Injury Updates: Tanaka, Sabathia, Nova, Bailey, Heathcott, Barbato, Hensley

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Here are some injury updates with pitchers and catchers only ten days away from reporting to Tampa for the start of Spring Training 2015. The updates come courtesy of Brad Lefton, Dan Martin, Chad Jennings, and the Associated Press.

  • Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) adjusted his usual offseason program and has not been throwing with as much intensity as he had in the past. “Right from the beginning of camp last year, all the pitchers were throwing in the bullpen, but they were just easing into it, so there’s really no reason for me to push myself to throw full throttle before I even get there this time,” he said.
  • CC Sabathia (knee) is working out and throwing regularly at Yankee Stadium. “I don’t think we have anything to worry about how his arm works or how his knee works. Not anymore,” said Brian Cashman. Sabathia is expected to be a healthy player come the start of Spring Training.
  • Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) has been throwing on flat ground and recently said his elbow feels great. He should start throwing off a mound very soon if he hasn’t already. Nova is currently on track to rejoin the team in June after having surgery late last April.
  • Andrew Bailey (shoulder) is expected to be a healthy and active pitcher in Spring Training. He missed all of last season following shoulder capsule surgery. “He’s in a throwing program, and there’s been nothing adverse reported from him,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler.
  • Slade Heathcott (knee) is also expected to be fully healthy for Spring Training. He had knee surgery last offseason and another one in June. “His progressions are moving forward really positively. The last checkup we had, he’s able to do full baseball activities, it’s just (a question of) how regular and how long of a duration,” said Eppler.
  • Johnny Barbato (elbow) is healthy and will start the season on time after missing the second half of 2014 with an elbow strain. “He was cleared and good to go,” said Eppler while noting Barbato healed up in time to pitch in Instructional League for the Padres last fall. The Yankees acquired Barbato in the Shawn Kelley trade.
  • And finally, Ty Hensley (face) has already resumed throwing bullpen sessions after he was viciously attacked during the holidays, according to his Twitter feed. Hensley’s jaw had to be wired shut due to the attack so he’ll likely lose some weight. He might have to rebuild some strength before the Yankees turn him loose this summer.

It’s that time of year: Sign up for Yahoo fantasy baseball


You’re going to play fantasy baseball this year, right? I thought so. With pitchers and catchers just 10 days away, plenty of people are getting out in front of the ball and setting up leagues right now. Because why not? If nothing else it’ll give you a little extra time to find an extra team so you’re not stuck with an odd number.

If you want to start a new league, sign up with this link.

If you want to join an existing league, sign up with this link.

If you want to just join and find a league, sign up with this link.

While I won’t be partaking this year — having a kid takes up all my free time — feel free to coordinate in the comments and set up your own leagues. It’s not quite the RAB fantasy league relegation system we dreamed up a few years ago, but it’s a way to compete with some of your favorite, or least favorite, fellow commenters.

If you do set up a RAB league, email me, joe at riveraveblues dot com and let me know. If we get enough of them maybe we’ll hold some kind of competition.

Scouting the Trade Market: Last Minute Rotation Targets

The Return of Big Bart? (Alex Goodlett/Getty)
The Return of Big Bart? (Alex Goodlett/Getty)

Now that James Shields has landed in San Diego, the top free agent starters are all off the board and the only guys left unsigned are hangers-on. Roberto Hernandez, Chris Young, Kevin Correia, guys like that. The Yankees passed on Shields, Max Scherzer, and Jon Lester because they didn’t want to hand out another big contract but they could still use another starter. Every team except the Nationals could, really.

Pitchers and catchers will start reporting to Spring Training next week, though there are still a handful of pitchers on the trade block who could be moved between now and then. Cole Hamels is the obvious one, but he’s a complicated case. I’m taking about back-end starters, guys who eat innings and wouldn’t cost much more than salary relief to acquire. The Yankees have shown no real interest in those types of guys but they could jump into the mix. Here are a few back-end arms who are definitely available right now.

RHP Bartolo Colon, Mets

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2014 4.09 3.57 17.9% 3.6% 39.3% 8.8% .331 .299
2012-14 3.40 3.52 16.0% 3.6% 41.9% 7.9% .292 .309

When the Yankees plucked Colon out of winter ball back in 2011, who would have guessed he’d still be kicking around in 2015? Not me, that’s for sure. The Mets have an enviable collection of young starters and have been shopping their high-priced arms hard all winter, and the 41-year-old Colon is the highest priced of them all — he’s scheduled to earn $11M this coming season.

Colon has pitched well since returning to the big leagues four seasons ago but his fastball velocity has been slipping in recent years, and that’s pretty scary for a guy who throws about 85% four-seamers and sinkers. Here’s his velocity graph since resurfacing with the Yankees a few years ago, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

Bartolo Colon velocity

His fastball velocity has been steadily declining and that is not at all surprising for a guy Colon’s age. It’s remarkable really that he is still throwing as hard as he is given the nearly 3,000 career innings he’s logged and the arm injuries he’s dealt with.

As the velocity has slipped, Bart has become increasingly fly ball and line drive prone according to the imperfect batted ball data we have. Opponents are squaring him up more often, basically, so it’s not necessarily a fluke his BABIP has climbed from .286 to .294 to .307 the last three seasons. And remember, he was pitching in two pitcher friendly parks (O.co Coliseum and Citi Field) the last three years.

At his age, you have to expect Colon to continue declining in 2015. At best, maybe he’ll be able to maintain last year’s performance. The guy is going to turn 42 in May and he’s an extremely fastball reliant pitcher who is having a harder time cracking 90 mph with each passing start. I think the Mets would give him away at this point as long as they shed themselves of his $11M salary, but he still feels more like a “all hell broke loose” last resort for the Yankees.

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

RHP Dillon Gee, Mets

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2014 4.00 4.52 16.5% 7.5% 44.1% 11.5% .315 .321
2012-14 3.85 4.09 17.8% 6.4% 44.9% 11.1% .294 .341

Like I said, the Mets have been trying to unload a high-priced starter all offseason, and it’s sort of sad Gee’s $5.3M salary is considered high-priced for a New York team. (Gee will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 as well, so he’s not necessarily a one-year rental.) The 28-year-old has been a popular target this offseason as the Rockies, Padres, Giants, Nationals, Rays, Royals, and Twins had interest in him at various points.

There was a stretch from May 2013 through July 2014 where Gee was damn near ace-like, pitching to a 2.67 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 209 innings across 31 starts. Then he finished last year with a 5.10 ERA (4.83 FIP) in his final 13 starts and 77.2 innings. Gee’s had a bunch of shoulder problems over the years (labrum tear in 2009, blood clot in 2012, strain in 2014) and he’s not a big stuff guy, sitting in the upper-80s with his two and four-seam fastballs while also throwing low-80s sliders and changeups. He’s the quintessential “won’t kill you” mid-to-back-end starter, someone who will flash enough brilliance to make you think he can be something more.

Unlike Colon, the Yankees would actually have to give up something of value for Gee, who is young, affordable, and a bonafide Major League starting pitcher. Two and a half years of Bud Norris was traded for a low level pitching prospect and an MLB ready utility man a few years ago, which might be a point of reference for a Gee trade. One year of Ross Detwiler cost two low level prospects, guys on the back half of their team’s top 30 prospects list. Gee shouldn’t cost much more than that.

Jackson. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Jackson. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

RHP Edwin Jackson, Cubs

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2014 6.33 4.45 19.4% 10.0% 39.4% 11.9% .358 .404
2012-14 5.00 4.00 19.4% 8.2% 46.6% 11.2% .323 .357

Somewhere out there, someone is still waiting for Jackson’s ERA to catch up to his FIP. He’s only 31, it’ll happen any day now! Except that when a guy has had a considerably higher ERA (4.57) than FIP (4.17) in his last 1,500 innings (1,473 to be exact), it’s time to say that’s just who he is. That’s Jackson. Ricky Nolasco is the same way. Some guys are sabermetric teases.

Jackson has been flat out terrible for the Cubs these last two years, pitching to 5.58 ERA (4.09 FIP!) in 316 innings since signing a four-year, $52M contract during the 2012-13 offseason. A total of 865 different pitchers have appeared in at least one MLB game since the start of last season and Jackson ranks 865th with -3.6 bWAR. Dead last. He’s been that bad. The only good thing you can say about him at this point is that he still throws hard, averaging 94 mph with his four-seamer last year. The stuff is still there and that’s something.

The Cubs have their top three starters (Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel) and they have a small army of pitchers set to compete for the last two rotation spots: Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner, Kyle Hendricks, Felix Doubront, Travis Wood, and Jackson. They been shopping Jackson for weeks with no luck, and I don’t think that’s surprising. He’s so pricey and unproductive that there’s no way a team could justify giving up something of value for him. If the Cubbies are willing to eat a huge chunk of that $26M, great, otherwise there is very little reason to kick the tires on Jackson.

Niese. (Andy Marlin/Getty)
Niese. (Andy Marlin/Getty)

LHP Jon Niese, Mets

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2014 3.40 3.67 17.6% 5.7% 47.7% 9.8% .329 .289
2012-14 3.49 3.69 18.1% 6.5% 49.0% 10.4% .317 .292

Another Met because hey, these guys are available. The Yankees and Mets haven’t gotten together for a real trade (sorry, Gonzalez Germen) since the Mike Stanton/Felix Heredia swap in December 2004, but I don’t think either Brian Cashman or Sandy Alderson would let the crosstown thing get in the way of a deal that improves their club. Neither seems to care all that much about fan or media scrutiny, and if they think they can best help their team by trading with each other, it’ll happen.

Anyway, Niese is 28 and he’s the best pitcher between himself, Colon, and Gee. He’s been very good for three years running now and has averaged 170.1 innings in his five full MLB seasons. Plus his contract is rock solid: Niese is owed $7M in 2015 and $9M in 2016 before team options for 2017 ($10M) and 2018 ($11M) come into play. (Both options include a $500,000 buyout.) So he’s pretty young, pretty good, and signed affordably. Lots to like here. But, of course, there’s a catch.

The single biggest concern with Niese is health. Despite averaging those 170.1 innings the last five years, the southpaw has had on and off arm problems, including both elbow and shoulder issues. He missed time with shoulder inflammation in 2013, a shoulder strain later in 2013, shoulder soreness in 2014, a hyper-extended elbow in 2014, and then more shoulder inflammation later in 2014. The Mets’ willingness to trade Niese seems to be as much about clearing a spot for a young pitcher as it is moving him before his arm completely blows out.

The good news is that most of Niese’s arm issues were very minor and sidelined him for no longer than two weeks (the shoulder strain cost him two months), though that’s just putting lipstick on a pig. His health is a big concern going forward and why trading for him is quite risky even though he’s the most effective non-Hamels pitcher realistically available right now. I think the Detwiler and Norris trades I mentioned for Gee work as references for Niese, though the prospects would likely have to be of a higher quality.

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

LHP Travis Wood, Cubs

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2014 5.03 4.38 18.7% 9.7% 34.4% 8.8% .371 .276
2012-14 4.08 4.33 18.2% 8.7% 33.9% 9.2% .331 .274

Nothing but Mets and Cubs pitchers in this post. What can you do? They’re the teams with spare starters to trade right now. Wood will make $5.686M this coming season and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 as well, though, given his recent performance, he might be a non-tender candidate next winter. That’s why the Cubbies could look to trade him now and get something in return.

Wood had an excellent season in 2013, pitching to a 3.11 ERA (3.89 FIP) in exactly 200 innings, but he had a 4.50 ERA (4.53 FIP) in the 262 innings before that and a 5.03 ERA (4.38 FIP) in the 173.2 innings since. Looking at his career since breaking into MLB full-time back in 2011, the 2013 season is the outlier, not 2014. Wood is a small stuff lefty, sitting in the mid-to-upper-80s with his fastball and throwing his cutter once out of every three pitches. His ground ball rate is tiny but he does have one of the highest infield pop-up rates in baseball since 2011, so it’s not like he’s giving up a ton of scary fly balls.

As I mentioned before, the Cubs have a ton of back of the rotation options, but Wood is affordable and has averaged 176.2 innings the last three years, so he’s someone they could easily justify keeping. He just turned 28 last week and his soft stuff limits his upside, especially since he has such a big platoon split, though there’s just enough here to keep him interesting. Wood might only be a younger version of Chris Capuano and that’s not someone you give up a ton to get, yet his recent All-Star season and age might mean it’ll take a real live prospect or two to pry him loose.

* * *

There’s a reason all five of these guys make some kind of sense for the Yankees. Colon and Jackson could provide innings and would come almost free. Niese is a pretty damn good pitcher when healthy. Gee and Wood are low upside but affordable innings guys who wouldn’t require an arm and a leg to acquire. Based on the way the Cubs and Mets have operated this winter, all five guys are available right now, in the days leading up to camp, and this might is be best time to acquire one of them, before pitchers around the league start getting hurt in Spring Training and the demand rises.

Yankees sign right-hander Kyle Davies to minor league deal

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

The Yankees have signed journeyman right-hander Kyle Davis to a minor league contract, the team announced. Davies did receive an invitation to Spring Training and will be the team’s 27th non-roster invitee. Fun fact: Davies gave up Alex Rodriguez‘s 500th career home run (video).

Davies, 31, has not pitched in MLB since 2011, when he had 6.75 ERA (4.39 FIP) in 61.1 innings for the Royals. He has a career 5.59 ERA (4.89 FIP) in 768 career big league innings with Kansas City and the Braves. Davies spent last season in Triple-A with the Indians, where he had a 4.11 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 124.2 innings. He was out of baseball entirely in 2012 before resurfacing with the Twins in 2013.

Obviously the Yankees need rotation help, but I think Davies was signed to be the veteran innings guy for Triple-A Scranton rather than be a serious MLB option. The Yankees figure to dip into their minor league pitching reserves quite a bit this summer and someone has to pick up those innings for the RailRiders, like Bruce Billings and Brian Gordon last year or Chris Bootcheck the year before. Davies is that guy in 2015.

Monday Night Open Thread

According to Alex Pavlovic, Giants manager Bruce Bochy told reporters last week that managers will not be allowed to go on the field to ask for a challenge this coming season. Apparently they will have to signal from the dugout or something. Nothing is official yet, but MLB has been looking for a way to speed up managerial challenges this offseason, and I guess this is their solution. Sounds good to me, but let’s see how it works in practice.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing, and there’s the usual slate of college basketball as well. Talk about those games, the apparent new procedure for managerial challenges, or anything else right here tonight.

Judge and Severino make Baseball Prospectus’ top 101 prospects

Severino and Judge, again. (Presswire)
Severino and Judge, again. (Presswire)

Earlier today, Baseball Prospectus released their list of the top 101 prospects in baseball heading into the 2015 season. The list is free but the scouting reports are behind the pay wall. Twins OF Byron Buxton sits in the top spot and is followed by Cubs SS Addison Russell and Astros SS Carlos Correa in the top three. Cubs 3B Kris Bryant ranks fifth, the lowest you’ll see him on a top 100 list this spring.

The Yankees have two players in the top 101 and they’re just about side-by-side in the rankings: OF Aaron Judge ranks 49th and RHP Luis Severino ranks 51st. Judge is the 11th outfielder on the list and Severino is the 25th pitcher (19th right-hander) on the list. C Gary Sanchez ranked third on Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects list a few weeks ago but did not make the top 101.

Judge ranked 23rd on Keith Law’s top 100 and 68th on MLB.com’s top 100, so add in Baseball Prospectus and his average ranking this spring has been 47th overall. Severino ranked 23rd on MLB.com’s list but he did not appear on Law’s list. Baseball America is scheduled to release their top 100 prospects list next Thursday and based on everything they’ve written these last few weeks and months, it’s safe to say Severino and Judge will make the list, in that order.

The five most interesting Yankees ZiPS projections

2015 ZiPS

Early last week, as part of his annual series at FanGraphs, Dan Szymborski released his ZiPS projections for the 2015 Yankees. As always, projections don’t mean a whole lot of anything. They aren’t predictions — projections are an estimate of current talent level — and while ZiPS has historically been accurate on a macro level, there are always individual outliers. Projections are a completely objective look at a player and a conversation starter, that’s all.

The graphic above shows the rough WAR projections for the Yankees’ regulars. The team’s full ZiPS projections are right here, so check them out at your own convenience. I want to focus on five players with projections that stood out as interesting to me, either for good reasons or bad reasons. Let’s get to it …

Brian McCann: +3.0 WAR

Catcher defense is still very difficult to quantify and ZiPS doesn’t handle it well, so there’s no point in looking at McCann’s projected WAR. The most important thing is ZiPS sees him as a .249/.316/.431 (.325 wOBA) hitter this coming season, which is way better than the .232/.286/.406 (.306 wOBA) line he put up last year. It’s down slightly from his .252/.329/.441 (.332 wOBA) line with the Braves from 2011-13 but still in the same ballpark. That’s encouraging.

Remember, ZiPS knows all about McCann’s heavy career workload and catcher aging curves and all that. It knows that catchers McCann’s age tend to continue declining once they’ve started declining, yet it still expects him to bounce back in 2015. That’s because it sees his .231 BABIP last summer and knows it was out of line with his .283 career mark. That said, it only has him getting back to .260 BABIP. This 100% objective computer system doesn’t expect McCann to slide into uselessness just yet and for some reason I find that reassuring.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Didi Gregorius: +1.6 WAR

Defensive stats are sketchy and defensive projections are even sketchier. ZiPS pegs Gregorius as a +1 defender, which is actually better than his career UZR (-3.6) and DRS (0) numbers at short, but not in line with his reputation. Is it possible Didi’s defensive skills have been overstated? Oh hell yeah. It happens all the time, especially with players who can’t hit. But, as I explained a few weeks ago, the scouting reports and Inside Edge data make it seem Gregorius is a standout defender with a knack for the occasional mental mistake on routine plays. That is something that can be improved with experience, in theory.

Anyway, aside from the defense, ZiPS has Didi as a .251/.307/.369 (.295 wOBA) hitter and that sorta stinks. The league average shortstop put up a .251/.306/.363 (.297 wOBA) line last year though, so Gregorius is projected as almost a perfectly league average hitting shortstop. There’s nothing sexy about that, but Derek Jeter did hit .256/.304/.313 (.279 wOBA) last season, and that’s really really bad. Even at the league shortstop average, Didi will be a big upgrade at the plate. Add in even +1 defense, and he’s an even bigger upgrade. The Yankees got -2.3 WAR from their shortstops a year ago, easily the worst in baseball. Gregorius is looking very much like a multi-win upgrade even with the modest ZiPS projections.

Nathan Eovaldi: +1.1 WAR

To me, Eovaldi is the perfect example of a pitcher poised to exceed projections. ZiPS only knows the stats, remember. It doesn’t know Masahiro Tanaka has a tiny tear in his UCL, for example. It doesn’t know Chasen Shreve decided to throw harder last year. And it doesn’t know Eovaldi appeared to improve his changeup late last season or that he is going from an atrocious pitch-framer (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) to an elite one (McCann) or that pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a long history of improving strikeout rates. Those are three ZiPS ignored factors that could have a major impact going forward. Eovaldi is projected for a 4.51 ERA (4.16 FIP) and I wouldn’t be surprised if he outperforms that by a full run this coming season. Okay, fine, let’s say half-a-run instead. Either way, I like Eovaldi’s chances of exceeding ZiPS.

Justin Wilson: -0.1 WAR

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So ZiPS isn’t a fan of New York’s new lefty middle reliever. Wilson has a 2.99 ERA (3.45 FIP) in 138.1 career innings and the projection system has him as a true talent 4.31 ERA (4.54 FIP) pitcher in 2015. His strikeout and walk rate projections (23.6 K% and 12.8 K%) are right in line with his 2014 performance (23.8 K% and 11.7 BB%), so the difference is all in home run rate. After allowing eight homers in his first 138.1 big league innings, ZiPS sees Wilson as an eight homers in 64.2 innings guy right now. That … seems weird.

Yes, Wilson is moving into a much more hitter friendly ballpark. Yankee Stadium had a 111 HR Park Factor last summer — that means it inflated homer production to 11% more than the league average — while PNC Park had an 88 HR Park Factor, so that’s a big difference. Enough to go from a 0.52 HR/9 from 2012-14 to 1.11 HR/9 in 2015? Maybe! That just seems like an exorbitant spike in homer rate, especially for a pitcher with a career 50.9% ground ball rate.

Reliever homer rates can be pretty volatile year to year because they inherently work in small samples, maybe 60-70 innings per year. One single homer results in a pretty big change in a reliever’s homer rate. Five dingers in 50 innings is 0.90 HR/9. Four is 0.72. Six is 1.08. Those are pretty big swings that result from one swing of the bat, one gust of wind, a couple degrees of temperature, stuff like that. ZiPS sees Wilson being replacement level because it expects him to start serving up long balls, but reliever homer rates are really volatile. The computer is being pretty pessimistic.

Bryan Mitchell: -1.3 WAR

Yikes. ZiPS pegs Mitchell for a 5.92 ERA (5.68 FIP) with mediocre strikeout (15.0 K%) and walk (11.5 BB%) rates, which isn’t good at all but not completely unexpected for a non-elite 23-year-old pitching prospect. The problem is Mitchell is more or less the team’s sixth starter. Maybe he’s more like the eighth starter behind Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers, but the point is he’s not all that far down the depth chart. ZiPS won’t have any impact on Mitchell’s real life performance, but geez, it would have been nice to see the system be a little more optimistic heading into the season.