Ryan Braun named NL MVP

The final award of the 2011 season has been announced, and Ryan Braun is your NL MVP. He received 20 of 32 first place votes, and is the first Brewer to win the award since Robin Yount in 1989. I think Matt Kemp should have won, but playing on a non-contender hurt his chances. He finished second and received ten first place votes. Former Yankees farmhands Ian Kennedy and John Axford received a bunch of down ballot votes. The full results are available on the BBWAA’s site.

Mailbag: Michael Pineda

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Tucker asks: One of my Mariners friends suggested a possible trade that sounded crazy to me at first, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense: Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero. M’s need offense, Yanks need pitching.

Well, this isn’t really a question, so I guess it’s just a statement I will expand on. I think it is a very interesting swap, and certainly more realistic than the Felix Hernandez-for-random stuff proposals we see from time to time all the time. The framework makes a ton of sense, a team with pitching to spare and in need of offense gets six years of a young, high-end hitter while the team with offense to spare and in need of pitching gets five years of the young, high-end pitcher. It’s a match made in trade heaven.

Pineda, 23 in January, finished right behind Ivan Nova in the AL Rookie of the Year voting thanks to a 3.74 ERA and 3.42 FIP in 171 innings. Blame that on his 9-10 record and Seattle’s offense. He struck out 173 batters and walked just 54 unintentionally, good for 9.11 K/9 (24.9% of batters faced) and 2.89 BB/9 (7.9%). With a big frame (6-foot-5, 245 lbs.) and a high-octane fastball that averaged 94.2 mph this past season, it’s easy to see why Pineda should be considered among the game’s best young hurlers. He’s not perfect though.

For one, Pineda is an extreme fly ball pitcher, getting a ground ball just 36.3% of the time this past summer with uninspiring minor league grounder rates to match. He gave up 18 homers (0.95 HR/9) playing in spacious Safeco Field, a number that would almost certainly climb in Yankee Stadium. Secondly, he’s almost exclusively a two-pitch pitcher, using that big fastball roughly 65% of the time and his sharp slider roughly 32% of the time this summer. The other 3% is a flimsy little changeup and the reason why lefties hit him harder than righties, a pattern he also displayed in the minors. That isn’t to say Pineda isn’t a good pitcher, he certainly is, but he has some flaws that could be really exposed in the AL East and in Yankee Stadium.

There’s a very weird dynamic here because Montero was almost a Mariner in 2010, before Jack Zduriencik reneged on the Cliff Lee trade. I don’t know if there’s any “bad blood” between the two clubs because of that, but we know the Yankees weren’t happy with the way things went down and I have to think they hold a little bit of a grudge. I know I would. I’m sure they’re enjoying the fact that Montero out-fWAR’d Justin Smoak (0.6 to 0.5) this season, I know I am. I don’t think that “bad blood” would stand in the way of a potential Felix trade, but it might for lesser players, even someone like Pineda.

Objectively, I do think Montero-for-Pineda is a pretty fair trade. The one fewer year of team control is kinda mitigated by the fact that Pineda has shown he can handle a full season in the big leagues and be an above-average contributor. As good as Montero looked in September, we have no idea if he can produce 600 plate appearances at a time. On the other hand, the Yankees homer in my says no way to this trade; Pineda’s a two-pitch guy with fly ball problems and if the Yankees trade Montero, I’d like to see them trade him for someone more established.

Looking At The Yankees’ Sac Bunts

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

Baseball is a game without an official clock. In its stead, the 27 outs each team receives serve as the timekeeper, pushing each game to an inevitable conclusion. Avoiding those outs has become the name of the game over the last ten years, and one of the strategic moves that has come under fire due to this philosophy is the bunt. The sacrifice bunt draws a team one out closer to the end of the game without greatly increasing the chances of a run scoring. A look at run expectancy tables, which tell us how many runs are expected given a particular situation, confirms that bunting usually decreases the number of runs expected to score. While there are a few situations where a bunt is actually the statistically prudent move, on balance it is seen as the misused weapon of weaker, backwards-thinking managers, and is the hobgoblin of sabermetricians everywhere.

All that said, there is at least one study that suggests that managers tend to outperform run expectancy tables when it comes to bunting. This means that on average, managers have a reasonably good sense of the moment and of context, and they bunt in situations where it will produce more runs than one might expect given the post-bunt base/out status. While the numbers still suggest that these bunts decrease run expectancy, it is illuminating and encouraging to see that managers are utilizing the bunt reasonably efficiently.

All of this brings us to the manager of the local nine. One of the most common complaints about Joe Girardi‘s managing is that he bunts too frequently, playing for one run with an offense that can put up a crooked number in a hurry. I thought it would be instructive to look at every Yankee sacrifice bunt in 2011 to see how many runs Girardi actually cost his club with his small ball sensibilities. I broke the bunts down by player and then calculated three numbers:

  1. Expected runs before the bunt. This number tells us how many runs were expected to score given the base/out situation prior to Girardi working his managerial magic.
  2. Expected runs after the bunt. This tells us how many theoretical runs the bunt “cost” the club.
  3. Actual runs. This should tell us how Girardi’s move actually worked out.

Now, a few caveats.

  • Run expectancy is not perfect. It does not account for the score or the quality of offense or opponent, nor does it account for the skills of the hitter at the plate. However, it is a reasonable estimate of how the game has been impacted by a move, and I’ve broken things down by hitter so you can mentally adjust your evaluation based on the quality of the batter.
  • This study does not include the attempted bunts that failed and caused batters to fall behind in the count. However, it also does not include bunt singles or bunts in which the batter reached on a fielder’s choice or error, which help to greatly increase run expectancy (I also excluded Nick Swisher‘s bunt against Boston where he lost track of the number of outs and bunted on his own). The analysis is limited to successful sacrifice bunts. I’ve also removed all bunts by pitchers, as I think most of us can agree that bunting with an American League pitcher is almost always the correct move.
  • We cannot calculate what would have happened if Girardi had chosen not to bunt. To provide an example of why this is an issue, imagine an inning where Brett Gardner bunts a runner over and then Curtis Granderson homers. While we can figure out the run expectancy before and after the bunt and can observe actual runs scored, we can’t know what would have happened if Gardner had not bunted. So if one run was expected and two actual runs were scored, there is still the possibility that without the bunt, three runs would have scored (because Gardner could have reached prior to the home run). If we assume that everything would have been different and Granderson may not have homered had Gardner reached, the expected runs v. actual runs analysis is relevant. As such, this study is making the assumption that the bunt changes the entire inning, such that whatever happened afterward is connected to (but not necessarily caused by) the base/out state created by the bunt. Discarding that assumption does not make the conclusions irrelevant, but it does sap them of some of their power.

Keeping all that in mind, let’s take a look at the sac bunts Girardi called for in 2011.

Brett Gardner

# of sac bunts: 8

Expected runs, before the bunts: 7.0173

Expected runs, after the bunts: 5.4602

Actual runs: 11

Loss of run expectancy: 1.5571

Actual impact: Gain of 3.9827 runs over expected runs

(To be fair to Girardi and his predilection for bunting with Gardner, it is important to note that all of Gardner’s bunts but one came in the late innings of a tight game, when playing for one run is acceptable. The lone exception came against Justin Verlander, which represents another understandable, if not entirely defensible, use of the bunt.)

Eduardo Nunez

# of sac bunts: 6

Expected runs, before the bunts: 5.5296

Expected runs, after the bunts: 4.4064

Actual runs: 3

Loss of run expectancy: 1.1232

Actual impact: Loss of 2.5296 runs under expected runs

Derek Jeter

# of sac bunts: 4

Expected runs, before the bunts: 4.1974

Expected runs, after the bunts: 3.4954

Actual runs: 2

Loss of run expectancy: 0.702

Actual impact: Loss of 2.1974 runs under expected runs

Curtis Granderson

# of sac bunts: 3

Expected runs, before the bunts: 3.7157

Expected runs, after the bunts: 3.2358

Actual runs: 6

Loss of run expectancy: .4799

Actual impact: Gain of 2.2843 runs over expected runs

Ramiro Pena

# of sac bunts: 2

Expected runs, before the bunts: 1.701

Expected runs, after the bunts: 1.3028

Actual runs: 1

Loss of run expectancy: 0.3982

Actual impact: Loss of 0.701 runs under expected runs

One each for Russell Martin, Frankie Cervelli, Chris Dickerson, and Brandon Laird

# of sac bunts: 4

Expected runs, before the bunts: 3.402

Expected runs, after the bunts: 2.6056

Actual runs: 1

Loss of run expectancy: 0.7964

Actual impact: Loss of 2.402 runs under expected runs


# of sac bunts: 27

Expected runs, before the bunts: 25.563

Expected runs, after the bunts: 20.5062

Actual runs: 24

Loss of run expectancy: 5.0568

Actual impact: Loss of 1.563 runs under expected runs

Regarding that actual impact number, I am uncomfortable concluding that the bunts were always directly responsible for what happened after them. For example, I do not think Granderson’s lone “successful” bunt actually caused all 6 runs that subsequently scored in the inning. That said, I think it is fair to conclude that Girardi’s proclivity for bunting did not hurt the Yankees much in 2011. In terms of run expectancy, all of the bunts over the course of the season only cost the Yankees five runs, and that ignores the fact that many of them came in situations where playing for one run at the expense of a big inning is actually the right thing to do. Furthermore, the team outperformed the “runs expected after the bunts,” suggesting that Girardi may have utilized the strategy in optimal situations. Taking into account the fact that the actual runs scored was about the same as the number of runs expected, it seems clear that Joe Girardi’s bunting problem was not much of an detriment to the Yankees in 2011.

Update (12:28 p.m.): I am new to play index, but I just figured out how to get bunt singles and bunt outs listed properly(still no foul bunts, however). Here are the results for the 18 sac bunt attempts that ended without a sac bunt:

10 runners reached base
8 made force outs or popouts

On the outs:

RE before the bunts: 7.5994
RE after the bunts: 4.431
Actual: 7
Loss of RE: 3.1684
Actual impact: 0.5994

On the hits:

RE before the bunts: 9.9545
RE after the bunts: 16.1122
Actual: 17
Loss of RE: Gain of 6.1577
Actual impact: Gain of 7.0455

New total:

RE before the bunts: 43.1169
RE after the bunts: 41.0494
Actual: 48
Loss of RE: Loss of 2.0675 runs
Actual impact: Gain of 4.8831

A collection of texts with the Yankees

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Brian Cashman has been the general manager of the Yankees for a long time now; he’ll be entering his 14th year once Spring Training rolls around. As you’ve probably noticed by now, he’s definitely got a sense of humor but also says a whole lot of words without adding much substance when he talks to the press. There will be words coming out of his mouth, but not many are meaningful. It’s typical YankeeSpeak, and Joe Girardi is starting to master is as well.

Well, Cashman is the opposite when he starts exchanging texts. He’s short and to the point, which is refreshing. Wally Matthews of ESPN New York exchanged some texts with Cash on Monday morning, and he was kind enough to post the conversation for all to see. You should head on over to check it out, it’s worth your time. In an effort to fit in, I’ve decided to share some text conversations I’ve had with various members of the Yankees’ brain trust recently…

* * *

Me: Have you called about Felix Hernandez recently?
Cashman: havent talked to jack z since cliff lee
Me: Are you holding a grudge because they backed out of the trade?
Cashman: lol no their roster just sux

* * *

Me: See anyone interesting in winter ball?
Billy Eppler: Paul Wilson is still pitching.
Me: Interested in signing him?
Eppler: No, but he’s still pitching. Crazy, right?
Me: Yeah I guess.
Eppler: You’d be surprised who you see out here.
Me: Anyone else interesting?
Eppler: Not sure, but I haven’t seen Bill Pulsipher yet.
Me: I take it he’s pitching there too?
Eppler: Yeah, crazy.
Me: Would you sign him if he looks good?
Eppler: No idea, but dude, it’s Bill [expletive deleted] Pulsipher.
Me: Looking forward to seeing Jason Isringhausen next?
Eppler: No Michael, that’s just stupid. End of conversation.

* * *

Me: Happy with the CC Sabathia extension?
Hal Steinbrenner: We’re extremely pleased.
Me: Would you have given him a sixth guaranteed year?
Hal: We have the best fans in the world, we would have done what it takes.
Me: What about seven years?
Hal: We have the best fans in the world, we would have done what it takes.
Me: Is there a point when you would have said enough is enough?
Hal: We have the best fans in the world, we would have done what it takes.
Hal: :-P

* * *

Me: Any surprise signings this winter?
Me: Even with Rafael Soriano and David Robertson?
Me: But he didn’t.
Me: He didn’t though, and the deadline has already passed.

* * *

Me: I hear the Braves are interested in trading for Eduardo Nunez.
Cashman: i kno lmao

Disclaimer: I can not guarantee that these text exchanges actually happened.

Open Thread: Ruben Rivera

Once upon a time, Baseball America once put Ruben Rivera on the cover of their magazine with the caption “The Next Mickey Mantle?” I haven’t ever been able to find a picture of it online, but trust me, it happened. Jim Callis and all those other folks readily admit it.

The Yankees signed Rivera as a 17-year-old free agent out of Panama on this date in 1990, and less than four years later he had become a fixture on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list. He was number 76 in 1994, then number two behind only Alex Rodriguez in 1995. The next year he was number three behind Andruw Jones and Paul Wilson. The year after that he was number nine, and in his final appearance on the list, before the 1998 season, he was number 40.

Rivera had cups of coffee with the big league team in 1995 and 1996, hitting .281/.377/.438 in 107 plate appearances, but they traded him to the Padres in April of 1997 as part of the package for Hideki Irabu. I suspect a deal of that magnitude would break the internet today. Rivera spent parts of four seasons in San Diego but never did live up to the hype, hitting .204/.301/.397 in nearly 1,200 plate appearances before being released and giving it a go with the Reds, Rangers, and Giants. The most memorable play of his career is the one you see in the video above.

The Yankees did bring Rivera back in between his stints with Cincinnati and Texas, but he was released in Spring Training after stealing a glove and bat belonging to Derek Jeter, then selling them to a memorabilia dealer for over two grand. The players reportedly took a vote and asked the front office to release him after the incident. Rivera has spent the last six seasons annihilating the Mexican League for the Piratas de Campeche, hitting .344/.446/.638 with 155 homers in 589 games. Those are Mickey Mantle numbers all right, they’re just in the wrong league.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Monday Night Football game is the Chiefs at the Patriots (8:30pm ET on ESPN), plus the Devils and Islanders are in action as well. Talk about whatever your heart desires, anything goes.

Report: Luxury tax threshold will remain unchanged for two years

Via Joel Sherman, the luxury tax threshold will remain at $178M for the next two seasons under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Teams will be taxed 40% on every dollar they spend over that amount. The threshold and tax will be raised to $189M and 50% in 2014, respectively.

The Yankees are the only team in baseball to consistently pay the luxury tax, but other clubs have had to pay on occasion. The Red Sox and Phillies will be awfully close to that threshold next year as well. The Yankees owed $18M last season and $25.7M the year before, bringing their total luxury tax payout to $192.2M since it was instituted in 2003. One of these days they’ll just rename this thing the Yankee Tax and be done with it.

Extension candidate: Brett Gardner

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees are no strangers to the multi-year deal. In the last five years they’ve signed nine free agents, whether their own or from other teams, to contracts of at least three years. They’ve also executed two contract extensions of three or more years in that span, for CC Sabathia and Robinson Cano. Every member of the Yankees infield originally signed a deal of three years or more.

Yesterday Moshe looked at the possibility of signing Russell Martin to an extension. That would give the Yankees a superb defensive catcher for the next few years, and would allow them to gradually work in Jesus Montero. There are only three other Yankees position players whom we haven’t covered: Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher. Any of these three could get an extension offer this winter, but Gardner appears the most likely. He’s about to hit his first season of arbitration, so now could be the time to lock him up at a reasonable rate.

Depending on how you view the numbers, Gardner might be the most underrated player in the league. From 2010 through 2011 he accumulated 11.3 fWAR, which ranks 13th in all of baseball. Ask a random sampling of fans, and Gardner might not even rank in the top 50 position players. That’s a huge discrepancy, and the perception might make Gardner a prime extension candidate.

The issue with Gardner’s run value is that it almost entirely derives from his defensive numbers. We can see that Gardner is an elite defender in left; even with the eyeball test it’s hard to argue that he gets to more balls than his peers. It’s the degree of his superiority that’s under question. Almost half of Gardner’s value comes from UZR, which in the last two years has totaled more than 50 runs. That’s almost 20 runs better than the second-highest UZR in the last two years — at any position. Is Gardner really this good?

While there exists the chance that yes, Gardner is eons better than his peers in the field, it doesn’t seem as though he’s a singular talent. It’s more likely that he’s superior to his peers, just not to the degree that UZR suggests. Still, his defense does bring considerable value to the table. His offense is a weapon, too. In the last two years he has a 111 wRC+, meaning he’s performed above average. His .364 OBP ranks 26th among players with at least 1,000 PA in the last two seasons, and he’s stolen the second most bases. The combination leaves the Yankees with a valuable asset.

The only issue is with Gardner’s ability to continue what he’s done in the last two years. Since 1950 there are only 18 players who lasted 5,000 or more PA with an OBP greater than .350 and a SLG under .380. A few of the contemporary names might not inspire much confidence, either: Chone Figgins and Luis Castillo. Castillo is probably the better example. His performance only dropped off in his age-34 season, after a number of knee injuries. From 1999 through 2009 he produced an OBP of at least .350, which works very well for Gardner. While Figgins has been pretty horrible with the Mariners, his true decline really began this year, in his age-33 season. Even in his first season with Seattle he produced a .340 OBP.

Gardner enters his age-28 season in 2012, and is eligible for free agency following the 2014 season. Any extension should probably buy out a year of free agency, so a four-year deal with an option could be the best course of action should the Yankees pursue this. MLB Trade Rumors estimates Gardner’s salary at $3.3 million. It’s tough to project going forward, since it will depend on his performances in the next two seasons. Chances are he’ll earn between $14 and $17 million in his arbitration years. A four-year, $22 million deal, with an option and a buy-out, could possibly get the job done. That would cover Gardner through his age-31 season, which is around the time that his comparables started to fall off.

Chances are that the Yankees will work out a one-year deal with Gardner this year and then reassess next off-season. It’s tempting to lock up a player that brings a range of skills to the table. Gardner gets on base, steals bags, and plays superb defense. If the Yankees can get him locked up at a reasonable rate for four seasons, it could benefit them going forward. It pays to have a player like Gardner on the roster.