Mailbag: Traded Prospects

Here’s a special one-question edition of the RAB Mailbag, but don’t worry, we’ll definitely get to some more throughout the course of the week.

Hey! Since many, many moves were made both prior to the season and during the season concerning movement of prospects, it doesn’t seem to have affected the farm system too much. Contrary to this, the farm system as a whole seems to have taken a giant leap forward, especially with the development of our young pitching corps. But I still wonder, how much better (in terms of subjective quality or actual ‘ranking’) would our farm system be if we still had all the players pre Javy-trade.

The Yankees have made several trades involving prospects over the last twelve months, most notably for Curtis Granderson, Javy Vazquez, Boone Logan, Lance Berkman, and Austin Kearns. As far as we know right now, the Kerry Wood trade only involves money. Here are the prospects that were dealt away in those moves, in no particular order: Austin Jackson, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn, Mark Melancon, Jimmy Paredes, and Zach McAllister. Ian Kennedy surpassed the rookie limit of 50 big league innings back in 2008, so technically he wasn’t a prospect at the time of the trade.

The best overall prospect with the highest long-term value traded away is Vizcaino, who posted a 2.22 FIP (2.74 ERA) in 85.1 innings split between Low-A and High-A this season before being shut down with a small ligament tear in his elbow that did not require Tommy John surgery. During one stretch from early-May to mid-June, he went 44 innings between issuing a walk. Baseball America ranked him the sixth best prospect in the South Atlantic League two weeks ago, saying he “shows a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96, a hammer curveball and excellent control … [h]is changeup continues to improve and could give him a third plus pitch.” It’s a frontline starter package, for sure. If he was still with the Yanks, he’d almost certainly be their top pitching prospect if healthy, but I’d probably dock him a bit for the injury and the uncertainty it brings. For sure, The Killer B’s (Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman) would have another running mate, so perhaps we’d be calling them The Killer B’s Plus V.

The best immediate impact guy they traded was Jackson by far. He had a 3.6 fWAR season for the Tigers thanks to a slightly above average .333 wOBA combined with a strong +4.2 UZR in center. I have a hard time believing that Jackson would have made the Yanks out of Spring Training had the trade never gone down, simply because a starting outfield of Jackson, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher would have been very questionable back in April. He likely would have returned to Triple-A for at least a few weeks, and the Yanks would have brought in another outfielder, probably Johnny Damon now that I think about it. If he was still a Yankee prospect, he’d be their second best position player prospect behind Jesus Montero, but he’d only be in the middle of their top ten prospects behind Montero and The Killer B’s.

The other four guys were all second tier prospects with similar value. Melancon is  the best of the bunch as an MLB-ready strikeout reliever, and sure enough he pitched to a 3.19 FIP (3.12 ERA) with 9.87 K/9 and 4.15 BB/9 in 17.1 innings for Houston after the trade, good for 0.3 fWAR. Dunn spent most of the season in Triple-A but came up late in the year to post a 3.60 FIP (1.89 ERA) in 19 innings for the Braves, though his impressive 12.79 K/9 came with a hideous 8.05 BB/9. Paredes was one of the system’s better sleepers, a slick fielding middle infielder with some pop (.130 ISO this year) and lots of speed (50 steals, 82.0% success rate).

McAllister took a big step back before the trade, getting surpassed by several of the higher upside arms in the system throughout the summer. Before the trade he posted a 4.73 FIP (5.03) in 132.1 Triple-A innings after never having an FIP higher than 3.26 at any level in any season of his career. He also become exceptionally homer prone, giving up 19 in 24 starts after surrendering just 17 in the first 74 outings of his career. The numbers after the trade are from too small a sample to draw any conclusions from (4.08 FIP, 6.88 ERA, 17 IP).

There’s no question that the Yanks’ system would be considerably stronger had all of those trades never gone down, and that’s mostly thanks to Jackson and Vizcaino. Melancon and Dunn are solid depth pieces, Paredes and interesting low-level guy, but frankly McAllister had no place on a team like the Yankees and trade bait was almost certainly his ultimate future one way or the other. The Yanks certainly have a top ten system right now, but if you add a high upside arm like Arodys and a solid everyday centerfielder in Jackson (thanks to the benefit of hindsight, of course), it jumps into the top five, maybe even top three. Their depth would be improved greatly, and the cache of arms would be even deeper. For fun, here’s a rough top list of the ten best Yankee prospects had those trades never gone down…

  1. Jesus Montero
  2. Arodys Vizcaino
  3. Manny Banuelos
  4. Andrew Brackman
  5. Dellin Betances
  6. Austin Jackson
  7. Gary Sanchez
  8. Austin Romine
  9. Slade Heathcott
  10. Hector Noesi

Quibble about the order if you want, but the names are generally correct. No matter how you slice it, that’s a monster top ten.

Remember, prospects serve two purposes: the plug into the big league roster and trades. They were able to trade Vizcaino because of all the other high-upside arms they had in-house, and the reason they were able to acquire a power hitting centerfield with top notch defense like Granderson is because they had someone like Jackson to deal away. The other guys are just the cost of doing business, potentially useful pieces for almost certainly useful pieces. The farm system would be stronger with them, no doubt, but the big league team is stronger because they traded away, and that’s what matters.

Photo Credits: Jackson with the Honolulu Sharks of Hawaii Winter Baseball in 2007 via Kyle Galdeira, Jackson with the Tigers in 2010 via Mark Duncan, AP.

Open Thread: Another day off

This picture makes me laugh. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Sheesh, life without Yankee baseball stinks, doesn’t it? These six days off are going to suck, I don’t know what to do with myself. My nightly routine is all out of whack. Anyway, it’s for the best. The players get to rest, the coaches get to game plan, yadda yadda yadda. Just a few more days and they’ll be back at it.

For now, here’s your open thread. The Braves are sending Derek Lowe to the mound on three day’s rest to try to save their season at 7:37pm ET (TBS), the Giants are countering with young Madison Bumgarner. Brooks Conrad is not starting the game, if you’re wondering. Can’t say I’m surprised by that. Meanwhile, the Jets are playing Vikings at 8:30pm (ESPN), which should be fun. You guys know what to do, so have at it.

Oh, and in case you missed it, here’s the MoneyBart episode of The Simpsons from last night. Bill James and Mike SciosciaFace make cameos.

Yankees will play simulated games on Tuesday and Wednesday

Via Chad Jennings, the Yankees will play a pair of simulated games on Tuesday and Wednesday once they reconvene from their two day break tomorrow. It will consist of basically every non-Mariano Rivera reliever (Kerry Wood, Boone Logan, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, Dustin Moseley) throwing to the four non-designated hitter platoon bench players (Frankie Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, Austin Kearns, Greg Golson).

There is no announced plan for the regulars and the four starting pitchers, but they’ll assuredly throw bullpens and take batting practice to stay sharp. The relievers need regular work given the nature of the job, hence the simulated games. A.J. Burnett hasn’t pitched since starting on October 2nd, so you have to figure he’ll do plenty of work in advance of his ALCS start.

Clutch Yanks pitching, unclutch Twins hitting key to the ALDS

(Peter Morgan/AP)

There are always two ways to frame a baseball argument. Since a run scored is also a run surrendered, we can frame it as the offense succeeding or the defense failing. Bias usually determines how we view it; if the Yankees go 2 for 15 with RISP, we normally assign the offense blame rather than crediting the opponent’s pitchers. In the ALDS it wasn’t the Yankees failing with runners in scoring position. It was the Twins. However it unfolded, the Yankees pitchers put on their best performances with runners on base (with one notable exception), while the Twins just couldn’t bring home their runners.

In the series’ three games the Twins had 29 hits and walks, but managed to score just seven of them. More than half of those runs came in the first game. Yet even when the Twins did score four runs on 13 base runners, they still failed when they had chances to tack on. They went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. The Yankees, on the other hand, made the most of their chances. They had 12 base runners and brought six around to score, which included going 3 for 11 with runners in scoring position. That’s not stellar, but it’s far better than they were performing in September.

In Game 2 the Twins were short on chances thanks to some excellent work by Andy Pettitte. They put just seven men on base all game, and had two of them erased by double plays. That left them just three at-bats with runners in scoring position; they failed each time. In Game 3 they had a few more chances, with nine base runners, and they actually had eight at-bats with runners in scoring position. But they succeeded just twice, one of which didn’t even plate a run. They ended up leaving seven stranded on base.

For the series the Twins went just 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position — and again, one of those hits didn’t even bring in a run. That’s a stark change from the regular season, where the Twins’ .285 average with RISP led the American League . The Yankees’ pitching staff ranked near the middle of the pack with runners in scoring position, allowing a .261 batting average against. On offense the Yankees ranked seventh in the AL with runners in scoring position, .258, but went 9 for 25 (.360) in the series. This is just another example of why situational stats aren’t predictive, especially when applied to a short series.

What’s also odd about the Twins’ numbers with runners in scoring position is that they didn’t have more of them. Six times in the series they had a decent runner on base (Span, Hudson, Repko) with second base open. In none of those situations did they attempt to steal. Instead they once sacrificed and twice grounded into a double play. In an additional six instances they had a non-stealing runner (Mauer, Thome, Young) in that situation. Jorge Posada‘s arm is a known problem, but Gardenhire and the Twins chose not to exploit it. Doing so would have given them more chances with runners in scoring position. Going 1 for 9 instead of 0 for 7 in Game 1 would have made a huge difference.

Were the Yankees pitchers clutch? Did the Twins choke? You can spin the narrative either way, but I’d lean towards the Twins failing. They had the best average in the league with RISP during the season, but couldn’t deliver when it counted. They also weren’t aggressive when on base, which cost them a few RISP opportunities. Other issue helped bury them — it’s tough to win when your Games 2 and 3 starters combine for 9.1 innings and nine runs — but failure with RISP was a big part of it.

A.J. to start in ALCS as Yanks go with 4-man staff

The Yankees will go with a four-man rotation in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, and A.J. Burnett will be the team’s fourth starter, GM Brian Cashman said today. Burnett, 10-15 with a 5.26, had a disappointing regular season and did not make an appearance during the ALDS. Outside of Game 1 starter CC Sabathia, the Yanks have not said in which order Phil Hughes or Andy Pettitte will follow him or what game Burnett will start. The Yanks could have Sabathia throw Games 1, 4 and 7 all on three days’ rest with Burnett tossing Game 5 or the club could opt to hold Pettitte back until Game 3 so that the lefty is lined up for a potential Game 7 start. Either way, the Bombers won’t be facing David Price or Cliff Lee in Game on Friday as those two pitchers are set to go tomorrow in Game 5 of the ALDS.

In other expected news, the Yankees are shutting down Damaso Marte. His shoulder is not strong enough for him to pitch in the playoffs, and Cashman says the reliever probably needs surgery. Boone Logan will just have to continue throwing strikes and getting lefties out.

ALDS Game Three & Wrap-Up Chat

Yanks’ depth picked up the slack in ALDS

It's a team effort. (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)

One of my favorite baseball truisms is that your best players have to be your best players if you want to succeed in the postseason, and there’s no better example of that than the 2009 Yankees. Alex Rodriguez got big hit after big hit, CC Sabathia took the ball as often as possible and dominated each time out, and Mariano Rivera nailed down every win along the way. If a team’s best players aren’t doing what’s expected of them, it’s very difficult to win in a short series. Unless, of course, you’re talking about the 2010 Yankees.

The Yanks more than doubled up the Twins during their three game ALDS sweep, outscoring them 17-7 (10-3 after the fifth inning). Other than the first six or so innings of the first game, the series really wasn’t all that competitive, as the Bombers imposed their will on the Twinkies pretty much every step of the way. Surprisingly, they did that with minimum production from three key players: Derek Jeter, A-Rod, and Brett Gardner.

Jeter, the leadoff hitter and supposed spark plug for the lineup, reached base a total of four times in 14 trips to the plate, all on singles. His batting line was an uninteresting .286/.286/.286, and he never even reached third base, let alone score a run. In fact he only made it as far as second base twice, the first time on Curtis Granderson‘s bunt in Game Two, the other on a stolen base in Game Three. Jeter did single in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning of Game Two, but that was pretty much the extent of his offensive contribution during the series.

Gardner led the team in on-base percentage during the season (.383), but he only reached base a total of three times during the ALDS, picking up two singles and a walk in a dozen plate appearances. Both hits came in Game Two, the walk in Game One, and he stole just one base. So right there, you have the two key offensive cogs, the two guys that are supposed to get on base for the meat of the order, falling short of expectations.

More surprising than the lack of production out of Jeter and Gardner was A-Rod’s rather quiet series. He finished the season on a torrid hot streak (.306/.375/.649 with 12 homers in his last 28 starts), but  singled just three times and walked once in the ALDS, driving in the first Yankee run of Game Two with a sacrifice fly. That’s the only run he drove in during the series, and even though his mere presence in the batter’s box and on-deck circle changes the game, Alex certainly didn’t have the same impact in the ALDS that he did last year.

And you know what? None of that was a big deal. The Yankee lineup has no soft spots, so they were able to absorb the struggles of Jeter, Gardner, and A-Rod and not miss a beat. Granderson had five hits including a huge triple in Game One and a big double in Game Two. The designated hitter platoon of Marcus Thames and Lance Berkman combined to go 4-for-11 with a double, a walk, and two homers. Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira put their subpar 2009 postseasons behind them and combined for a .320/.371/.680 batting line, and Robbie Cano picked up A-Rod with a .333 batting average and zero single strikeouts. When one guy struggled, two others picked up the slack.

Most teams would have been dead in the water if their leadoff hitter and cleanup man failed to produce, not to mention their top on-base guy and basestealer. The Yanks have tremendous offensive depth and a circular lineup that can hurt you one through nine, certainly strong enough to offset three poor performances in a five game series. At some point, hopefully soon, Jeter, A-Rod, and Gardner will get back to doing what they’re capable of, and that should scare the crap out of the rest of the league.