Ben’s obligatory offseason wish list

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

It goes without saying that, as a Yankee fan, my off-season wish list revolves around a trophy. Right now, the San Francisco Giants are in possession of that trophy, and it’s been five years since the Yanks last celebrated this item, the third-longest World Series drought of my life. I want that trophy back.

Sitting where we are, after a disappointing and often dull 84-win season, it’s hard to see a short path 2015’s trophy, and with Derek moving on, the ties to even the 2009 team are being held together by ARod for now and Francisco Cervelli, Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, CC’s knee and current free agent David Robertson. Flags fly forever, but leave them outside long enough and they’ll start to look a little tattered.

As far as Yankee needs go, it’s hard to disagree with Joe’s and Mike’s wish lists. Even as the Yanks faded into the middle of the pack this summer, they fell only four games shy of a Wild Card berth, and as the Royals demonstrated, get there and anything goes. Of course with the way the roster currently looks, the Yanks need three infielders, a starting pitcher or two and another reliever, and those pieces aren’t coming out of Scranton in April, Rob Refsnyder notwithstanding.

But you know what the Yanks need. Your wish lists is mine: the best players yesterday and that parade down Broadway in Lower Manhattan. For my take on the offseason, I want to talk about a different kind of wish list. This is about mystique and aura, no longer appearing nightly. It’s about the team’s image — their brand, if you will. Now that Derek Jeter has retired, the Yankees need to pass the baton, but to whom? Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill were there after Mattingly’s departure, and Jeter burst onto the scene. In 2015, the Yankees don’t really have a franchise face or up-and-coming star. It’s time to rebrand.

1. Do Something About Yankee Stadium

For better or worse — until the Yanks pull a Braves in twenty years — New Yankee Stadium is what we have, probably for most of the rest of my life. I tolerated it at first, and it helped that the Yanks won a World Series in the park’s first season. But as far as baseball stadiums go, it’s a nothing. There’s no charm or attitude to it. It’s sterile-looking with the feel of something you should look at but not touch.

In September, during Jeter’s last home stand, I went to a game with a friend of mine. We had comps — good seats in the 100s level that were supposed to be next to each other. Instead, we got to our seats to find a table in between the two of us. I have no idea why the Yankees decided they needed to remove seats to stick tables in between them. We all managed at baseball games for decades without tables. But my friend and I had a table, and we had to spend the whole game either leaning toward each other or shouting to be heard. These seats and that table seemed to be built with attendees who care more about the scene than the game.

The Yankees aren’t going to gut their new stadium and reconfigure the seating bowls to better resemble the Yankee Stadium of my childhood and teenage years. But they could find a way to make the stadium feel more inclusive and fan-focused. If the product on the field isn’t going to be impressive, the ballpark at least should be. Right now, with Painfully Awkward George Steinbrenner looming over everyone, it’s grand but lacking.

2. Change the In-Game Experience

This goes hand-in-hand with No. 1 on my list, but must we sit through another season of the grounds crew doing the YMCA dance, Cotton Eye Joe and “God Bless America”? Must we be bombarded with sound at every opportunity? At the risk of sounding like a cranky old man, there’s something to be said for a simple game experience. I saw a Sunday matinee at Fenway this past year, and the only sounds were the PA announcer and the organist. I don’t expect the Yanks to sacrifice scoreboard revenue every day but doing so once in a while would be a nice treat.

3. ‘It is high…it is far…it is still broadcasting Yankee games!’

Every winter, I hope that John Sterling isn’t still broadcasting games come Opening Day, and every Opening Day, he is. We already know that the 2015 season will be no different, but I can dream.

Overall, the Yanks’ radio broadcast needs a rethink. It’s become an advertising vehicle for WFAN that also happens to provide some amount of play-by-play and the bare minimum of informed commentary. The Yankees and CBS make their money through endless sales of everything on the broadcast, and Sterling’s schtick can sometimes be enjoyable in that grandfatherly rolling-of-the-eyes sort of way. But as a way to learn about what’s happening on the field or gain insight into a baseball decision, well, you won’t find that on the John and Suzyn Variety Show. Maybe next time.

4. A Redesigned RAB

4. Re-Sign David Robertson

Okay, okay. Not everything can be a complaint about the in-game presentation. We do need to focus on the field too, and for me, keeping David Robertson around for a few more years is a top priority. I realize there’s a prevailing sentiment that Dellin Betances can close and for a lot less money, and maybe that’s true. However, moving Betances into the closer role has a cascade effect on the rest of the game and not in a positive way.

By the middle of the season, Joe Girardi believed in Betances to use him perfectly. He was the fireman when there was a problem in the 7th; he could handle the 8th with aplomb. He was a versatile reliever with a rubber arm and a 100 mph fastball. As a closer, he’ll take those last three outs, 3-run lead or 1-run lead, and his innings and utility will drop. Plus, someone else — Adam Warren? Shawn Kelley? — will have to pick up higher leverage innings.

Meanwhile, Robertson has been one of the best, most consistent relievers in baseball over the last five years. He can handle the 9th in New York, and he’s at a prime age for a pitcher. Simply put, Robertson gives the Yanks comfort in the 9th and a deeper, more versatile bullpen overall. I’d sign Andrew Miller too, but that’s just being greedy.

5. A Short Stop

Brendan Ryan is the only short stop under contract for the 2015 Yankees. Gulp.

* * *

All in an all, it’s a tough winter for the Yankees. They have a lot of dead or dying weight on the books for the next few seasons and aren’t rushing to add more. They have some promising high-ceiling prospects in their lower levels, and the best thing for the future of the club would be for the farm system to have an actually good year all around next year. For now, though, this seems to be a franchise in a holding pattern. The books closed on one great era of team history. We’ll see what comes next starting in April.

Thursday Night Open Thread

This is your open thread for the night. The Thursday NFL Game is the Browns and Bengals. The Devils and Islanders are both playing as well. Talk about those games or anything else that’s on your mind right here.

Heyman: Yankees targeting McCarthy, Capuano, Hammel

Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are currently focusing on Brandon McCarthy, Chris Capuano, and Jason Hammel as they look to upgrade their rotation heading into next season. Heyman reiterates the club is unlikely to pursue Jon Lester or Max Scherzer.

McCarthy and Capuano were with the Yankees this past season, so we’re all already familiar with them. The 32-year-old Hammel had a 3.47 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 176.1 innings with the Cubs and Athletics in 2014, though he was great in Chicago (2.98 ERA and 3.09 FIP) and not good in Oakland (4.26 ERA and 5.10 FIP). He signed a one-year deal worth $6M with the Cubs last year and is probably looking at a similar deal this winter. Meh.

2014 Season Review: The Best Pitching Trade of the Season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s amazing that despite all their offensive problems in 2014, the Yankees were rather desperate for pitching help at midseason. Ivan Nova (elbow) and CC Sabathia (knee) were lost for the season, and at one point it sure looked like Michael Pineda (shoulder) would be as well. David Phelps was doing an admirable job filling in and Vidal Nuno had his moments, but the Yankees needed more stability. Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda were rocks in the rotation. The rest was a mess.

On July 6th, three and a half weeks before the trade deadline, Brian Cashman pulled the trigger on a straight one-for-one swap with the Diamondbacks that sent Nuno to Arizona for right-hander Brandon McCarthy. The two sides were reportedly talking for weeks before ex-D’Backs GM Kevin Towers decided to sell. The timing worked out well for New York too — two days after the trade and one day before McCarthy’s first start in pinstripes, Tanaka suffered the partially torn elbow ligament that essentially ended his season.

It easy to be skeptical about what McCarthy at the time of the trade. His 5.01 ERA in 109.2 innings with Arizona was a major eyesore, as was his 1.23 HR/9 (20.2 HR/FB%). He had a 4.53 ERA in 135 innings the year before, and his long history of shoulder problems was another red flag — McCarthy visited the DL with a shoulder issue at least once every year from 2008-13. His strikeout rate (7.63 K/9 and 20.2 K%) with the D’Backs was fine and both his walk (1.64 BB/9 and 4.3 BB%) and grounder (55.3%) rates were excellent. The Yankees were hoping to get the 3.82 FIP version of McCarthy, not the 5.01 ERA version.

In true 2014 Yankees form, McCarthy’s very first inning with the team was derailed by shaky infield defense (Mark Teixeira throwing error) that resulted in three unearned runs. The Indians put seven balls in play that inning and two were in the air, both caught for outs. It was a rally built on Teixeira’s error and ground balls with eyes. McCarthy settled down after that and allowed just one more run in the next 5.2 innings. The Yankees eventually won the game in 14 innings. Quite the hectic debut.

McCarthy held the Reds and Rangers to one run in six innings in each of his next two starts before the Rangers touched him up for four runs in six innings. After that, McCarthy allowed just seven runs (four earned) in 27.1 innings across his next four starts. His best start for the Yankees and on the season in general came on August 21st, when he struck out eight in a four-hit shutout against the Astros:

McCarthy, who throughout his career has been a bit homer prone, allowed just three balls to leave the yard in his first nine starts with the Yankees. That little bit of good fortune came to a crashing halt in Toronto on the final day of August, when McCarthy allowed three solo homers in the span of four batters to turn a 3-0 lead into a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning. The Bombers went on to lose the game 4-3. It was not McCarthy’s finest moment. Not at all.

After that little homer episode, McCarthy allowed just four runs in his next three starts before getting clobbered in his final outing of the season (five runs in 5.1 innings against the Orioles), something that was a common theme throughout the rotation. Pineda was the only one not to get lit up in his final start. Anyway, McCarthy’s stint in pinstripes ended with a 2.89 ERA (3.22 FIP) in 90.1 innings spread across 14 starts. His strikeout (8.17 K/9 and 22.2 K%), walk (1.30 BB/9 and 3.5 BB%), and grounder (49.1%) rates were all way better than average. His homer rate (1.00 HR/9 and 12.8 HR/FB%) was in line with his career average (1.04 HR/9 and 10.3 HR/FB%).

Soon after the trade, McCarthy told reporters the D’Backs didn’t allow him to throw his cutter, a key pitch in his arsenal when he transformed himself from a fastball/curveball pitcher to a cutter/sinker pitcher while with the Athletics a few years ago. “[Shelving the cutter] wasn’t something I totally agreed with,” McCarthy told Josh Thomson back in July.

“I feel like myself again. [The D'Backs] didn’t want me throwing it any more. They wanted more sinkers away, but I feel like I need that pitch to be successful,” said McCarthy to John Harper in July. “The Yankees came to me right away and said, ‘We need to bring the cutter back into play.’ They obviously looked back and saw, ‘when he’s good he was throwing cutters. When he’s not, he wasn’t.’ I was glad to hear it because I was going to tell them that anyway. It’s been frustrating because I felt like I’ve been throwing better this season than any other year.”

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Here is McCarthy’s pitch selection over the years, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

% Cutters % Sinkers % Curves % Four-Seamers
2011-12 with A’s 41.3% 36.1% 18.9% 3.7%
2013-14 with D’Backs 23.6% 49.2% 20.1% 7.1%
2014 with Yankees 18.8% 36.0% 20.9% 24.2%

McCarthy threw more cutters in his first two starts with the Yankees (37) than he did in his final eight starts with the D’Backs (36), but overall PitchFX says he threw fewer cutters in New York than he did Arizona.

There are two things going on here. At least I think there are two things going on here. One, McCarthy threw only 10.3% cutters with the D’Backs in 2014 before being traded (34.6% in 2013), so he actually did throw more cutters with the Yankees this year. Two, I think there are some PitchFX classification issues. The data at FanGraphs says he threw only 13.0% four-seamers with 45.6% sinkers and 20.4% cutters while in pinstripes. I think a bunch of those four-seamers are actually misclassified cutters, but I can’t confirm that. If that is the case, his pitch selection in the table above would much more closely resemble his time in Oakland, when he was awesome (3.29 ERA and 3.22 FIP).

McCarthy says he was using the pitch more often with the Yankees but the PitchFX data says otherwise, so I don’t know who to believe. I tend to believe the data at times like there, but there could be classification issues. It happens all the time, particularly with cutters, though they are usually mixed with sliders, with four-seamers. I really don’t know what’s going on here. Maybe McCarthy and the Yankees were just blowing smoke when they said he was throwing more cutters.

Anyway, here’s something neat (via Brooks):

Brandon McCarthy velocity

McCarthy added a ton of velocity this year. Across the board too, even his curveball was harder. His cutter went from 90.7 mph last year to 92.2 mph this year. His sinker went from 91.8 mph to 93.8 mph and his curve went from 79.1 mph to 82.3%. These are really big increases! McCarthy told Nick Piecoro back in Spring Training that he changed his offseason routine in an effort to avoid the DL, which he did in 2014 for basically the first time in his career. The velocity could simply be the result of having a healthy shoulder for the first time in years.

Regardless of what’s going on with the cutters and increased velocity and all that, McCarthy gave the Yankees a big shot in the arm after the trade and was borderline ace-like for 14 starts. It happened. It’s in the books. Worry about how he will perform in the future and if he’ll re-sign with the Yankees another time. There’s an entire winter to do that. For now, I just want to point out that even though both Jon Lester and David Price were traded at the deadline, McCarthy had the most impact of any pitcher traded this summer. It just wasn’t quite enough to get the Yankees back to the postseason.

Report: Kia Tigers may post lefty Hyeon-Jong Yang

The following is a post from Sung-Min Kim (@sung_minkim), who has also written posts about Kei Igawa, Hyo-Jun Park, and Kwang-Hyun Kim.

Yang at the 2014 Asian Games in September. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)
Yang at the 2014 Asian Games in September. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)

On Tuesday, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported the Kia Tigers of KBO are going to post ace lefty Hyeon-Jong Yang. That was odd to me. Usually, when it comes to news about Korean players being posted or ML teams expressing desire in one, Korean media has the first official report. I had read an article or two about Yang being scouted by both major league and NPB scouts, but there didn’t seem to be any strong interest from any teams from either league. Another odd thing about the Daily News report is Yang being evaluated as a possible No. 3 starter in the majors — that’s quite high even for a lot of the Korean fans. But because his name has started to bounce around around the major league writers and fans, I decided to write up Yang.

Unlike Hyun-Jin Ryu or Kwang-Hyun Kim, Yang does not have much of a superstar pedigree in KBO, but he’s shown flashes of brilliance. The lefty broke out in 2009, his age 21 season, by going 12-5, 3.15 ERA while punching out 139 in 148.2 IP. He had an okay 2010 by putting up 4.25 ERA and winning 16 games. However, allowing 98 walks in 169.1 IP was worrying and that amplified the season after. In 2011, Yang lost his command (69 walks and 74 strikeouts in 106.1 IP with a 6.18 ERA) and spent a chunk of the season in minors. Things weren’t too better in 2012 — he went 1-2, 5.05 ERA in 41 IP while recording more walks (31) than strikeouts (26). By the end that season, he was known as the “forgotten ace” of the Tigers who once showed brilliance but was ruined by command problems. However, Yang came back big in 2013. Given another chance to stick at rotation after the spring training, the lefty posted a 3.10 ERA in 104.2 IP while posting a much-improved 3.70 BB/9 and striking people out (8.17 K/9).

Yang had a bit of a mixed 2014, but mostly positive. He put up a 4.25 ERA in 171.1 IP — hardly a sexy figure from a pitcher that is being rumored to advance from KBO to MLB. But, as I’ve said in the Kwang-Hyun Kim post, the Korean Baseball Organization experienced an extraordinarily offense-friendly season like never before. As a matter of fact, according to peripherals, he was the best Korean-born starter in KBO in the season, leading in FIP (4.19), WAR (5.24) and K/9 (8.67). (Best starter in KBO altogether? Either Rick VandenHurk or Andy Van Hekken.)

According to Feinsand’s article, a scout that has seen Yang said the lefty “sits between 92-95 mph” with his fastball. Well, from what I’ve seen in multiple games, it’s more like high-80’s-to-low-90’s. Here’s a video of him pitching from an April 2014 start. In the video, he’s around mid-140 kmph (approx. 87 mph) with his fastball while generating swing-and-misses with his slider. His slider has been praised as a plus pitch by the Korean media but it remains to be seen how it would translate in the majors, or even in NPB. While his array of stuff has worked well in Korea at striking out hitters, a pitcher that sits 88-92 mph with stuff that has not been particularly praised by ML scouts a la Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka is not exactly the sexiest target.

Here’s a Korean article from Oct. 21 about Yang being scouted by ML and NPB teams. In his last start of the season, scouts from Red Sox, Cubs, Rangers and the Yomiuri Giants of NPB attended the Kia Champions Field in Kwangju to watch him. According to a ML scout quoted in the article, around “three to five” teams from MLB and Japan have been monitoring the lefty throughout the season. No word on a strong interest from any ML team, but it does show that there is some interest. It will also be up to the Kia Tigers to see if they want to lose their No. 1 starter. The team had lost out their previous ace, RHP Suk-Min Yoon, to the Baltimore Orioles before the 2014 season. After finishing with a dreadful 54-74 record (8th out of the 9-team league), will the team want to lose their best pitcher? According to the article, the team will let him go if they receive the compensation they are willing to accept (a.k.a not a small posting fee).

Even though he has pitched better and more consistently in the previous two seasons, Yang’s command remains a weak spot. In 2014, he posted a 4.04 BB/9 — the same clip that A.J. Burnett had this year. Unlike Ryu, Hyeon-Jong Yang was never known as a control savant in KBO — as I’ve mentioned before, his career was almost ruined by command problems. I see Kwang-Hyun Kim as a pitcher who’s comparable to Yang since both lefties with fastball around low-90’s with less-than-ideal command. Of course I am not saying that they are the same pitcher, but I am skeptical of both of their chances of being successful as starters in ML as much as Ryu has been. The scout referenced in Feinsand’s article must have seen something he liked that lead him to believe his skillset would translate well in the majors. Otherwise, based on Yang’s history and attributes, it’s hard to think why he would be a potential “No. 2-3 starter” in ML right away.

For 2015, I expect Yang to pitch similar to his 2013 and 2014 level, which may not be good enough to survive in the bigs. As of this writing, there still isn’t an official team statement from the Tigers about posting the lefty to majors. We might see one soon — I doubt Feinsand pulled the information out of nowhere. Yang’s team, like Kwang-Hyun Kim’s team, failed to qualify for postseason baseball in Korea (which is still going on by the way — they just finished the Game 2 of Korean Series) and they can post him anytime that they wish to. It’s unclear if the pitching-needy Yankees have interest.