Triple-A stadium situation could linger into 2013

The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Empire State Yankees will be stuck on a season-long road trip this year, playing “home” game in six different cities as PNC Field is renovated. Apparently the renovation is actually a total replacement, as Josh Leventhal reports that the current stadium will be torn down and replaced with a new $40M facility. That’s great, but the problem is that demolition must start on April 1st in order for the place to be ready for next season.

According to Leventhal, the $14.5M sale of the team from Lackawanna county to the Yankees and Mandalay Bay is still being finalized. Those funds are needed for the new facility, so construction can’t begin until a deal is hammered out. International League president Randy Mobley says the two sides are still negotiating, but “with this construction start deadline rapidly approaching, it is all going to become pretty evident, pretty quickly, what is or isn’t going to happen.”

There is no contingency plan in place if the stadium is not ready in time for Opening Day 2013. “This is a one-year arrangement, not to be repeated,” said Mobley of the team’s unfortunate 2012 plans. It’s bad enough that some of the organization’s best prospects will be stuck on the road all year with the Triple-A squad, doing something similar in 2013 would be a disaster. Everyone involved — especially the Yankees — has every reason to want to get a deal done so construction can start on time, and I suspect it will.

ST Game Thread: Broken Up

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

This spring was supposed to be about Phil Hughes and his latest chance to establish himself as a big league starter, but then the Yankees had to go and trade for Michael Pineda so he could hog all the spotlight. St. Philip of Hughes has been piggybacking with CC Sabathia most of the month, coming out of the bullpen to get his work in once the big guy was done. It’s time for the two to be broken up, with Hughes getting the ball today and Sabathia getting an extra day of rest before going tomorrow. Phil’s had a fine spring statistically but no one really cares. He’s shown improved fastball velocity and his curveball was much sharper in his last appearance than it was at any point in 2011, and at least one scout agrees. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come and not just a March mirage. Here’s the lineup…

C Russell Martin
2B Robinson Cano
3B Alex Rodriguez
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Raul Ibanez
SS Eduardo Nunez
CF Dewayne Wise
LF Cole Garner
RF Chris Dickerson

RHP Phil Hughes

Available Pitchers: RHP Adam Warren, LHP Clay Rapada, LHP Mike O’Connor, LHP Cesar Cabral, LHP Juan Cedeno, RHP Cory Arbiso, RHP Mark Montgomery, and RHP Preston Claiborne all made the trip and are available if needed. Arbiso, Montgomery, and Claiborne are up from minor league camp for the day.

Available Position Players: 1B/C Jose Gil, C Gus Molina, IF Doug Bernier, UTIL Bill Hall, IF Brandon Laird, IF Jayson Nix, IF Ramiro Pena, 1B Jorge Vazquez, OF Justin Maxwell, and OF Colin Curtis are on the bench and available.

Today’s game starts at 1:05pm ET and can be seen on ESPN. We’re going to chat for the first few innings, so join the fun after the jump.

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2012 Draft: Senior Signs

(Jay Janner/Associated Press)

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has taken a bite out of the draft, but a few weeks ago I outlined two ways to sort of massage the system and maximize spending ability. One way is to embrace college seniors, taking some of these relatively cheap players towards the back end of the top ten rounds and reallocating the draft pool money elsewhere. The lack of leverage hurts the player but benefits the team, though the two sides could work together so everyone wins.

One of the most intriguing senior prospects in this year’s draft is a guy the Yankees drafted last year but did not sign: Texas left-hander Sam Stafford. They didn’t like something they found in medicals and passed on signing him as their second round pick, and sure enough Stafford is now out for a while due to shoulder surgery. The Yankees did get a compensation draft pick this year (#89 overall) as a result. The college senior talent pool took a bit of a hit with Stafford’s injury, but there are still plenty of interesting guys out there that would make fine draft-pool-saving picks in the eighth, ninth, or tenth rounds.

Taylor Dugas, OF, Alabama
An eighth round pick of the Cubs last summer, Dugas is leadoff type in center fielder. He’s very patient at the plate and regularly puts the ball in play (53 strikeouts and 113 walks in 150 games since the start of 2010), but he has little power (just ten homers during that time) and not enough speed (31-for-46 in stolen base attempts, 67.4%) to be a real offensive weapon. Dugas figures to be able to play center in the long-term, though his arm isn’t anything great.

(Michael Gethers/DailyCal.org)

Matt Flemer, RHP, Cal (video)
The Royals were unable to sign Flemer as a 19th round pick last year, and now the 6-foot-2, 215 lb. right-hander has moved into the Bears rotation after pitching out of the bullpen his first three years on campus. He’s an extreme strike-thrower, walking just 31 batters in 158 career innings (1.77 BB/9) and only 16 batters in 107 IP (1.35 BB/9) since the start of 2010. Flemer is just a two-pitch pitcher at the moment (low-90’s heat with a slider), so he profiles best as a reliever in pro ball. He’s aggressive and misses bats out of the bullpen, making him a prime candidate to fit right into the Yankees’ relief pipeline.

R.J. Hively, RHP, Mississippi
The Yankees drafted but did not sign Hively back in 2010, when they grabbed him in the 26th round out of Santa Ana Junior College. The right-hander transferred to Ole Miss, worked primarily out of the bullpen last year, and now holds down a weekend rotation spot for the Rebels. He’s extremely athletic with a very loose arm, throwing strikes with a high-80’s fastball that should tick up a notch once some pro instructors get a hold of him. Hively is another guy that profiles best as a reliever long-term. The Yankees have a bit of a history with him, so if nothing else, they’ve already seen something they like.

Matt Reckling, RHP, Rice (video)
It’s not often that a Rice pitcher comes out of school with relatively few miles on his arm, but Reckling did not start pitching until his senior year of high school and has only thrown 165 IP during his four years with the Owls. A big (6-foot-4, 215 lbs.) right-hander with power stuff, he sits in the low-90s with a power curve as a starter but figures to offer a bit more in relief. Command is an issue because he has limited pitching experience (and because of a funky arm action), but there is still some untapped potential here. The Indians rolled the dice on Reckling in the 22nd round last year but came up empty.

Jacob Stallings, C, North Carolina
A 42nd round pick of the Reds last year, Stallings figures to go a bit higher this year because he can hit a little and is expected to remain behind the plate long-term. He doesn’t offer much pop (just seven homers in 140 games over the last three years) but he draws walks (84 BB in those 140 games) and makes enough contact (94 strikeouts) to be more than a zero at the dish. Stallings is fantastic defensively, with a great arm that shuts down the running game and good mobility behind the dish. He’s cut from the P.J. Pilittere cloth, though he’s more athletic and has a better chance at a career as a big league backup than the former Yankees farmhand.

(Photo via Texas A&M Athletics)

Ross Stripling, RHP, Texas A&M
Like Reckling, Stripling didn’t start pitching until his senior year of high school. He broke his leg playing football, and out of boredom he started throwing off a mound with the cast on his leg. Five years later, he’s one of the most successful pitchers in Aggies history and a legitimate pro prospect with three pitches: low-90s fastball, curveball, and changeup. Stripling is a big kid (6-foot-3, 190 lbs.) who’s thrown quite a few innings since the start of 2010 (250.1 IP), but he has control (1.94 BB/9) and can miss bats (8.63 K/9). The equipment is there to start, though he might wind up in the bullpen long-term like everyone else in this post. The Rockies took Stripling in the ninth round last year, and he could go just as high again this summer.

* * *

An important thing to remember when it comes to college seniors is that they generally stink. The best amateur players tend to sign either out of high school or as college juniors, so the senior talent pool is very diluted. Someone like Adam Warren — who is the on verge of being a back-end big league starter — is basically the best case college senior scenario. Getting a bench player or bullpen guy might not sound sexy, but when you’re talking about a minimal investment both financially and in terms of draft slot, it’s a quality return.

Pettittef/x

Welcome back, old friend. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty)

At this point the wonderful news of Andy Pettitte‘s return to the fold has already been covered to death, and so there’s no need to rehash all of the details here. As a Yankee fan I’m thrilled, and as a statistical analyst I’m equally thrilled (I did something of an ode to Andy a little over a year ago, so be sure to have a look at that). Andy has been a pillar of consistency throughout his career. To wit:

1995-2003: 3.94 ERA (86 ERA-)/3.73 FIP (83 FIP-)/3.41 xFIP (77 xFIP-), 6.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 49.3% GB%
2004-2006: 3.38 ERA (77 ERA-)/3.58 FIP (81 FIP-)/3.41 xFIP (77 xFIP-), 7.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 50.4% GB%
2007-2010: 4.08 ERA (92 ERA-)/3.89 FIP (88 FIP-)/4.05 xFIP (93 xFIP-), 6.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 46.9% GB%

However, today I’m primarily concerned with reviewing Pettitte’s stuff, and thankfully with Brooks’ excessively robust and reclassified new PITCHf/x database, we can have a more advanced look at what Pettitte did during the last few seasons of his career than ever before. The following table I’ve compiled details takes a look at each of Pettitte’s five pitches during the last three years he was active across a variety of categories. PitchIQ is ostensibly the equivalent of OPS+/ERA+; 100 is league average, while anything above is above-average and below is below-average. This is outstanding, as it gives us an idea of how well or poorly Andy’s pitches fared in comparison to his peers.

While he’s never had blow-you-away stuff, Andy’s been an incredibly successful Major Leaguer (and perhaps borderline Hall-of-Famer) due in part to his ability to hit his spots and change his speeds with a variety of secondary pitches that play off his 90mph fastball. According to Lucas’ and Harry’s reclassified PITCHf/x data, during his last three seasons in pinstripes Pettitte threw a fastball, sinker, cutter, curveball and changeup. Interestingly, ESPN’s Stats & Info blog put up a post last week detailing how one of the keys to Pettitte’s success in 2010 was his slider; however, according to this data Pettitte throws no such thing. I don’t know what data ESPN is being supplied with, but I’m inclined to go with the guys who manually reclassified more than 3 million pitches.

Per our data, Andy’s bread-and-butter — at least on a whiff/swing basis — has been his cutter, with a whiff/swing% an impressive 37% better than league average in 2010. None of his other pitches generated an above-average percentage of whiffs/swing. Part of the reason Andy’s able to get away with not having overpowering stuff is that his sinker and changeup each got him ground balls more than 50% of the time in 2010.

The one aspect of the PitchIQ Scores I’m still trying to get a firm read on is how to interpret them when it comes to LD/BIP and FB/BIP. I have an e-mail into Dan Brooks about this, and I’m pretty sure that we need to be looking at the PitchIQ Scores for these two categories as if they were “minus stats,” (i.e., below 100 is above-average and vice versa), given that general baseball convention holds that lower flyball and line drive percentages are thought of as a good thing. If my interpretation is indeed correct, both Pettitte’s curve and cutter have helped him limit the percentage of line drives, although the cutter is his only pitch that yields a FB% higher than 30%.

I also compiled Pettitte’s platoon splits from 2007-2010, although I won’t make your eyes glaze over by also posting a JPEG of that chart; feel free to download it here if you’d like. The gist of it is, Pettitte, as one would expect, handles righties and lefties with equal aplomb, although he’s really really good against same-side batters, with a PitchIQ whiff/swing of 148 on his cutter against lefties. For comparison’s sake, Jon Lester’s cutter against lefties during the same time period was 16% above average; while Cliff Lee’s is, rather surprisingly, 4% below league average. That doesn’t seem like it could be right, although then again for as good as Lee is I guess he’s always been a bit more about generating weak contact than outright overpowering hitters with strikeouts (though it’s not as if a 7.6 K/9 since 2007 is anything to sneeze at).

Conclusion and projections

So how well will Andy fare? Clearly if he can come close to throwing the way he’d been throwing during 2010, the Yankees will be adding a bona fide #2/#3 lefty starter at some point in May, which is just awesome to think about. Of course, only Andy knows how his soon-to-be 40-year-old body will react to returning to the grind of retiring Major League hitters and whether he still has the craftiness he’ll need to succeed.

Mike covered Pettitte’s ZiPS projection earlier this week, which sees a 4.45 ERA and 1.5 WAR for Pettitte in 125.1 IP. Marcel has Pettitte at 73 innings of non-adjusted 4.07 ERA/4.06 FIP ball; while SG’s baseline forecast (which is park- and league-adjusted) calls for 127 innings of 4.01 ERA/4.00 FIP ball. The 65% CAIRO forecast is even sunnier, with 140 innings of 3.69 ERA/3.64 FIP ball. All things considered, those are some pretty robust projections for an older player who skipped an entire season of work, and if he’s able to approximate some sort of amalgam of those numbers the Yankees will be in very good shape.

Update: Nick Swisher leaves game with right groin tightness

8:38pm: The Yankees announced that Swisher left the game with tightness in his right groin. Last week it was his left groin that was bothering him. Swisher told Erik Boland that there are no tests plans and he will rest for “a couple of days.”

8:05pm: Nick Swisher left tonight’s game after reaching base on an error in the third inning. This was a first game back after dealing with a groin issue, and he walked off the field gingerly. Justin Maxwell took his spot on base. We’ll update this post with more info once it’s available.

ST Game Thread: Pineda’s Fourth Try

Changeup! (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

I don’t think I’ve ever been as simultaneously excited and sick of hearing about a player quite like I am Michael Pineda. Well, that’s not true. The Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes attention was both exciting and gross at the same time, but it took them years to get there. Pineda’s been here for like, three weeks, and I already lovehate hearing about the guy. If it’s not about his changeup it’s about his velocity, or his weight, or his service time, or something else. Can’t we just enjoy watching someone pitch? Let’s try that tonight. You’ll be surprised at how relaxing it is. Here’s the starting nine…

CF Curtis Granderson
RF Nick Swisher
2B Robinson Cano
3B Alex Rodriguez
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Andruw Jones
C Russell Martin
SS Eduardo Nunez
LF Brett Gardner

RHP Michael Pineda

Available Pitchers: RHP Mariano Rivera, RHP Rafael Soriano, LHP Boone Logan, and RHP Cory Wade are all scheduled to pitch tonight. RHP George Kontos, LHP Clay Rapada, LHP Juan Cedeno, LHP Mike O’Connor, LHP Cesar Cabral, and RHP Branden Pinder are available if needed.

Available Position Players: C Frankie Cervelli, 1B Eric Chavez, 2B Ramiro Pena, SS Doug Bernier, 3B Jayson Nix, LF Bill Hall, CF Justin Maxwell, RF Colin Curtis, and DH Raul Ibanez will replace the starters.

Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

3/20 Camp Notes: Pettitte, Garcia, Jeter

Andy's back. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Andy Pettitte officially reported to Spring Training today and will meet with the media at 6pm ET to talk about whatever. The Yankees have a televised night game tonight, so here are the day’s camp notes a little early…

  • “That’s as good of a bullpen as I’ve caught all spring, from anyone,” said Russell Martin after catching Pettitte. He said he couldn’t tell that Pettitte had taken a year off, noting that his command and intensity were impressive. [Bryan Hoch & Erik Boland]
  • Freddy Garcia was among the pitchers scheduled to throw a bullpen session this afternoon. It’s his first time back on the mound since getting hit in the right hand by that comebacker last week. [Chad Jennings]
  • Derek Jeter (calf) is not in tonight’s lineup, meaning he’s unlikely to play until Friday. The Yankees have long road trips on Wednesday and Thursday, so he’ll rest until the next home game on Friday. Robinson Cano (hand), Nick Swisher (groin), and Martin (groin) are all playing tonight. [Jennings]
  • The Yankees optioned four to Triple-A earlier this afternoon.