Open Thread: 2/22 Camp Notes

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Day three, complete. Here’s the latest from Tampa…

  • As always, Chad Jennings has today’s bullpen and hitting groups. Every member of the projected big league pitching staff threw off a mound today except for Mariano Rivera. Andruw Jones, David Adams, and Justin Maxwell were again the only non-catchers to hit.
  • Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, D.J. Mitchell, and Cesar Cabral are ahead of schedule and threw live batting practice today. They faced Ray Kruml, Kyle Roller, Ronnie Mustelier, and Shane Brown, who came over from minor league camp.
  • Joba Chamberlain was supposed to throw off a full mound today, but he instead threw off a half-mound again, saying it went “really, really good.” Joe Girardi agreed. Joba will throw again on Friday, but it’s unclear if it’ll be off a full or half-mound. [Jennings & Mark Feinsand]
  • Bill Hall, Brandon Laird, Ramiro Pena, Jayson Nix, Jorge Vazquez, Doug Bernier, and Corban Joseph all took infield practice at the minor league complex. Hall worked at second while Laird spent time at both first and third. [Jennings]
  • “It’s really hard to talk about someone being gone when they’re still here. I think we’ll just appreciate him while he’s here,” said Derek Jeter ominously when asked about Mariano Rivera’s future. The Cap’n knows what Mo plans to do after the season, but isn’t telling. [Mark Feinsand]

Here is your open thread for the night. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, but talk about whatever’s on your mind here. Have at it.

Piniella officially joins YES Network

Back in December we learned that Lou Piniella would be joining the YES Network, a move that was officially announced today. Piniella will be a “special contributor” to YES, working 20-30 events throughout the season. “I’m honored and excited to join the Yankees network and be part of the Yankees family again,” said Piniella in a conference call. Sweet Lou will work as an analyst in the booth — including Spring Training games and on Opening Day — as well pre- and post-game work from the studio. He’ll also contribute to YESNetwork.com and do a CenterStage.

Just in case you were wondering, Piniella laughed when asked if he was gunning for Joe Girardi‘s job. He made it clear that he’s retired from managing and loving it, though he is looking forward to getting to camp to see some of team’s young players. Piniella mentioned Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova by name. Hopefully that leads to more enjoyable broadcasts throughout the spring and regular season.

Yanks interested in lefties, just not Kazmir

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees continue to have interest in left-handed pitchers, but not Scott Kazmir (or Damaso Marte). The former Devil Rays’ ace threw for scouts last week, and was sitting 86-87 with a few 91s according to Buster Olney. Kazmir, who just turned 28, is trying to come back from a myriad a shoulder problems. He was never know for his control, but now he’s going to have to be even more precise with the diminished fastball. There’s no such thing as a bad minor league contract, but I can understand why the Yankees passed.

David Aardsma gives Yanks another mid-season bullpen option

Bryan Hoch reports that the Yankees have signed right-handed relief pitcher David Aardsma to a MLB contract for 2012, with a team option for 2013. Aardsma, 30, missed the entire 2011 season due to hip and elbow troubles, though he didn’t undergo Tommy John surgery until July. That means he’ll be out until at least this July, meaning he could help the Yankees in the second half. The bigger part of the move, however, is the team option for 2013. That gives the Yankees one more in-house bullpen option, which could come in handy should Mariano Rivera retire and Rafael Soriano opt out of his contract.

Aardsma first made a splash in 2003, when he closed games for the College World Series Champion Rice Owls. He holds Rice records for both single-season and career saves. From there it was onto the MLB draft, where the Giants selected him number 22 overall in 2003. He threw 18.1 innings for their advanced-A club that year, dominating the competition — he struck out 28 of the 74 batters he faced. Following the season Baseball America ranked him the Giants’ No. 3 prospect, one spot behind Matt Cain.

Things get a bit confusing here. Baseball America says that at Rice he ditched his slider for a knuckle-curve, and that his changeup is “major league-ready.” Yet Baseball Info Solutions data suggests he barely used either his changeup or his curve, instead opting for a slider. Pitch f/x, once introduced in 2007, confirms that he’s mainly a fastball-slider guy, with some splitter mixed in. Classification issues make it tough to determine how frequently he has used the splitter in the past; before 2010 many splitters were lumped in with his fastballs, but in 2010 he threw the splitter about 13 percent of the time.

As is the case with so many highly ranked prospects, Aardsma struggled out of the gate. His 10.2 innings in 2004 went about as poorly as possible; in those innings he walked 10 and struck out five. He did continue striking out a fair number of hitters in the minors, about one per inning, though his control remained an issue. In 2005, after seeing his strikeout rate dip below six-per-nine at the AA level, the Giants dished him to the Cubs in exchange for LaTroy Hawkins. While his strikeout numbers rose in the Southern League, he control problems lingered.

In 2006 Aardsma would return to the bigs. He was intriguing in ways, because he found ways to strike out batters. Unfortunately, he also walked far, far too many. A high strand rate saved him in 2006, but when that started to dip in later years his ERA suffered greatly. From 2006 through 2008, during which time he pitched for three different teams, he sported a 5.17 ERA. Despite striking out exactly one batter per inning during that span, he could not maintain a decent strikeout-to-walk ratio, putting 80 men on or free — 75 of them unintentionally. He was also incredibly hittable in that period, allowing almost a hit per inning. Combined with the walks, it was easy to see why, despite his strikeout tendencies, he just couldn’t keep runs off the board.

Before the 2009 season the Red Sox traded Aardsma to the Mariners for some forgettable minor leaguer. Something apparently clicked during his time in the Pacific Northwest. Last winter Matthew Carruth of Lookout Landing examined what changed with Aardsma when he came to Seattle. It wasn’t necessarily the huge park, though that surely helped a bit. Instead, Aardsma apparently focused on his fastball more, challenging hitters up in the zone and generating some more swings and misses. Pitching higher in the zone led to plenty more fly balls, but he did keep them in the park (even against lefties, who do not have nearly as hard a time as righties at Safeco).

For a $500K guarantee, the Yankees essentially made a mid-season bullpen acquisition. True, with Joba Chamberlain returning ahead of Aardsma, the bullpen could be full. But that’s only if nothing goes wrong. Aardsma provides some mid-season insurance. Still, he might not be all the way back from surgery. Since control is the last thing to come back after Tommy John, he could be pretty rough around the edges in 2012. That’s why the Yankees got a 2013 club option. If he shows flashes of his 2009 and 2010 self, the Yankees can keep him around to help the 2013 bullpen.

It’s odd to see the Yankees hand out a major league contract to a pitcher who missed all of 2011 with elbow woes. But, given the ease with which they can add Aardsma to the 60-day DL, it doesn’t make a huge difference. They can keep his 40-man roster spot free whenever they need it. In fact, he’ll probably hit the 60-day DL once the Eric Chavez signing becomes official. While there’s risk involved in the signing, it’s at a low level. The payoff can be huge, especially for the 2013 team.

New and improved PITCHf/x data

A couple of Fridays ago a bomb was dropped on the analytical baseball community. However, in this case, it was perhaps the greatest bomb ever deployed. You see my friends, Dan Brooks of the renowned Brooks Baseball announced with zero fanfare that Brooks — a terrific asset as far as individual game data goes, but lagging behind TexasLeaguers.com and JoeLefkowitz.com in multi-seasonal data — would not only now be carrying Player Cards featuring seasonal data, but that the PITCHf/x data dating back to 2007 (the first year data became available) had been manually reclassified by PITCHf/x gods Lucas Apostoleris and Harry Pavlidis.

That’s right; somehow, someway, Lucas and Harry sifted through three-and-a-half-million pitches worth of PITCHf/x data, so that amateur analysts like myself would have the most accurate data possible to play with.

Why is this important? Well, for starters, pretty much any time I’ve talked about Ivan Nova over the last six months, it came with the caveat that we knew his second-half success was due in part to increased deployment of his slider, but I didn’t have the data to back this assertion up, as the PITCHf/x system stubbornly insisted that Nova only threw a slider 3.9% of the time. Now we know the truth.

Check out the following table, showing Nova’s non-reclassified 2011 PITCHf/x data, against Lucas and Harry’s reclassified 2011 PITCHf/x data:

The four-seam classification was pretty much on the money, as was the curveball, but the rest of Nova’s repertoire was pretty butchered by PITCHf/x. As you can see, Nova actually threw his slider 13% of the time instead of 3.9%, while the reclassification also determined that Nova threw a sinker, not a two-seamer. He also threw about half as many changeups as the un-reclassified data said he did, and he doesn’t actually have a cutter at all.

However, Lucas and Harry could’ve called it a project and we would’ve been plenty happy simply having accurate PITCHf/x data. But no, they decided to go even further, providing pitch and sabermetric outcome breakdowns by pitch type, and while some of these categories have been available at T-Leaguers and Lefkowitz, never before has all of this data been available in one place. In particular, the Whiff/Swing% on an individual pitch level is simply astounding, and something that’s never been freely available. Check out the remainder of Nova’s 2011 stats:

Now, we had a pretty good idea that Nova’s new-and-improved slider was nasty, but I don’t think anyone realized it was 43.1% Whiff-per-Swings-Taken nasty! As a frame of reference, CC Sabathia, who boasts one of the top sliders in the game, recorded a Whiff/Swing of 40.9% last season (though in fairness, he also threw it 27% of the time).

In the aftermath of this insane treasure trove of new data, I couldn’t help but wonder whether they’d be adding league average data (helpful as an additional reference point), and also if we could expect to have manually reclassified data for the upcoming 2012 season, as it’d be quite helpful to have the full spectrum of accurate data when looking at a given pitcher’s offerings across multiple seasons. Incredibly, both Lucas and Harry confirmed via e-mail that they do indeed plan to reclassify pitches on an ongoing basis throughout the season.

This is probably one of the most important sabermetric projects undertaken in the last 10 years. It’s incredible that not only have they devoted their time and energy into delivering a product any of us can access free of charge, but that they’ve also committed to maintaining an accurate set of data on a go-forward basis is just mind-blowingly awesome.

Yanks sign David Aardsma

Bryan Hoch reports that the Yankees have signed right-handed relief pitcher David Aardsma to a MLB contract for 2012, with a team option for 2013. Aardsma, 30, missed the entire 2011 season due to elbow troubles, though he didn’t undergo Tommy John surgery until July. He’ll head right to the 60-day DL, so this is akin to a minor league deal, in that it won’t cost the Yankees a 40-man roster spot. He could return a year after surgery, giving the Yankees a midseason option. More on Aardsma to follow this afternoon.

2012 Draft: Working with the draft pool

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has changed pretty much everything about the draft. The signing deadline moved up a month (which is a good thing), draftees can now only sign minor league contracts, and teams will be give a soft spending limit, a.k.a. the draft pool. As we found out on Monday, the Yankees will have $4,192,200 to spend on the first ten rounds of this year’s draft, which includes eleven total selections because of the compensation pick for failing to sign second rounder Sam Stafford last summer.

Aprroximately $4.2M for the first eleven players in the draft really isn’t all that much; the Yankees spent just over $5.03M on their top eleven selections last season without signing Stafford or tenth rounder Jonathan Gray. Like everyone else, they’re going to have to get a little bit firmer during negotiations to avoid the harsh penalties associated with exceeding the draft pool. That said, there are some creative ways to not necessarily circumvent the cap, but to maximize spending ability.

“Buying” More Cap Space

The draft pool is a soft cap; teams are allowed to spend more than allotted as long as they face the consequences…

  • Exceed by 0-5% — 75% tax on overage
  • Exceed by 5-10% — 75% tax on overage and forfeit next year’s first round pick
  • Exceed by 10-15% — 100% tax on overage and forfeit next year’s first and second round picks
  • Exceed by 15% or more — 100% tax on overage and forfeit first round pick in next two drafts
  • Any tax money paid or draft picks surrendered is redistributed to clubs that did not go over their tax pool.

Based on the penalties, teams can essentially “buy” an extra 5% of draft pool money as long as they’re willing to pay the 75% tax. For the Yankees, this would mean increasing their draft pool from $4,192,200 to $4,401,810. That doesn’t sound like much, but an extra $209,610 can go a long way in the draft. The cost of “buying” that extra $209,610 would be $157,207.50 in tax. That’s $157,207.50 of real money, money the Yankees wouldn’t be able to use elsewhere. So while it’s easy to say they should “buy” the extra draft pool money, it’s not necessarily that cut and dry.

Embracing Seniors

I don’t think any team would ever actually “punt” a high draft pick — meaning select a player with no intention of signing them — but the new Collective Bargaining Agreement protects against it anyway. If a team fails to sign a player taken in the top ten rounds, they lose the draft pool money associated with that pick and can not reallocate it elsewhere. You can’t just not sign a guy and give the money to other players. You can draft college seniors and given them small bonuses though, and use the savings elsewhere.

Seniors are usually afterthoughts on draft day. Sure, every once in a while there’s a college senior who is a legitimate prospect (Matt LaPorta and Adam Warren come to mind), but most of them are fringy prospects or organizational players. If they weren’t, they would have been drafted as a junior and offered a sizable bonus. Seniors are usually drafted late and given small signing bonuses, typically a few grand. The Yankees have drafted and signed seniors like Zach Arneson, Pat Venditte, and Matt Tracy for under $20k each in recent years.

Rather than wait until later in the draft to grab some seniors to fill out minor league rosters, a team could take one or two of them in the ninth or tenth round to save draft pool space. Signing them quickly for $25k or so puts more money in the player’s pocket than he would have gotten otherwise and frees up quite a bit of draft pool money to use on players drafted earlier. Slot money after the fifth round used to be a max of $150k, so signing two seniors in the ninth and tenth round for $25k each gives the club another $250k to use elsewhere, assuming that $150k remains in place. At some point this spring I’ll look at some college seniors that could be potentially useful both as prospects and draft pool pawns.

* * *

The new spending limitations are going to change the draft pretty drastically. Players will be drafted based on pure talent more than anything else, which wasn’t always the case in the past. The best players will come off the board first, and that hurts a team that drafts late every year like the Yankees. If you’re a contending team, you’re punished instead of rewarded. Go figure.