Gardner's Great CatchLast week longtime RAB reader and commenter whozat shot me an email asking me if there was any reason to expect Brett Gardner to develop into a better Major League player than Joey Gathright. The comparison between the two players obviously makes sense since they’re both speedy outfielders who don’t hit for much for power, except that Gardner is called gutty and gritty because he’s white while Gathright is called exciting and athletic because he’s black. I noted in my reply that Gardner had hit for more power in the minors, but overall they had similar career paths and I really wouldn’t expect Gardner to be all that much better than Gathright in the future.

However, I took a deeper look at the numbers over the weekend, and there aren’t many similarities between the two players beyond physical attributes. One obvious difference is that Gardner was a third round draft pick out of a solid college program while Gathright was a 32nd rounder after the then-Devil Rays found him in a Louisiana adult league. Luckily though, the two players took an extremely similar path to the big leagues, although Gathright’s career began four years before Gardner’s.

Both players were drafted at age 21 and then assigned to a low level squad in the minors (Gardner went to the short season NY-Penn League, Gathright to the Low-A South Atlantic League). Both players started their age 22 season at the High-A level and earned a midseason bump to Double-A, then started the next year back at Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A in the middle of the season. In their age 24 season, their third full professional season, each player started the year in Triple-A before being called up to the big leagues during the summer and finishing the year there. It’s amazingly awesome and convenient that both guys spent their same age seasons at the same levels (and had similar plate appearance totals, no less) despite all the promotions. It made this analysis a ton easier.

I’m going to use three factors to compare Gardner and Gathright: Isolated Discipline, Isolated Power, and Stolen Base Success Rate. Isolated Discipline (or IsoD) is OBP minus AVG, and measures a player’s on-base skills beyond batting average. Isolated Power (IsoP) is basically the same thing except with SLG instead of OBP, and measures a player’s extra base hit power. Stolen Base Percentage is what it is, that’s self-explanatory. Let’s start with the most important thing, on-base skills.

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  • Yanks assign four to minor league camp
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    Via Kat O’Brien, the Yankees have assigned RHPs JB Cox, George Kontos, Kanekoa Teixeira and Andrew Brackman to minor league camp. Brackman was sent to Low-A Charleston for the time being, and because he’s on the 40-man roster he had to be optioned down. He now has just one of his three optional assignments left (which can/will be used next year), however the Yanks can ask the league for a “fourth option” because he missed all of 2008 due to injury. They did the same thing with Sean Henn way back when. I expect there to be some more players assigned to minor league camp shortly, by next week there won’t be enough innings to go around. · (42) ·

So, we picked a good week to start this thing, huh? Since last week’s poll we learned that Alex Rodriguez had a cyst in his hip that would keep him out of the WBC, and that has since evolved into a hybrid surgery to repair a torn labrum that will keep A-Rod on the shelf for 6-9 weeks. Cody Ransom is the main fill-in for the time being, but there have already been some Mark Teahen rumblings.

On the bright side, CC Sabathia made his first spring appearance and pitched very well, as did AJ Burnett two days later. Phil Hughes continues to impress this spring, and Mo took the bullpen mound found for the first time since undergoing minor shoulder surgery in the offseason. Losing A-Rod hurts, but having a dynamite pitching staff for the first time in years helps ease the pain.

Anyway, please take a second to answer the poll question below and give us an idea of how confident you currently are in the team. Once we have enough data (about two months) I’ll create a permanent link on the site to a graph showing how the fanbase’s confidence has changed over time. Thanks in advance.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Categories : Polls
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Ken Rosenthal has a new short column up at FoxSports — more like a blog post, really. The title: “Yankees are not better off without A-Rod.” As one might expect, he says just that and then elaborates using facts, like the Yanks ranking seventh in the AL in runs scored last season. They then lost Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu, who are replaced by Teixeira and the hope that Robinson Cano, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, and Nick Swisher rebound from disappointing 2008 seasons. All in all, a reasonable, if not completely obvious, thought by Rosenthal.

The column is so obvious, in fact, that it seems like Rosenthal is addressing someone in particular. Who actually thinks that the Yankees are better off with Cody Ransom than A-Rod? No one I know, and I talk to plenty of people who hate A-Rod. Oh, wait, whats this? A column in the Bergen Record titled “Better off without A-Rod?” written by Ian O’Connor (who also happens to contribute to FoxSports). I believe this is the target of Rosenthal’s ire.

O’Connor’s column is chock full o’ A-Rod haterade. For example:

The Yankees could go back to being the Yankees. They could go back to being the team that won four championships in five years with reliable pitching and a harmonious band of position players that didn’t need a slugger whose favorite teammates are Me, Myself and I.

You hear that? Cody Ransom doesn’t need above-average stats to help the Yankees. He just needs to be harmonious. And gritty and a grinder and all those other awesome baseball terms.

This is, of course, patently ridiculous. The dynasty teams that many in the media pine for were built differently. You can’t just replicate that, or else everyone else would do it. The Yankees might have gotten by with lesser third basemen than A-Rod in the past, but those teams were assembled differently. The Yanks had a superstar center fielder. They had Derek Jeter, Chuck Knoblauch, and Jorge Posada at premium defensive positions. They weren’t a team with so many question marks from so many important players.

The Yankees can certainly survive without A-Rod, especially if it’s for a relatively short stretch. But by no means are they better off without him. Writers spew platitudes every day about team chemistry, but it really comes down to production. The Yankees offense is less productive without A-Rod. He’ll certainly provide them a boost when he returns in late April or May.

Bonus quote from O’Connor

But facts are facts: The Yankees haven’t reached the World Series in Rodriguez’s five seasons, and they reached six in the eight seasons before he arrived.

Coincidence, or guilty as charged?

In a world where correlation meant causation, I’d go with guilty as charged. Otherwise, I would not.

Categories : Rants
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  • Jesus Montero, catcher
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    In The Journal-News today, Peter Abraham profiles Jesus Montero, the Yanks’ 19-year-old catching prospect. Montero, 19, is six-foot-four and weighs 225 pounds. Most baseball analysts see his big league position as first base, but Tony Peña and Montero believe Jesus’ future lies behind the dish. No matter the role, Montero could mature into a top offensive threat. · (42) ·

After a few anemic days, the Yanks’ offense erupted for 12 hits and 12 runs this afternoon in Lakeland as the team’s pitchers held the Tigers’ bat in check. The Yanks emerged with a 12-3 victory, just their second in the month of March.

Leading the Yanks’ bats were Angel Berroa, Xavier Nady and Jose Molina. Nady and Berroa homered, and Molina added a pair of RBIs. Berroa also doubled and drove in four runs. However, Cody Ransom — 2 for 2 on the day — is the current heir apparent to the third base job. The Yanks also drew ten walks — three by Nick Swisher and two each by Molina, Melky Cabrera and Hideki Matsui.

On the other side of the ball, the Yanks’ pitching was again stellar. A.J. Burnett made his spring debut and sailed through two innings. He gave up one hit and a whole bunch of zeroes. Phil Hughes relieved Burnett and was spectacular. In three innings of work, he allowed a nary a hit while striking out four and walking two.

Brian Bruney and Andrew Brackman ran into some trouble later in the game, but Mark Melancon nailed down the final three outs on a walk and a strike out to seal the deal for the Yanks. At some point, the Yanks will have to start considering Mark Melancon as a viable bullpen option out of the gate. He’s been nearly untouchable this spring.

The Yanks will face the Blue Jays tomorrow afternoon at 1:15 p.m., and the team’s next televised game is Tuesday evening under the lights.

In WBC action, Cuba downed the Republic of South Africa this afternoon 8-1. As of this writing, Panama, behind Ramiro Mendoza (!), is down 3-0 in an elimination game for the loser. At 8 p.m., the US will take on Venezuela as Roy Oswalt will attempt to pitch the US into the second round. That game is on ESPN. It’s the return of Sunday Night Baseball.

Here’s your open thread for the night. Play nice.

Categories : Open Thread
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As Opening Day draws near and the Yanks still haven’t sold out their new $2 billion playground, ticket pricing on both the political and economic sides of the issue has creeped back into the news.

In reverse order, we start with a Richard Sandomir piece in today’s Times. The Yankees are a bit concerned about the number of unsold premium seats. The Yanks are taking out ads in all of the city’s major papers and are generally finding it tough to fill seats that cost a few hundreds a game for 81 games.

Sandomir also relates more tales of woe from the fans, and we at River Ave. Blues received our own story this week. Writes a reader who will remain anonymous:

I have read in your blog and others how the Yankee ticket office has treated past season ticket holders pretty bad. Well you can add prospective season ticket holders that put down $1,065.00 deposit for the full 81 games back in early December. I checked with the Yankees in Dec. and was told it would be January before I heard. At the end of January I was told it would be the end of February. Now at the beginning of March I spoke to a very rude person in the Yankee ticket office that said that I would not hear until the end of March. That is, if they have anything at all to offer. But “don’t worry,” you won’t lose any money. I was told that I could have my deposit back or just leave it with them as a down payment for the 2010 season. Like I’m going to do that.

As companies these days face debates over customer service, the Yanks are intent on pushing an old maxim — the customer is always right — to its limits. While in a good economy, the Yanks would have filled their premium seats with high-rolling financial clients and the like, in a bad economy, the team and their customer service reps just come off looking bitter.

That said, what Richard Brodsky is proposing is rather preposterous. While I’ve supported Brodsky in his efforts to get to the bottom of the sketchy accounting surrounding the land underneath the new Yankee Stadium, his latest clash with the Yanks is a bit extreme. On Friday, Randy Levin and Brodsky clashed horns over the Assembly representative’s desires for price-controlled tickets in publicly-funded stadiums. Reports Bloomberg News:

New York Yankees President Randy Levine said he opposes state lawmakers’ efforts to dictate prices for tickets sold at sports stadiums built with public support such as the franchise’s new ballpark in the Bronx.

State Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, has introduced a bill requiring that 7 percent of tickets sold to any sporting event carry “affordable prices” as a condition of pro-sports facilities receiving state or local benefits…

“If you’re charging too much, people will not come,” Levine said at an assembly committee hearing today in lower Manhattan. “If we’re not selling enough tickets to pay it back, the responsibility is on us to adjust.”

While the hearings were ostensibly about tax documents and tax-exempt bond financing, Levine and Brodsky were yelling at each other, according to Richard Sandomir’s account.

The problem with Kavanagh’s proposal is that teams already have affordable pricing. As far as sports in New York go, it’s still far cheaper to see a Yankee or Met game than it is to get tickets to a game in the Meadowlands or a Knicks game at the Garden. The economics of baseball and demands of an 81-game schedule preclude overly expensive tickets, and this move seems like the Assembly sticking its nose into something it should just leave alone.

Categories : Yankee Stadium
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With A-Rod only missing up to nine weeks due to his hip injury, some might think it imprudent to deal for a replacement. After all, that would entail sending away what could be valuable parts to get a guy who will fill in for a month and then be relegated to bench duty. Then again, there are some in Yankeeland who want to see the bench improve, and this could provide a means to do so. Deal for a capable player who can hold down third base for a month, and once A-Rod is back use him as a player who can give other guys on the Yanks’ aging offense a day off or two.

A few commenters at RAB favored signing Eric Hinske before he landed in Pittsburgh. So what if there was a player comparable to Hinske who would just might be available right now? Via MLBTR, we hear the beginnings of a Mark Teahen to the Yanks rumor. It does make sense. The Royals don’t quite have a spot for Teahen, who has been bounced around the diamond the past few years. He came up as a third baseman, but moved around the corner outfield spots to accommodate for top prospect Alex Gordon. First base is occupied by Mike Jacobs, and behind him are Ryan Shealy and Kila Ka-aihue. The acquisition of Coco Crisp moves David DeJesus to left, and Jose Guillen and his contract are a lock in right. Even the DH spot is filled by (the lighter) Billy Butler.

The Royals plan at this point is to try out Teahen at second, but there is no guarantee that he can man the position on a daily basis. If he can’t handle it, a trade is the most likely scenario. The Yankees have a need at third base, and could later use Teahen to fill in at the corner outfields, and he could probably play second base in a pinch. This means that the Yankees wouldn’t be acquiring him just for a month of service. He can be a utility player and a bat off the bench once A-Rod returns to action.

The problem is that the Yankees will already have a backup corner outfielder in whoever loses the right field job between Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher. It would be tough to find at bats for one of those guys and for Teahen. It would help out a ton if Mark could handle shortstop, but there’s no evidence that he can. That means Cody Ransom is still needed — he’d have to be the utility infielder for the first month, anyway, but he’d be needed afterward to cover most of the infield.

Despite the lack of definitive playing time for Teahen beyond April, he’d immediately give the Yankees one of the most formidable benches in the league. Say Nick Swisher wins the RF job. The Yanks would then have Nady as a big righty on the bench and Teahen as a big lefty. Ransom and Molina would fill the other two bench spots. Both Swisher and Damon could cover center in the late innings, so there would be little hesitation to pinch hit for Melky or Gardner.

While the price tag on Teahen is unknown, it likely wouldn’t be too high. He’s slated to make $3.75 million this season. This might not seem like a lot to the Yankees, but to the Royals, who are at a $75 million payroll and would like to get to around $70, it could mean plenty — especially if he’s relegated to bench duty. A prospect and salary relief should do the job, though Royals GM Dayton Moore, quoted in the linked article, says he hopes for the Yanks to pick up Mark Grudzielanek, which would net his team a sandwich pick.

Given the month the Yanks will miss A-Rod, coupled with the risk that he could re-injure the hip at some point during the season, taking on Mark Teahen for one year would be a good idea. Not only would he give the Yankees an adequate short-term replacement, but once A-Rod is back he’d become part of a solid bench. He’d give the Yankees a late-inning left handed option, as well as someone who can spell players at four, maybe five positions (both corner OF, 3B, 1B, 2B). It sounds like a win-win for the team. The only issue is of what they’re willing to give up to make it happen.

Categories : Hot Stove League
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After a few consultations and a weekend of pondering the future, the Yankees and A-Rod announced that the Yanks’ third baseman will undergo hip surgery on Monday to correct a torn labrum. A-Rod will be out six-to-nine weeks and will need more invasive surgery after the season is over.

Joe Lapoint has more:

The procedure will correct a torn labrum and will address some of the underlying bone irregularity in the hip, Dr. Marc Philippon said in a conference call, but Rodriguez will probably need more extensive surgery after the season.

Under the best-case scenario, that would mean that Rodriguez could return to the Yankees by early May and miss about a month of the six-month season.

The option chosen on Sunday is the middle alternative that was discussed over the weekend by Rodriguez, the team and the doctor. At first, the Yankees and Rodriguez hoped he could start the season following the draining last week of a cyst caused by a torn labrum.

But that option quickly was dismissed. The most aggressive correction would have been to undergo more extensive surgery to correct the underlying cause of the problem, but that likely would have kept Rodriguez idle for 12 to 16 weeks, Dr. Philippon said.

This hybrid option — what one source called “using a nail instead of a steel girder” to fix A-Rod’s balky hip — came to light last night. From that point on, it was all but inevitable that A-Rod and the Yanks would choose this option. It allows the Yanks to get A-Rod at or near full strength for five months of the season, and while they have big shoes to fill for April, they have the pitching to weather this storm.

In the end, the original ESPN Deportes report, pegging A-Rod’s DL stint at ten weeks, ended up being on the mark after all. Get ready for far too much of Cody Ransom.

Categories : Injuries
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