Update: MLB suspends Juan Carlos Paniagua, voids contract

Update (Sept. 6th): More from Badler. The suspension is a result of “falsified documents,” and technically it’s not even a suspension. The term “suspension” is reserved for players under contract, so Paniagua is considered “unable to sign.” His $1.1M deal with the Yankees was not yet official because he hadn’t secured a visa. MLB VP Kim Ng confirmed that they’re listening to Paniagua’s appeal and the the ruling is not yet final. Either way, it seems like a long shot that the Yankees will get their guy.

Original Post (Sept. 1st): Via Ben Badler, MLB has suspended Dominican righty Juan Carlos Paniagua and voided his contract with the Yankees. He agreed to a $1.1M bonus back in March. The reason for the suspension is unknown, and Badler says MLB won’t even tell the Yankees what’s going on. Paniagua is appealing the punishment, but it’s his second suspension after getting caught up in some identity and age fraud stuff two years ago.

The 20-year-old Paniagua had previously gone by Juan Collado and even agreed to a $17k deal with the Diamondbacks in 2009. He apparently picked up some big time velocity (sitting 93-95 touching the high-90’s according to Badler) while serving his suspension after the deal was voided. I have no idea what happens next, but the contract has been voided, so that’s pretty clear. Meanwhile, VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed to Badler that right-hander Rafael DePaula (who agreed to a deal worth $700k in November) is still working to get a visa so his contract can become official.

Curtis Granderson named AL Player of the Month

What does hitting .286/.423/.657 with ten homers, 29 RBI, and 29 runs scored from one arbitrary end point to the next get you? How about August AL Player of the Month honors, which Curtis Granderson took home today. Not too shabby. August was Grandy’s best month of the season in terms of OPS, but he produced similar counting stats in May and wasn’t too far off on the triple slash line. Congrats to Curtis, the team’s best player since day one.

Brackman joins the list of September call-ups, Pendleton DFA’d

In addition to George Kontos, Ramiro Pena, Hector Noesi, and Greg Golson, Andrew Brackman joined the Yankees as a September call-up today. This isn’t terribly surprising; he finished the Triple-A season well and is already on the 40-man roster, so there was little reason not to call him up. Remember, Brackman was on the roster last September, he just didn’t pitch at all. Still no update on Dellin Betances though, who apparently may also get the call this month.

In an unfortunate bit of news, Lance Pendleton was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Kontos. That’s a shame, a damn shame. I’ll miss you, Pants Lendleton.

Update: Via Marc Carig, Ryan Pope cleared waivers and was outrighted to the minors. He was designated for assignment last week to make room on the roster for either Jesus Montero or Scott Proctor, take your pick.

Looking Back. Looking Forward.

Every other week, Jamie O’Grady channels the 2005-version of Michael Kay by “Looking Back. Looking Forward.to get you caught up on what just was, and what soon will be with the New York Yankees.

LOOKING BACK: So what did you miss?

If you’re anything like me, you missed having electricity for a while thanks to that little vixen, Irene. No power meant no access to the Interwebs, and no way to share my musings.

Call me crazy, but anytime a storm causes catastrophic flooding, and like, deaths and stuff, I expect at least a half-day off from work. Nevertheless, Axisa, Pawlikowski & Kabak LLP runs a pretty tight ship, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

What do you get when you cross a 2.5 game lead for the best record in the American League, a Major League-best +206 run differential, and a 100% probability of making the playoffs? The 2011 New York Yankees, that’s what.

It’s taken virtually five months – amidst all sorts of uncertainty, injuries and controversy (in other words, a typical Yankee season) – but the 2011 Bombers now appear focused, opportunistic and capable of doing whatever is necessary to win games. They can beat you with power (197 team-dongs are 24 more than any other club) or speed (3rd in MLB with 131 team-swipes), they’re patient as heck (537 team-walks), and they can pitch a little bit, too (3.71 team-ERA ranks 10th in all of baseball – Boston lags behind at 20th).

And as if going 8-2 over their last 10 games wasn’t enough, New York recently “added” two potentially lethal right-handed bats to its already potent lineup with the return of Alex Rodriguez and promotion of the highly-touted Jesus Montero. Yup, it’s ARod and a son of God to the rescue. Montero, whose batting stance is eerily Pujolsian, arrived last Thursday, and if the early returns are any indication (5-for13 with 2HR), the Yankee lineup will truly be without weak link come October.

So you say you’re the biggest Yankee fan in the world, but have you actually looked at the numbers being put up by Curtis Granderson this season?

Admittedly, even I was astounded when I gave his 2011 statistics a bit of a “how’s your father.”

 The Yankee All-Star is first in the American League in runs scored (125) and runs batted in (107), he’s second in home runs (38), total bases (291),  and triples (10), and he’s the first Yankees player since Mickey Mantle in 1955 to record at least 30 home runs and 10 triples in the same season. In fact, Granderson is just the 15th major league player since 1950 to achieve that feat.

In short, the man is having an historic campaign, and with all due respect to either Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez, it’s hard to argue there exists a finer example of “most valuable” than Granderson. Well, unless you’re throwing Justin Verlander into the mix.

My second stab at the prediction business didn’t go so great, as the Yankees somehow managed not to play that .800 baseball I had called for. The nerve. Whatever, they’re bound to meet my lofty goals at some point over the remainder of the season, right?

What we learned:

8/18 – 8/21 @ MIN Just in case you missed it, Joe Mauer makes a helluva lot more money than you do, which is just a tad ironic given that he’s only managed to hit two home runs for the entire season. Apparently, Justin Morneau collects concussions like that dude from The Silence of the Lambs collects rare butterflies. The artists formerly known as The M&M Boys may be rapidly descending into Generation-K territory, although in fairness, none of the Mets’ trio ever won an MVP. Actually, rumor has it Bill Pulsipher is working for MVP Septic out of Schenectady. For a while there, it seemed like CC Sabathia had lost his moxie, but something happened in the 7th inning of his August 18th start when he retired Mauer, Morneau and Jim Thome. He’s been absolutely rolling ever since (3-0 with 36 Ks over 27.2 IP). (Prediction: NYY win 3-of-4) (Actual: NYY win 3-of-4)

8/23 – 8/25 v. OAKWhat a long, strange trip it’s been for Yankee hurler Bartolo Colon. After a lengthy sabbatical – presumably training for Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest – Colon and his 2011 revival has had been nothing short of amazing. Taking a page from Boston’s playbook, GM Brian Cashman struck gold with the HGH-enhanced Colon, but the joyride may finally be over. Since July 7, Colon is just 2-6, having rocked out to the tune of a 4.90 ERA. Opposing hitters are batting .301 against him, and his strikeouts are down from where they were in the beginning of the season. It goes without saying that Colon’s 145IP in 2011 are by far most he’s thrown since 2005. Tire much? Oh, New York scored more in one game (22 runs) against the A’s than the Jets are expected to score in the first month of the upcoming NFL season. (Prediction: NYY win 2-of-3) (Actual: NYY lose 2-of-3)

8/26 – 8/29 v. BAL – I’ve taken a lot of heat recently for dismissing Baltimore as some kind of minor league squad, so I decided to look deeper to try and find any redeeming qualities to the organization. Not including this season (84 losses already), the Orioles have averaged 91 losses per year since 1998. That’s not only dreadful, but it’s also patently inexcusable. Baltimore’s extended run of futility has coincided with high annual draft slots, yet there hasn’t been one impact player to come up through their system in the last decade. I’m sorry, but an allegedly juiced-up Brian Roberts isn’t exactly proof of organization competency. Moving on… (Prediction: NYY sweep series) (Actual: NYY lose 2-of-3 / rain-shortened 5-game series*

8/30 – 9/1 @ BOS – Yes, New York took two of three games. And yes, CC Sabathia proved he can actually beat the Red Sox. But for me, perhaps the more important take away is the sense that Mariano Rivera‘s lights-out-ed-ness is becoming less and less evident this season. The numbers say otherwise (his 7.43 K/BB ratio is almost twice his career average of 4.03), but I cannot remember seeing Mo experience such a consistent loss of command from one outing to the next. Maybe his stuff remains so great that location doesn’t matter as much as it would to some other aging closer, but my gut tells me that the long-feared (and oft-disproven) twilight of Rivera’s career has already begun. (Prediction: NYY win 2-of-3)  (Actual: NYY win 2-of-3

LOOKING FORWARD: What can’t you miss?

There are not a lot of unanswered questions at this point in the season, but the Yankee rotation continues to be one of them. Just when you think AJ Burnett’s carcass is finally ready to be cremated, he goes and tosses 5.1 serviceable innings in Fenway Park and completely redeems himself! Armed with a supposedly new, Larry Rothchild-inspired delivery, the enigmatic Burnett is going to have to show those kinds of results (and more) to be given any consideration for the playoff roster, let alone the playoff rotation.

On the bright side, at least the regular season’s conclusion means we won’t have to sit through three more months of Girardi promising to go back to a 5-man rotation.

And what of young Mr. Montero? We already know that John Sterling jumped the shark some decades ago, but his home run call for Montero was positively ungodly. Whatever, the coming of Jesus has been a long time… uhh, coming, and the smart money says that barring a complete September-implosion, Montero will be (and should be) the Yankee playoff-DH.

Mariano Rivera has amassed 597 saves over his illustrious career, and despite my unsubstantiated assertion that the inevitable end may finally near, 600 saves is nothing to sneeze at. Sure, the save statistic is oft-maligned (maybe rightfully so), but there’s no denying that Mariano’s brilliance is only slightly more amazing than his longevity. Here’s hoping he saves 600 more. Or at least 60.

It seems unfathomable, but Alex Rodriguez is finally flying under the radar in New York. Well, almost. While Granderson, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and to a lesser extent, Nick Swisher, continue to do the heavy lifting, you can take it to the bank that ARod will play a critical role in the success or failure of New York’s postseason aspirations. Rodiguez’s surgically-repaired knee should be fully healed by October, and I’m guessing that mid-season DL-stint will serve him well from a stamina perspective. 

What we expect to learn:

9/02 – 9/04 v. TOR – Sure, this series already happened, but I promise you my prediction was made before the four-game series commenced.  Check out this absolutely douche’alicious photo of Toronto phenom Brett Lawrie, and if that’s not enough of a reason to hate on him, he’ll only be tormenting Yankee pitching for the next six years or so before Cashman purchases the rights to his everlasting soul. Brandon Morrow and AJ Burnett should rent an apartment together and star in an ESPN2 reality series. They can call it “All Arms, No Brains.” Here’s the thing, Gents; when you throw 95+ mph, it’s a good idea to aim for that little thingy they call the strike zone. (Prediction: NYY sweep series

9/05 – 9/08 @ BAL – Oh Lord, these guys again? Seriously, how much can one man honestly be expected to write about this team? In fairness, the O’s did make an abnormally stellar move during the offseason, acquiring SS JJ Hardy from the Twins for a pair of minor leaguers. All he’s done this year is put up 26 homers and a .810 OPS. (Prediction: NYY win 3-of-4

9/09 – 9/11 @ LAAHave you heard of a dude named Mark Trumbo? Well, there’s a really good chance that Trumbo – I really hope his teammates have nicknamed him the “Rusty Trombo” – wins the AL Rookie of the Year Award. He’s put up 26HR and 80RBI  over 132 games, and he’s sure to garner enough votes to run neck-and-neck with Yankee starter Ivan Nova. The Angels have pulled to within 2.5 games of the AL West-leading Texas Rangers (2 games back in the loss column), so you know they’ll be plenty motivated this weekend with New York coming to town. Oh, the Yanks get to face Jered Weaver (16-7, 2.49ERA) and Dan Haren (14-8, 3.20ERA), too. Joy! (Prediction: NYY win 2-of-3

9/12 – 9/14 @ SEA – For fans of the Seattle Mariners, it’s all about baby steps. Like being on-pace for “just” 90 losses this year after 2010’s epic 101-loss campaign. Also on the plus side, Chone Figgins’ terrible four-year contract is almost halfway finished! Want to know how bad things are in the Pacific Northwest? Ichiro, a once-in-a-lifetime talent, is batting just .273, and he leads the team. At least Seattle still has an awesome stadium and cool uniforms.  And I’m pretty sure everyone who lives there hangs out with Eddie Vedder. (Prediction: NYY win 2-of-3

And that’s all she wrote. I’ll see you back here in a fortnight, unless you follow me on Twitter, in which case I’ll see you every five seconds or so.

The differences between Sabathia and Verlander

He’s the hometown candidate, so we all want him to win. And since he leads AL pitchers in many categories, he has a good chance. But the prevailing narrative seems to shove aside CC Sabathia as a Cy Young Award candidate. Justin Verlander currently owns the spotlight to such a degree that he’s gaining traction in the MVP race, one that is typically exclusive to position players. That would appear to preclude all other candidates from the Cy Young talk. But despite the narrative, Verlander isn’t the hands-down best AL pitcher this season.

A quick look at the AL pitcher leader board should dispel any notion that Verlander has broken away from the pack. Sabathia currently owns a better xFIP, FIP, and WAR than Verlander. In fact, he leads the AL in all three. That suggests that he has fared best in terms of the events over which he has the most control. That doesn’t tell the whole story, but it certainly tells a significant part of it.

It’s when we get to the more traditional stats that Verlander takes the lead. He has 21 wins, two more than CC, and 223 innings, 4.2 more than CC. He has more strikeouts and an ERA 0.60 points lower. These are the numbers that play best with the voters. It’s understandable, then, that Verlander commands most of the Cy Young Award consideration. In a world where ERA, pitcher wins, and strikeout totals rule, Verlander is working on a sweep.

There is also the what have you done for me lately factor. Since August 1st Sabathia has a 4.35 ERA, despite pitching into the eighth and allowing just two runs in the first and last starts in that series. Really, it was just a pair of bad starts: a bad inning against Boston and the five solo homers against Tampa Bay. But they still taints his recent numbers. Verlander, on the other hand, has recorded a win in each of his last nine starts. He’s also been on an absolute tear since Tampa Bay lit him up on May 24th; in those 19 starts he has 1.75 ERA.

Instead of kowtowing to the traditional stats and anointing Verlander, let’s take a closer look at the myriad factors that play into a pitcher’s effectiveness. Maybe then we can look beyond the surface of traditional numbers, and even the computations of advanced numbers, and come up with an actual case for the AL Cy Young Award.

Workload: Both Sabathia and Verlander have made 30 starts this year, but Verlander has thrown 4.2 more innings. That’s a relatively insignificant difference, amounting to half an out per start. Sabathia, however, has faced 36 more batters than Verlander. To put that in perspective, Sabathia has recorded one out for every 1.37 batters faced, while Verlander has recorded one for every 1.28 batters faced. So while they bear a similar workload in terms of total outs, and outs per start, Verlander has been a bit more efficient at retiring hitters.

Strikeouts: While CC has already struck out more hitters this year than in either of his previous two seasons with the Yankees, he still falls a bit behind Verlander. In fact, among the qualified AL starters only Michael Pineda and Brandon Morrow have a better strikeout rate than Verlander. Verlander leads the AL in total strikeouts with 224, while Sabathia is second at 211.

Walks: Sabathia is currently working on his best walk rate since 2008, at 2.10 per nine. Yet Verlander is just a hair better, walking just 1.98 per nine. If we take that a step further and do it as a percentage of batters faced, both have walked 5.7 percent of the batters they’ve faced. Since they’re within two walks of each other, this one is pretty much a wash.

Home Runs: This is where Sabathia shines. He has allowed just 15 homers this year, or 0.62 per nine. (This is even more impressive, considering five were solo shots in the same game.) Verlander has allowed 20 home runs this year, good for a 0.81 per nine rate. Verlander does allow a few more fly balls than Sabathia, but a far greater percentage of them are infield fly balls. But in any case, Sabathia does keep the ball on the ground more, which appears to give him some advantage in limiting home runs. Few have done it better this season.

BABIP: DIPS theory says that a pitcher loses control over a play’s outcome once a ball enters the field of play, but that takes the issue a bit too far. Some pitchers are better than others at inducing poor contact. No pitcher, however, can consistently limit opponents to a .238 BABIP, as Verlander has done this season. But that just makes the accomplishment all the more impressive. It’s not necessarily the defense behind him that makes the difference; the Tigers rank 19th in the majors in defensive efficiency, just one spot ahead of the Yankees. Sabathia, on the other hand, has allowed a .310 BABIP, which is a bit higher than his career .290 mark. That could have something to do with his 23.3 percent line drive rate, which is the second highest among active starters. Then again, that could merely be a batted ball classification issue — Alexi Ogando, who has the highest line drive percentage in the league, has a .270 BABIP.

(The point: BABIP is a complicated issue, and it doesn’t come with any stock implications. Please don’t pretend that a high BABIP equals poor luck and a low one equals good luck.)

Clutch Pitching: While the idea of clutch usually doesn’t provide predictive information, it can enhance context when choosing award winners. Verlander has come through big in high-leverage situations, recording a 1.05 FIP against the 47 batters he’s faced in those situations. Sabathia isn’t far behind, with a 1.45 FIP in high leverage situations. Of course, when a starter faces a high leverage situation it’s typically of his own doing. But that doesn’t make the act of wiggling out any less important.

Runs Allowed: As a value measure, ERA falls a bit short. It debits pitchers only for earned runs, and the rules dictating what is an earned and what is an unearned run are convoluted, to be kind. Simple RA isn’t perfect, either, but at least it doesn’t make pointless delineations. To that end, Verlander has a 2.58 RA, while Sabathia is at 3.30. That’s probably the most significant difference we’ve seen between them yet.

Run Support: Old school types love to cite two things when arguing for a pitcher: his wins total, and his ability to pitch situationally. For instance, Buster Olney gave Verlander credit in a previous start where he allowed a bunch of runs, because his offense staked him to a big lead. Using that logic, and the logic behind pitcher wins, run support should absolutely play a role in Cy Young Award consideration. Sabathia has received six runs of support per game, fourth most in the AL, while Verlander has received just 4.7, 24th most. That does make Verlander’s win total seem more impressive.

Quality of Opponents: (At the restest of commenter MattG.) CC Sabathia has faced opponents who have hit .265/.340/.424 on the season. That .754 opponent OPS is the 11th highest mark in the AL among pitchers with 150 or more innings. The hitters who have faced Verlander have a .263/.327/.412 line on the season, which is 31st in the AL. That is, CC has faced tougher opponents than Verlander. (These numbers, to be clear, are the numbers for hitters against all pitchers.)

Given the criteria laid out above, it does appear that Verlander has the more compelling case for the AL Cy Young Award. It’s not a landslide by any means, even if the prevailing media narrative makes it seem so. In fact, Sabathia and Verlander are close enough at this point that September could end up making a huge difference. It will take some significant movement, since the media has apparently already anointed Verlander. But don’t count out CC. He’s just a monster month away from changing everything.