Most of baseball’s one-hitter wonders were never good enough to last longer than that in the big leagues. Other were, but sometimes other things get in the way. That’s what happened to Stefan Wever, the Yankees’ top pitching prospect way back in the early-80s. Wever — a 6-foot-8 right-hander born in Germany but raised in New England and California — appeared in just one game for the Yankees, giving up nine runs to the Brewers in September of 1982. Injury got in the way of a promising career as The Post Game’s Tom Dinard explains, but that was only the start of his problems. Addiction and cancer also reared their ugly heads. Dinard’s piece is a long and sometimes arduous read, but a great story I wanted to share, so check it out. (h/t RetroRob)
Joe Girardi was in Times Square for a charity event today, and wherever the Yankees manager goes, the media is sure to follow. “I think we’ve had a good offseason,” said the skipper to Erik Boland and Anthony McCarron, “but I think it’s important to our club that you add another bat. AL’s going to be tough … There have been a bunch of names that have been talked about, [but] because of our ballpark, it makes some sense that it would be a lefty.”
Girardi apparently mentioned Raul Ibanez, Johnny Damon, and Hideki Matsui as players they’ve spoken about, but none of those three should be a surprise. Brian Cashman recently told Andrew Marchand they may still bring Eric Chavez back, and he could get some at-bat at DH. I’m sticking with my initial prediction: they’ll eventually sign Damon, probably right before position players report.
Joe and I are skipping out on the podcast this week because frankly, there’s nothing to talk about. The big news of the week was Billy Eppler’s promotion, and I said everything that needed to be said about that in this post. Rather than waste 20 minutes talking about nothing, I’ll point you towards these minor league interviews that I’ve been hording over the last few days and weeks…
- The Jacksonville Daily News interviewed 2012 14th rounder Rookie Davis, who spoke about his offseason work, Instructional League, and getting his driver’s license. Some pretty neat stuff in their, so check it out.
- The New England Baseball Journal interviewed 2012 third rounder Jordan Cote about his offseason workouts with Kevin Youkilis, adjusting to life in pro ball, stuff like that.
- Yankees Fans Unite interviewed Low-A Charleston hitting coach Greg Colbrunn, who spoke about a number of the team’s lower level (and some upper level) prospects like Ramon Flores, Gary Sanchez, etc.
- NoMaas interviewed both Tyler Austin and Dante Bichette Jr., two of the club’s best position player prospects.
For those of you sick of A.J. Burnett analysis, you have my sympathies, and please feel free to skip this post. For the masochists in the audience, I was inspired to take another spin down the Burnett freeway by our pal Brad Vietrogoski, who wrote a thought-provoking piece about everyone’s least-favorite Yankee on Tuesday. The following statement in particular caught my attention:
It’s not so much the two nasty curveballs that they swing and miss at in the at-bat that matter any more; it’s the fastball A.J. grooves with 2 strikes that they’re squaring up on and driving for power.
Having written about Burnett’s splits last month, I was curious to see whether the idea that Burnett was just laying it in there with two strikes held water.
A.J.’s tOPS+ (his performance relative to how he performs in all situations, with 100 being average and anything lower representing above-average for the pitcher) with two strikes last year was 36, while his tOPS+ while ahead in the count was 16, which means A.J. performed far better than normal in those situations. His sOPS+in each of those categories was 108 and 81, respectively, which means he was slightly worse than league average with two strikes in the count but almost 20% better when ahead. Essentially this tells me that it’s safe to say that A.J.’s issues last season weren’t necessarily grooving a fastball with two strikes.
However, he probably does have a sequencing issue, as evinced by his 208 tOPS+ when the batter is ahead in the count, and 157 sOPS+. While the 208 isn’t as crazy as it might initially seem, as we’d expect a pitcher to perform worse in favorable counts for the batter (for reference, CC Sabathia‘s tOPS+ was a near-identical 206); the 57% worse than league average part is a bit more damning (CC’s was 111 in those situations).
So what is A.J. throwing when falling behind in the count? The following splits are taken from Fangraphs — it’s important to note that these are BIS classifications and not PITCHf/x, and may not be exact, but they should be close enough for our purposes.
In 2011, A.J. Burnett decreased the percentage of fastballs he threw while upping his changeup percentage in every favorable hitter’s count. This unsurprisingly resulted in A.J. throwing more changeups overall last season than at any point in his three-year Yankee career (these are PITCHf/x classifications):
Why would he do this? Well, for starters, if you had the least-effective fastball in the American League, you’d probably stay away from it too. We’re all painfully aware of the diminished effectiveness of A.J.’s once-dominating heater.
Despite the drop in velocity, A.J.’s 2011 fastball still ranked as tied for the 15th-fastest in the game. Of course, it doesn’t matter how hard you throw if (a) you’re not getting any movement on it, (b) you don’t offer enough different looks to keep hitters guessing, and (c) all of the above. As far as (b) goes, to A.J.’s credit it appears he was toying with something of a cutter this past season, although it wasn’t exactly effective. He also appeared to have significantly cut back on sinker usage in favor of the change in 2011, though he barely threw either pitch in 2009.
While I commend A.J.’s appearing to be willing to try new things to right his ship, it’s pretty clear the change isn’t the answer for him, as its ineffectiveness (12th-worst in the AL) is likely tied in part to the fact that there’s just not enough separation in velocity from his heater. In 2009 the delta between his four-seamer and change was 7.2 miles per hour. In 2010 that shrunk to 5.3, and this past season it fell even further to 4.7.
So essentially in 2011, Burnett began turning to his changeup more frequently due in part to the decreased velocity on his fastball — this is not a terrible idea in theory; Mike Mussina for one had to reinvent himself as a pitcher as his velocity decreased near the end of his career — however, an inability to concurrently decrease the speed on his change resulted in what at times probably just looked like a slow, eminently hittable fastball. With hitters knowing full well that the likelihood of seeing a curve in a hitters’ count was slim to none, it’s sadly no surprise they teed off on Burnett’s changeup.
Got five questions this week; a nice mix of hypotheticals, prospect talk, and future targets. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in anything, including mailbag questions.
Matt asks: Let’s say this Montero trade had happened a couple months ago, and the Yankees had been looking for a DH from the beginning of the offseason — would you have wanted the Yankees to go after David Ortiz for DH? I know he accepted arbitration, but couldn’t he have become a free agent if he had declined his option with the Sox? If that had been the case, and he had become a free agent, wouldn’t you have loved to sign Ortiz for a one or two year deal? I would have supported that completely, personally. Not only would we have taken him from the Sox, but I think Ortiz would kill it in Yankee stadium. Let me know what you guys think.
I’ve thought about this over the last few weeks and I keep going back and forth. Part of me says absolutely, that big left-handed bat sure would look wonderful in the lineup while simultaneously taking it away from the Red Sox, but another part of me thinks that 2011 was Ortiz’s dead cat bounce, his last hurrah. The Yankees would have also surrendered their first round pick to Boston, and that just feels yucky. Ultimately, yeah I would have been for it on a one-year deal. Two years would have been pushing it. I doubt it would have happened though, the Yankees don’t seem to like the idea of spending upwards of $15M for a DH, and I can’t say I blame them. I don’t think that would have been any different earlier in the offseason.
Mark asks: Now that we know that Edwin Jackson signed a one-year deal with the Nationals, in retrospect and assuming they could be bought for their current contracts, who would you have rather had the Yankees sign: Kuroda or Jackson?
I’d rather have Jackson because he’s ten years younger and more likely to repeat (and improve upon) his previous performance. That said, this wasn’t an either/or situation. The Hiroki Kuroda deal set the market for workhorse starters on one-year contracts, and we have no idea what Jackson would have signed for prior to the Yankees landing Kuroda. It changed everything. I’m pretty thrilled about getting Hiroki on that contract, so I have no complaints about how things turned out.
Nick asks: Make sense to try for Shin-Soo Choo?
Sure, he’d step right into the lineup this year before taking over in right field next year. It’ll buy the Yankees time to sort out the position long-term, which could very well mean re-signing Choo when he becomes a free agent after 2013. I don’t have many concerns about his down year at age 29; I think he’s got a number of .290/.390/.480, 20+ HR, 20+ steal seasons left in him. The only problem is how are they supposed to get him? The Indians fancy themselves a contender at the moment, so I doubt they’ll trade their second best offensive player. The Yankees have the pitching to get a deal done, but it would really thin out their upper level depth. So yeah, it’s not going to happen, but definitely a guy worth pursuing in a trade.
Charlie asks: Hey guys, what about Anibal Sanchez? If Hamels and Cain sign extensions and the Yankees feel Greinke is too risky, is Anibal Sanchez a strong option on the free agent market next season?
Yes, definitely. Joe was touting him as a trade target last offseason, and the great year he had — 3.35 ERA in 196.1 IP, a mirror image of his 2010 season — only makes him that much more desirable. Sanchez is turning 28 this month, so he still has a number of peak years remaining, which is what you hope to get with every big money free agent. And make no mistake, if he has another year like the last two, he’ll command huge bucks. I think the Marlins will find a way to sign him long-term, maybe even before the season starts, but he’s definitely a worthy target.
Ross asks: If you guys have time, I would like to learn more about Jorge Soler. It seems like signing him wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg and he would provide the minor league outfield depth the Yankees currently lack … a perfect Cashmaneuver™.
Here’s a snippet of what Ben Badler wrote about the 19-year-old Soler earlier this week (subs. req’d)…
Listed at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds … Power is Soler’s best tool, as he shows great bat speed, the ability to hit balls out to all fields and the potential to hit 25 home runs per year. While scouts like his power and some like his swing, he bars his front arm and the stiffness in his stroke is a concern for some scouts. Scouts have offered differing opinions on his ability to hit breaking balls, but he has a history of laying off pitches outside the strike zone in international competition and has more on-base potential than Cespedes.
Soler is athletic for his size and there are reports of him running the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds—a time that grades out as well above-average speed—but several scouts have said he’s really an average runner at best … Depending on how much bigger he gets, there’s a chance he could end up at first base down the road, but he should be able to handle right field for the near future. Scouts are mixed on his outfield instincts but he does have an above-average arm.
I prefer Soler to Yoenis Cespedes based on the little we know, and I get the sense that the Yankees do as well. He’ll obviously need to spend a few years in the minors, but that’s to be expected with a teenager. I have no idea what it’ll take to sign him, but if the Gerardo Concepcion contract is any indication of the market, it’ll cost eight figures. Unlike Cespedes, Soler has not yet been declared a free agent and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement-mandated spending limits will apply to him come July 2nd. He’ll feel some pressure to sign for whatever he can get before the deadline.
A few months ago, as the Marlins unveiled their plans for the ins and outs of the new stadium, the one aspect the took the public by storm involved a monument in center field. The word monument though doesn’t really do this thing justice. It’s large; it’s multi-hued; and it’s going to move whenever a Marlin hits a home run.
Now baseball is a sport firmly rooted in tradition. The boldest moves in recent years have concerned various iterations of home uniforms with different color combinations for different days of the week and — gasp — some sleeveless uniform tops. Baseball fans like their ball players gritty, their history hallowed and their records respected.
Throughout baseball history, those who dare to rock the boat risk alienation. Bill Veeck remains the most famous man to push the baseball boundaries. His Disco Demolition stunt backfired, but he granted Minnie Minoso at bats in five decades and introduced the world to Eddie Gaedel. He was a showman who wanted to entertain the masses, but after testifying on behalf of Curt Flood, baseball passed him by. As MLB has worked to keep Mark Cuban on the outside, there never has been an owner willing to take as many risks as Veeck.
In a few weeks, when the Yankees journey to Miami to close out Spring Training, the Marlins’ new ballpark will open. Like many other new stadiums, this one has a painfully tortured funding history. The city of Miami has ponied up far too many dollars to build a new stadium in an area of the city that is even further from a potential fan base than the Dolphins’ stadium is. Even with Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes in tow, drawing fans to Miami to see the team will be a challenge.
And so enter the Miami Marlins and their outfield monument to, well, something. A flying fish perhaps? Maybe it’s something baseball needs. Now I’m not saying each stadium needs something that looks like that, but maybe a little levity in the game can’t hurt. A look around Yankee Stadium reveals an attempt at recreating something Serious. These are Hallowed Grounds with a lot of History. We must respect the memories, and do not besmirch the team or else George Steinbrenner, forever staring out from the right field bleachers, will get you. There will be no flying fish here.
Ultimately though, baseball is a game, a sport. It’s about the spectacle, and the entertainment. The Marlins’ monument can rock the boat as much as it wants, and when the Yankees take on the Miami ballclub with the bright orange uniforms in a new stadium at the end of Spring Training, I’ll be rooting for a home run. Who doesn’t want to see flying fish light up with every four-bagger anyway?