Got some stray links to pass along before the Yankees wrap up their four-game series with the Royals in Kansas City later tonight.
Jeter Remains Atop AL All-Star Voting At Shortstop
MLB released the updated voting results for the All-Star Game starting lineup yesterday, and Derek Jeter remains the leading vote-getter at shortstop. He’s about 160,000 votes ahead of Alexei Ramirez and is the sixth highest vote-getter in the league overall. There’s no way Jeter belongs in the Midsummer Classic based on his performance, but he’s a megastar and the face of baseball. People want to see him in his final year and that’s what the All-Star Game should be all about.
No other Yankees are leading their respective positions in the voting, though Brian McCann does rank second behind Matt Wieters at catcher. Wieters is currently on the disabled list with an elbow injury and is not close to returning. McCann may end up starting the game in his place. Mark Teixeira ranks fifth at first base while Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Brett Gardner rank fifth, eighth, and 13th in the outfield, respectively. The full voting results are right here. Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista, Mike Trout, and Melky Cabrera are in position to start the game alongside Jeter and potentially McCann.
Bad Without Shifts, Sightly Less Bad With Shifts
The Yankees have been using infield shifts to the extreme this season, at least in part due to their range-challenged infield. It’s not just Jeter either. Yangervis Solarte and Brian Roberts aren’t the rangiest of players either. And yet, every game we see balls get by the shift, though that is unavoidable. Balls are always going to get through any defensive formation.
According to Ken Davidoff, the Yankees rate as the worst defense in baseball at -16 runs saved when not using the shift. When they do use the shift, they’re at -4 runs saved, which also rates as the worst in baseball. Compared to the rest of the league, the Yankees are terrible defensively. Compared to themselves, the Yankees with the shift are less terrible than the Yankees without the shift.
“If they weren’t shifting as much as they have been, things would look even worse. So, it’s not that the shift itself has been ineffective, but the Yankees’ infield defense overall that has been ineffective, with or without the shift,” said Joe Rosales, a researcher at Baseball Info Solutions, to Davidoff. Watching a ball get through the shift is frustrating, but without them, there would be far more balls sneaking through the infield.
The Story Behind Teixeira’s Fake Talk Show
I mentioned this in the open thread last night, but, in case you missed it, Mark Teixeira has a fake talk show on YES called Foul Territory. It’s actually pretty funny and the clips came out of nowhere. I’m not sure anyone thought Teixeira is capable of doing something funny. I know I didn’t. He’s always come off as rather business-like and uninteresting, to be honest.
Dan Barbarisi dug into the story behind Foul Territory, which was Teixeira’s idea and a way to help new Yankees feel welcome. It’s not a coincidence the only player interviews are McCann, Ellsbury, and Masahiro Tanaka (one with Roberts is forthcoming). The shows have a general framework but otherwise do not have a script and are ad-libbed. It’s pretty amazing, really. There are two more clips coming (Roberts and Jeter) and Teixeira is open to recording more if the demand is there.
“I wanted a way for the new guys to get broken in, in kind of a funny way—not necessarily hazing, because I’m hazing myself more than anything,” said Teixeira to Barbarisi. “If the fans want (more episodes), we’ll have to give it to them.”
The Wrong End Of The Hard-Hot Spectrum
And finally, ESPN stats guru Mark Simon posted some data on hard-hit balls this morning. Long story short, the Yankees don’t rank very well. They rank 23rd in the league with a .145 HHAV (hard hit average, or hard-hit balls per at-bat) offensively and 26th in the league with a .165 HHAV on the pitching side. The hitters aren’t hitting the ball hard and the pitching staff is allowing a lot of hard-hit balls. That … is a pretty bad combination. Throw in a generally bad team defense and it’s a minor miracle this club is 31-31 after 62 games. It could be much, much worse.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
With pitchers and catchers due to report one week from today, this was the last Yankees baseball-less Friday until hopefully sometime in late-October/early-November. No, the actual games are still more than two weeks away, but camp starts in a week and that’s good enough for me. This time of the year is always exciting. Here are the weekly links:
- Stephanie Storm at the Beacon Journal wrote a feature about the Indians’ analytics department, which includes ex-bloggers Sky Andrecheck (SI.com) and Keith Woolner (Baseball Prospectus). They discussed their roles with the team and how they turned a hobby into a career, among other things.
- Jeff Zimmerman at the Hardball Times explained that all fly balls are not created equal, which is something I think a lot of us forget from time to time. Fly balls, especially those hit high in the air, tend to be easy outs. There’s a reason fly ballers like Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander tend to have low BABIPs. Yankee Stadium and Phil Hughes have scarred us, but being a fly ball pitcher doesn’t automatically mean being a bad pitcher.
- Jason Lukehart at Let’s Go Tribe looked at how the game’s best players were ranked as prospects by Baseball America. Eight of the top 30 pitchers and six of the top 30 position players in bWAR from 2011-13 never appeared on a top 100 list, including Doug Fister, James Shields and, of course, Robinson Cano.
- I have not read this yet but I am going to pass it along anyway: Kate McSurley and Greg Rybarczyk put together an introduction to the FieldFX system, which is basically PitchFX for defense. I’m not sure if FieldFX data will ever be made available to the public (it’s supposed to be proprietary to the 30 clubs), but either way it will be an information goldmine.
This will be your open thread for Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday night. The Winter Olympics have started, so you’ve got that in addition to the various local hockey and basketball teams for entertainment. Talk about anything and everything right here.
I know Pedro Martinez isn’t exactly a beloved Yankee (quite the opposite, in fact), but that highlight video is just too awesome not to share. I figure the Yankees had enough success against Pedro (compared to other teams) that we can step back to appreciate his greatness for a second. Those changeups, man. So nasty. Here are the weekend’s links:
- Great interview with Mets GM Sandy Alderson by Steven Tydings. Alderson discussed how he got into baseball, how his military service helps him as a baseball executive, his leadership style, all sorts of stuff. Really great interview.
- Jon Roegele examined the strike zone during the PitchFX era and found that the zone has been growing in terms of total area in recent years. Specifically, the bottom of the zone is expanding while the edges are contracting. As a result, strikeouts (especially called strikeouts) are up and walks (and runs) are down. Pretty fascinating research.
- Lastly, Alec Dopp examined Hiroki Kuroda‘s struggles late last year and found he was throwing way fewer pitches in the zone than earlier in the season. His BABIP also jumped about a hundred points, which to me suggests he fell into too many hitter’s counts and paid for it.
Friday: This is your open thread for tonight and the next two nights as well. Every local sports team is playing tonight except for the Knicks, so there’s lots to talk about. Enjoy.
Saturday: Here is your open thread again. Both the Knicks and Nets are in action as we all await the Super Bowl tomorrow. Talk about whatever. Go nuts.
Sunday: Ready for the Super Bowl? The game starts at 6:25pm ET and can be seen on FOX. My official prediction: Broncos 38, Seahawks 30. No real reason, just a guess. Nothing else is going on other than Super Bowl. No basketball or hockey, no new television shows, nothing. Enjoy the game.