Noesi continues to dominate in winter ball

Jose Quintana signed a minor league deal with the White Sox. (UPDATE: He’s on their 40-man roster, so apparently it was a big league contract.) The 22-year-old southpaw broke out with High-A Tampa this year (2.96 FIP in 102 IP), but became a free agent after the season. For shame, I was looking forward to seeing the follow-up performance. Oh, and Jeff Marquez signed with the Mariners, but I don’t think anyone will lose any sleep over that one.

By the way, the Arizona Fall League season ends next Thursday, with the Championship Game scheduled for Saturday. Phoenix has the worst record in the league and has already been eliminated from postseason play.

AzFL Phoenix (5-0 win over Scottsdale) Wednesday’s game
Rob Segedin, LF: 0 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K – threw a runner out at third
Ronnie Mustelier, 3B: 0 for 4
Dan Burawa, RHP: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 13 of 19 pitches were strikes (68.4%)

DWL Licey (5-1 win over Gigantes) Wednesday’s game
Hector Noesi, RHP: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 11-1 GB/FB – damn Hector, way to go … 17 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 12 K, 27-3 GB/FB in his last three starts

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Mailbag: Trading Soriano

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Kevin asks: Does Rafael Soriano have a no-trade clause? If he doesn’t, his $9 million a year contract might look good for other teams in the market for a closer after seeing what Jonathan Papelbon got for his contract. Is that feasible? And what kind of value can the Yankees get back?

Soriano’s contract does not have any kind of no-trade protection, but it’s also not worth $9M per year. He’ll make $11M in 2012 then another $14M in 2013. Papelbon’s contract (four years and $50M with a fifth year vesting option) is pretty ridiculous, but I don’t think it makes Soriano more attractive to other teams for a number of reasons.

For one, Papelbon is just straight up better than Soriano, he’s better and he doesn’t come with the same injury concerns. Remember, Rafi is coming off a disappointing season that included nearly three months on the shelf with an elbow problem. Secondly, the two contracts are worth just about the same amount of money in average annual value, so you’re getting a lesser reliever for the same amount of cash. The only difference is that you’re getting two years of Soriano instead of four years of Papelbon. Thirdly, instead of giving up a draft pick, you’re giving up some kind of non-useless player in a trade, and that non-useless player has more value than a draft pick, even a first rounder.

You don’t see too many high-end relievers get traded these days, but we do have a decent comparable in Mike Adams. The Rangers gave up two pretty good (but not elite) Double-A starting pitching prospects for a year and a half of Adams, but his salary is about a quarter of Soriano’s, maybe a third if he gets a big arbitration raise this winter. He’s also better than Soriano, and has been healthier in recent years (he’s definitely had his own injury problems though). You’ve got to adjust down a bit because of those two factors, so instead of two pretty good Double-A prospects, you’d be getting what … one good Double-A prospect? Maybe a useful Triple-A player that figures to be a bench player or something? I really don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud.

Either way, I can’t imagine the return will be enough to justify a trade. I’m no fan of Soriano’s contract, but he can definitely be a valuable member of the team when healthy. If anything, I’d say wait until Joba Chamberlain comes back from Tommy John surgery to trade him. If they end up moving Soriano this offseason then lose David Robertson (or even Mariano Rivera) for a period of time, suddenly the bullpen is real short and we’re looking at Boone Logan, Eight Inning Guy™. We didn’t see the real Soriano this season, but let’s hope we do in 2012.

Montero talks Wilson Ramos, still plans to go home this winter

By now you’ve heard about the ordeal endured by Nationals’ catcher Wilson Ramos, who was kidnapped from his home (at gunpoint) in Venezuela before being rescued two days later. Jesus Montero grew up near Ramos and played with him as a kid, so the incident hit a little closer to home for him. “He is my friend,” said Montero to Roger Rubin. “I felt sad because I’ve known him for a long time. I was really worried when I saw the news. I was crying a little bit. It’s not an easy situation he was living. Thank God everything is fine and the police, they took care of it.”

Despite Ramos’ incident and several others in recent years, Montero is still planning to go home to Venezuela for about a month in December. “You’ve got to be careful where you go or where you are,” he said to Dan Martin. “Venezuela is not easy. You’ve got to know where you’re at and you’ll be good.” Montero hasn’t hired any kind of private security, he just plans to stay at home and with his family a lot, and be extra cautious when he goes out. After his trip home, he’s heading to Miami to train with Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Long.

Fans & Role Models: Learning From Penn State

Sports are supposed to be fun. We invest ourselves in our teams, live vicariously through the players, and generally enjoy our experience as fans. But every so often, a watershed moment comes along that snaps us out of the fantasy world that we construct around our favorite sports. These moments make us reevaluate how we connect with the athletes that we follow and how we view them as people. For many baseball fans, the day Sports Illustrated released the first huge expose on steroids was one such moment, a revelation that caused many to reevaluate the players that they had come to admire. The events at Penn State over the last 10 days, and truly over the last 15 years, serve as another clarion call to sports fans around the world, begging us to pause and take stock of how we lionize those who play or run the games we love.

Jerry Sandusky was a pillar of the Penn State community. A defensive coach who was once the heir apparent to Joe Paterno, he was the driving force behind Linebacker U, an identity that defined Penn State football for a long time. He also ran a large charity for children and young adults, dedicating countless hours to providing disadvantaged children with important services. Sandusky was well respected in the community and was widely regarded as an integral member of the Penn State family. Meanwhile, Joe Paterno was practically God at State College. When a number of school officials showed up at his door and asked him to retire in 2004, he respectfully refused, showed them out, and kept coaching. A local institution who has been at Penn State for 60 years, he was very much a benevolent ruler who was loved by most in that little slice of Pennsylvania. He was well know for being a good man, a strong educator, and a fierce competitor.

These are some, but not all, of the men at the center of the most heinous sports scandal of our time. Sandusky is alleged to have molested or raped at least eight children, with rumors suggesting the actual number is likely closer to 20. Later, Paterno was informed by underlings that something untoward was occurring, and he allowed the whole issue to be swept under the rug on his watch. While Paterno’s was clearly a much lesser offense, it showed a startling lack of judgment and fortitude from a man who was revered as being a pillar of integrity. These are terrible and despicable actions taken by individuals who many assumed to be excellent citizens and fine leaders of men. The question I am left with as a sports fan is, how do we connect with players and leaders in the future? How can we observe this atrocity and just return to lionizing players as being courageous or moral when we really know little about them? How can we watch the Penn State fanbase have the rug pulled out from under them and then just get right back on that rug ourselves?

It’s an obvious lesson that we can take from this atrocious story: we don’t really know athletes and coaches at all. We view them through the prism of the media, sitting a distance while journalists try to coax illuminating answers from largely unwilling subjects. We watch them answer a few questions and then think we can understand what motivates them. But there is a large distance between our couches and their minds, and our picture of their personal attributes is flawed and incomplete at best.

The first instinct upon coming to this realization is to swear off connecting with athletes at all, to treat them as automatons who perform athletic feats to entertain us. But that approach steals some of the joy from sports as well. Our love for stories built around heroes and villains is an integral thread in the tapestry of sports, and distancing ourselves from making character judgments of players would eviscerate that element of fandom.

Instead, there’s an important line we can draw between admiring someone for what he does and making a full scale character judgment as to what kind of person he is. Everyone is entitled to have their sports heroes, but it’s important not to diminish or neglect that “sports” qualifier and simply revere people we barely know as true heroes. We can admire actions that they take, venerate their performance on the field and their charitable acts, but as the PSU scandal illustrates, it is dangerous to lionize them. When we do, we can end up being duped into thinking they can do no wrong, and may find ourselves defending them for actions that have no justification. As fans, true hero worship will often end up with us get burned, because athletes and coaches are human beings, subject to the same flaws and weaknesses that we all have. Holding up a man as a paragon of greatness and then finding out that it was all an illusion saps the joy from fandom, destroying the happiness that sports should be about. It might just be better to avoid holding them up as role models to begin with.

Open Thread: Jaret Wright

(The Detroit News/Steve Perez)

In many ways, Jaret Wright is the poster boy the Yankees’ starting pitching failures over the last decade or so. He was still pretty young (29) when he signed that three-year, $21MM contract, but he had major injury concerns, walked a few too many, and had the proverbial “one good year” under his belt. The craziest part of the contract is that he failed his physical, but the Yankees sent him to the doctors a second time and signed him anyway.

Wright managed to get hurt almost instantly in 2005. He made four awful starts in April (9.15 ERA) after opening the season as the team’s fourth starter, then spent the next four months on the shelf with shoulder problems. In nine starts to end the season after coming off the DL, Wright walked 23 batters and struck out just 21 in 44 IP (4.70 ERA). He started the next season as the fifth starter and managed to stay on the field just about all season, throwing 140.1 IP with a 4.49 ERA. Wright didn’t make it out of the third inning in Game Four of the ALDS against the Tigers, the game that ended the Yankees season.

Brian Cashman cut ties with Wright shortly thereafter, trading him to the Orioles for Chris Britton in a move that took place five years ago today. The Yankees ended up paying the right-hander $18M for 204 IP of 4.99 ERA and 4.60 FIP ball. It’s pretty well known that the Wright signing was a George Steinbrenner move, a move The Boss felt would help lure pitching coach Leo Mazzone to the Bronx after he’d gotten close to Wright in Atlanta. Mazzone never did come to New York.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. There’s plenty of college football on for you to enjoy, plus the Devils are playing as well. Talk about anything you like here, it’s all fair game.

Predicting the 2012 Bullpen

Pretty sure I know when he's coming in.
(Photo Credit: Flickr user BrainNY08 via Creative Commons license)

I know, it’s early. But considering the internet is buzzing with excitement over Jamey Carroll, let’s talk about the Bombers.

One of the strengths of the 2011 Yankees was the bullpen. Even though the team signed a big-name, big-money arm to help in the later innings, the ‘pen in March was quite different from the way it ended up being in September and/or August. Baseball nerds talk a lot about the volatility of relievers, but it seemed that New York was extremely capable of figuring out how to put the pieces together in just the right way. The ERA of the bullpen in 2011 was 3.12, good for fourth in baseball, and topped by only hitting-depleted National League teams (Atlanta, San Diego, and San Francisco). They held opponents to a .239/.319/.358 with a 2.32 K/BB ratio. Last year’s bullpen craziness only prove the futility of predicting baseball, but I am going to do it anyway.

Helping me on this is knowing Girardi loves a good bullpen role. I can’t hold it against the guy: it makes for a great excuse when something goes wrong and eliminates most of the questions be asked about bringing in Robertson into a high-leverage situation in the fourth inning. Let’s say Girardi goes with a six-man bullpen broken up as follows: Closer, eighth inning guy (EIG), seventh inning guy (SIG), one LOOGY, a fireman, and a mop-up man/long reliever/spot starter.

I don’t think we need to discuss who comes in for the ninth inning, but it’s fun to talk about, so there’s this: Rivera continued to make time and opposing batters his bitches, putting up his usual ERA under two (1.91) for the fourth year in a row with a WHIP under one (third year in a row). He walked 8 unintentionally in 61 IP while striking out 60 with a FIP of 2.19. In the meantime, he broke the all-time saves record, cured the sick and opened the eyes of the blind. Just your usual year for the ERA+ leader min. 1000 IP.

It’s in the eighth inning that we begin to see a logjam. Even if we only talk about who will be on the 25-man to begin with, there’s still a conflict between Rafael Soriano and David Robertson. Soriano is being paid the money of a closer ($11M in 2012) but he’s stuck as eighth inning guy for obvious reasons. Despite that, he put up his weakest year since 2002 with Seattle and was on the 60-day DL with shoulder soreness to boot. His career numbers are still great, even with his awful 2011, and he’s certainly capable of EIG duties.

Our other alternative is David Robertson. The man faces arbitration this offseason for the first time, but he’ll still be making relative peanuts ($1M-1.3M) to an organization like NYY. For every depressing note in Soriano’s year, there’s an amazing one for Robertson: His ERA+ for the season was 410, he struck out 100 in 66.2 IP, he gave up 8 ER all season, and he managed a k/9 of over 13. In 19 bases-loaded PA, he allowed one hit. In 127 high leverage PAs, he held hitters to a .129/.236/.171 slash line. He wears amazing high socks too.

If the bullpen is a year-to-year meritocracy, then Robertson obviously wins the EIG spot, of which he occupied for most of 2011 after Joba and Soriano went down. He was clearly the better of the two, despite his lack of closer experience, younger age and super cheap price tag. That being said, my gut feeling is that Soriano will probably start the year as the EIG simply because that is what he was signed to be. Robertson’s best role is probably high-leverage fireman, so it’s probably better for both of them if the eighth becomes Soriano’s.

If Soriano becomes EIG and Robertson takes the fireman spot, then that leaves Cory Wade (team control and not up for arbitration untll 2012-13 offseason) or Phil Hughes (if he doesn’t make the rotation) to man the seventh inning.

Having both a fireman and a seventh inning guy in a six-man bullpen means you’re probably going to only have one lefty, and everyone knows it’s gonna be Boone Logan. Despite generally being not that great – at times he was actually better against righties than lefties even though he’s considered a LOOGY – number 58 seems to show up at random times for match-ups. This is the reason he’ll show up in 2012: the lefty reliever free agent list. This is it: Darren Oliver, George Sherrill, Mike Gonzalez, J.C. Romero, Horacio Ramirez, Trevor Miller, John Grabow, Arthur Rhodes, and Damaso Marte. Thrilling, I know. Not only that, but the Yankees are a little empty in the farm for lefty relievers. Unless they’re making Banuelos a LOOGY (which would make me tear my ponytail out), the only vaguely prospect-ish possibility is Steve Garrison, who we saw briefly in pinstripes, or maybe even Shaeffer Hall. Though only having one lefty is risky, it gives Girardi the flexibility to have a fireman with his eighth and seventh inning guys, allowing Robertson to slot into his true role and letting the binder have a man for every inning.

The last spot left to be assigned in our hypothetical bullpen is the longman/mop-up guy. Last year, Hector Noesi was here, though it seems like there’s a definite possibility he will be in the rotation come 2012. AJ Burnett is a possibility, but given Cashman’s repeated statements that the man will be in the rotation, it’s unlikely. If Noesi does make the rotation, he might be taking Phil Hughes’ job, but I don’t the Yankees organization has given up on Hughes so much that they make him the mop-up guy.

The problem with being the mop-up guy is that the work is generally inconsistent and not good for a prospect. This is why Noesi occupied the spot rather than anyone else. Due to this, it’s hard to say exactly who could end up here. If Cashman wants to build from within (probably safer, given the inflated reliever market), he could pick out any of the AAA guys like Whelan, Kontos, or DJ Mitchell. There’s also the infinitely useful minor league deal to one of the hundreds of minor league free agents. Mitchell threw 161 IP of 3.18 ERA ball in Scranton, so he gets the spot for now.

Here are some possible combinations.

Hughes makes the rotation and Noesi doesn’t.
Closer: Rivera
EIG: Soriano
SIG: Wade
Fireman: Robertson
LOOGY: Logan
Mop-up: Noesi

Neither Hughes nor Noesi make the rotation.

Hughes doesn’t make the rotation but Noesi does.

Both Hughes and Noesi make the rotation.

As I said earlier, the thing abut bullpens is that they’re extremely chaotic. We know that Joba will be coming back soon, though we don’t know when, and we don’t whose job he’s taking. Alternately, Soriano could get injured, giving Joba his spot. Or, anyone else could get injured. That’s what relievers do. They get hurt and are randomly unpredictable. Besides Mo. Mo will be the best and unhurt forever and ever.

Questioning batting average, 96 years ago

If you’ve read this site long enough, then you’re probably familiar with the idea of linear weights and wOBA. If not, then I suggest checking out Joe’s primer. In a post at the FanGraphs Community blog yesterday, Sam Menzin presented an article from the 1915 edition of Baseball Magazine (pdf link), in which author F.C. Lane questions the idea of batting average and its accuracy. Allow me to excerpt…

Lane opens his discussion with a question: “Suppose you asked a close personal friend how much change he had in his pocket and he replied, ‘Twelve coins,’ would you think you had learned much about the precise state of his exchequer?” He goes on to compare two mens’ respective financial situations: Man A, with “twelve coins” consisting of a combination of quarters, nickels, and dimes; and Man B, with twelve silver dollars. Saying both men have equal financial means is equivalent to the system of tracking batting averages, he explains. “One batter, we may say, made twelve singles, three or four of them of the scratchiest possible variety. The other also made twelve hits, but all of them were good ringing drives, clean cut and decisive, three of them were doubles, one a triple, and one a home run…Is there no way to separate the dimes from the nickels and give each its proper value?” Sound familiar?


This issue was not solely unique to Lane’s inquisitiveness. John Heydler, secretary and future president of the National League, added, “that the system of giving as much credit to singles as to home runs is inaccurate to that extent. But it has never seemed practicable to use any other system. How, for instance, are you going to give the comparative values of home runs and singles?”

Lane goes on to use an example of two players, one with a higher batting average and lots of singles and another with a lower batting average but lots of extra base hits. He compared each players’ hit rates (singles, doubles, triples, homers) to the league average, which is essentially an early version of wOBA and wRC+. It’s very fascinating stuff, a nearly hundred-year old article questioning the merits of a statistic still valued so highly today. I suggest clicking the links above and reading both articles, Lane’s and Menzin’s. I really can’t recommend it enough, it’s amazing stuff.

Full Disclosure: Our own Larry Koestler edited the post for Sam. Not that that means anything, just figured I’d mention it.