The RAB Radio Show: January 13, 2010

We mentioned this morning that Kevin Long and Derek Jeter are getting a jump start on the spring. They’ll get together to work out some kinks in Jeter’s swing so that he doesn’t have a repeat of 2010. I’d love to talk about that more, but I’m no hitting instructor. But Jaime Cevallos is.

If you’re not aware, Cevallos is an independent instructor who has worked with a number of major leaguers, including Ben Zobrist. He has a method, and from all I’ve read about it he makes a number of solid points. He joins us on the show today. Here are a couple of videos that go along with it. First, here’s a bit on how he helped the Charleston River Dogs in 2002. Then there’s a bit analyzing Jason Heyward’s swing.

You can find more about Jaime at TheSwingMechanic.com. He also has a book, Positional Hitting.

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Let’s talk about Armando Galarraga

Word got out last night that the Tigers, with Brad Penny now on board, could look to unload the arbitration-eligible Armando Galarraga. Surely you remember him from the non-perfect game this past summer. We all know that he did in fact throw that perfect game, but the record books will say otherwise because of Jim Joyce’s rather infamous blown call on the 27th out. Despite that feat, Galarraga is the odd man out of the rotation because the Tigers have their hearts set on using Phil Coke (Phil Coke!) as a starting pitcher in 2011. I think you all know what’s next … should the Yankees have interest in Galarraga?

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Although he turns just 29 in two days, Galarraga has already earned the journeyman tag. He signed with the Expos out of Venezuela on Halloween day in 1998, then was traded to the Rangers as part of a package for former Yankee Alfonso Soriano seven years later. A little more than two years after that, Texas flipped him to the Tigers for a nondescript minor leaguer. Galarraga made just three appearances with the Rangers (zero with the ExpoNats), but it looked as if Detroit had found itself something useful following his 2008 season. That’s the year he posted a 3.73 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP in 178.2 innings.

As fine as that performance was, the underlying red flags were enormous. Galarraga wasn’t striking out many batters (6.35 K/9) and he wasn’t making up for it with a bunch of ground balls either (43.5%). His walk rate was rock solid (2.97 uIBB/9) and right in line with his minor league walk stats, but he was very prone to the long ball (1.41 HR/9). Opponents hit just .226/.294/.410 (.319 wOBA) off of him thanks to a .247 BABIP, which was the third lowest in the game among pitchers with at least 100 IP that season. Galarraga’s 4.88 FIP was far more indicative of what his performance might look like going forward rather than the 3.73 ERA.

Sure enough, Galarraga took a beating in 2009. His ERA climbed nearly two full runs to 5.64 (5.47 FIP) and his strikeout (5.95 K/9), walk (3.45 uIBB/9), ground ball (39.9%), and homer (1.50 HR/9) rates all declined. A correction to a .302 BABIP in 143.2 IP didn’t help matters either. Last season was slightly better but no not really. Galarraga’s ERA fell to 4.49 (5.09 FIP), but so did his strikeout (just 4.61 K/9 now) and ground ball (37.3%) rates, as well as his BABIP (.268). The walk (3.12 uIBB/9) and homer (1.31 HR/9) were back at 2008 levels, but that only does so much.

(AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

So that leaves us where we are today. Galarraga’s a big (6-foot-4) and skinny (180 lbs.) guy that throws mostly two-seamers (35.2% of the time, averaging 90.6 mph) and sliders (33.0%, 86.7 mph), but he also mixes in a straight four-seamer (18.8%, 91 mph) and changeup (12.2%, 84.2 mph) on occasion. His peripheral stats over the last three years are wholly underwhelming: 5.69 K/9 (below average 8.0% swings and misses), 3.37 uIBB/9, 1.41 HR/9, 40.4% grounders, and a 5.13 FIP. The only pitchers with a worse homerun rate than Galarraga’s over those last three years are Aaron Harang and Dave Bush, and the only pitchers with a lower BABIP in that time are Tim Hudson and Ted Lilly. Not a good combo. Unsurprisingly, Galarraga also has a massive platoon split for his career (.307 wOBA against vs. RHB, .371 vs. LHB). There’s not much to like here.

We don’t know how much Galarraga will earn in his first trip through arbitration, but it’ll surely be over the $1M mark, possibly even $2M. Since these aren’t guaranteed contracts, the Tigers could flat out release him in Spring Training and pay just a portion of his salary, which is exactly what the Yankees did with Chad Gaudin last year. Because that 2011 salary isn’t guaranteed, whatever team signs him wouldn’t be able to get him for the league minimum with Detroit on the hook for the rest like we’re used to seeing. Galarraga would be able to sign with whatever team offers the most money. The other thing Detroit could do is try to send him to the minors. He’s out-of-options, so he’d have to pass through waivers to go back to Triple-A, and it’s highly unlikely that another team would claim him with a seven-figure salary. Either way, there’s not much for the Yankees to see here, unless he’d be willing to take a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training after a release. There’s no harm in that.

Perhaps the more interesting news came from the Central Division of the other league last night. The Cubbies may be open to moving Tom Gorzelanny after their Matt Garza pick up, and I’d have more interest in him than in Galarraga bar none. I wrote about Gorzelanny last month, and although he won’t be great, he definitely passes the “better than Sergio Mitre” test, something I’m not sure we can say about Galarraga.

Kevin Long making his rounds this winter

Derek Jeter isn’t Kevin Long’s only project this winter. We learned earlier this month that Long and Jeter will work together in advance of spring training, but that doesn’t mean that Long has taken the rest of the winter off. In an article regarding Long’s and Jeter’s upcoming sessions, The Post’s Brian Costello reveals some of Long’s winter schedule. He’s worked with Nick Swisher and Colin Curtis, and plans to meet with Mark Teixeira next week before visiting Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. That sounds like a pretty full slate. Baseball might be a seven-month sport for us, but for these guys it’s year round.

Evaluating Rob Thomson

Thanks for nothing, Randy. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Earlier this week the Yankees did the expected and brought their entire coaching staff – sans Dave Eiland – back for the 2010 season. Third base coach Robbie Thomson was obviously included in that mix. I don’t think there’s anything more disappointing or frustrating in baseball than a runner being thrown out at home, so I wanted to evaluate how the Yankees, and Thomson by association, fared in this department last season. With a hat tip to R.J. Anderson for some procedural assistance, I did just that.

There are really just two situations in which a third base coach sends a runner: when there’s a single with a man on second and when there’s a double with a man on first. Now that’s just a general statement because not all singles are created equally (a runner’s not going to score, or even necessarily advance from second on an infield single) and the same is true of doubles (umpires can allow a runner to score from first on a ground rule double at their discretion, but we rarely see it happen). All I did for this post was look at these situations to see how many times a runner was sent and how many times he scored.

Before we get into the data, there’s two important things to mention. First of all, I eliminated plays with errors. So if a runner scored because the outfielder made a bad throw or bobbling the ball, I just ignored the play and treated it as if it never happened. Secondly, remember that there can be other runners on base as well. If there’s a runner on second when there’s a single, there can also be a runner on first and/or third at the same time, but we don’t care about those guys. Our attention is paid just to that guy on second. Same deal when there’s a a double hit with a man on first, we don’t care what the other two potential runners ahead of him do. Now that that’s over with, here’s the stats…

Update: Typo in the tables, it says double with a man on third. That should be first, obviously. The data is correct however.

Okay great, now what? For this to tell us anything meaningful, we need context, so here’s the same data for the other 29 teams in the league…

At first glance we see that last year, the Yankees were below average at scoring from second on a single when the runner was sent, but above average when scoring from first on a double, again when the runner was sent. That “when the runner is sent” part is important, because we’re only looking at instances when the runner actually tries to score. Poor old Jorge Posada is barely able to go from first to third on most doubles, but we’re not going to hold that against the team here.

Even though the team was below average at scoring from second on a single, we have to remember that we’re dealing with a pretty small sample of data. If one of those seven runners is called safe instead of out, their success rate in those situations climbs to 94.5%, which for all intents and purposes is league average. When it comes to rounding third and scoring, the Yankees are basically average once again. The 0.6% difference overall (both situations) is nothing, it’s not worth getting upset over. League average isn’t sexy, but the Yankees aren’t a team that needs every last runner to score to be successful.  I have a feeling that if  I went back and looked at the data for former third base coach Bobby Meacham, it would be a lot more interesting. That’s another post for another time.

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

One thing I have to mention is that the the title of this post really isn’t fair, because sending a runner home in these spots isn’t entirely up to him Thomson. Sure, he puts up the stop sign or waves guys in, but how often do we see a player run through the stop sign? It happens quite a bit, but it isn’t accounted for in this data. Another thing to remember is that the umpires have a say as well. They botch calls at the plate, and that will skew the numbers as well. I’m sure that stuff evens out over a 162 game season, so it’s not a huge concern.

Objectively, I think Thomson does a fine job. A runner getting thrown out at home doesn’t automatically equal a bad send, because a lot of times it takes a perfect relay throw and tag by the defense. I guess there’s two ways to look at it: you don’t want the Yanks to take unnecessary risks because their lineup is so strong, so being a little conservative at third isn’t the end of the world. The other side of the coin is that because the Yanks have such a good lineup, they can afford to take more chances since they’ll get more opportunities to score later. We really have to look at this stuff on a case-by case basis, but this data tells us that the Yankees are doing just fine here. I’d be more concerned if they were well below average that I would be excited if they were well above.

Aside: I also took a quick glance at sacrifice flies when there was a runner at third at well, and the Yankees were a perfect 44-for-44 in that department. The third base coach doesn’t have much, if any, say in those situations though because it happens so quickly, which is why I didn’t bother to include it in the data.

Late-night rumors: Rays, Yanks battling for 4th OFers

As the Yanks and their division rival Tampa Bay Rays look to fill out their rosters, both teams are in the market for a fourth outfielder/veteran bat for the bench. The Yanks, we know, are looking at Andruw Jones, and the team has been tied to Johnny Damon. Tonight, Jon Heyman tweets that the Rays and Yanks are at least both interested in those two players, and it’s possible that one could wind up in Tampa Bay while the other comes to the Bronx. For the Yanks, I’d take Jones over Damon. He’s a righty bat who can still play the field while Damon would give the Yanks another lefty but with suspect defense.

Meanwhile, Heyman also says the Yanks are still in on Rafael Soriano despite Brian Cashman‘s insistence that he won’t surrender a draft pick for a reliever. It behooves Soriano to have others believe the Yanks are interested, but there’s no reason to think their off-season strategy has changed lately.

Cashman: Pettitte won’t pitch in 2011

"Y'all waiting on me?" (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Update (9:27 p.m.): By now, this news can hardly come as a shock. We’ve heard for weeks that Andy Pettitte hadn’t yet ramped up his pre-season workout routines and that he wasn’t close to coming to a decision on his immediate baseball future. He told the Yanks not to count on him, today, Brian Cashman confirmed that the Yanks are not counting on him this season in the Bronx.

“I don’t think he’s determined if he’s officially finished or not, but he’s chosen at this stage at least not to start in 2011,” the Yanks’ GM said today at the owners’ meetings in Arizona. “If that ever changes he’ll call us. We’re not going to hound him or bother him.”

He later clarified his comments. As Tyler Kepner reported, Cashman said he meant to say that Pettitte has chosen “not to pitch” at all in 2011. It’s unclear if Andy is officially retired, but he is right now “not in play.”

As the Daily News reported, Pettitte made the decision to skip the season in order to be with his family. “Andy’s been very communicative on these issues and right now he’s not in play, and if he does decide to play he’ll play for us. He’s a Yankee from start to finish,” he said. “These are personal decisions and they’re based on him wanting to be home and every year it’s been something tugging at him, and it’s been tugging at him even more, and that’s understandable, and so right now he’s not someone we can focus on.”

So the Yankees will have to look elsewhere for pitching help. They’re kicking the tires on Justin Duchscherer, for one, and may take a low-risk flyer on Freddy Garcia. But if the team’s pitching sags in the early going, Cashman, who’s definitely challenging Pettitte a bit here, may just rethink his stance on hounding his long-time lefty.

Open Thread: Nova turns 24

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

A very happy birthday goes out to Mr. Ivan Nova, who turns the ripe old age of 24 today. Nova’s role with the 2011 Yankees became exponentially more important when Cliff Lee decided to sign with the Phillies, and it continues to increase in importance with each quiet offseason day that passes. He pitched to a 4.36 FIP in the big leagues last year, and I’m sure we’d all be ecstatic if he was able to reproduce that performance over say, 175 innings. Nova won’t make or break the Yankees’ season, but he’s going to get every chance in the world to prove himself, something I think every 24-year-old is looking for.

Anyways, here’s the open thread for the evening. Both the Nets and Knicks are playing, but not until a little later one because they’re on the other side of the country. Treat the thread as you see fit, enjoy.