I just wrapped up the part of The Yankee Years that Tom Verducci and Joe Torre call the last moment of Yankee magic at the old Stadium. With one swing, the much-maligned Aaron Boone delivered a stunning end to one of the most dramatic playoff series of all time.
Since then though, the Yanks have suffered through five seasons of bad luck, on and off of the field: Jason Giambi‘s tumor, the 2004 playoff collapse, the Mitchell Report, the dismissal of Joe Torre, A-Rod‘s PED scandal, the bad PR over the season-ticket problems with the new stadium and the political scandals that have lurked around the edges of the new stadium as well. Some of these stories are driven by a media that is highly skeptical of the Yanks and their ways. Others constitute legitimately bad news.
To the end, in a must-read piece, Pete Toms, one of the authors at The Biz of Baseball, ponders the state of the Yankee brand. Is the Yanks’ brand a tarnished one? The Yanks, Toms believe, are overreaching at a time when the American people are economically weak, and the team may be out of step with its fans:
Of more importance to the Yankees than the admonishments of local politicians is the widespread anti Yankee sentiment amongst rank and file fans. Instead of excitement about the new stadium and free agent signings, Yankee blogs, message boards and newspaper reports are rife with the comments of angry fans expressing their outrage over how and where their seats have been “relocated” in the new stadium…The negative impact of the recession on the Yankees is not limited to diminished demand for expensive seats. The credit crisis increased the stadium construction borrowing costs. Bloomberg reported on how changes in the municipal bond market affected the Yankees second round of financing. “The New York Yankees sold $259 million of bonds at yields two to three percentage points higher than the baseball team’s first round of city-approved tax-exempt financing to finish its new stadium in the Bronx…”
On the field, the Yankee brand has been tarnished (rightly or wrongly) by A Rod. A Rod’s $300 million dollar contract was justifiable for the Yankees because of two reasons. 1. He would sell out tickets and luxury boxes at the new stadium during his pursuit of the HR record. AND he would do it as a “clean” player. In short, he would be the next Yankee icon. 2. The same pursuit would be of great value to YES. Again, somehow that seems a long time ago. Now the Yankees have hundreds of millions of dollars committed to an unpopular superstar who they can never portray as “good” to Bonds “evil”. Serious questions surround his long term health, particularly minus PEDs which have been credited with contributing to the extraordinary success of some superstar players at relatively advanced ages (Bonds, Clemens). Subsequent to the announcement of A Rod’s injury, some pundits are suggesting that the loss of the Yankees premier player and arguably MLB’s best player is actually a positive..
In the short term, winning is marketing. Much of the complaining about seat relocations, public handouts to billionaires paying millionaires and a cheating superstar, can be overlooked if the Yankees win. But as defined by Yankee fans, winning means winning it all. Long term, is what the Yankees are selling out of step with the zeitgeist? Tom Van Riper wonders, “Sure, the economic slump will only last so long, but some experts think the shock and suddenness of the global financial crisis may have shifted consumer attitudes permanently. For all but the wealthiest, the luxury sports experience could be out for a long time. That means a lot of $1,000 tickets and personal seat licenses could go unsold and unpopulated for a very long time.” That, not A-Rod, is the Yankees’ biggest problem.
The problem Toms identifies is part of the Yankee Catch-22. The team has become a brand because they won so often in the late 1990s. In order to continue winning, they started spending. In order to keep up the spending, they need more money. To get more money, they started a cable network and built a state-of-the-art stadium. To fill that stadium, they need to get prices at the right level, and they need to win.
Along the way, the team has hit a few speed bumps and larger roadblocks, but I think Toms nails it when he boils it down to winning. Non-Yankee fans may scorn and despise the Yanks, but they still turn out on the road to watch the Yankee brand play. If the team wins, if they get over this PR hump of the ticket problems — a PR problem about which most fans are antipathetic or ignorant — the brand is as strong as ever.
Those of us that put the Yanks under a microscope on a daily basis may see the last few years as part of a bad cycle for the team. However, as the stadium opens, as YES draws record ratings for Spring Training games, the Yankees and their brand are not suffering.
After we found out the severity of A-Rod‘s hip injury last week, Ben wrote up possible replacements, headed by Mark Grudzielanek. Once surgery became a certainty, Mark Teahen’s name popped up in the conversation. Either one could help bridge the gap separating the start of the regular season and the start of A-Rod’s season. At that point, both players could become valuable parts of a potentially strong Yankees bench. Yet Ken Rosenthal doesn’t think that the Yanks will seek an external replacement, not when the third baseman is slated to miss as few as 23 games — though Will Carroll thinks he could check in ahead of schedule.
A simple four-week replacement for A-Rod might not be the most prudent roster move it were for that sole purpose. Why pay millions, plus players in a possible trade, if you’re getting your All-Star third baseman back after just a month of the season? As I’ve argued before, the move would strengthen the bench after A-Rod’s return, making a move a bit more likely. Teahen would be ideal is that situation, since he can play more positions than Grudzielanek.
In addition to those guys are players who are in camp on minor league deals who could get the axe or opt out of their deals between now and the beginning of the season. The only name I can think of off the top of my head is Morgan Ensberg, and I’m not sure the Yanks want to try that again after last year’s failed experiment. Plus, if he plays well enough to indicate that he can play in the majors, he could very well catch on with the Rays — though they do have Willy Aybar blocking him. Other than that, can anyone else think of some minor league contract guys who could serve the Yanks’ purposes?
This is all to say that I think a short-term replacement would be a good idea now if that player can slide to the bench after A-Rod’s return, preferably filling in at many positions rather than just as a utility infielder. If a free player or a trade makes any degree of sense in that regard, I’d like to see Cashman pounce on it.
Last summer Brett Sullivan at Project Prospect presented a new metric he developed for minor league pitchers called Dominance Factor, which measured performance based on four key factors: strikeout, walk and groundball rates, as well as age relative to level. He adjusted the formula a few weeks ago to more accurately weigh groundball rate and age, and now what we have a nice easy number that gives us an idea of how well a pitcher performed at their level.
It’s a very straight forward formula that requires nothing more than simple addition, subtraction and a tiny bit of multiplication. I was going to show you an example of how it works, but it’s not worth the effort. If you click the first link above, Sully runs through an example for you. What I did do though is run the numbers for all of the Yanks’ minor league pitchers in 2008. Well, not all of them, just guys with at least 25 IP at any level from Low-A up through Triple-A.
I’m sure there’s a way to combine stats across several levels, but I’m not smart enough to figure out how to do it. Instead you’re getting different number for each player at each level in which they pitched, meaning you’ll get Zach McAllister‘s DF at both Low-A and High-A. As you can imagine the data table is pretty big, so I hid it behind the jump.
A few weeks ago, I sat down virtually with the good folks over at Razzball and fielded some questions on the 2009 Yankees. Check out my answers right here. We talk Joba, Yanks who need to bounce back from injuries, the expectations for A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia and the center field position battle. It is, thankfully, an A-Rod-free season preview. [Razzball] · (6) ·
Baseball all boils down to runs. As the Moneyball/Baseball Prospectus crowd have long realized, the more runners a team has on base, the more runs they are going to score, and the more games they are going to win. Hence, the recent emphasis on on-base percentage and other offensive-oriented stats.
Over the last few years, a nascent field of statistical analysis has come into its own largely in part of the efforts of John Dewan. Three years ago, Dewan unveiled his plus/minus system in a way to measure how teams prevent runs from scoring.
This year, in his second volume of The Fielding Bible, Dewan takes this analysis one step further with Defensive Runs Saved by position. The book contains year-by-year rankings and three-year cumulative totals for all Major League Baseball players, and as expected, the Yanks in 2008 were pretty terrible in the field. That is, after all, what happens when you build a team around hitters.
Here’s how the Yanks’ starters did:
|Player||Position||Runs Saved||Position Rank|
|Xavier Nady (2 tms)||RF||-2||22|
Overall, according to The Fielding Bible, the Yanks featured a total -43 Team Defensive Runs. As Dewan figures that 10 Defensive Runs is the equivalent to one win, the Yanks’ defense cost them around 4 wins last year.
Things, though, are looking up for 2009. While Jorge Posada will hopefully take over the bulk of Jose Molina’s catching duties, he more than makes up for it offensive. (Aside: Dewan’s book features an excellent essay comparing Molina’s impact behind the plate. It’s hard to overrate Jose Molina as a defensive catcher. He is truly in a class by himself.)
Meanwhile, Mark Teixeira and his +17 fielding rating will replace Jason Giambi‘s -13. Johnny Damon will notch a full season in left field, and Xavier Nady could be a +10 improvement over Bobby Abreu. It’s tough to say how the center field battle will shape up between Brett “Babe Ruth” Gardner and Melky Cabrera, but in the early going, Dewan’s system prefers Gardner.
Now, it would be really easy and far too simplistic for me to proclaim the Yanks four wins better because of their projected +40 swing on Defensive Runs between 2008 and 2009. As Dewan notes, defense is only half of the battle, and the book ends with a chart of Total Runs adding up the top 260 players’ offensive and defensive contributions. For example, despite his terrible fielding, Bobby Abreu was responsible for three more runs — or 0.3 wins — than Xavier Nady. Mark Teixeira was responsible for a whopping 74 runs — or 7.4 more wins — than Jason Giambi.
The Yankees went into the 2008-2009 off-season intent on improving the team’s defense. That was, after all, why Manny Ramirez drew so little interest from the Bronx. On paper, at least, they seem to have accomplished that goal. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano still raise some eyebrows up the middle, but overall, the Yanks should have a solid fielding team in 2009. That should be a welcome relief from the last few seasons.
Over the past few seasons, Yanks fans watching on YES have been bombarded by ads featuring Beverly Hills stylist Giuseppe Franco schilling for hair replacement tonic ProCede. According to Phil Mushnick of the Post, the company has “sustained some setbacks” and will no longer advertise on YES. What a shame. Now we can’t hear him talk about how he doesn’t own any part of the company (even though it’s possible that he received company stock as part of his compensation package for doing the commercial, which would technically make him a part owner of the company). (Via MetsBlog.) · (27) ·
Buster Olney spoke to a “longtime scout” about SDSU’s Stephen Strasburg, the consensus top talent for the 2009 Draft. The scout likes him. Like really likes him. Some quotes:
“The best I’ve ever seen,” says a longtime scout. “And it’s not even close.”
Yeah, heard he had a good fastball. Straight as a string, right? “That’s the thing,” said the scout. “Whenever you see a fastball at 100 mph, it’s always straight. No movement. But his fastball has a lot of movement, which really doesn’t make that much sense, because it’s on the hitter so quickly. His fastball cuts.”
“He’s got a plus slider, at 93-94 mph, and he’s got a plus changeup. He’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
“You could put him in a rotation right now, and he could be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter,” says the scout. “Right now, he’s better than A.J. Burnett.”
I also hear that his tears cure cancer. But seriously … take it easy, champ. Why don’t you sit this next one out, stop talking for a while.
Look, Stephen Strasburg is awesome, he’s easily the best prospect for this year’s draft and would have been last year too. But the best ever? Nope, sorry. Take Mark Prior for example. He came out of school with four plus or better pitches, outstanding command, and a superior track record at a more significant college program in a tougher conference. What happened after the fact isn’t important, Prior was a better prospect then than Strasburg is now.
Price was better as well. Top of the line fastball and slider, good changeup, excellent command, and again a better track record in the toughest conference in college baseball. Josh Beckett and Brien Taylor basically had the same skill set as Strasburg when they were drafted. And that’s just pitchers. I know it’s easy to fall in love with prospects when they start the season on such great streaks, but let’s keep things in perspective. Stephen Strasburg is not the greatest prospect ever.
Anywho, here’s your open thread for the night. The only local team in action is the new look and suddenly hot Rangers, who are down in Raleigh to take on the Hurricanes. Anything goes, just be nice.
Oh, and you haven’t voted in this week’s Fan Confidence Poll, make sure you get on it.
Check it out. Just like the New York Post — May-Rod? Please? — I too can write incredibly cheesy headlines about Alex Rodriguez. Anyway, the news: Alex Rodriguez underwent successful surgery this morning, and this afternoon, he began his rehab with a ride on the stationary bike. I’d probably take the under on nine weeks right now.
In other Yankee news, the team lost at home to the Blue Jays this afternoon, 6-2. While Andy Pettitte looked sharp in his spring debut, Ian Kennedy allowed five runs on five hits and a walk in 2.2 innings to earn the loss. Brett “Babe Ruth” Gardner hit his third home run of the Grapefruit League. Mariano Rivera had a 30-pitch session this morning, and all was right in the bullpen. · (40) ·
For most of this decade we’ve been treated to powerhouse Yankee offenses. A-Rod, Sheffield, Giambi, Abreu, Matsui, Posada, Bernie for a couple of years, even Jeter. The team is always in the 1,000-run conversation, though reality has kept them from reaching that. This year, however, no one’s talking about a thousand runs. Not after last year’s offensive meltdown. The Yankees scored 4.87 runs per game, seventh in the AL. This represented an enormous drop-off from 2007, when the team scored 5.98 runs per game, a half-run more than the second best team.
Dave Pinto uses his Lineup Analysis Tool and Tom Tango’s Marcel projections to predict the number of runs the Yankees offense will score in 2009. No, it’s not a 1,000-run force — it’s doubtful any projection system would be optimistic enough to allow for that. Yet the showing should be better than last year, as one might have guessed. Pinto predicts the Yankees will score 5.72 runs per game with their best lineup (~927 runs) and 5.64 runs with their probable lineup (~914 runs). Not bad considering their mark from last year.
That, of course, doesn’t factor in the A-Rod injury. He’ll probably miss all of April, and right now Cody Ransom is the fill-in. Unfortunately, there’s no real accurate projection on him at this point due to his lack of big league experience (a scant 214 plate appearances over six seasons). Because of Ransom’s high OBP numbers in 2007 and 2008, he’s projected for a .351 OBP and a .450 SLG, which seems unreasonable if he’s going to play full time for a month. If he could pull off those numbers he’d have a starting gig somewhere.
With Ransom batting sixth, Pinto has the Yankees scoring 5.44 runs per game. I’m not that optimistic. Ransom will likely hit eighth, and he probably won’t hit to the Marcel projections. The Yanks will be lucky to put up five runs per game in April before A-Rod’s bat returns to the middle of the lineup. The hope is that the revamped pitching staff can hold opponents closer to four runs per game, which would more than make up for any offensive deficiencies — the Rays won 97 games last season while scoring just 4.8 runs per game, because their pitching held opponents to 4.1 runs per game.
In no way, shape, or form do the Yankees benefit with A-Rod out of the lineup. Since it’s only for a month, and since they have an improved pitching staff, they should be able to weather the blow. Still, it’s pretty clear that A-Rod helps the team score more runs, which makes winning games easier. If he comes back full strength a month into the season, the Yanks could be poised for an offensive year reminiscent of 2006 or 2007.
Last week longtime RAB reader and commenter whozat shot me an email asking me if there was any reason to expect Brett Gardner to develop into a better Major League player than Joey Gathright. The comparison between the two players obviously makes sense since they’re both speedy outfielders who don’t hit for much for power, except that Gardner is called gutty and gritty because he’s white while Gathright is called exciting and athletic because he’s black. I noted in my reply that Gardner had hit for more power in the minors, but overall they had similar career paths and I really wouldn’t expect Gardner to be all that much better than Gathright in the future.
However, I took a deeper look at the numbers over the weekend, and there aren’t many similarities between the two players beyond physical attributes. One obvious difference is that Gardner was a third round draft pick out of a solid college program while Gathright was a 32nd rounder after the then-Devil Rays found him in a Louisiana adult league. Luckily though, the two players took an extremely similar path to the big leagues, although Gathright’s career began four years before Gardner’s.
Both players were drafted at age 21 and then assigned to a low level squad in the minors (Gardner went to the short season NY-Penn League, Gathright to the Low-A South Atlantic League). Both players started their age 22 season at the High-A level and earned a midseason bump to Double-A, then started the next year back at Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A in the middle of the season. In their age 24 season, their third full professional season, each player started the year in Triple-A before being called up to the big leagues during the summer and finishing the year there. It’s amazingly awesome and convenient that both guys spent their same age seasons at the same levels (and had similar plate appearance totals, no less) despite all the promotions. It made this analysis a ton easier.
I’m going to use three factors to compare Gardner and Gathright: Isolated Discipline, Isolated Power, and Stolen Base Success Rate. Isolated Discipline (or IsoD) is OBP minus AVG, and measures a player’s on-base skills beyond batting average. Isolated Power (IsoP) is basically the same thing except with SLG instead of OBP, and measures a player’s extra base hit power. Stolen Base Percentage is what it is, that’s self-explanatory. Let’s start with the most important thing, on-base skills.