For the Yankees, 2010 is shaping up to be something of a sandwich. Stuck between 2011, ideally the year of the Jesus (and perhaps A-Jax), and 2009, the year of Johnny Damon‘s and Hideki Matsui‘s impending free agency, the Yankees will see a lot of key spots in limbo next year. They could go to the wall on a few big free agents, they could re-sign those they know or they could ride out the tide.
The first one up to consider is Johnny Damon and the left field spot. On defense, Damon has been dreadful this year. His UZR is currently -7.3 after reaching 6.7 last year. Yet his offense has been tremendous. He has an .882 OPS and should reach a career high in home runs this year. He is also in the final year of a four-year contract paying him $13 million a year.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve examined how the Yankees want to bring Damon back and how Damon wants to return. Today, Jon Heyman adds his take to the Damon mix:
The Yankees intend to try to bring back Johnny Damon, probably for about $6-8 million a year (that’ll be the first offer, anyway), and might be willing to give him a second year. Damon’s been saying in the papers all year that he wants to be back, which is quite a departure from the usual free-agent script and could mean he’s that rare player amenable to a below-market contract. Yankees management loves Damon personally, too, and that doesn’t hurt.
That figure — $6-$8 million a year for two years — is pretty much what I assumed the Yankees would offer. According to Fangraphs, Damon will probably outperform his contract value this year. With a month of the season left, Damon’s value is pegged at $11.9 million. Allowing for age-related declines, I would assume a value of $10 million next year and $8-$9 million the year after. (Value, by the way, is something of an ideal figure. It’s WAR “converted to a dollar scale based on what a player would make in free agency.” That “would” requires perfect information and agreement as to a true value between the team and the player.)
Next up is Hideki Matsui. We know that Matsui likes New York, and in the comments to Joe’s most recent post, we were debating Matsui’s potential value to the 2010 Yankees. While Joe Girardi has talked about using the DH spot as a rotating half-rest spot for his aging veterans, I am of the belief that a premiere bat at DH would better serve the team. The Yankees can ill afford to lose Hideki Matsui and his 15.8 batting runs above average to a lineup that includes Ramiro Pena or Jose Molina every day.
But how much is Hideki Matsui worth? He too is playing out the last year of a four-year $52 million contract, and while Damon has met that value, Fangraphs pegs Matsui’s value as $24.2 million over the four years. Even with a monster September, Matsui won’t be worth much more than half of what he has been paid.
As long as Matsui can stay healthy enough to DH and produce as near his current levels next year, they should be willing to offer him a one-year deal with the idea that some combination of Jorge Posada, Mark Teixeira and Jesus Montero will assume the DH duties in 2011. In 2007, Frank Thomas DH’d for the Blue Jays and put up similar numbers to Matsui’s 2009 campaign. He earned $5.5 million and was worth approximately $9.9 million. If the Yankees and Matsui can agree to a one-year $8 million deal for 2010, I would approve.
The Yanks could look outside of Matsui and Damon, though. They could opt for an outfield of Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher. While the defense would be stellar, the offensive production would suffer immensely. Damon’s WAR outpaces Melky’s by 2 wins and Gardner’s by 0.7 wins, mostly due to Brett’s defense. They could, as Ken Rosenthal speculated today, be in on Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, the top two free agent outfielders.
In the end, though, I’d rather give two 36-year-olds one-to-two year deals than give Jason Bay anything. I could be convinced to look at Holliday in Yankee Stadium for the right price, but with his career resurgence in St. Louis, he will be looking for a big pay day. No matter what, this off-season will be an interesting one as the Yanks look to fill a few short-term gaps and assess their organizational philosophy going forward.
Despite a public tiff with current Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, Billy Wagner is heading to Boston. Despite rumors last night that he would decline the trade, the left-handed reliever, 11 months removed from Tommy John Surgery, has approved a trade to the Red Sox, Jon Heyman reported a few minutes ago. Wagner has looked dominant in his rehab appearances and has thrown two scoreless innings with four strike outs for the Mets this month. The Red Sox will ship two players to be named later to New York and will pay Wagner a little over $3 million — a little over $2 million for this year plus a $1 million buyout for 2010 — for five weeks of regular season pitching.
Last week, I had urged the Yankees to claim Wagner, and in the end, one of the two teams that could block the Yankees from acquiring the lefty did so. While Wagner, poor October track record notwithstanding, is a weapon in any bullpen, I believe the Red Sox made this move as much to block the Yanks as they did to improve their own team. Such are the ways of late-season trade machinations. · (95) ·
When Alfredo Aceves made an emergency start on July 9 in Minnesota, he did so under a strict pitch count, and he quickly reached his 65-pitch limit. For Aceves, it wasn’t a season high. That total came in his season debut when he threw 70 pitches against the Red Sox on May 4. It was, however, a recent high at the time, and he hasn’t approached that figure since early July.
In the three weeks leading up to that start, he threw five and nine pitches on back-to-back days, had two days off and then threw 43 pitches. He enjoyed another two-day rest before throwing 33 pitches. Then he had four full days off and threw five and 35 pitches before a two-day stint on the bench. On July 5, four days prior to his start, he threw 43 pitches.
Since July 9, we’ve heard a lot about Aceves’ various physical ailments. In late July, he spoke of a sore shoulder, and he hasn’t been as effective after the All Star Break as he was before. Many pixels have been burned discussing Aceves’ usage and health, and late last week, Mike looked at how Aceves has had few clunkers that inflate his numbers. As Ace has been outpitching his FIP all season, Mike noted, this period of mediocrity could just be the ever-popular market correction.
After his poor outing against the Red Sox on Sunday, Aceves spoke to reporters about his well-being, and as Peter Abraham reported, Aceves is feeling banged up. “I think my body is adjusting,” he said of relieving.
Aceves had been a starter for his entire Mexican League career and last year with the Yankees. This is the first year he has pitched out of the bullpen, and according to Abraham, Aceves feel it has “taken a physical toll.” After recovering from his sore shoulder, Aceves is now dealing with a sore lower back. “It’s not perfect, but I can pitch,” Aceves said to The Journal-News reporter. “This is my job now. I think I’m going to be fine.”
While the Yankees, on a micro level, need Aceves’ versatile down the stretch, on a macro level, his complaints provide a glimpse into the world of starters-turned-relievers. As Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have shown, good pitchers make for great relievers. It’s easier for a pitcher to use his best pitches in short stints. He doesn’t have to mix and match to fool hitters during the second or third time through the lineup.
Yet, that transition is not without its risks. For starters used to the physical toll of a five-man rotation — start, ice, rest, throw day, rest, start — life in the bullpen is of a different nature. Pitchers have to prepare to go long but may faced with a five-pitch or nine-pitching outing. They may get the call on consecutive days or on opposite ends of a calendar week.
As the Yankees confront the reality of Phil Hughes in the bullpen and Joba Chamberlain in the starting rotation, the coaches and training staff are well aware of the physical toll of relief work. It’s why they don’t want to put Joba in the bullpen to cap his innings. How they handle Aceves down the stretch should provide a glimpse into how they plan to approach Phil Hughes’ transition back to the rotation next year. Meanwhile, with a seven-game lead and a Magic Number of 32, the Yanks can afford to rest Ace as his physical ailments require. Better now than in October.
“Pitching wins championships.”
- Everyone who has been a fan of baseball, ever
The oldest baseball cliche in the book might just hold some merit. When it comes to a 162-game marathon, a powerhouse offense can carry a team, even if it has mediocre pitching. Just look at the 2004-2007 Yankees. None had top-tier pitching staffs, but mustered enough offensive firepower to bring the team to the playoffs. And when the offense sputtered in 2008, they fell short.
In a short series, though, against the teams that played the best over the long season, pitching becomes that much more important. Last weekend’s series against Boston is a top example. Penny and Tazawa likely don’t even pitch in a five-game series, and only one of them would pitch in a seven-game set. Their top guys, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, would get the ball as frequently as possible, making it tougher for big-time offenses to pile on the runs.
As it goes hand in hand with pitching, defense also gets top billing in a playoff series. A run-saving catch is a blip on the radar of a 162-game season, but in an environment when every run counts, it means a lot more. Let too many ground balls sneak through the infield and let enough fly balls drop in the gaps and you’re giving the opposition more opportunities to score. This can be detrimental when facing the ace of a staff.
This all relates to a Jay Jaffe article in New York Magazine, which cites the research of Baseball Prospectus poster boy Nate Silver and former BPer and current Yankee-hater Dayn Perry. Researching 30 years of regular season and postseason data, they’ve devised a “Special Sauce” of sorts — the most important factors for a team in the postseason. Unsurprisingly, they relate to pitching and defense. Everything else doesn’t fit into the equation:
They found that age and postseason experience had no effect on a team’s chances; surprisingly, they also found no significant correlation between any measure of team offense (including bunting and stealing) and postseason success.
The three factors are a team’s strikeouts per nine ratio, adjusted for league (because NL pitchers tend to strike out more than their AL counterparts for obvious reasons) and other factors; a top-flight closer, measured by Reliever Win Expectancy Added (a WPA derivative); and a solid defense, measured by Fielding Runs Above Average. Examine these factors, goes the reasoning, and you’ll be on your way to predicting postseason success.
Since this appears on a Yankees-related website, it makes sense that the Bombers would top the list. They rank sixth in the league in adjusted K/9, first in closer ranking (duh), and third in FRAA. That sets them well ahead of the pack in the terms that Silver and Perry set forth. I do take issue with their methodology in combining the ratings.
To determine the overall score, Perry and Silver add up each team’s league rankings, leaving the team with the lowest score the favorite. Even to an untrained mathematician this seems a bit simplistic. First, it implies that all criteria are weighed equally. I’m not sure how much each of these three factors contributes in reality, but I doubt that they’re all exactly equal. Second, it doesn’t take into account the differences between teams in the rankings. For example, the Yanks rank sixth in the league in adjusted K/9 at 6.9, while the Giants rank first at 7.2. That doesn’t seem to be a big difference at all, yet it cost the Yanks five overall points. Looking at it the other way, the Giants rank second in defense with 46 FRAA, while the Yanks rank third with 33, which seems to be a significant drop-off (Dodgers are first with 55).
As John Sterling will remind you at least once a game, you can’t predict baseball. You can forecast, though, like you can forecast the weather. Silver has proven his research acumen, and he may well have come across the three biggest determining factors in a team’s ability to win in the postseason. As we know from experience, though, literally anything can happen in these series. It’s good to know that the Yanks shake out with historically good postseason teams, but nothing’s a given right now — not even the division.
Josh Towers was named International League Pitcher of the Week for the second time in the last four weeks. Dan McCutchen won it last week and Eric Hacker the week before, so that’s four straight weeks that someone with ties to the Yanks has won the award. Jairo Heredia took home Florida State League Pitcher of the Week honors.
I can’t believe I went almost the entire season without updating the standings. Better late than never, I guess. The standings on milb.com don’t get updated until the morning and I have no interest in figuring them out myself, so the standings below are coming into today and do not reflect tonight’s action.
Triple-A Scranton (7-2 loss to Buffalo) 71-54, 3.5 games up in the International League North Division … there’s 16 games left in their season
Kevin Russo, Eric Duncan & Chris Stewart: all 0 for 4, 1 K – Russo drew a walk
Ramiro Pena: 0 for 5, 1 K – 6 for his last 34 (.176)
Colin Curtis: 2 for 4, 1 R – played CF in place of Austin Jackson, who got his first day off in a month
Shelley Duncan: 1 for 1, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 HBP
John Rodriguez & Reegie Corona: both 1 for 3, 1 BB – J-Rod K’ed twice & threw a runner out at second from LF … Corona committed a throwing error
Yurendell DeCaster: 1 for 4, 2 RBI
Anthony Claggett: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 7-5 GB/FB – 43 of 67 pitches were strikes (64.2%)
Zach Kroenke: 2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 0-2 GB/FB – 22 of 35 pitches were strikes (62.9%) … 7 ER allowed in his last 5 IP
Kevin Whelan: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K – 17 of 27 pitches were strikes (63%)
Edwar Ramirez: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 8 of 14 pitches were strikes (57.1%)
The second annual RAB Fantasy Football League drafted yesterday afternoon, although this year we pared down from 20 teams to 16. That’s still pretty deep, but just not as ridiculous. I’m sure you all remember who won the title last year, and trust me, all of us in the league are gunning to bring him down this time around.
Looking back at my team last year, I’d like to think my roster building skills have improved with experience. I mean, Joe Jurevicius? Really? I held the third overall pick yesterday, which sucked because I had to wait a freaking eternity between picks every other round. Here’s the team I drafted:
QB: Chad Pennington (9th round, 131 overall)
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew (1/3)
RB: Willie Parker (4/62)
WR: Anquan Boldin (2/30)
WR: Terrell Owens (3/35)
RB/WR: Knowshon Moreno (5/67)
TE: Zach Miller (6/94)
K: John Carney (14/222)
DEF: Carolina (8/126)
BEN: Admad Bradshaw, RB (7/99)
BEN: Mark Clayton, WR (10/158)
BEN: Devery Henderson, WR (11/163)
BEN: Jerome Harrison, RB (12/190)
BEN: Mark Sanchez, QB (13/195)
BEN: Todd Heap, TE (15/227)
Here’s how the top three rounds played out, if you’re interested. I was torn between MJD and Matt Forte for my top pick, but I felt comfortable with either. I figure maybe Da Bears might get a little cute and not run as much with their flashy new QB. I was planning to use my second pick on a guy like Ronnie Brown or Ryan Grant, but both came off the board right before my pick, so I went with Boldin. I said during the draft that I immediately regretted the Owens pick, but I can live with it. He’s still good for double digit touchdowns.
After last year’s debacle that left me with just two decent RB essentially all season, I made sure to gobble up plenty this time around. I liked my Bradshaw pick in the 7th round, especially since he’s the clear #2 behind Jacobs. If 30-yr old Jamal Lewis slows down, Harrison figures to pick up the extra carries. Not a bad gamble in the 12th round, but I would have preferred Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs. He came off the board between my 11th and 12th rounders.
Yeah, my QB situation is weak, but there’s some okay guys available in free agency that are just an injury away from a starting job. In the 13th round, I’d rather gamble on the kid almost guaranteed to start in Mark Sanchez then some retread. Pennington saved me after Vince Young’s meltdown last year, so hopefully he holds his own again. I like my team, unusual for me following any kind of fantasy draft. What do you guys think?
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With the Yanks celebrating another win over Boston enjoying an off-day, use this as your open thread for the evening. The Mets already lost, so there’s no baseball on regular cable in the Tri-State Area as far as I know. Rex Ryan and the Jets take on his old team in Baltimore on Monday Night Football, so I’ll get a chance to see my 13th round pick in action. Anything goes here, just be nice.
Oh, one more thing. If you’re looking for a fantasy hockey league, Dave at BlueSeat Blogs is hosting one this season. I’ve never played in my life, but I joined figuring it would be fun. I’m not sure how many spots are left, but if you want in just email Dave via that link I provided. He says the winner will get a (small) prize, which is more than those cheapskates at RAB offer.
First rounder Slade Heathcott played in his first professional game today, going 1-for-3 with a single for the Rookie level GCL Yankees. He lined out to the shortstop in the first, went the opposite way for a single to left in the third, and grounded out to the first baseman in the fifth. With the Yanks losing big, Heathcott was lifted in the 8th inning, and inning after some others were replaced. He started the game in centerfield and batted leadoff, and based on the recap he only had two chances on defense, fielding two singles up the middle in the third.
The road the big leagues has to start somewhere, and this is just the first baby step for Mr. Heathcott. · (34) ·
When the Yankees lost on Saturday to the Red Sox, they did so in rather dubious fashion. The 14 runs allowed wasn’t pretty, but what made the game worse were the 13 two-out runs the team allowed. If only someone could have gotten the third out, the Yanks would have had a chance.
For the Bombers’ pitchers, though, this two-out phenomenon was nothing new and would constitute a weekend theme. Yesterday, CC Sabathia allowed all four of the Red Sox’s runs to score with two outs, and on Friday, 11 of 11 Boston runs would cross the plate with but one out left in the inning.
Beyond Boston, the Yanks’ recent road trip was marred by two-out follies. In Seattle last weekend, Joba Chamberlain and the bullpen lost 10-3 to the Mariners with all ten Seattle runs coming with two outs. In total, the Yanks had a very successful 7-3 road trip, but 41 of the 51 runs they allowed — or 80 percent — came with two outs. While the Yanks escaped unscathed this time around, all of these two-out runs are good for no one’s heart.
On the season, the Yankees have been unable to slam the door on innings. The team has allowed 589 runs, and 248 of those have come with two outs. That’s 42 percent of all runs. Comparatively, the Yanks have allowed 143 runs with no one out and 198 runs with one man out. Across all three situations, the team’s OPS against ranges from .741 with no one out to .749 with two men out, and the team’s walk rate increases from one walk every 12.4 plate appearances with no one out to one walk every 11.7 plate appearance with one out to one walk every 9.1 plate appearances with two outs.
While these variations seem relatively minor, by comparing the Yanks’ two out numbers to the league’s, we can start to see why the team is struggling. With two outs, the team’s sOPS+, a measure of the team’s OPS as compared to the league average for that split, is 104. For both no outs and one out, the team’s sOPS+ is 95. In other words, the Yanks are better than league average with zero and one outs but worse with two outs. Overall in the AL, just 36.8 percent of runs have scored with two outs.
Individually, A.J. Burnett is one of the worst offenders, as we saw on Saturday. He has allowed 37 runs with two outs. That’s just a hair under 50 percent of his total runs allowed. He has walked 33 batters with two outs but just 22 each with no outs or one out. Pettitte, too, has been much worse with two outs than he is earlier in innings.
It’s tough to draw many conclusions from here. We’re looking at a rather selective sample that isn’t really indicative of anything other than past frustration. Will A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte always struggle with two outs? Probably not.
We can, however, confirm what we have long suspected: The Yankees have been worse at getting the third out than they are at getting to two outs. We saw it in Seattle; we saw it in Boston. Even when the team won, we saw those two-out rallies, two-out hits and two-out errors lead to more runs. It goes without saying that the Yankee hurlers need to get that third out. Hopefully, it won’t remain as elusive for some as it has been so far.
So by now you’ve heard all about this little problem AJ Burnett and Jorge Posada had on Saturday, and it’s the early favorite for Stupid Internet Story of the Week. Howeva, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, basically the two couldn’t get on the same page with regards to pitch selection over the weekend and AJ got lit up like Times Square. Amazingly, small little stuff like this manages to become a big story because the team is kickin’ so much ass right now that there aren’t many problems to complain about. ESPN even managed to devote five whole minutes to this nonsense during the broadcast last night.
First off, just because Burnett and Posada had a problem on Saturday does not mean they have a perpetual problem. Mark Feinsand already laid out the recent success the two have shared, so I’m not going to bother regurgitating it here. Just head over and check his post out. Sure, Burnett’s AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS against are all higher with Posada behind the plate than any other catcher this year, but the sample sizes aren’t meaningful. Are we really going to compare 400+ batters faced with Posada to just over 100 with Molina? Or 56 with Cervelli? Really? Why don’t they just trade for Paul Bako then?
Most of the blame was hoisted on Posada’s shoulders over the weekend, but he’s not the guy making the pitches. Burnett has to execute, otherwise even the finest game calling in the history of the universe won’t do anything. Burnett’s a pretty simple pitcher, he works with a fastball and a curveball, and his stuff is plenty good enough that he can throw fastballs in fastball counts and breaking balls in breaking ball counts and still dominate. You’d think it wouldn’t be hard to map out a gameplan given the need for only two signs, but apparently it is.
Here’s the thing: Posada is going to catch everyday in the playoffs. Every single inning of every single game. And if he doesn’t for any reason other than injury, Joe Girardi should be fired because that’s like, Managing 101. Posada’s arguably the best catcher in baseball (NMD) and the team is much better with him in the lineup than Jose Molina or Frankie Cervelli or Joe Girardi or Mike Stanley or pretty much anyone. And because of his, Burnett and Posada need to use the rest of the season to get on the same page.
Not to jinx it or anything, but the Yankees are all but a lock to make the playoffs at this point. Baseball Prospectus gives them a 99.72271% chance of playing in October, Cool Standings has it at 98.6%. If the team bombs and doesn’t make the postseason, then they have way bigger problems than AJ Burnett and Jorge Posada not getting along. Anyway, because of this comfortable cushion, the team can afford to let Burnett and Posada work through their communication issues in AJ’s eight or so remaining starts.
We’re not talking about Gary Sheffield learning to play first or anything crazy like that, it’s just a set of battery mates needing to improve their communication. The answer isn’t separating the two for the rest of the year just to win what will probably amount to a few meaningless tack on games. If having Posada and Burnett matchup the rest of the year costs them a game at some point in September, so be it. It’s something that needs to be done in order to put the team in the best position to win in October. We’ll just have to deal with the noise in the meantime.
Photo Credit: Sipkin, Daily News