Phillies sign Jonathan Papelbon

Jonathan Papelbon has faced the Yankees 46 times in his career, but it could be a long time until he reaches appearance No. 47. After spending the first seven seasons of his big league career with the Red Sox, Papelbon will pitch for the Phillies in 2012 and beyond. Jim Salisbury of Comcast SportsNet reports that the Phillies have signed Papelbon to be their closer. That pushes out Ryan Madson, with whom the Phillies reportedly had a deal earlier in the week. That apparently was a false report and was never as far along as reports indicted. There’s no word on contract terms yet, but that’s just a matter of time. Papelbon is one face that Yankees fans won’t mind missing, though he has been part to some of our favorite comebacks in the past few years.

Update (2:39 p.m.): Salisbury tweets that the deal is “four years and approaches $50 million.” That’s definitely the kind of payday Papelbon has repeatedly said he seeks in free agency.

Dispelling the RISP Fail myth

Ah, RISP Fail, a phenomenon that really gained traction — merited or not — during the 2010 season. Last year’s team posted a .267/.357/.441 line with runners on, good for a 103 tOPS+, and 12% better than league average (112 sOPS+); and a .258/.363/.420 line with runners in scoring position, which was essentially exactly how they hit in all other situations (100 tOPS+), and a mark 9% better than league average.

While those full-season numbers with runners on and RISP are plenty respectable, the RISP Fail meme grew to apocalyptic proportions during the 2010 season’s final month, as the team hit just .225/.350/.331 (.681 OPS) in 338 September plate appearances with runners in scoring position. Coupled with an anemic offensive performance against Texas in the 2010 ALCS, and the team’s seeming futility with runners in scoring position became an easy scapegoat for the team’s shortcomings.

So was there any truth to this perception? Below are two charts showing the team’s numbers with runners on and with runners in scoring position going back to 2007. As an aside, the reason I’ve chosen 2007 as the cutoff for the majority of the historical team-wide comparisons I’ve been doing thus far is because several seasons worth of data helps detect patterns and/or trends, but going back any further than five years will likely make any conclusions less meaningful given that the composition of both the team and the league was quite a bit different. Even going back to 2007 doesn’t really tell you anything about the 2011 team, but simply showing the 2010 and 2011 numbers paints a fairly limited picture.

Anyway. (click to enlarge)

It turns out the one year fans may have actually had a legitimate gripe regarding the team plating baserunners was 2008, the only season of these five they were below-league average both with runners on and runners in scoring position. Though the 2010 season did end up coming in as the second-lowest of the five in terms of sOPS+, lending perhaps some credence to the frustration with the team’s periodic inability to hit with RISP, at least in comparison to how Yankee teams of recent vintage fared.

Fortunately the 2011 team put the 2010 Yankees to shame when it came to hitting with both men on and runners in scoring position, posting five-year highs in both tOPS+ and sOPS+ in both splits. In fact, they were the second-best hitting team with runners on and the best-hitting team with runners in scoring position compared to the league in 2011:

Men on AVG OBP SLG tOPS+ sOPS+
BOS .294 .364 .474 107 127
NYY .270 .349 .465 106 120
DET .288 .349 .444 105 115
TEX .277 .335 .438 94 110
BAL .266 .329 .432 109 106
CLE .271 .345 .412 113 106
KCR .277 .330 .419 101 103
CHW .259 .333 .401 108 100
TBR .242 .326 .406 102 99
TOR .248 .324 .406 100 98
LAA .252 .316 .406 102 96
OAK .254 .321 .376 105 90
MIN .253 .317 .360 104 85
SEA .241 .307 .357 108 81

 

RISP AVG OBP SLG tOPS+ sOPS+
NYY .273 .361 .455 108 122
BOS .278 .359 .452 101 121
TEX .285 .354 .450 102 119
DET .280 .350 .426 101 112
CLE .269 .354 .409 115 108
KCR .276 .333 .426 104 107
BAL .263 .332 .416 106 104
OAK .266 .340 .399 118 102
LAA .255 .334 .405 108 102
TOR .237 .331 .387 98 96
CHW .239 .324 .373 98 90
TBR .224 .322 .371 92 89
MIN .248 .319 .354 103 84
SEA .222 .306 .325 98 73

Interestingly, Cleveland of all teams really turned things on when they had runners on, compared to the way they hit in all situations, with an AL-high 113 tOPS+ with men on, and a second-best-in-the-league 115 tOPS+ with runners in scoring position. Strangely enough, Oakland led the league in tOPS+ with RISP, hitting 18% better than usual in these situations, though given their overall season line of .244/.311/.369 that’s still not saying much.

Also, next time you’re concerned about the Yankees’ hitting with RISP, just be glad you’re not a Mariners fan. The folks in Seattle must be among the most patient in the world; I’m not sure how you follow a baseball team that not only put up a .233/.292/.348 line over 162 games, but actually managed to hit 2% worse than that with runners in scoring position.

Mailbag: Aramis, Cuddyer, CC, Brown, Darvish

Got six questions for you this week, covering a wide range of topics. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week, that’s the easiest way to do it.

(Photo Credit: ChiCitySports.com)

Chris asks: What kind of contract will Aramis Ramirez get? Is it too soon into the A-Rod deal to bring in someone like Ramirez to play 50 games at 3rd? As Alex declines in his ability to play every day when do the Yankees look to put more than a bench player at 3rd?

I don’t know what kind of deal Ramirez will get, but he’s not going to sign with the Yankees to be a part-time player. Even if you sell him on the idea of being a part-time third baseman and a part-time DH, then you’re blocking Jesus Montero with another guy past him prime. I thought Alex Rodriguez looked fine defensively late in the season and during the playoffs, plus he can still hit (fifth among third baseman in wOBA over the last two years), just not at the absurd level he once did. The problem is staying on the field. Going year-to-year with Eric Chavez types is perfectly fine right now, spending big bucks and locking yourself into more bad contracts is counterproductive.

John asks: Hey guys, I just wondered what you guys thought about signing Michael Cuddyer to a contract as the ultimate utility man? He could be the 4th outfielder, cover A-Rod at third, cover first (if the Yankees trade Nick Swisher) and also get a few at bats at DH. By covering all of those he could get 350-400 at-bats guaranteed. Also if someone went down injured he could get more. What would it take to sign him?

Again, it’s the same thing as Aramis. Cuddyer’s not going to settle for 350-400 at-bats with the Yankees when half the league is willing to play him everyday. Versatility is nice, but he’s nothing special with the glove (at any position) and nothing special against right-handed pitchers (.313 wOBA last two years). You’re again taking playing time from Montero, and again handing out a big contract to a player in his decline phase. Cuddyer’s the kind of guy that will get a three or four year deal, and a year from now the team that signs him will be asking themselves “what have gotten ourselves into?”

The idea of a super-sub has gotten out-of-hand in the last few years, going back to the obsession with Chone Figgins and Mark DeRosa. There’s someone like this every winter. Just sign bench players to be bench players rather than sign an everyday player and pigeon-hole him into a reduced role. That’s better than locking yourself into someone that doesn’t really want to do the job.

John asks: Are you concerned by the new CC Sabathia contract? I am no expert on contracts but I found his contract very interesting in that the option vests once he avoid shoulder injuries over the years – Is this normal for an option? Has he had shoulder issues in the past? Or why would they put that in there? If they were putting conditions in there I would have figured issues with his weight or knee (past issue and weight) over his shoulder?

I’m not at all worried about it, frankly I think that contract was the best case scenario. They only had to add one more guaranteed year, and sixth year option does include some protection against major shoulder injury. Sabathia’s arm has been perfectly healthy throughout his career, with his only two DL stints resulting from oblique strains.

The Yankees probably just put that in there to protect themselves a bit. The guy’s thrown a ton of innings already and figures to throw a ton more during the life of the extension, so I think it’s perfectly reasonable to worry about his health five years from now. Elbows are generally fixable, but shoulders can’t be much more problematic. I’m guessing the Yankees didn’t put any kind of weight clause in there because they feel comfortable about his work ethic and all that, plus his weight is theoretically controllable. The health of his shoulder is pretty much out of everyone’s hands. If it’s going to go, there’s not much they can do about it. I think both sides did very well with the contract, CC got his extra money and the Yankees kept their ace at a reasonable cost.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Sam asks: Would it make sense to trade for Dom Brown and then have him try and re-discover his mojo in AAA? That way, when Swisher’s contract is up next year he could hopefully slot right in.

Oh definitely, I’m a big Domonic Brown fan, I just don’t think the Phillies will trade him. They need to add some cheap pieces around that expensive core, and Brown figures to step right in for the departed Raul Ibanez. He does have big left-handed pop though, and when those bonus Brown-for-Dellin Betances rumors popped up on Twitter before the trade deadline, I prematurely started drooling about Brown and Montero hitting three-four for the next decade.

Matt asks*: Why not play hardball with Yu Darvish? Why not use their best asset (money) while using the posting system to their advantage, i.e. bid $40-50 million for his rights then offer a 5-year $30 million dollar deal. The Yankees could just make it a take it or leave it offer, and if he rejects he heads back to Japan and the Yankees get their posting fee back. They could then do the same thing next year. 

* I had to do some major chopping to get this question down to a reasonable length, but this gets the point across.

As far as I know, there’s nothing actually stopping the Yankees (or any team, really) from doing this, though MLB and NPB can award the player’s negotiating rights to the second highest bidder if they feel the winning team did not act in good faith. This isn’t a video game however, there are reputations and business relationships at stake here. Darvish is represented by Arn Tellem, one of baseball’s most powerful agents. He represents guys like former Yankees Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi (so we know the two sides have a good working relationship already), as well as plenty of other clients, including some of the best players in the game. If the Yankees stonewall Tellem with Darvish, it doesn’t exactly set a good tone for their relationship going forward. I think their overall reputation within the game would take a hit as well.

Remember, negotiations aren’t a “Team vs. Player” situation. It should be two sides working together to make a deal happen, and there’s give and take on both sides. Play hardball with Darvish and coax him into signing an unfair deal, then you’re stuck with an unhappy player.

Dan asks: With the possibility that the Yankees bring back Freddy Garcia and the number of potential back of the rotation pitchers they have in AAA, how likely is it that the Yankees pass on making any major moves this offseason? They could plan to go into this season with a rotation of CC, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, and Garcia and try to get a pitcher like Cole Hamels next offseason to replace Garcia and then maybe Josh Johnson the following year when A.J. comes off the books?

Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees didn’t do anything more to shore up the rotation beyond bringing Sweaty Freddy back. That would be a mistake in my opinion, because you can’t count on Garcia repeating what he did last year, nor can you count on Phil Hughes rebounding or A.J. Burnett not sucking. Nova’s not a given to do anything either. I like the depth in Triple-A, but I’d rather not see those guys on April 10th or something. This pitching staff wasn’t a problem in 2011, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in 2012.

Next winter’s crop of free agent pitching is crazy deep, and it’ll continue to be even if a few of those guys sign extensions between now and then. Can’t get Hamels? Then there’s John Danks. Can’t get Matt Cain? There’s Zack Greinke. Or Shaun Marcum. Or Francisco Liriano. The list goes on and on. The Yankees do want to win in 2011 obviously, but Brian Cashman showed tremendous restraint last offseason after losing out on Cliff Lee. I suspect he’ll do the same if nothing to his liking comes along this winter.

The Steve is the thing

Steve Sax is probably the best Steve in Yankee history, and that's not saying much.

When it comes to great Bens in Yankee history, they are few and far between. In fact, other than a fleetingly brief and utterly forgettable 11-inning stint by Ben Ford in 2000, the last Ben to play on the Yankees was Ben Chapman in 1936. His real first wasn’t even Ben. Rather, Benjamin was his middle name, and William his birth name.

As namesakes go though, there are more boring comps than Ben Chapman. Vehemently opposed to racial integration of the game, as a manager of the Phillies, Chapman and his team’s harassment eventually led to increased support for Jackie Robinson during 1947. As a Yankee for parts of seven seasons from 1930-1936, Chapman hit .305/.379/.451 and made the All Star team four times. Before Chapman was Benny Bengough (born Bernard) and Ben Paschal, a superb fourth outfielder actually born Benjamin.

So in nearly 110 seasons, only two players in Yankee history have been named Benjamin, and they have amounted to not much. That’s hardly however the biggest name failure in Yankee history. But who cares? What’s this all about anyway?

While searching for a topic for this post, I asked my followers on Twitter for ideas, and Jesse Spector, now the national hockey writer for The Sporting News, offered up a name-based suggestion. Talk about, he said, “lousy Yankees named Steve through history.” I hadn’t ever given it much thought, but when I looked up the history of pinstriped Steves, more than a few rotten eggs came up.

The most recent Steve to take the field for the Yankees was Mr. Garrison earlier this year. The 24-year-old New Jersey native made just one appearance and retired both batters he faced. As Yankee Steves go, it was a rather triumphant appearance. The previous Steve to pitch for the Yanks went by the surname Karsay, and his failures weren’t really his fault. Signed by the Yanks to a four-year contract prior to the 2002 season, Karsay suffered at the hands of Joe Torre. He made 78 appearances in 2002, missed all of 2003 and appeared in just 13 more games for the Yanks before he was released in 2005.

Prior to Karsay, the most recent Yankee Steves were of the Howe Farr variety in the mid-1990s. Steve Howe and Steve Farr provided a rather dynamic relief duo. For the Yanks, Howe made 88 appearances over six seasons as drug suspensions and injuries cut short his career. He was terrible in the 1995 playoffs and was cut by the Yanks a few months before their 1996 World Series championship. As the closer to Howe’s set-up man, Steve Farr racked up 78 saves in three years, but these two were just behind the curve. After they left, the Yanks’ bullpens improved tremendously.

That era of mediocre and downright awful Yankee teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s played host to a few other Steves as well. Steve Sax played just three seasons with the Yanks, but they were his three best offensive years. As a second baseman, he hit .294/.342/.376 in 472 games while also making 30 errors in the process. The Yanks eventually traded him to the White Sox for Domingo Jean, Melido Perez and Bob Wickman. Steve Balboni in 1989 and 1990 brought his brand of all-or-nothing baseball to the Bronx as well. After starting his career in the early 1980s in the Bronx, he returned for a 226-game encore and hit .216/.294/.435 in the process. He was the DH on the last Yankee team to finish in seventh place in the AL East. That 1990 also featured Steve Adkins for five awful starts.

Beyond that motley group of early 1990s Steves, the other players in Yankee history to don that name made small marks on the franchise. Sundra, Peek, Roser, Souchock, Kraly, Whitaker, Hamilton, Barber, Blateric — they bounced around the bigs, they came and went. Of them all, only Steve Sax was an All Star. One day, a great Steve may come through the Yankees’ system. Perhaps we’ll see our own Garvey, Bedrosian or even a Carlton. For now though, Steve, like my name, isn’t a great one for Yankee history.

Open Thread: Dave Righetti

Dave Righetti amidst his July 4, 1983 no-hitter against the Red Sox. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)

Thirty-three years ago today, the Yankees acquired Dave Righetti from the Rangers as part of a ten-player trade. Rags was just a minor leaguer at the time, having finished the previous season at Double-A. He debuted before I was born and left as a free agent when I was just nine years old, so I don’t remember all that much of his time with the Yankees. I do know that he won Rookie of the Year as a starter, but four years later he was in the bullpen because Goose Gossage left as a free agent.

Righetti was the Yankees all-time saves leader until Mariano Rivera showed up, and I’m willing to bet there are a lot of people out there wondering what his career would have been like had he remained in the rotation. He did have a 3.28 ERA as a starter before shifting to the bullpen at age 24, and Baseball-Reference says the pitcher most similar to Righetti at that age is Tommy Hanson of the Braves. Similarity scores don’t mean much of anything, but it’s still interesting to see. What could have been, eh?

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Devils Isles are playing, but not until later because they’re on the left coast. There’s also a new Parks & Rec which is pretty awesome. The Office sucks now though, Michael Scott made that whole show. Anything goes here, talk about whatever you like.

With 101 days to go, Yanks unveil Grapefruit League slate

As the sun sets earlier and earlier these days, salvation now has a spot on the calendar. The Yankees today announced that pitchers and catchers would report for Spring Training on Feb. 19, 101 days from now, and that Grapefruit League action will start on March 3 with a game against the Phillies. The club’s first home game of Spring Training will be played at 1:05 p.m. on March 4. It is the latest start to the spring slate since 2005.

The Yankees will play 15 Spring Training games against MLB opponents this year including the Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles. The Bombers will also break in the Marlins’ new ballpark in Miami as the club will play the inaugural exhibition games there on April 1 and April 2. They will end Grapefruit League play with a home-and-home set against the Mets on April 3 in Port St. Lucie and April 4 at Steinbrenner Field. Those games mark the first spring meetings between the New York rivals since 1996. Individual game tickets for all Yankees’ home games go on sale on December 2 at 10 a.m.