The best pitches in the Yankee bullpen

(Mo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty; Soriano by Gregory Shamus/Getty; D-Rob by Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Several of you asked for a bullpen version of the “best pitches in the rotation” post, and so here you go. Instead of just the 2011 season I’ve gone back and corralled the last two seasons worth of data for this post. The columns headed by “w” and “w/100″ are the pitch type’s linear weights (representing the total runs that a pitcher has saved using that pitch) and linear weights per 100 pitches (the amount of runs that pitcher saved with that pitch type for every 100 thrown), which provide some level of insight into a pitch’s relative level of effectiveness but should not be analyzed in isolation, as they are subject to the whims of both sequencing and BABIP. I’ve ranked the hurlers by their respective Whiff rates, as the ability to generate a swing-and-miss is probably the most transparent indication of pure stuff.

(Note: This post was researched and written prior to the release of the reclassified PITCHf/x data at Brooks Baseball — which I’ll be chiming in on next weekand the numbers are from TexasLeaguers.com and Fangraphs. Given that relievers typically have less variation in their repertoires than starters, I feel comfortable that the data presented below is mostly accurate.)

Four-Seamer

Rafael Soriano‘s generated the highest whiff percentage on the four-seamer out of the six primary members of the Yankee bullpen, though that is probably partially propped up by his excellent 2010. As far as pitch type linear weights go, David Robertson‘s four-seamer has been the most effective at 12 runs above average, while Cory Wade’s was most effective on a per-100-pitch basis, at 2.17 runs above average.

Cutter

Without looking at the numbers I’d have assumed that Mariano Rivera would easily lead in cutter Whiff%, but he actually lags both Soriano and D-Rob. Of course, having even an 8.1% whiff rate on a pitch you throw 86% of the time is still absurd.

Slider

For all the crap Boone Logan gets, his slider’s actually pretty outstanding, generating a whiff nearly one out of every four times he throws it. Joba Chamberlain also has a big-boy slider, though at times (cough cough full count cough) he’s fallen a bit too in love with it, occasionally making it painfully predictable.

Curveball

David Robertson has the best curveball in the ‘pen by a pretty substantial margin, though Cory Wade’s isn’t terrible. Joba’s had a decent amount of success with his curve though he throws it pretty infrequently.

Changeup

It’s Cory Wade by a landslide here, though he wins by default as no one else in the ‘pen really throws a changeup. It hasn’t been an outstanding pitch by linear weights, but it was his bread-and-butter in a terrific season for the Yankees in 2011.

Open Thread: Spring Training Broadcasts

Good ol' GMS Field.

It was a pretty slow day in Tampa, with the only thing resembling news being Frankie Cervelli‘s arrival. That’s only notable because he finished last season on the DL thanks to his fourth concussion in seven seasons, so it’s good to hear he’s in Tampa read to do some baseballing. In other good news, we now know which Yankees Spring Training games will be broadcast on television, with the first game being just 19 days away. It’s still a long ways off, but at least now there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Here are the games that will broadcast this spring, all on YES unless otherwise noted (all times Eastern)…

  • Sunday, March 4th: 1:05pm vs. Phillies
  • Wednesday, March 7th: 1:05pm vs. Rays
  • Friday, March 9th: 1:05pm vs. Braves – split squad
  • Sunday, March 11th: 1:05pm vs. Phillies – split squad
  • Tuesday, March 13th: 7:05pm @ Red Sox
  • Friday, March 16th: 1:05pm vs. Nationals
  • Saturday, March 17th: 1:05pm vs. Astros
  • Tuesday, March 20th: 7:05pm vs. Pirates
  • Wednesday, March 21st: 1:05pm @ Rays – on ESPN only
  • Thursday, March 22nd: 7:05pm @ Red Sox – also on ESPN
  • Friday, March 23rd: 1:05pm vs. Twins – split squad
  • Sunday, March 25th: 1:05pm vs. Tigers – split squad
  • Tuesday, March 27th: 7:05pm vs. Blue Jays
  • Wednesday, March 28th: 1:05pm @ Braves – on ESPN only
  • Thursday, March 29th: 7:05pm vs. Orioles
  • Friday, March 30th: 7:05pm vs. Phillies
  • Sunday, April 1st: 1:10pm @ Marlins – at Marlins new stadium
  • Tuesday, April 3rd: 2:10pm @ Mets – also on SNY
  • Wednesday, April 4th: 12:05pm vs. Mets

MLB Network hasn’t released their broadcast schedule yet, but since they just pick up the local feeds, a few of the Yankees games they show will be road games not broadcast on YES. We’ll get to see something like 20-25 of the team’s 34 exhibition games, and that’s pretty cool. Remember when Spring Training games on television was a pipe dream? Good times, good times.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing tonight, but talk about whatever you like. Enjoy.

(Photo via the Yankees)

Minors Links: Mattingly, Pilittere, Paniagua, More

Got some random minor league notes cluttering up with browser with extraneous tabs, so let’s dump them all here…

  • The Yankees signed Preston Mattingly (Don’s son) earlier this offseason, and yesterday he spoke to Kevin Kernan about his father, his upbringing, stuff like that. Preston isn’t much of a prospect despite being a first round pick back in the day, so he’ll just fill out the High-A Tampa roster this summer.
  • Long-time organizational catcher P.J. Pilittere will be part of the coaching staff for the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees this year. The move isn’t much of a surprise if you read Mike Ashmore’s piece on Pilittere last August.
  • Remember Juan Carlos Paniagua? The Yankees signed him for $1.1M last spring, but he was later suspended and had his contract voided due to falsified documents. He’s now trying out for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, so I guess MLB isn’t planning on reinstating him anytime soon.
  • The Yankees signed right-hander Andury Acevedo and catcher David Remedios. Acevedo spent 2007-2010 in the Pirates’ farm system as an infielder, but apparently the Yankees are putting him on the mound. Remedios is a Cuban defector and is most notable for having an 85-minute at-bat on Christmas Eve a few years ago.

Raiding the A’s

The Oakland A’s had eyes bigger than their stomachs this off-season. They had needs to fill for sure, seeing as all three of their 2011 starting outfielders hit free agency. But in refilling those spots they overextended themselves. Along with re-signing Coco Crisp, they also signed Jonny Gomes and traded for Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, and Seth Smith. Then came the big move this week, when they signed Yoenis Cespedes. That leaves them with something of an outfield logjam.

AL teams have an advantage here, since they can slide extra players into the DH spot. Yet with the A’s it’s not that simple. In addition to their five MLB-ready outfielders (plus Jermaine Mitchell and Michael Taylor on the 40-man, neither of whom is exactly young), they have four — four! — first basemen: Brandon Allen, Daric Barton, Chris Carter, and Kila Ka’aihue. While Barton and Carter appear to have options remaining, they both seem to be past the point where AAA does them any good. The A’s probably have to make a move here.

Granted, there isn’t much quality there on the A’s roster. That is usually a problem, seeing as they are the Oakland A’s. But with the Yankees currently choosing from a not so impressive list of free agent DH types, perhaps they can find something more to their liking on the A’s roster.

Seth Smith

Just after the Michael Pineda trade, I had planned to write about Smith as a possible trade target. The Rockies had him on the block most of the winter, and he fit in many ways. Of course, just as I opened a document he got traded to the A’s. It seemed odd at the time, since the A’s already had a pretty full outfield. But they got Smith pretty cheaply; Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso aren’t guys on whom championship teams are built.

While Smith has produced above-average numbers in two of the last three seasons, his primary virtue is production against right-handed pitching. Indeed, he holds one of the most stark platoon splits in baseball, producing a 125 wRC+ against righties and just 47 against lefties. That seems to fit in well with the Yankees’ current setup. That he can play the outfield helps a bit more.

The only issue with Smith is that the Yanks would still need someone to DH on days when Andruw Jones plays left field. Smith clearly cannot fill that role, so they’d have to do something like play Eduardo Nunez at 3B and use A-Rod as the DH. Since they pretty clearly want to use Nunez more, and want to get Alex more half-days at DH, that could actually prove a worthy solution.

Brandon Allen

I wrote about Brandon Allen’s case last month, so not much has changed. According to MLBTR’s latest list, however, Allen is indeed out of options. That both helps and hurts his trade case. It helps, because Oakland has to either play him or waive him. It hurts, because the same goes for any team to which they’d trade him. If Allen comes to camp and doesn’t impress, there’s not much the Yanks can do other than cut him. It’d be a shame to trade someone for him, then.

There’s definitely potential there, but Allen’s window of opportunity seems to be closing. Trading a living body for him doesn’t seem to be a wise idea right now. While he might get dished before then, if the Yanks are interested they’d be better off just waiting until the end of camp to see how the A’s manager their roster.

Less enticing and likely players

Sure, the A’s could turn around and trade Josh Reddick, whom they recently acquired from the Red Sox. But Reddick is the youngest of their current outfield crop, and has a bit of upside. It’s tough to see any motivation to trade him unless they get some overwhelming offers. Other teams might like Smith more, too, because he’s more of a proven talent.

Kila Ka’aihue has been hyped, at least by Royals bloggers, for a while. Problem is, he’s done nothing at the major league level. He also has just one position, first base, meaning he’d only occupy the DH spot for the Yankees. If he had shown some semblance of an ability to hit at the major league level then he’d be an intriguing option. But now he can likely be had for cheap after the A’s inevitably DFA him.

Daric Barton is another possibility. Trading him would help the A’s, because it would open up first base for Chris Carter, who has a bit more potential (at least in terms of power). He impressed in 2010, producing a 126 wRC+, mostly based on his .393 OBP. But he stumbled considerably in 2011, and didn’t even produce once sent down to AAA. He’s a reclamation project at best, and one who hasn’t produced much power — even in the PCL.

The A’s will make several roster moves between now and Opening Day, thanks to a logjam in the outfield and at 1B and DH. Problem is, they’re perpetually short of useful players. That makes it less likely that they’ll trade the player most enticing to the Yankees, Seth Smith. While the A’s have a number of players at the same position, Smith is the most proven of them. It’s nice to think about, since Smith does fit what the Yankees need, and will likely outproduce the current DH options they’re mulling. It’d be nice to raid the A’s roster, but the chances just don’t seem that strong.

Prospect Profile: Phil Wetherell

(Photo via Mike Ashmore)

Phil Wetherell | RHP

Background
A graduate of Stewardson-Strasburg High School outside of Champaign, Illinois, Wetherell starred as both a pitcher and position player for the Comets. He lettered all four years and was thrice named to the All-Conference Team, plus he played basketball and made the honor roll all four years. Wetherell wasn’t much of a pro prospect however, so he went undrafted in 2008 and ended up at Kaskaskia College, a two-year school. He threw 55.2 IP and led the Hilltoppers to the Great Rivers Athletic Conference Championship, posting a 4.04 ERA with 50 strikeouts and 18 walks. After again going undrafted, he transferred to Western Kentucky.

[Read more…]

Michael Pineda’s First Day

(Ron Antonelli/New York Daily News)

Pitchers and catchers officially report for duty this Sunday, but a number of players are already in Tampa preparing themselves for the upcoming season. One of those players is Michael Pineda, and yesterday would have been a typical pre-Spring Training day had he not been involved in the Yankees’ biggest transaction in more than two years.

“It’s my first day and I’m excited because it’s my first time practicing with the New York Yankees,” said the right-hander, who was all smiles on Day One. “It’s my first time living in Tampa and I don’t know [the area], so I wanted to come early and get in a couple practices before Spring Training starts. I like to come in early.”

Pineda insisted on speaking English to the media, and both Kevin Kernan and Anthony McCarron provided a recap of his first day on the job. He played some light catch in the bullpen — “About 65,” he joked when asked how hard he was throwing — and ran sprints, pretty standard stuff. Like everyone else, Pineda wants to works on some things in camp, specifically his changeup and two-seamer. He also acknowledged that his second half fade last year was the result of fatigue.

“First half, my arm was strong and I was feeling great and the second half, I’m feeling a little tired,” admitted Pineda. “The other teams know me. It’s a long season.”

The Mariners took care of Pineda down the stretch, having him make just three starts during the final 31 games of their season. He threw only 287 pitches after August 27th, and his workload increased by just 31.2 innings from the year before. Of course big league innings are more stressful than minor league innings, but he said he feels fine now and is ready to go. It’s worth noting that while his ERA spiked in the second half, his strikeout and walk rates never wavered.

Pineda also spoke briefly about his relationship with Robinson Cano, who he first met last year when the Yankees were in Seattle and again at the All-Star Game. “My head is (spinning) because I’ve never stayed in New York,” he remembers telling Cano after the trade. “He said, ‘Don’t worry man, I’ll take care of you’ … I love this guy. He’s my friend.” Pineda is also looking forward to picking CC Sabathia‘s brain, and not just because they share the same height (both listed at 6-foot-7). “I want to learn from him and I want to say hi because he’s a great pitcher.”

No player in camp will be under a more watchful eye this spring than Pineda, just like Jesus Montero will be out in Arizona with the Mariners. Fair or not, being the Yankees’ big offseason move comes with pressure in all forms; the pressure to perform, the pressure to say the right thing, the pressure to be perfect in as many ways possible. Pineda’s first day at camp was uneventful in the grand scheme of things, which is perfectly fine. There will be plenty time for scrutiny later whether he (or you) likes it or not. It’s the nature of the beast.

Looking ahead to 2013: The Bossman cometh?

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty)

I need to preface this post by saying that I’ve made it abundantly clear that I’m a huge Nick Swisher fan, and assuming he turns in a fourth straight 120-plus wRC+ offensive campaign in pinstripes this coming season, I’d expect the Yankees to look to retain the pending free agent’s services on a multi-year deal. So long as his contract requirements remain within reason, anyway.

By “within reason,” I’d say anywhere from the three-year, $21 million ($7M average annual value) deal personal favorite Josh Willingham signed with the Twins this winter (which still seems like the steal of the offseason) to Michael Cuddyer’s three-year, $31.5 million deal ($10.5 million AAV) with the Rockies. However, since breaking into the league in 2004, Swish has been the superior all-around player by a not insignificant margin, and being that he’ll be two years younger than Cuddyer was this past offseason he definitely has a case for a bigger deal than Cuddyer’s, and a strong case for a bigger contract than Willingham’s sweetheart deal. Between his apparent superiority to these similar players and the fact that this will be his first foray into free agency, I’d expect him to start out at the very least looking for something that will pay him $13 million a year.

Given the incredible value the Yankees have gotten out of Swisher thus far — since 2009, Swish has been paid $21.2 million for his services by the Yankees, and according to FanGraphs’ $/WAR calculation, has been worth $47.6 million — $13 million seems like an eminently reasonable ask; however, at the end of the day I’d expect length to be a bigger sticking point than AAV. As an outfielder coming off his age 31 season next winter, one has to think Swish will be looking for enough financial security to take him as close to the end of his career as possible. I could see his initial ask starting at five years, but I don’t see the Yankees being interested in committing any more than three years to their switch-hitting right fielder. Maybe they’d go to four, but I’m not sure I’d expect the Yankees to hand out a four-plus-year contract to an outfielder on the wrong side of 30 that isn’t named Curtis Granderson, who — barring an unforeseen precipitous decline in production — the team will be looking to re-sign after 2013.

So, in the event that the Yankees and Nick Swisher can’t arrive at a happy medium next winter, the Bombers may in fact be finding themselves in the market for a right fielder. Enter B.J. Upton, slated to be a free agent for the first time in his career next offseason. As an outside observer, it seems as though the Rays have been waiting for Upton — the second overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft — to become the superstar many predicted he’d blossom into forever.

I asked noted Rays fan Jason Collette, of Baseball Prospectus and DRaysBay fame, for some color on this notion, and he was kind enough to respond with the following:

BJ will always leave a portion of this fanbase wanting. There’s a portion of this fanbase that finds Upton to be an unmotivated and lazy waste of talent that the Rays need to move. There’s a portion that is disappointed with him but are holding out hope that 2012 is a lot like 2007. There’s a portion that appreciates him for what he is rather than what he is not. I think he could go 30/30 in Yankee Stadium given his best swings are when he goes the other way, but he is never hitting .300 again without some serious BABIP help. He goes through hot streaks that are really hot and then slumps for long periods at a time while tinkering with his swing. He made some changes with his legkick late in the season over the final 6 weeks that yielded positive results, so it bears watching. There is a level of A.J. Burnett hate with him with a portion of this fanbase that sees nothing wrong with booing him after a strikeout or when he’s thrown out on the basepaths. However, there is a larger portion that will miss him when he leaves and hopes that he does not hang around the American League to blossom as it is tough enough to watch Carl Crawford do the same for Boston. In the end, he always leaves fans wanting something; the degree of that want comes from each fans attitude toward Upton.

Upton was drafted as a shortstop back in ’02, but was an unmitigated disaster at the position, and despite posting a respectable .323 wOBA as a 19-year-old in 177 plate appearances in 2004, his defensive woes helped demote him to AAA Durham for the entirety of the 2005 season. Upton didn’t make it back to the bigs until August 1, 2006, but he struggled mightily (.275 wOBA in 189 PAs) while playing third base, a position he’d never played professionally prior to that season.

At the outset of the 2007 season, Upton was shifted to second base to start the season, with the idea that he could play anywhere from second to short to third to the outfield on any given day. Upton responded to his first camp-breaking with the Rays by exploding out of the gate, posting a .471 wOBA in April 2007, and ultimately finishing the year with a career-high .387 wOBA (138 wRC+), shifting into center field full-time and seemingly finally establishing himself as the offensive force everyone had been waiting for. Only it didn’t last.

Upton followed his monster 2007 with a good (.354 wOBA, 118 wRC+), but disappointing 2008, given the new baseline he’d established the year prior. Upton’s OBP was still monstrous (.383, after .386 in 2007), but his power mysteriously vanished, and his slugging dropped over 100 points to .401. Upton continued his slide in 2009, falling to a below-average .310 wOBA (88 wRC+), which was easily his worst full season in the bigs. Upton has since recovered a decent amount of his value, posting near-identical 2010 (.337 wOBA, 113 wRC+) and 2011 (.337 wOBA, 115 wRC+) campaigns while providing above-average defense in center, though his erratic performances these last several seasons have rendered Upton’s true talent level something of an enigma.

One aspect of Upton’s game that would undoubtedly be very appealing to the Yankees is his ability to draw walks. Upton has a career 11.2% walk rate, well above league average. His career OBP is a respectable .342; however, the reason it’s not higher is because Upton also has a propensity to strike out. A lot. Upton’s career K% is 24.8%, and his 25.2% K% was the fifth-worst in the AL last season. His strikeouts have dramatically suppressed a batting average (career .258) that one would expect to be a good bit higher for someone with a carer BABIP of .327. Upton also has a career 11.3% HR/FB%, also an above-average rate, and the high BABIP and HR/FB% show that when Upton does put a bat on the ball, good things tend to happen. Unfortunately this isn’t as common as an occurrence as one would hope. Perhaps there’s something in Upton’s swing that Kevin Long can fix?

Upton would also probably be the best defensive right fielder the Yankees would hypothetically have fielded since perhaps Raul Mondesi, and an outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Upton seems like it would be hands-down the finest defensive outfield in the game. The dropoff in offensive production from Swisher to Upton would be fairly substantial, but not massive (Swish is a 117 career wRC+ hitter; Upton 110), while Upton would make a lot of the difference up in fielding.

Upton’s patient/hacker dichotomy — his 3.86 pitches seen per plate appearance (P/PA) ranked 31st in the AL last season, ahead of the likes of Derek Jeter, Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez, among others, while his swinging strike percentage of 20% that was the 4th-highest in the league, and well above the 15% league average — is somewhat reminiscent of Curtis Granderson’s, although Grandy led the league in P/PA in 2011 and recorded a 16% swinging strike percentage.

Given his abilities I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the 27-year-old Upton’s (turning 28 in August) best-case-scenario is blossoming into modern-day Curtis Granderson — if you compare the first five years of each player’s career, the results are remarkably similar, with one elite season early on followed by some good — though not great — subsequent campaigns. Upton’s got the edge in OBP, though Granderson certainly has the edge in power. Some may argue that Upton’s running out of time to get there, but his 2007 shows that it’s not crazy to envision him finally putting it all together on a consistent basis as he enters the prime of his career, similar to the way Granderson turned in a career year in his age 30 season.

The parallels between Granderson and Upton become even more apparent when you look at their WAR graphs:


Source: FanGraphsCurtis Granderson, B.J. Upton

And cumulative by age:


Source: FanGraphsCurtis Granderson, B.J. Upton

Also, for those curious about the righty Upton’s splits, while he unsurprisingly hits lefties better (career 118 wRC+), he’s playable against righties (101 wRC+).

So after all of this analysis, we haven’t even answered perhaps the most important question — how much will Upton be looking for, and what can he reasonably expect to be offered? Unfortunately for B.J., as a career .339 wOBA hitter, it seems unlikely he’d see anything close to the mega-deal his former teammate Carl Crawford signed prior to the 2011 season, as Carl has been the superior player (not to mention a massive disappointment one year into his monster Boston contract); although to play devil’s advocate, Carl’s career wOBA was only .008 points higher than Upton’s at the time of his free agency, so perhaps I’m selling Upton a bit short. Upton is making $7 million in his final year as a Ray, and will obviously look to exceed that on an annual basis.

With teams seemingly increasingly shy to commit mega dollars and years to anyone outside of elite talent, it seems like a stretch to see anyone signing Upton for longer than five years, and given his erratic offensive play, I’m not sure he’s worth more than $10-$12 million a year (although FanGraphs’ $/WAR valuation has him worth an average of $17.3 million over the last five years).

Upton will probably start out asking for something like seven years and $105 million ($15M AAV), but I’d ultimately expect him to end up signing for something closer to five years, $60 million — which, if the Yanks can’t agree to terms with Swish, should very seriously consider Upton if his price does fall to this range — unless he has another year like 2007 in him in 2012. In that case, all bets are off.