Report: Yanks talking Edwin Jackson with Boras

As Joe wrote last week, it seemed nearly inevitable that the Yanks’ attention would turn to Edwin Jackson. He’s a 28-year-old Boras client who can fill innings, and the Yankees, in need of pitching, would seemingly love to bite if the price is right. The price may soon be right.

As Jon Heyman reported today, Hal Steinbrenner and Scott Boras met to discuss Jackson this evening. According to Heyman, the Yanks and their scouts “seem to like Jackson but want to keep deals short.” The CBS Sports reporter also reports that the Yanks’ owner would “think about the right deal” for Jackson.

We’ve written extensively about Edwin Jackson this winter, and you can check out our archives right here. Joe scouted Jackson in December. Personally, I’m not so high on Jackson. He’s a fine filler piece, but his numbers will slump in the AL East. If the Yanks can get him on a short-term deal that doesn’t hinder their ability to go after, say, Cole Hamels next winter, then I’m all for it. But anything more than a two-year deal isn’t something the Yanks should consider. With the Yanks also kicking the tires on Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt, the rotation may not be as set as we think it is.

Nostalgia Report: Yankees sign Preston Mattingly

Via Kevin Goldstein, the Yankees have signed Preston Mattingly, Don’s son. The Dodgers gave him a $1M bonus as the 31st overall selection in the 2006, and he’s since gone on to hit .232/.276/.335 with 520 strikeouts and 99 walks in 1,846 minor league plate appearances. He’s never played above Single-A and had to move from shortstop to second base to left field to first base. We’re talking a total non-prospect here, but sheesh, can you believe Donnie Baseball’s kid is already 24? Preston’s not even his oldest.

Open Thread: Brad Halsey

(AP Photo/Ed Betz)

Once upon a time, the Yankees had no pitching prospects. Years of generally poor drafts under former scouting director Lin Garrett — giving away top picks to sign free agents year after year didn’t help either — resulted in one of baseball’s worst farm systems back in 2004 and 2005, meaning no significant help was coming when the Yankees needed to plug a hole. When Kevin Brown went down with a back strain in June of 2004, the Yankees had no choice but to give the ball to lefty Brad Halsey, the 24th best prospect in the 27th best farm system according to Baseball America.

Halsey, who was having a nice season in Triple-A, pitched well in his big league debut (two runs in 5.2 IP) at Dodger Stadium, but things went south from there. He gave up seven runs in his next start and seven runs two starts after that, finishing with a 6.47 ERA in 32 IP spread across seven starts and one relief appearance. After the season, the Yankees traded him as part of the package to get the long-coveted Randy Johnson from the Diamondbacks, a trade that occurred seven years ago today.

After an okay season in Arizona (4.61 ERA in 160 IP), Halsey was traded to the Athletics for Juan Cruz. He made seven starts and 45 relief appearances for Oakland in 2006 (4.67 ERA), but was assigned to Triple-A in 2007. He was scheduled to come up and replace an injured Rich Harden in April, but the team bypassed him and called up Dallas Braden instead. Halsey publicly bashed the team for passing on him when they needed an arm, and he ended up having shoulder surgery later in the summer. He filed a grievance with the union regarding the team’s handling of him and his injury, and he actually ended up winning. Good for him.

Halsey, now 30, briefly returned to the Yankees this summer and spend most if his his time in Double-A. He spent a few years pitching in independent ball before that. Nowadays, a pitching prospect like Halsey would be so far down on the team’s depth chart that he’d probably be working in relief. Certainly not the kind of guy that would be entrusted with seven starts in the middle of the season. The Yankees still extracted some value from him as the third piece in the RJ deal, which is probably more than you can say for a lot of prospects of his caliber.

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This is your open thread for the night. The Devils, Knicks, and Nets are playing, but Time Warner folks still can’t watch the first two because of the MSG dispute. Talk about whatever you like here, anything goes.

Yankees, Cory Wade agree to contract for 2012

Via Jon Morosi, the Yankees and Cory Wade have agreed to a non-guaranteed one-year deal worth $500k for next season, or $20k over the league minimum. Wade was not a free agent and he fell a few weeks shy of qualifying for salary arbitration, so the Yankees were able to renew his contract at basically whatever salary they wanted. Wade did a fine job after being plucked off the scrap heap at midseason, pitching to a 2.04 ERA and a 3.76 FIP in 39.2 IP. He figures to again serve as one of Joe Girardi‘s primary pre-seventh inning relievers.

Aside: I don’t know for sure because this stuff is next to impossible to confirm, but it appears as though Wade has a minor league option remaining. If so, he can go to the minors without a hitch next year. Hooray for flexibility.

Reasons to be optimistic about Phil Hughes

You don’t have to wait one month and eight days for pitchers and catchers report to hear about Phil Hughes. It’s pretty obvious what he’ll say: “I’m in the best shape of my life.” After a disappointing 2011 season, in which he got hurt and showed diminished stuff when healthy, Hughes took a head-first dive into his off-season training regimen. He has worked out at Athlete’s Performance, the same place he spent the 2009-2010 off-season. That will help him avoid what the Yankees term fat camp in spring training, but will it bring actual results?

We’ve seen plenty of players report to camp in phenomenal shape and then fail to deliver. Why, then, should we think that Hughes will miraculously return to form? On Sunday Moshe tempered expectations for Hughes, but I’m a bit more optimistic. There are a few reasons to think that he can hold down a middle of the rotation spot in 2012.

His 2010 workload

It’s easy to cite Hughes’s 2010 workload as one reason he failed in 2011. His previous innings high was 146 innings, and that came in 2006 — at A and AA, no less. But really, innings aren’t the greatest gauge here. Minor league games simply aren’t as intense as major league ones. In addition, Hughes had a relatively easy time finishing those 146 innings. He faced 558 batters that year, or 3.82 per inning. During his 2010 campaign he faced 730 batters in 176.1 innings, or 4.14 per inning. That’s quite a bit of added stress, especially for a guy who hadn’t faced that many batters in four years.

Then we get to the postseason. Not only did Hughes add another 15.2 innings to his ledger, but he struggled in those innings. While he did dispose of the Twins with relative ease, he faltered against the Rangers. All told he faced 71 batters in the postseason, or 4.53 per inning. The stressors add up.

His 2010 recovery period

Not only did Hughes throw far more innings in 2010 than he ever had previously, but he pitched deeper into the season as well. While he did pitch in the Arizona Fall League in 2008, that came after a long layoff during the season, in which he threw only 70 innings between the majors and the minors. The stress wasn’t nearly as great as it was in 2010, when he had already far surpassed his previous workload limits.

The baseball season takes a toll on every player. Pitchers abuse their entire bodies all season, repeatedly throwing a baseball with maximum effort with an unnatural motion. After the season players need rest. Some vets might be able to get by with just a few weeks on the shelf, but younger players unaccustomed to these workloads, might need more. Again, Hughes put his body through considerably more stress in 2010 than he ever had previously in his life. And then he had a short off-season to recover and recondition.

Just look at Cole Hamels. In 2007 he threw 183.1 innings, facing 743 batters. In 2008 he threw 227.1 innings and faced 914 batters in the regular season, and then upped that total to 252.1 innings and 1,045 batters with his postseason performance. That’s 302 more batters faced than ever before in his career — or 41 percent of his previous innings high. In 2009 he saw a drop-off in his performance. It wasn’t to Hughes’s degree, but different bodies respond in different ways. Yet Hamels rebounded for his best year yet in 2010, and then topped that in 2011.

His curveball

From the 2007 Baseball America scouting report on Hughes, when they rated him the No. 4 prospect in the game:

Hughes’ greatest accomplishment as a pro has been to forsake his slider in favor of a knockout curveball, which is more of a strikeout pitch and produces less stress on his arm. It’s a true power breaking ball that sits in the low 80s with 1-to-7 break. Club officials call it the best in the system because Hughes can throw it for quality strikes or bury it out of the zone, and because he uses the same arm slot and release point he uses for his fastball.

Yet by 2009 he was working more with a spike curve, a la Mike Mussina and A.J. Burnett. The problem is that it didn’t fit with his repertoire. He didn’t throw it particularly hard like Burnett, and he didn’t have many, if any, other pitches to keep hitters off balance, like Mussina. He has since changed back to the straight curve that earned him so much praise. It’s no surprise that it didn’t make much of a difference last season, since he implemented it mid-season. But with an off-season and spring training to work on it, perhaps he can use it to his advantage.

Baby steps

Hughes wasn’t exactly good after returning from the DL, pitching to a 4.67 ERA in 61.2 innings over 11 starts. He didn’t miss many bats either, striking out just 42. But he did do a few things well. For instance, he limited opponents to just five home runs, or 0.73 per nine. He also kept the Yankees in many of those games; six of those 11 starts were considered quality starts. Again, the Yankees don’t need Hughes to be an ace or a No. 2. They need him to be a serviceable middle of the rotation arm. Piling up the quality starts is an easy way to accomplish that.

To expect Hughes will return to form in 2012 is foolish. Little in his last 18 months of work suggests he’ll ever approach his ceiling. But we can still look at the situation and see some optimism. The problem, as Moshe related on Sunday, is that the optimism is for a mid-rotation starter rather than an elite one. But at this point, we’d take it from Hughes. If a few things break right for him, we just might see that in 2012.

The Yankees And Pace

Robbie doesn't like a pitch, time to go for a walk. (Chris Pasatieri/Getty Images)

If you’ve been following the Yankees for long enough, you’re well aware that their games usually take an eternity to play. They have patient batters who work deep counts and an offense that scores a lot of runs, and playing in the AL East means they face a bunch of teams built the same way. More pitching changes are made these days made as bullpens become more specialized as well, and that lengthens the game quite a bit. The Red Sox had the longest average time of game at 3:13 in 2011, and the Yankees were second at 3:08. That’s a lot of baseball.

Although we have a general idea of why the Yankees played such long games in 2011, I wanted to get an idea of who specifically was responsible. To do so, I used the “pace” data available at FanGraphs. It’s compiled from PitchFX and tracks the time between pitches within a single plate appearance, so not the time between the last pitch of one plate appearance and the first of the next. The average pace across MLB was 21.6 seconds last year, with both leagues right there (AL was 21.6, NL was 21.7). Let’s break it down into the three major components of the team…

Starting Lineup

For the most part, we can deduce who the culprits are. Nick Swisher always seems to take his sweet time between pitches, as does Derek Jeter. Mark Teixeira doesn’t spend much time fidgeting around between pitches, and neither does Curtis Granderson. Let’s look at the pace data…

(min. 350 PA for ’11 and 1,000 PA for ’09-’11)

Cano is second only to Carlos Pena in both samples, and not by a small margin either. Pena leads him by 1.6 seconds in 2011 and 1.9 seconds from 2009-2011. That’s pretty nuts, the guy takes nearly half-a-minute between pitches. Cano ranking so high surprised me, but it makes sense when you stop to think about it. He’s always walking around the catcher and umpire and fixing his gloves between pitches. It makes sense. The rest is as expected, with Jeter, Gardner, and Swisher ranking well up there and everyone else further down the pack.

For what it’s worth, there’s basically no correlation between pace and wOBA. Using the ’09-’11 data, I get an R-squared of 0.0898 when I plot the two stats against each other. An R-squared of one means a perfect correlation while an R-squared of zero means no correlation. It’s worth noting that several former Yankees — specifically Jerry Hairston Jr. and Hideki Matsui — also rank pretty highly in terms of 2009-2011 pace. There are 234 players in our 2011 pool and 225 players in our 2009-2011 pool, just so you know.

Rotation

I don’t think there is anything more annoying in baseball than a pitcher who takes an eternity between pitches. Josh Beckett drew some ire last year for his painfully slow pace, and Steve Trachsel was not-so-affectionately known as The Human Rain Delay for the same reason. Rafael Betancourt also has a reputation for taking his sweet time between pitches. Let’s see where the Yankees starters ranked in 2011…

(min. 100 IP for ’11 and 300 IP for ’09-’11)

Unsurprisingly, the slowest working pitcher in baseball last year was Beckett at 26.9 seconds. In fact, the four slowest working pitchers last year all have Red Sox ties: Beckett, Brad Penny, Erik Bedard, Jon Lester. Penny is a few years removed from his stint in Boston, however.

The Yankees’ five starters last year are pretty high up there on the leaderboard, which consists of 137 players. Colon and Nova didn’t qualify for the 2009-2011 player pool, which is 126 guys deep. Two of the three Yankees that did are really high up there, and it’s worth mentioning that former Yankees hurler Javy Vazquez is at 22.8 seconds while Andy Pettitte is at 21.3 seconds. Click the link below the table, and you’ll see that the top of the pace leaderboard is dominated by AL East pitchers, which I doubt is a coincidence. The whole lotta grinding out at-bats happens in the division.

The old adage says that a pitcher who works quickly helps keep his defense on their toes, but it doesn’t show up in ERA (R-squared of 0.0006 using ’09-’11 data). That doesn’t mean it’s not true though, the defense may very well be more “into the game” with a quick pitcher, but it hasn’t yielded any significant benefits in recent years. Just FYI, the R-squared between pace and FIP is 0.00007. For all intents and purposes, that’s zero correlation.

Bullpen

Before I dug up the bullpen data, my hunch is that relievers would have a slower pace than starters because it’s the late innings and there are often men on base; these guys then to take their sweet time and think things through before each pitch. Turns out I was right in terms of the league average (by about two seconds), but not as far as the Yankees go…

(min. 30 IP for ’11 and 90 IP for ’09-’11)

Our player pools are 202 and 183 players deep for 2011 and 2009-2011, respectively. For whatever reason, the Yankees bullpen works substantially quicker than its peers and at about the same pace as the team’s starters. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. It could be Mariano Rivera‘s influence on those around him, could be a team philosophy, who knows. The guys they’ve brought in from other teams were also quick workers, so maybe it’s just dumb luck.  That’s pretty interesting though, and it’ll take some work to determine why this is the case and if it’s actually helping any.

The slowest paced reliever over the last three years wasn’t Betancourt (he was second), it was Jonathan Papelbon at a whopping 31.7 seconds. That seems rather excessive. Papelbon and Betancourt (30.8) were the only relievers over 30 seconds while Jonathan Broxton was at 30.0 seconds on the nose.

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Although the Yankees and Red Sox averaged the longest games — and the Mariners averaged the shortest at 2:46 — there was basically no correlation between average time of game and wins in 2011 (R-squared is just 0.066). Some teams just play longer games, and the Yankees are one of those teams thanks to guys like Cano, Swisher, Gardner, Sabathia, and Burnett. Are long games irritating? Sure, but they come with the territory at the moment, so just enjoy the extra baseball.

Remaining one-year-deal starters (or what’s left of them)

(Photo by J. Meric/Getty)

A few weeks ago Tim Dierkes of MLBTR noted that there were still a handful of one-year stopgap starting pitchers on the market. Between the relative lack of activity on the Yankees’ part along with the team standing to benefit from added rotation depth (and not wanting to overpay for said depth), myself and others have spent a lot of time during the last calendar year trying to identify sensible low-cost options for the team. Of course, as our own Mike recently astutely noted:

At this point, if the Yankees aren’t going to bring in someone clearly better than Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia, they’re just wasting their time. The A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, and David Phelps group is more than capable of filling those fourth and fifth spots.”

I’m very interested to see what Phelps (who I’ll be taking an in-depth look at on Monday), Noesi, and Warren might be able to do given the opportunity; however, this being the offseason and all I wanted to take one more pass through the unsigned names to see whether any of ’em may make a modicum of sense. I began drafting this post two days ago; before I could even get through a couple of paragraphs a handful of names on my initial list quickly came off the board, including Aaron Cook (signed by the Red Sox to a minor-league deal), Paul Maholm (signed by the Cubs to a one-year, $4.25 million deal with a club option) and Wei-Yin Chen (somewhat inexplicably signed by the Orioles to a three-year deal that appears to have evaluated him on what he did prior to 2011).

Anyway, by my count here are the remaining guys presumably in line for one-year or minor-league contacts:

Bartolo Colon
Jeff Francis
Jon Garland
Rich Harden
Hiroki Kuroda
Roy Oswalt
Brad Penny
Joel Pineiro
Joe Saunders
Kyle Davies
Zach Duke
Livan Hernandez
Kevin Millwood
Ross Ohlendorf
Tim Wakefield
Chris Young

And here’s a link to a customized leaderboard I created on Fangraphs showing how they performed in 2011. There isn’t anything all that surprising in here; if you’re a believer in Bartolo Colon having another 2011 in him he’s pretty clearly the most appealing option of the bunch, having been the most valuable per fWAR, posting the third-best K/9, 5th-best BB/9 and 3rd-best FIP and xFIP.

Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda of course also look appealing, but as we know the Yankees remain uninterested unless either righty’s asking price drops substantially. The only other remotely appealing player in my book on this list is Rich Harden, who I covered extensively back in November, but his propensity to give up the long ball combined with legitimate health concerns are apparently outweighing the mouth-watering strikeout rate and continuing to keep suitors away.

For depth purposes, I still wouldn’t mind seeing the Yanks take a flier on Harden — who’s barely merited a mention on MLBTR this winter —  if his price ends up being near the $1.5M deal he signed with Oakland last season, although at this point he doesn’t pass the “better than Nova and Garcia” test, nor is he an obvious upgrade over old friend Bartolo. Ultimately, if the Yankees do decide to pass on a Colon reunion and asking prices for others remain unfavorable, it would appear that their best move would indeed be to utilize the rotation depth they have at AAA for the 2012 season.