TGIF, am I right? This was a long and busy week for me. I’ll be glad to kick back for a few days this weekend. The Friday chats are coming back soon — probably not next week, but they’ll definitely be back soon. My schedule’s been pretty hectic of late. Here are some random links I have lying around for the weekend. Some of them are a few weeks old. I’m finally getting around to reading all this stuff I have bookmarked now that the season’s over.
- Some stuff on Andrew Friedman leaving the Rays for the Dodgers: Chad Moriyama wrote about how Friedman moves the Rays forward and R.J. Anderson wondered where the Rays go from here.
- Erik Malinowski profiled former commissioner Fay Vincent, who led MLB through the 1989 World Series earthquake. The piece is worth reading for the George Steinbrenner quotes alone. The Boss really was something else.
- Jon Roegele re-examined the strike zone and found that yes, it continued to grow this past season. Down, specifically. There are more called strikes at (and below) the knees than ever before, and it’s dragging offense down.
- Ben Lindbergh looked at the shift and situational hitting over the years. It turns out that hitters actually hit more balls in the direction of the shift when it’s on than when it’s not, which may result from some kind of psychological effect.
- I really enjoyed David Laurila’s interview with C.J. Wilson. They discussed things like using the spin on the ball as deception, varying arm angles, and using PitchFX as a scouting tool. It’s pretty interesting.
- And finally, check out Eno Sarris’ chat with John Jaso about dealing with concussions. Jaso took a foul tip to the face mask in August and been dealing with concussion symptoms since. He didn’t say anything to the team until he literally couldn’t see the ball from behind the plate.
Friday: Here is your open thread for Friday night and the rest of the weekend. There is no baseball until Tuesday, which is both terrible and liberating at the same time. There’s also no football and none of the local hockey or basketball teams are playing. Nothing. Good night to get the hell out of the house and forget about sports. Talk about whatever you like right here.
Saturday: Once again, this is your open thread for the night. Both the Devils and Islanders are playing, plus there’s a bunch of college football on as well. Talk about any of those games or anything else right here.
Sunday: This is your open thread for the night for one last time. The late NFL game is the 49ers and Broncos, plus the (hockey) Rangers and Nets (preseason) are playing. You folks know how this whole thing works by now, so have at it.
Since it’s the offseason, it’s time to start sharing my collection of stray links every Friday again. I try to stick to baseball but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I stumble across some really awesome non-baseball stuff that’s worth passing along. Anyway, here are this weekend’s links:
- In a really fascinating piece, Brian Costa wrote about baseball’s covert experiment to re-wire hitters’ brains and help them recognizable the spin of the ball and judge the strike zone better, stuff like that. The Red Sox, Rays, and Cubs are a few of the teams doing it. Players are evaluated and given training assignments (video game-esque work) to help develop different parts of their brains. It’s pretty amazing.
- Cuban players are taking over MLB these days, but for every Yasiel Puig or Jose Abreu, there are a bunch of players who defected but do not make it. Jorge Arangure wrote about a few of those players. They get stuck away from their families in a foreign country, and usually wind with low-paying jobs that don’t leave then enough free time to play baseball. We only see the success stories in the show, but those guys are only a small percentage of the players who come over.
- Ken Davidoff as a story up looking at how the Royals missed out on signing Mariano Rivera as an amateur out of Panama all those years ago. Long story short: the scout who found Rivera left the Royals for the Yankees after Kansas City declined to give him a raise. Mo (and Ramiro Mendoza) were part of a group players the scout had “in the bushes,” and they essentially went with him to New York.
- And finally, for all my fellow hockey fans out there, I highly recommend The Score’s 2014-15 season preview, specifically the Unique Team Traits series. It’s exactly what it sounds like, an analysis of each team’s unique style, which can be either good or bad. Here’s their piece on the Rangers and how they use their team speed. Really, really great stuff.
Friday: This is your open thread for Friday night and eventually the rest of the weekend as well. If you flip over to FOX Sports 1, you can catch the end of NLDS Game One between the Giants and Nationals. The Dodgers and Cardinals play their NLDS Game One in a little bit (6:30pm ET on FOX Sports 1, Kershaw vs. Wainwright), then the Royals and Angels play their ALDS Game Two later on (9:30pm ET on TBS, Ventura vs. Shoemaker). Talk about those games or anything else right here.
Saturday: Once again, this is your open thread for the night. The Giants and Nationals are playing Game Two of their NLDS (on FOX Sports1) and later tonight the Dodgers and Cardinals will play Game Two of their NLDS (9:30pm ET on MLB Network). It’s a travel day for both ALDSes. There’s also a bunch of college football on. Have at it.
Sunday: Here is your open thread for the rest of the week. Game Three of both ALDSes will be played — Orioles-Tigers at 3:30pm ET, Angels-Royals at 7:30pm ET, both on TBS — plus there’s football on all day. Talk about any of that stuff or whatever else is on your mind right here.
I have a whole bunch of stray links lying around in the wake of the trade deadline and I’m not quite sure what do with them, so I might as well dump them all in one post. Here are some miscellaneous links and notes as the Yankees and Tigers wrap up their series in the Bronx (game thread).
Yankees add most projected production at trade deadline
Although they didn’t land a big fish like Jon Lester or David Price, the Yankees were one of the most active teams prior to the trade deadline, making four deals that qualified as what Brian Cashman called “incremental upgrades.” Friend of RAB Eno Sarris put together a real quick and dirty analysis looking at which teams added the most production at the trade using projected WAR. It’s a simple WAR coming in minus WAR going out calculation. The Yankees added 2.0 WAR (projected!) at the deadline, by far the most in baseball. The Mariners were second at 1.3 WAR. Those incremental upgrades, man. They add up in a hurry.
Headley loves New York, surprising
Chase Headley has only been a Yankee for a bit more than two weeks now, but that has been long enough for New York to grow on him. He told Ken Davidoff he never expected to enjoy playing in Bronx as much as he has. “If you had told me a couple of weeks ago that I would enjoy playing in New York, I would’ve told you you’re crazy … You don’t know what to expect when you come to a clubhouse with this many All-Stars and established guys and great players. You don’t know how you’re going to be accepted in a clubhouse and be treated. And it’s been phenomenal. Top-notch organization, and then I’ve loved every second I’ve been here and I anticipate that I will as long as I’m here,” said Headley. He has also told people with the team how much he’s enjoyed it as well, says Jon Heyman. Headley will be a free agent after the season and re-signing him is something to consider once the final 50 games play out, but for now he’s fit in wonderfully and given the Yankees a big lift.
Red Sox, Rays blacklisted Yankees at deadline
According to David Lennon, the Red Sox and Rays were both told by ownership they could not deal Lester and Price to the Yankees at the trade deadline. Each team was free to trade their lefty ace anywhere but the Bronx. Nick Cafardo says the Yankees did try to engage the BoSox on both Lester and John Lackey, but no dice. The Bombers also called Tampa about Price, says Bob Nightengale, but again, it wasn’t happening. Oh well, what are you going to do. I’m not sure if the Yankees could have put together competitive offers for the two southpaws anyway.
Gardner’s ever-changing approach
This has been a career year for Brett Gardner, as he continues to hit for a surprising amount of power while maintaining his pesky leadoff hitter on-base ability. It’s been a blast to watch. Jeff Sullivan looked at Gardner’s sudden power production and, long story short, found that he’s adjusted to the way pitchers were pitching him. They were treating him like a slap hitter with fastballs in the zone. Like a hitter who couldn’t hurt them. Gardner has become more aggressive and learned how to better pull the ball in the air, a trademark of hitting coach Kevin Long. The league basically dared him to adjust to the way they pitched him, and he’s done exactly that.
Rusney Castillo’s workout scheduled for tomorrow
Free agent Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo is scheduled to have a private workout with the Yankees at their Tampa complex tomorrow, according to George King. He has already had private workouts for the Phillies, Red Sox, Cubs, and Mariners. Ben Badler recently dropped a Rajai Davis comp on Castillo, in case you’re wondering what type of player he is. King says the outfielder may fetch upwards of $45M.
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.