Mailbag: Soriano, Garcia, Curtis, Cotham, Joseph

Eight questions this week, most about pitching in some form or another. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar any time you want to ask a question.

Remember me? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Dan asks: When Soriano comes back, do you think he automatically gets the 8th inning back, or will they keep Robertson there and put Soriano in the 7th? Maybe, if that happened, he would opt out and leave money on the table after this season…

Oh yeah, Rafael Soriano‘s definitely getting the eighth inning back. No doubt about it. And you know what? It’s probably better that way. Joe Girardi will be free to use David Robertson to wiggle out of jams in the sixth and seventh innings again, plus Soriano will get the easy job of starting innings fresh with no baserunners. As for the opt-out, just forget about. He’s not getting anywhere near that much cash on the open market, so the Yankees are stuck with him for better or for worse.

Shai asks: Where is Christian Garcia in rehab from TJS? Is there a chance Yankees re-sign him (if he plans on playing baseball again)?

It’s been about 15 months since Garcia blew out his elbow and had his second Tommy John surgery, so he should be healthy enough to throw with full effort and what not. Last we heard (in February), he was planning to throw for scouts but the Yankees had no intentions of re-signing him. Garcia’s going to be 26 in August and he’s faced a total of 126 batters since 2008. Bringing him back would be nothing but nepotism at this point. Great arm, too bad it was made of glass.

Josh asks: This question is a little out of left field (hardy har har) but why is Colin Curtis always on the bench with the team during games?

He’s probably just rehabbing with the team. I can’t think of any other reason, honestly. If that’s true, then good for him for sticking around instead of just packing up and spending the downtime at home. It shows determination and good makeup, or something.

(Photo Credit: Robert Pimpsner)

Ryan asks: What kind of prospect is Caleb Cotham? Does he still have any upside? High K numbers so far.

Cotham came out of Vanderbilt with knee problems and almost immediately needed another knee surgery after signing for $675,000 as a fifth rounder in 2009. While rehabbing from the knee, he suffered a torn labrum and had surgery to fix that. He’s finally healthy now and has appeared in four games for Short Season Staten Island this year (7.2 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 13 K).

Cotham was considered a better prospect as a reliever at the time of the draft, and he regularly sat 89-92 with his fastball out of the pen. I have no idea if that velocity has come all the way back after the shoulder trouble. He’s also shown a very good slider, which is probably what he’s using to rack up all those whiffs. His best-case scenario before the injuries was a late-inning strikeout reliever, but we need to see how his stuff rebounds and if he’s able to stay healthy. Cotham’s interesting, for sure, but there’s a lot of risk for moderate reward.

Anonymous asks: Would an international draft and slotting ruin the chances the Yankees have at a good farm system since most talent comes through IFA for them? Or would an international draft just destroy baseball in other countries like Puerto Rico?

Oh an international draft (and slotting as well) would definitely hurt the Yankees. It would hurt every team, in reality. The draft gets all of the attention because it’s easy for us to follow, but the backbone of the Yankees’ farm system has long been it’s Latin America program. Taking away the ability to freely sign any player would be a significant hit. I do think there’s some concern about the consequences of an international draft, because the talent in Puerto Rico basically dried up after those players became subject to the draft. They were getting lower bonuses and couldn’t choose their own team, so many ended up playing other spots.

An international draft would be a logistic nightmare, and I’m not sure if they can figure one out for this upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement due in December. That would be great news for the Yankees.

Nicolai asks: You often say that it’s questionable if Corban Joseph can stay at 2B. I remember the same was said of Robinson Cano while he was a prospect. How do these two compare as prospects?

They’re similar in the sense that they’re bat-first second baseman, known for their ability to hit for average with what was considered average power. Cano has obviously soared past that power projection.  CoJo’s a .287 career hitter with a .138 career ISO. Cano’s minor league career? A .278 batting average and a .147 ISO. Identical, for all intents and purposes. There are two very significant differences between the two though…

  • Plate Discipline: Joseph draws significantly more walks than Cano did. In fact, he’s drawn 32 more minor league walks than Robbie in 548 fewer plate appearances. Cano’s never been a fan of ball four, never was expected to be.
  • Contact Skills: Robinson’s ability to get the fat part of the bat on the ball is pretty freakish, you can’t teach that. He’s swung and missed just 6.2% of the time in his big league career, well below the league average. In 2,106 minor league plate appearances Cano struck out just 261 times (12.4%) and never more than 86 times in a season (he did that at age 19). Joseph has already struck out 259 times in his career (16.6%) with a 107 whiff season to his credit. When you work deep counts and draw walks, you’re going to strike out. It’s part of life.

Cano’s defense was questioned as well, he was expected to move to third or even the outfield because most felt he wasn’t quick enough for the middle infield. He’s obviously managed to become a fine second baseman and there’s no reason to expect him to move off the position anytime soon. Joseph is kind of in the same boat, generally considered to slow for the position. Cano, Chase Utley, and Orlando Hudson are three pretty notable examples of guys that weren’t expected to cut it in the middle infield but went on to be standout defenders at second because they worked hard at it, so it’s not like that kind of improvement is unheard of. It’s just tough to do. Joseph’s prospect status is at its peak right now, but I’d still take Cano at his prospect peak. That was right before they called him up in 2005.

So happy he's in the NL. (Photo Credit: Flickr user sompscigrad via Creative Commons license)

Bill asks: Who has the better chance at getting to 3000 strikeouts, CC or Halladay? CC has 1913 and is three years younger than Halladay who has 1852. However, Halladay pitches in the pitcher friendly NL.

I would have to think CC Sabathia has a much better chance. He’s already head of Roy Halladay on the raw total and has a huge head start in age, enough that the AL-NL difference probably won’t compensate. For Doc to get to 3,000, he’d have to strike out 200 batters a season (he’s been between 206-219 the last three years) every year until his age 40 season. Sabathia has struck out no fewer than 197 batters in a season since 2006, so if he averages 185 whiffs a year, he’d have to pitch until he’s “just” 37. I don’t think there’s any question that Halladay is the superior pitcher and has had the better career overall, but he had some injuries when he was younger and those cost him some strikeouts.

Joey asks: So, I’ve noticed a lot of these players with [no-trade clauses] have good teams listed. Why is this? So they can get compensated more? Or maybe in Soria’s case he doesn’t want to set up. Whats the deal with that as the deadline approaches?

It’s just leverage. All these guys list the big market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox and Tigers and Phillies so that if a trade does happen, they could pay to get them to waive it. Take Joakim Soria. A non-contender isn’t trading for him, if anyone does it’ll be a legit contender like the Yankees. They can buy him out of the NTC. I’m sure there are some guys that don’t want to pitch in New York or Boston, but I’d say the vast majority of these teams are listed in no-trade clauses as a way of creating leverage. Agents aren’t stupid.

Jays embarrass Yankees in second half opener

It seems like a lot of teams have set season highs in runs scored and/or hits against the Yankees this year, no? The Blue Jays did both on Thursday, blowing the Yankees out of the water with 20 hits and a 16-7 win in the first game after the All-Star break.

And that was the end of Bart's day.

Bartolo Colonope

It looked looked like he was still hurt, no? He has to be. Bartolo Colon was moving around pretty gingerly when he had to cover first or make a defensive play (sure enough, he admitted to being tentative with the hamstring after the game), plus his velocity was down a touch (possibly because he wasn’t pushing off fully), he threw way more sliders than usual, and his location was pretty bad (the home plate ump didn’t help). Colon allowed eight runs and recorded just two outs, though he could have gotten away with just three runs if Eduardo Nunez converts a pretty routine grounder into an inning-ending out like he should have. Either way, Colon threw 42 pitches in the first inning and got just one swing and miss. He just didn’t look right, and I would not at all be surprised if he lands back on the disabled list.

The good news? Ivan Nova pitched on Thursday as well, so he could take Colon’s spot in the rotation nice and easy if needed. No finagling of the schedule needed.

That swing has now produced 413 career homeruns, plus another ten in the playoffs.

Hey, A Comeback!

Jo-Jo Reyes was pitching for Toronto, and he wasn’t fooling anybody. Just one of the first eight Yankees reached base (an Andruw Jones solo homer), but then ten of the next 19 men he faced got on. There were lots of hard-hit balls, lots of deep counts, basically lots of Yankees offense. Andruw hit another homer (a three-run shot) to bring the Yankees to within two after they were down nine-zip, so all of a sudden we had ourselves a ball game. Reyes brought the tying run to the plate with no outs in the sixth inning, but that’s where the comeback ended. The Yankees got nothing against Toronto’s relievers.

LOLpen

Hector Noesi was pretty good yet again, marching out of the pen to strike out four in 3.1 IP. He allowed four hits and one walk, and the two runs charged to him came courtesy of Boone Logan, who inherited a first and second situation with one out in the sixth. Logan retired lefty Adam Lind (yay!) but was left in to face two righties (boo!). Sure enough, both righties picked up hits, scoring the two inherited runners. The only reason Boone escaped the inning was because Aaron Hill got thrown out try to take third base on the throw to the plate.

Logan started the seventh and immediately gave up a leadoff single to Travis Snider. Sergio Mitre came in to crush any thoughts of a comeback, allowing five runs (including Logan’s inherited runner) to come across in the final two innings. The Yankees were down by nine, rallied to make it a two-run deficit, and still managed to lose by nine. I really hope Mitre is gone before Friday’s game, he should be designated for assignment before he gets back to the hotel tonight. He’s just awful, completely useless. It’s too bad Brian Gordon left for Korea, he would have been a a fine mop-up alternative.

Eduardo Scissorhands

Alex Rodriguez is going to be out for the next month or so, which means the Yankees are stuck with Eduardo Nunez as their everyday third baseman for the time being. He contributed to that eight-run first inning by booting that grounder, and he also got twisted around on a shallow pop fly the next inning. It wasn’t an easy play, but it clanked in and out of his glove. Nunez also bobbled a ground ball in the seventh, but rebounded in time to throw to second for the inning ending force out.

How unfortunate.

Leftovers

Jones was the star for the Yankees offensively, and he now has six homers this year. Four have come against Toronto, three against Jo-Jo. Curtis Granderson had two hits, Derek Jeter had a hit and a walk, Robinson Cano had three hits, and Brett Gardner had three hits. If the Yankees pound out seven runs and 14 hits, they usually win. Just not this time.

Russell Martin said after the game that the Blue Jays were stealing signs in the first inning, but he doesn’t have a problem with it and took the blame for not realizing it sooner. “That’s what it was,” he said. “They were on every pitch. They knew what was coming. It’s up to us to catch it and change the signs. I’m not blaming them for anything.” That’s a pretty serious accusation and there’s a decent chance he gets a pitch in the ribs tomorrow, but keep in mind the Yankees aren’t the only team to make this observation.

Jose Bautista left the game after rolling his ankle on a slide into third base in the fourth. His spike just got caught. The team says he’s day-to-day with a “twisted ankle,” and although I hate to see players get hurt, please oh please let him miss the next three games.

When Jorge Posada pinch-hit in the eighth, he and Jeter combined to set a franchise record for the most games played by two teammates (1,660). That’s pretty cool. The Yankees had won the first game after the All-Star break in each of the last nine seasons, so that streak came to an end. Of their final 73 games, 40 are on the road, the most in baseball.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Depressing. MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Game two of this four-game set will be played Friday night, when Freddy Garcia makes his first start in 12 days. Remember his scheduled start against the Rays last week got rained out. Brandon Morrow will give it a go for Toronto.

Romero debuts in SWB loss

Lots of moves, so let’s recap…

  • It’s the end of an era, Alan Horne has been released. He walked 13 and struck out just three in 6.1 IP with Double-A Trenton this year, allowing 13 runs. It was his first game action since 2009 due to continued shoulder trouble. It’s a shame, poor guy was thisclose to the big leagues once upon a time.
  • Kevin Whelan and Kevin Russo were both activated off the disabled list. To make room for them on the roster, both Josh Schmidt and Addison Maruszak were sent from Triple-A Scranton to Trenton.
  • Shane Greene has been placed on the disabled list for whatever reason. DeAngelo Mack has also been placed on the disabled list with a hand injury.
  • The Yankees have signed righty reliever Francisco Cruceta (org. arm) and 1B/DH Jamie Mallard. Mallard is still just 20 years old and hit .291/.357/.457 in 143 rookie ball plate appearances after the Angels made him their 17th rounder in 2008, but they released him earlier this year. He can hit a bit, but the kid is listed at 6-foot-0 and 265 lbs. That might be generous. Here’s a photo. Yikes.
  • That previous link says Logan Kensing has been up to 93-94 with Triple-A Scranton, which is pretty cool.
  • UPDATE: Zoilo Almonte has been promoted to Trenton, Cody Johnson is going down to High-A Tampa.

Josh Norris has video from the Double-A Eastern League All-Star Game, so that includes Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Corban Joseph, and Austin Romine. Check it out.

Triple-A Scranton (4-2 loss to Toledo)
Kevin Russo, 3B, Jorge Vazquez, 1B, Brandon Laird, LF, Gus Molina, C & Luis Nunez, 2B: all 1 for 4 – Russo drove in a run and struck out twice … JoVa whiffed twice … Gus doubled, struck out, and allowed a passed ball … Nunez drove in a run and struck out
Chris Dickerson, CF: 0 for 4, 2 K
Jordan Parraz, RF: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K
Terry Tiffee, DH: 2 for 4, 1 R
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K
Ivan Nova, RHP: 7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 WP, 8-2 GB/FB – 66 of 103 pitches were strikes (64.1%) … at least he lines up perfectly with Bartolo Colon
J.C. Romero, LHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1 HB – 13 of 17 pitches were strikes (76.5%)

[Read more…]

Keith Law’s Midseason Top 50 Prospects

Keith Law posted a midseason ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball (Insider req’d), and he has Manny Banuelos as the Yankees top prospect at number 18 overall. “He struggled with his command early after looking so good in the fall and spring,” said KLaw. “He has four walks against 24 strikeouts in his last four outings (19 2/3 IP), and that’s a positive sign.”

Jesus Montero dropped from number four in the preseason rankings to number 21, mostly because “[for] a guy who projects as a first baseman or DH … .289/.346/.418 isn’t an inspiring offensive performance given his history.” Law does mention that “I have to believe the power and patience are all still in there.” Dellin Betances jumped all the way from number 73 to 34 because he’s “a physical monster who doesn’t repeat his delivery well because he’s not that athletic but is missing bats this year on raw stuff.” Three top 34 prospects is pretty damn good even if Montero dropped, the Rays (three top eight guys, yikes) and Twins are the only other teams that can make that claim.

Game 89: Back at it

(Photo Credit: Flickr user udo.d via Creative Commons license)

Did you enjoy the All-Star break? Three days off from meaningful baseball isn’t a bad thing, I kinda enjoy the downtime after 80-something games. That said, I’m ready for the second half, which is going to be a combination of awesome, awful, frustrating, exciting, boring … the usual array of emotions. Seventy-four games left, the rest of the season starts tonight. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Russell Martin, C
Andruw Jones, DH
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Brett Gardner, LF

Bartolo Colon, SP

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Doc: Stems cell treatment would have had A-Rod back in a few days

Alex Rodriguez will miss 4-6 weeks after having surgery to repair a slightly torn meniscus in his right knee earlier this week, but one of the doctors that treated Bartolo Colon says that a stem cell procedure would have had Alex back much sooner. Pedro Briceno of Listin Diario has the report (here’s the translated version). Dr. Sergio Guzman said the entire procedure, which would involve extracting live stem cells and fatty tissue from A-Rod‘s body and injecting them into the knee, would have taken about three hours and had him back on the field in two days. Two days!

Stem cells aren’t illegal and they’re used every day all around the world. I’m all in favor of anything that can help get people (not just athletes) healthy as soon as possibly. Either way, I think we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stem cell treatment in sports.

Comparing the Yankees to their peers: The bullpen

For the final installment of our mid-season review, we’ll turn to the bullpen. It’s far tougher to compare the relievers to their peers on an individual level, since there are 139 qualified relievers and likely many more when we set the bar lower to include LOOGYs and the like. There are often only granular difference between relievers as well, making it harder to rank them on that list of 139. Really, only Craig Kimbrel, at 2.0 WAR, stands out from the pack. But the Yankees have a few guys at the top of the list, so let’s take a look at them, and then look at the bullpen as a hole.

Mariano Rivera

(Tony Gutierrez/AP)

He might be 41, but that didn’t stop Rivera from commanding a two-year contract this winter. He’s shown few, if any, signs of slowing down lately. It seems that every year since about 2007 he’s had a few more small injuries than in the past, but that doesn’t stop him from pitching between 60 and 70 innings while leaving the competition beholden. This year he’s getting it done in typical Mariano fashion.

ERA: 1.85, 14th. He might have blown a few saves this year, but overall he’s held opponents mostly scoreless. This is right around the range of his ERA from the past few seasons, too, which is all the more encouraging.

FIP: 2.08, 7th. This is a surprise, because Rivera defies FIP. He is one of the rare pitchers who can always limit his BABIP, since opponents consistently make poor contact. But this year his BABIP is .295, which is a good 30 points above his career average, and about 70 points higher than last year. STill, he’s managed to keep his walks way down and the ball in the park, which goes a long way.

WAR: 1.3, 5th. Even with just 34 innings, Rivera has still provided immense value. Remember, leverage gets factored into WAR for relievers, so that’s where he gets much of his edge. Yet, he hasn’t been the best relief pitcher on the Yankees this year. That would be…

David Robertson

Photo credit: Paul Sancya/AP

For the past few years Robertson has established himself as a mainstay in the bullpen. He might walk a few too many batters, but he has a knack for figuring out how to get a strikeout when he needs one the most. Then again, he just gets a lot of strikeouts in general. All in all, as you’ll see, he’s been the most valuable member of the Yankees bullpen this season.

ERA: 1.27, 4th. Robertson might put men on base with frequency — he does have a 5.86 BB/9 — but he doesn’t typically let them come around to score. His strikeouts help fuel his superb ERA.

FIP: 1.74, 3rd. Typically we see FIP favor those who don’t allow many walks. How, then, has Robertson managed the third lowest FIP in the league, with 20 points separating him and the 4th ranked reliever? By not allowing homers. As in, any. Guys just aren’t making good contact off him this year, and it has made him all the more valuable. I can only wonder, though, if it’s sustainable throughout the whole season.

WAR: 1.4, 3rd. As with Rivera, this is all the more impressive because of his low innings total. While it might seem like he warms up in every game and gets into every other, he has just 35.1 innings this year. That’s 20 fewer than Jonny Venters, who is in 2nd with a 1.4 WAR (he wins on fractions). Robertson has been an absolute revelation this year. It goes to show that the Yankees didn’t necessarily need a bridge to Mo in the form of an 8th inning man. They just needed someone who could get big strikeouts in big spots.

The bullpen as a whole

There have been plenty of other top performers in the bullpen, and they’ve added up to one of the better units in the league. Best of all, as we saw in this morning’s starting pitching post, they haven’t had to work overly hard, either.

ERA: 3.11, 5th. Thanks to unexpected contributions from guys such as Luis Ayala and Cory Wade, the Yankees have kept their bullpen ERA low. As we discussed this morning, that likely has something to do with the above average defense. But that shouldn’t take away from what they’ve accomplished.

FIP: 3.44, 7th. Even when we remove fielders from the equation, the bullpen has done a fine job in its own right. Perhaps not quite as well as the ERA indicates, but it’s still good nonetheless. The could stand to walk fewer batters as a group, but then again a lot of that is directly attributable to Robertson.

WAR: 3.5, 4th. It’s tough not to love this ranking, especially given where the starting pitchers grade out. They’re sopping up tons of innings, and the bullpen has done a great job filling in the rest. Even better, they’ll stand to improve greatly if Rafael Soriano comes back as something resembling even his 2009 self. A lefty might be an area of nominal need, but really the Yankees have everything they need with the current bullpen.