solid production out of him from the DH slot during his final season. So far, it’s had its ups and downs.

Matsui started off slow, leaving everyone wondering whether he was done. He did keep walking, which mitigated the situation a bit, but his batting average stood below .200 until April 19. Matsui then surged, getting his BA to .295 by April 28 (small samples work wonders), while pulling his OBP over .400 and his SLG over .500. Of course, this was as much a product of small samples as his poor start to the season. He cooled off considerably since then, his OBP dropping from a peak of .419 to .325 the other day.

This, it seems, is what the team will get from Matsui in his final season. There will be ups, and there will be downs. If the past two games are any indication, Matsui could be righting himself again. He was 4 for 9 in those games, hitting a double and two home runs. If he can just keep this up until Nady gets back, it would be a huge plus for the team. Then, if he cools off again as he did for most of May, he won’t be doing the team as much harm because they can slot Nady into the DH spot.

What really strikes me as odd is that Matsui has hit better — considerably better — against lefties this season than righties. Against the latter he’s .257/.339/.455, while against southpaws he/s .356/.356/.564. Of course, he’s only face lefties in 45 of his 160 plate appearances. This performance does not lend itself to a DH platoon between he and Nady, who also mashes lefties. Then again, it’s probably something that will even itself out as the season progresses.

I’ve always been a Matsui fan. He’s been one of the Yankees in recent years who I’ve really wanted to see in big spots. The YES commentators always point out his demonstrated ability to get the runner home from third with less than two outs. And it always seems they get a big hit from him just when they need it. It’s sad, then, to see him in his home run trot, plodding around the bases. He’s only 35, but he looks much older than that running the bases.

We can only hope that Matsui’s knees hold up for the duration of the season. Even if his streaks persist throughout the season, the Yankees should have bench options, Nady especially, to spell him during his down times. Because when he’s good, he’s damn good. That we’ve seen in the past two games.

(And no, there’s no real point to this post. It’s just after spending all of yesterday talking about pitching in general and Joba specifically, I wanted to change the tenor. Plus, we all love Hideki, right?)

Projecting Robinson Cano

Heading into the season, most of us didn’t know what to expect from Robinson Cano. We’ve seen him go from promising star in 2006 and 2007 to horrible disappointment in 2008. Was his lack of plate discipline catching up to him? Or did he just need to refocus his efforts and regain the stroke he had in earlier years? To this point, Cano has alleviated most of our fears, putting up a line of .313/.345/.507. Now that’s more like the Cano we saw in 2006-07. Yet we still must wonder: can he keep it up?

It’s easy to say yes and let that be that. But what we do here is talk baseball, so we might as well approach the question as completely as possible. Can Robinson Cano maintain the production level we’ve seen to this point? Clearly, he wasn’t going to keep up the .370 batting average he took into the early days of May — or, at least, we couldn’t expect him to do so, just as we can’t really expect that of any hitter. As we could have expected, Cano experienced a correction once the calendar flipped, going 1 for 21 with a walk from May 2 through May 7. That’s a stretch of six days, but it was enough to drop his BA from .378 to .319.

After going 4 for his last 15, Cano has shaved a few additional points off his BA, but it’s nothing to be concerned about. As we’ve seen over the past few years, he’s a hot and cold guy. He’ll hit rough patches, but he redeems himself with torrential production. For instance, over a different six-game stretch Cano went 12 for 31 (.387). An even more impressive stretch was from the start of the season through April 17, wherein he hit .405/.468/.667. Yes, he had a bad stretch last week, and even over his last five games he’s been just 4 for 15, but his hot streaks will make up for these slight drops in production.

What got me thinking about Cano was an Eric Seidman article on FanGraphs. He looks at Cano through the lens of updated ZiPS, Dan Szymborski’s projection system. These are updated now daily to reflect how the system projects a player will hit for the rest of the season. Right now it has Cano at .299/.335/.479 for the rest of the season. It seems a bit low, but it’s one possibility for how things play out.

Cano’s streaks mean that he’s subject to a great deal of randomness as concerns his final season numbers. As Cano streaks and slumps, his projections will fluctuate. If he hits his streaks at the right times, he could outperform that projection by a mile. If his slumps last a bit longer than we’ve seen so far, he could hit that .299 projection. It’s all timing with Cano. Given what we’ve seen so far it’s easy to predict that his hot streaks will outweigh his cold ones. Yet that wouldn’t be exactly accurate either, since we have no way of knowing how his streaks will time out.

What’s clear so far is that the Yankees were right to exercise patience with Cano. Not only has his offense been back to normal levels, but his defense, as Seidman points out, has been much, much better as compared to last year. Not only does UZR bear that out, but you can see the difference this year. It’s added up to a highly valuable player taking the field every day at second base. Here’s to hoping he keeps it up through his current contract and beyond.

Sucka got no juice*: Yanks pass on McPherson

In his latest column, our favorite Yankee-mocking columnist mentions that some Yankees scouts pondered the idea of signing Dallas McPherson. Yet they never brought the idea to Brian Cashman, so it’s not going to happen. Mike and I discussed this on the RAB Radio Show, and came to the same conclusion as Sucka: The Giants might be a good fit.

Sucka also mentions Melky Cabrera, “with rival clubs viewing him as a more inexpensive option than Xavier Nady or Nick Swisher.” I’m assuming the sentence read like this before editing: “with rival clubs viewing him as a more inexpensive and less productive option than Xavier Nady or Nick Swisher.” He goes onto say that the Yanks will only move him for the right price, which is what they should be thinking. Brett Gardner hasn’t proven much yet, and having Melky on the bench, especially when he is “playing as well as he ever has” (marketing speak if I’ve ever heard it), provides the Yanks with at least some insurance.

So it looks like the roster is set for now. We’ll see how things change over the course of April.

* Think this nickname for Rosenthal has staying power?