Once more unto the Millwood breach

For the Yankees as they prepare for the 2011 season, Kevin Millwood is akin to that thing on the bottom of your shoe that you just can’t get off. He’s not on the Yanks; he’s not very good; and yet the rumors just won’t go away. Now, according to recent reports, the Yanks are still kicking the tires on this one.

After the Yanks watched him throw yesterday, Millwood remains on the club’s radar. In fact, according to Jon Heyman, the Yanks have offered him a contract. The Sports Illustrated scribe reports:

The Yankees went to scout Kevin Millwood Wednesday at UC-Irvine and are offering a contract in the low seven figures while Millwood has been seeking about $4 million on a major league deal. While he’d be a help, the Yankees may not need him as much as they once did after Ivan Nova threw six no-hit innings in the 10-0 win over the Orioles. Freddy Garcia has pitched well in two of three outings, and he and Nova look likely to be the Yankees’ No. 4 and 5 starters.

That short paragraph contains quite a few assumptions and a few red flags. First, the idea that Freddy Garcia has a lock on the fifth starter spot is largely unfounded. Through the first few weeks of Spring Training, the Yankees have been far more impressed with Bartolo Colon than with Garcia, and if Girardi had to make a decision tomorrow, Colon would likely have a rotation edge. Second, the premise that the team may not need him is a matter of interpretation.

The problem with Millwood is that his value and impact are both tough to assess, and while he thinks he’s worth $4 million a season, the Yankees seem to disagree. From a traditional point of view, Millwood was terrible last year. He went 4-16 with an ERA over 5.00 in 190 innings. He gave up 33 more hits than innings pitched and 30 long balls while striking out 132 and sporting a 2:1 K:BB ratio. His WAR though came in at 1.3, and absent a significant decline, he’ll be worth the $4 million. Whether he can out-pitch Garcia or Colon is up for debate.

Yet, talent evaluators are lukewarm on Millwood. As Joe noted highlighted last month, no one is that impressed with Millwood. “Millwood is not a help,” one scout said in February. “He’s just a name people know.” In January, Joe offered even lesser praise: Kevin Millwood is better than Sergio Mitre. Nothing has changed.

For the Yankees, Millwood would simply be another piece for the depth charts and another placeholder. If someone goes down and Millwood is still out there, he would be potentially a better and more reliable choice than an unknown AAA kid. He won’t blow the world away, and he won’t throw quality innings. He will though throw innings. Maybe there’s something to be said for that right now, but if the Yanks are willing to offer Millwood seven figures, I have to wonder what that says of the faith they have in the current rotation options than anything else. It’s not a huge vote of confidence really.

Joe Torre to attend Old Timer’s Day

Via Bryan Hoch, former manager Joe Torre has accepted an invitation to attend the 2011 edition of Old Timer’s Day. He was at GMS Field for the first time since leaving the Yankees today, presumably taking care of some stuff given his new position as MLB’s VP of Baseball Operations. Torre returned to Yankee Stadium for the first time late last year, when the team unveiled the George Steinbrenner monument in Monument Park. After a somewhat ugly divorce, it appears the two sides are mending fences, and I’m glad to see it.

Open Thread: March 17th Camp Notes

Uh, they're not that desperate for pitching, right? (AP Photo)

Notes from Tampa…

  • The Yankees are playing the Rays this evening, but the game is not being televised. Brett Gardner is leading off with Derek Jeter hitting second, Nick Swisher hitting sixth, Curtis Granderson eighth, and Jesus Montero ninth. Phil Hughes is on the bump, and Pat Venditte is scheduled to pitch at some point. (Yankees PR Dept. & Jim Baumbach)
  • Boone Logan had been shut down for a while with slight elbow fatigue, but he’s scheduled to pitch against the Rays tonight. He did look kinda crappy early on, throwing mostly 87-89 from what I saw on television, so hopefully this explains it. (Chad Jennings)
  • Joba Chamberlain threw off flat ground as expected. There’s still no word about what’s next for him following that oblique issue. (Brian Costello)
  • Rafael Soriano received permission to skip last night’s game so he wouldn’t have to face a division rival, and instead threw in a minor league game this afternoon. (Marc Carig & Wally Matthews)
  • Russell Martin‘s surgically repaired knee feels fine, and is well enough that he stopped wearing that light-weight brace he’d been using earlier in camp. (Carig)
  • Austin Romine left camp to attend to a personal matter and should be back by Saturday. Hopefully everything is okay. (Dan Barbarisi)

Here’s your open thread. The Nats-Braves game is airing on MLB Network, though the Devils, Knicks, and Nets are playing meaningful games on various other networks. Feel free to talk about whatever your heart desires, just don’t be a dick.

Food For Thought: First League Average Season

After breaking down Baseball America’s top 100 prospects lists by determining the value of each spot, Scott McKinney of Beyond The Box Score looked at how long it took prospects to have their first league average season (defined at 2+ WAR) in the majors. The majority of both pitchers and position players have that first average season in their sophomore campaigns, though a significant amount of players (27.3%) reach that level in their third season, and another 27.7% reach it in their fourth season or later.

The average call-up age for both position players and pitchers is just 22.7 years of age, which surprised me. I thought it would be a little higher, maybe 23-24. It turns out that age isn’t an important variable either, a player will still have his first league average season two years after he debuts regardless of how old he was when he got to the show. Unsurprisingly, high-end prospects (ranked 1-40 on BA’s lists) tend to contribute a little earlier than lesser guys, but not by a whole lot.

The Yankees have a few high-end prospects on the cusp of the big leagues, most notably Jesus Montero. Recent history suggests that his coming out party might not occur until 2012 though, and I can’t help but wonder how many Yankees fans are willing to be that patient. My guess: fewer than you think.

Baseball America’s Top 20 Latin Summer League Prospects

I’m not one to spend much time researching Dominican Summer League and international prospects because the information on those guys is extremely unreliable (to put it nicely), so I just wait until they reach the states and go from there. Today, however, Baseball America’s Ben Badler put together a list of the 20 best prospects that played in Latin America last summer (subs. req’d), and two Yankees farmhands made the cut: Yeicok Calderon and Ravel Santana. It’s not a ranked list, Badler just listed the guys alphabetically.

Calderon, a 19-year-old Dominican outfielder, hit .339/.439/.551 with 16 doubles and eight homers in the DSL last year, leading the league in SLG while finishing third in OBP, fifth in AVG, and second in homers. “Calderon’s bat is advanced, he controls the strike zone well and he has above-average power,” said Badler. “His defense was crude after his first season in the DSL, but he made some progress last year with his routes and reads off the bat in right field. His bat, though, is what will have to carry him.” The 2008 international signee ($650,000 bonus) is expected to join the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2010.

Santana, a Dominican outfielder like Calderon but a year younger, hit .332/.440/.533 with a league leading ten homers plus 22 steals. “He’s an advanced hitter for his age, has good plate discipline and shows above-average power,” adds Badler. “He has above-average speed and could play center or right field. Even with as much success as he had at the plate, Santana’s best tool is his plus-plus arm.” Santana signed for just $145,000 in 2009, and could debut in the U.S. this summer.

The RAB Radio Show: March 17, 2011

Just when it appeared that the Yanks would go with Garcia and Colon in the Nos. 4 and 5 spots, Ivan Nova made them think again. True, we can’t read too much into his six no-hit innings from last night, just as we can’t look too much into the previous start, when he got shelled.

There are more pitching matters, too, including the recent wave of cuts that sent Andrew Brackman to minor league camp.

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In which we honor Sabathia’s workhorse-ability

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

CC Sabathia has been many things since signing with the Yankees two offseasons ago. An ace, a Cy Young contender, a playoff hero, and more than anything else, amazingly durable. Seriously, the guy has thrown 467.2 innings over the last two years and 961.2 innings over the last four years, and that’s just the regular season. Roy Halladay is the only other pitcher within 50 innings of that total, and Dan Haren is the third and final member of the 900+ IP club going back to 2007. It’s an exclusive club.

Joe lovingly called Sabathia a freak in his season preview, and we mean that in the nicest way possible. CC is literally the largest left-handed pitcher in baseball history, in terms of combined height (6-foot-7) and weight (295 lbs.). Randy Johnson was listed at 6-foot-10 but only 225 lbs., and Mark Hendrickson stands 6-foot-9, 240 lbs. The only other pitcher to be at least CC’s height and weigh over 270 is another guy in Yankees camp, Andy Sisco (6-foot-10 lbs., 270 lbs.). Marlins lefty Sean West is the only other guy in history to stand at least 6-foot-5 and weight at least 250 lbs. That’s it, just those three; Sabathia, Sisco, and West. One of these things is not like a way better pitcher than the other things.

The table to the right tallies up Sabathia’s starts as a Yankee, broken down by the number of innings thrown. He’s thrown at least eight full innings in exactly one-fourth (17) of his 68 starts over the last two years. That’s pretty amazing. Another 30 starts lasted at least seven full innings, so that’s no fewer than 21 outs recorded in 69.1% of his starts, essentially seven out of ten. Just think about that for a second. Seven innings in seven out of ten starts. That’s not even video game stuff; my starters have a tough time completing seven innings in The Show. Sabathia is that good.

(Just to be clear, 8+ refers to starts longer than eight innings. 7+ is starts between 7 and 7.2 innings, 6+ is starts between 6 and 6.2 IP, so on and so forth.)

In terms of pitches thrown (table to the right), only 16 times (23.6%) has CC failed to top the century mark. Furthermore, two of those 16 starts ended with his pitch count at 99. That 110-120 pitch range seems to be the comfort zone, but Sabathia has certainly proven to be capable of 120+ pitches if needed. His single game high with New York is 123 pitches, done three times.

Amazingly enough, Sabathia only has one nine-inning complete game with the Yankees. That came on May 8th of 2009, when he threw a shutout and four hit the Orioles in what was pretty much his “welcome to New York” moment. That has more to do with having the greatest reliever in the history of the universe available to close out games than it does Sabathia’s inability to get 27 outs in a start. CC has also thrown three other complete games in pinstripes, but two were eight-inning loses and the other was a six inning, rain-shortened game.

Both of the starts in which Sabathia failed to complete three innings came in 2009. The first was in late-June, when he left a start against the Marlins after recording just four outs due to stiffness in his biceps. He was back on the mound five days later, holding the Mets to one run in seven innings. The other short start was his final one of that season, when the Rays rocked him for nine runs in just 2.2 IP. Five days later, he beat the Twins in Game One of the ALDS. As for the two other starts that were less than five innings, the first came in his very first start with the Yankees, and the other was that 4.2 IP start against the Red Sox last summer that got hit with a rain delay. If it hadn’t been for Mother Nature, he surely would have completed the inning. When Joe Girardi hands the ball to Sabathia, he’s getting at least five innings out of him, more than nine times out of ten. That level of reliability is impressive and incredibly valuable.

The term “innings-eater” is usually reserved for guys like Joe Blanton and Jon Garland, and all it really means is that the pitcher is capable of sucking for six or seven innings instead of four or five. Guys like Sabathia, who combine quality pitching with bulk innings are true workhorses, and you can count the number of pitchers like that on one hand. I didn’t think it would be possible for a pitcher to exceed the expectations associated with a $161M contract, but so far Sabathia has done that for the Yankees.