RAB Goes to Washington: A survey

Over the weekend, Joe wrote a post highlighting some of the Yanks’ more alluring road trips for the 2012 season. I’ve seen games in all but two of the stadiums Joe profiled. Safeco Field in Seattle and Nationals Park are absent from my list. While I’m not likely to make it to Seattle this season, the Yankees travel down to D.C. this June, and we will be too.

As part of what promises to be a weekend of New Yorkers and Yankee fans from all over the East Coast zipping down to D.C., we’re gathering interest in a RAB-related weekend. Joe, Mike and I all plan to take the journey for the three-game set from Friday, June 15-Sunday, June 17, and if enough readers want to join us, we’ll look into securing some ticket blocks for the games. We may do a stadium tour on Friday, and of course, we’ll find a spot for some Saturday night brews as well.

To gauge interest in the event, I’ve put together a short survey. For those of you with serious interest in joining us for the weekend, please take a minute or two to fill out the form. We’ll collect responses and email those interested once we get a sense of the numbers involved. The cost of tickets and accommodations is to be determined, but if we have enough interest, I believe we can do a stadium tour for $12 a head. A word of warning: You will have to get yourself to and from D.C. (Those of you who already live in the area should definitely join us for the games.)

Leave any questions you have in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them tonight or tomorrow morning. This excursion south promises to be a fun one, and hopefully, we’ll meet some RAB fans along the way.

Update: Posada to announce retirement on Tuesday

Jan. 23rd: The team says that Posada will officially announce his retirement at an 11am ET press conference at Yankee Stadium tomorrow. It will be broadcast live on YES, Yankees.com, and MLB.com LIVE. Plus I’ll be here to liveblog it.

Jan. 20th: Via Mark Hale, Jorge Posada will announce his retirement at a press conference on Tuesday. We heard this was coming a few weeks ago, but now it will be made official. I don’t know the exact time or place of the press conference, but I’ll liveblog it if possible.

The now vacant DH spot had some thinking that Jorge could change his mind and come back for another year, but that won’t happen. “I’m not getting ready for another season,” said Posada to Dan Martin recently. “I tried and it wasn’t in me. I’m still fighting it, but the more I did, the more I realized I’m not gonna play.” Sadface.

Open Thread: Mark Wohlers

I can guarantee that as soon as you read the name Mark Wohlers in the title of this post, you thought back to one thing: Jim Leyritz and Game Four of the 1996 World Series. The Yankees were down 6-3 in the game and 2-1 in the series when Leyritz’s three-run blast tied things up in the top of the eighth, and they eventually won the game in extra innings when Wade Boggs drove in the winning run with a bases loaded walk. The rest, as they say, is history.

That homer by Leyritz is hands down one of the biggest and best baseball memories I have. You can make a pretty strong argument that the homer changed the course of the franchise, because if they lose that game they probably would’ve lost the Series, and who knows what happens after that. Perhaps George Steinbrenner orders his front office to acquire the long coveted Randy Johnson at any cost, or maybe he steps in and swings the deal himself. That young singles-hitting shortstop and skinny setup man for the Big Unit? Yeah that works, take them. We could play this game all day, but if Leyritz doesn’t go deep in that spot, there’s a pretty good chance we’d be looking back at the late-90’s Yankees in very different way.

Today is Wohlers’ 42nd birthday, and it’s easy to forget that he actually ended up wearing pinstripes for a while long after Leyritz did his thing. The Yankees traded for the hard-throwing right-hander in July of 2001, but he allowed eleven runs in his first 6.1 IP with the team and Joe Torre buried him in mop-up duty. He did pitch to a 2.45 ERA in his final 29.1 IP of the season, and his only postseason appearance came in garbage time of the hideous 14-3 loss to the Mariners in Game Three of the ALCS. Wohlers was ridiculously good in 1996 — 100 strikeouts and 18 unintentional walks in 77.1 IP during the regular season — but when you look at his career from that World Series on, he was never really the same.

* * *

Here’s your open thread for the night. The Islanders and Nets are the only local teams in action, which kinda sucks. Talk about those games and more here, it’s all fair game.

It’s Official: Montero & Noesi for Pineda & Campos is a done deal

Ten days after we learned that an agreement was in place, the trade is finally official. The Yankees announced this afternoon that they’ve acquired Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi after all four players passed their physicals. During the conference call, Brian Cashman said Montero “may very well be the best player I’ve traded,” while Pineda said “I never thought I would become a New York Yankee so early into my career.” It’s pretty funny that he assumed it was an inevitability.

The Yankees now have an open spot on the 40-man roster, but that will be filled rather quickly. We’re still waiting on the Hiroki Kuroda signing to be finalized, but last we heard he was still in Japan enjoying the offseason. His physical might not happen for a while. Andruw Jonesnew contract still isn’t official yet either. Make sure you check out our Depth Chart to see where the team’s roster stands. So long Jesus and Hector, and welcome to the Boogie Down, Michael and Jose.

The reasons to trade, and not to trade, A.J. Burnett

The Yankees currently have a pitching problem. Most teams would benefit greatly from having one of Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett in the No. 5 rotation spot, but the Yankees have just one spot for those three. While they could go into Spring Training with all three, there’s a chance something will give before then. Since Hughes is still cheaply under team control, and since Garcia can’t be traded until June, Burnett could be the one involved in any pre-season deal.

Anonymous quotes that Jeff Bradley of the Star-Ledger obtained for his weekend column back up the idea of a Burnett move. “It’s a waiting game now to see if A.J. can be dealt,” said Bradley’s source, who is apparently knowledgeable about the Yankees’ off-season plans. While a Burnett deal is no certainty — Mike just made the case for Burnett as the fifth starter — it remains the most likely scenario at this point. The only question remaining is of the circumstances that would warrant a Burnett trade.

They should trade A.J. if:

1. They can get back a useful player

This seems unlikely. As Mike noted in the previous post, and as many of us have noted all off-season, Burnett has ranked among the worst pitchers in baseball for the last two years. Even if he has the potential to pitch much better, teams aren’t eager to take that gamble. That Burnett is now 35 years old makes such a gamble even riskier.

Chances are the only potentially useful players they can get back are of the same ilk as Burnett: overpaid with a productive track record but a spotty recent past. Last week Mike discussed the Burnett for Jason Bay idea, which does have a few merits. There are other big names with big contracts, such as Alfonso Soriano and Adam Dunn, but both are owed considerably more than Burnett, and both are under contract for one additional year. There is at least a chance, and perhaps a good chance, that any team can avoid Bay’s vesting option and have his contract end after the 2013 season.

Other options who fit this mold include Alex Rios ($38 million through 2014), Travis Hafner ($15.75 million through 2012), Justin Morneau ($28 million through 2013), Vernon Wells, ($62 million through 2014), and Carlos Lee ($18.5 million through 2012). None of those is particularly enticing, though neither is Burnett.

2. They can use the freed dollars to sign a useful player

This weekend the Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for a pitcher who probably isn’t as valuable as Scutaro. Why would the Red Sox do this, especially after they traded their other potential starting shortstop, Jed Lowrie, earlier in the off-season? Speculation persists that the Sox made the move in order to free up payroll so that they can pursue a pitcher. The idea is that even though they’re downgrading at shortstop, the overall gain could favor them.

If the Yankees were to trade Burnett, they’d have to eat a considerable portion of his contract. But they wouldn’t have to eat all of it. The portion that they save, perhaps a third of the remaining value, could go towards signing someone to fill the only open lineup lineup spot, DH. They won’t free up enough money to sign Prince Fielder, though, and beyond him the market looks pretty bleak. It means they’d have to find a trade partner, which only complicates matters.

They shouldn’t trade A.J. if:

1. They don’t do anything with the freed-up money

The Yankees have to pay Burnett. It’s the nature of MLB contracts. They can avoid paying some of his remaining contract if they trade him, but if they don’t reinvest those dollars, there isn’t much of a point to making a trade. At that point having Burnett pitch for the team, even in a reduced role, is preferable to paying him to pitch for another team.

2. They have to eat more than two-thirds of his remaining contract

The Yankees owe Burnett $33 million through 2013, so they’d save $11 million, or $5.5 million per season, if they were to eat two-thirds of his remaining contract. Any more than that, though, and it’s probably not worth the time and effort. Again, a look at the free agent list reveals little of use in that price range. Unless the Yankees think that an additional $5.5 million in both 2012 and 2013 can help them swing a deal they otherwise couldn’t, then they should just keep Burnett and see if he can help them in whatever ways possible. (Read: bullpen.)

3. They feel he’s the best option for the rotation

Few fans believe that Burnett is the best guy to take the mound behind Sabathia, Nova, Kuroda, and Pineda, but as the saying goes, if you think like a fan you’ll soon be sitting with them. If the Yankees believe that Burnett is the man best-suited to take the fifth spot in the rotation, then they shouldn’t trade him for the sake of unclogging the logjam. They can do other things to accomplish that.

It seems unlikely that they’d think this, given Burnett’s performances in the last two years. But perhaps they see something different in Burnett now, or have figured out why he has fared so poorly from June through September, 2010 to 2011. In any case, there’s no reason to trade him if he’s the best man for the job.

As before, any Burnett trade scenario is improbable. There are too many moving parts involved, from Burnett’s contract to potential trade targets. There’s also the matter of using the available dollars to pursue an upgrade elsewhere, something else that is far from guaranteed. The gamblers among us would do well to bet on Burnett starting the season with navy blue pinstripes.

A.J. Burnett’s Fifth Starter Case

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Assuming the first four spots in the rotation are going to CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda in some order, the Yankees have three legitimate candidates for their fifth starter’s job: A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes. You can make a case that each of those three deserve it, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do over the next few days. Explain why each guy is the best man for the job, starting today with Burnett.

We all know what’s happened over the last two years, during which time Burnett has pitched to a 5.20 ERA (85th out of 86 qualifiers) and a 4.80 FIP (84th) in 377 IP. His strikeout (7.59 K/9) and homerun (1.34 HR/9) rates are well off his career averages (8.22 K/9 and 0.93 HR/9), and his fastball velocity continues to wane into his mid-30’s…

(click to embiggen)

It’s not very easy to make a compelling case that Burnett deserves a spot in the starting rotation given the guys ahead of him and who he’s competing with, but I’m going to give him it a shot anyway and try to be fair.

Durability

Considering his spotty (at best) track record of health prior to signing with the Yankees, Burnett has been a bonafide workhorse in pinstripes. He’s one of only 16 pitchers to make at least 32 starts in each of the last three seasons, and one of only 29 pitchers to throw at least 185 IP in each of the last three seasons. His 98 starts since the start of 2009 are the 11th most in baseball. Hughes spent a significant chunk of last season on the disabled list, and Garcia hasn’t topped 28 starts or 160 IP since 2006, before all his arm injuries set it. There’s value in taking the ball every five days.

Strong Starts To The Season

Although he finished the 2010 and 2011 seasons with an ERA north of 5.00, Burnett did manage to carry a sub-4.00 ERA through his first dozen starts in each season. He was terrible after that, pitching to a 6.00+ ERA the rest of the way in both years. Taking advantage of that early season success can have two benefits: one, it’ll help the team on the field, and two, it could boost A.J.’s trade value. We all know the team is trying to move him.

Some Bad Luck

There’s no excusing Burnett’s poor performance over the last two years, but he did suffer from some bad luck down the stretch in 2011. His second half BABIP was through the roof (.376), and his 17.0% HR/FB was crazy high (11.3% career). The last time he posted a homer rate that high (17.7% in 2007), it corrected to 9.6% the next year. Burnett turned into a pretty extreme ground ball pitcher during the final two-thirds of the 2011 season, which will help the long ball problem if he maintains a similar batted ball profile going forward…

(Green is grounders, blue is fly balls, red is line drives)

After posting a career-low strikeout rate (6.99 K/9 and 17.5 K%) in 2010, he rebounded to his career norms (8.18 K/9 and 20.7 BB%) last season. Burnett was undoubtedly bad in 2011, but he did have some things go against him as well. The astronomical homerun rate is unlikely to last just because no pitcher has ever given up one dinger for every six fly balls they’ve allowed for an extended period of time.

* * *

I want to say that Burnett’s salary won’t factor into the team’s fifth starter decision, but I’m not entirely convinced that will be the case. It’s not easy to toss aside the guy making $16.5M when his two primary competitors are making relative peanuts and aren’t guaranteed to perform any better. Burnett’s case is based primary on his durability an blind faith, faith that he will have his third consecutive strong start and faith that some statistical red flags will even themselves out.

At the same time, A.J. probably offers the most upside of the three fifth starter candidates even at age 35, meaning that every once in a while he’ll go out and throw an absolute gem, one of those eighth inning, one run, double-digit strikeout efforts. Neither Garcia or Hughes have completed eight innings in a start since 2009 while Burnett did it three times in 2010 and twice in 2011. He’s very hit-or-miss, and it comes down to a preference for consistent mediocrity or occasional brilliance mixed in with some serious duds.

Does Nick Swisher vanish against good pitching?

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty)

One of the commenters in my post about Nick Swisher last month suggested that Swish’s struggles in the postseason were due in part to the fact that hitters are facing their opponents’ best pitchers, or something to that effect. While it’s probably true that an offensive bludgeoning is less likely to occur during a postseason game than, say, in August, I also think it’s a convenient excuse for teams that aren’t hitting. We’ve frequently seen the Yankee bats run the gamut from laser-hot to ice-cold during the postseason, though we tend to remember the games in which the bats didn’t show up more often than not, given how accustomed we’ve become to fielding a powerhouse offense.

Unfortunately one of the primary issues when judging both a player’s and team’s postseason performances is that the samples are almost always too small, and the very nature of baseball dictates that any player, no matter how good, is going to suffer through a slump at one point or another. That’s not to minimize the impact of facing elite pitching in the postseason; but on the flipside not even pitchers are infallible and even the best ones have less-than-great days. CC Sabathia had a 6.23 ERA in 8.2 innings in the 2011 ALDS; Justin Verlander a 5.00 in 9.0 IP.

The point of all this is that, based on what we know of Nick Swisher’s offensive abilities over the course of a 162-game season, it’s crazy to to assert that he “can’t hit in the postseason.” Unless Swisher has actually demonstrated a distinct inability to hit so-called “good” pitching, the only explanation that really makes sense as far as his struggles have gone is the recurrence of several ill-timed slumps.

Prior to embarking on this post I’d initially hoped to be able to segment batches of “good” (which I would have defined as being 10% better than league average) and “bad” pitchers, and then tally Swisher’s stats against them in an effort to see how exactly he performed against these pitcher types, but B-Ref won’t allow me to export Play Index results to Excel, and there was no way I was going to manually re-enter all of the data.

Instead, below is a table showing all of the starting pitchers Swisher has faced during his three-year Yankee career (including the postseason), minimum 10 PAs. While 10-plus PAs isn’t anywhere near a large-enough sample, if we’re going to castigate Swish for small-sample failure in the playoffs, we also have to accord him respect for small-sample success.

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP missG
Josh Beckett 40 35 6 0 0 2 6 5 12 .171 .275 .343 .618 0 0 0 0 0
Jon Lester 36 30 9 4 0 1 5 4 9 .300 .400 .533 .933 1 0 0 1 0
Ricky Romero 30 23 5 3 0 0 0 7 4 .217 .400 .348 .748 0 0 0 0 0
David Price 29 22 10 2 0 1 2 7 4 .455 .586 .682 1.268 0 0 0 0 0
John Lackey 27 24 6 0 0 1 2 3 8 .250 .333 .375 .708 0 0 0 0 2
Felix Hernandez 24 23 5 1 0 1 1 1 4 .217 .250 .391 .641 0 0 0 0 2
James Shields 23 23 4 0 0 2 4 0 8 .174 .174 .435 .609 0 0 0 0 2
Brandon Morrow 23 22 3 0 0 1 2 1 8 .136 .174 .273 .447 0 0 0 0 0
Francisco Liriano 23 21 3 1 0 0 1 1 6 .143 .174 .190 .364 0 1 0 0 0
Jeremy Guthrie 22 20 9 3 1 2 6 2 7 .450 .500 1.000 1.500 0 0 0 0 1
Cliff Lee 22 19 4 1 0 2 3 2 5 .211 .273 .579 .852 0 1 0 0 0
C.J. Wilson 21 18 4 1 0 1 2 2 5 .222 .333 .444 .778 0 0 0 1 1
Brett Cecil 21 17 4 0 0 0 1 4 3 .235 .381 .235 .616 0 0 0 0 1
Brian Matusz 19 16 1 0 0 1 1 3 2 .063 .211 .250 .461 0 0 0 0 0
Justin Verlander 19 18 2 1 0 0 2 1 7 .111 .158 .167 .325 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Garza 17 13 7 1 0 3 4 4 5 .538 .647 1.308 1.955 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Vargas 17 14 5 1 0 2 3 2 1 .357 .412 .857 1.269 0 1 0 0 1
Derek Holland 17 14 4 2 0 0 0 3 4 .286 .412 .429 .840 0 0 0 0 0
Brian Tallet 16 13 3 1 0 1 4 3 2 .231 .375 .538 .913 0 0 0 0 0
Kevin Millwood 16 14 4 0 0 1 2 2 5 .286 .375 .500 .875 0 0 0 0 0
Brett Anderson 16 13 3 0 0 0 1 3 3 .231 .375 .231 .606 0 0 0 0 0
Joel Pineiro 15 13 6 3 1 0 3 1 3 .462 .500 .846 1.346 1 0 0 0 0
Andy Sonnanstine 15 13 5 0 0 2 4 2 3 .385 .467 .846 1.313 0 0 0 0 1
Rick Porcello 15 13 3 0 0 1 4 2 3 .231 .333 .462 .795 0 0 0 0 0
Clay Buchholz 15 11 3 1 0 0 1 3 2 .273 .429 .364 .792 1 0 0 0 1
PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP missG
Scott Kazmir 15 12 2 0 0 1 1 2 0 .167 .286 .417 .702 1 0 0 0 0
Fausto Carmona 14 10 4 0 0 2 5 3 0 .400 .500 1.000 1.500 0 1 0 0 0
Gio Gonzalez 14 12 4 1 0 1 5 2 2 .333 .429 .667 1.095 0 0 0 0 0
Brad Bergesen 14 11 3 2 0 0 5 3 2 .273 .429 .455 .883 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Bard 14 14 3 0 0 1 4 0 6 .214 .214 .429 .643 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Frasor 14 12 2 0 0 0 0 2 4 .167 .286 .167 .452 0 0 0 0 2
Jeff Niemann 14 14 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 .071 .071 .071 .143 0 0 0 0 1
Jake Arrieta 14 13 0 0 0 0 1 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 1 0 0 2
Trevor Cahill 13 9 3 1 0 2 6 3 2 .333 .538 1.111 1.650 0 0 0 1 0
Brian Duensing 13 11 5 2 0 1 4 2 2 .455 .538 .909 1.448 0 0 0 0 0
Ervin Santana 13 8 2 1 0 1 1 3 2 .250 .538 .750 1.288 0 0 0 2 1
Jason Berken 13 10 3 0 0 1 4 3 2 .300 .462 .600 1.062 0 0 0 0 0
Wade Davis 13 10 2 1 0 1 2 2 4 .200 .385 .600 .985 0 0 0 1 0
Mark Buehrle 13 10 4 0 0 0 0 3 1 .400 .538 .400 .938 0 0 0 0 0
John Danks 13 11 3 0 0 1 2 2 1 .273 .385 .545 .930 0 0 0 0 1
Tim Wakefield 13 12 3 1 0 0 0 1 4 .250 .308 .333 .641 0 0 0 0 1
Darren Oliver 13 10 0 0 0 0 0 3 5 .000 .231 .000 .231 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Tillman 12 10 4 1 0 1 2 2 3 .400 .500 .800 1.300 0 0 0 0 0
Marc Rzepczynski 12 10 4 1 0 1 2 1 2 .400 .417 .800 1.217 0 1 0 0 0
Sean O’Sullivan 12 11 3 1 0 1 1 1 1 .273 .333 .636 .970 0 0 0 0 0
Doug Fister 12 11 3 0 0 1 2 1 2 .273 .333 .545 .879 0 0 0 0 1
Max Scherzer 12 9 2 0 0 0 0 3 4 .222 .417 .222 .639 0 0 0 0 0
Joe Saunders 11 10 3 0 0 0 2 1 0 .300 .364 .300 .664 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Hunter 11 11 2 0 0 1 2 0 4 .182 .182 .455 .636 0 0 0 0 1
Carl Pavano 11 11 2 1 0 0 0 0 7 .182 .182 .273 .455 0 0 0 0 1
PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP missG
Gavin Floyd 11 11 2 0 0 0 0 0 8 .182 .182 .182 .364 0 0 0 0 0
Bruce Chen 10 8 4 0 0 0 1 2 1 .500 .600 .500 1.100 0 0 0 0 1
Matt Harrison 10 9 4 0 0 0 3 0 0 .444 .500 .444 .944 0 0 0 1 1
Mark Hendrickson 10 10 4 1 0 0 1 0 3 .400 .400 .500 .900 0 0 0 0 0
Luke French 10 9 2 0 0 1 2 1 1 .222 .300 .556 .856 0 0 0 0 1
Lance Cormier 10 7 2 0 0 0 2 3 1 .286 .500 .286 .786 0 0 0 0 1
Zach Britton 10 6 0 0 0 0 2 3 2 .000 .300 .000 .300 0 1 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/20/2011.

David Price and Jon Lester are two of the best pitchers in the American League. Swisher has killed ’em both. Cliff Lee? .852 OPS against. Matt Garza doesn’t stand a chance against Swisher. Gio Gonzalez, arguably the most-sought-after pitcher on the trade market, may as well be throwing Swish batting practice. Same with Trevor Cahill and Ervin Santana. RAB favorite John Danks? Swish has hit him to the tune of a .930 OPS in 13 PAs.

The naysayers in the audience will undoubtedly point out Swish’s struggles against Josh Beckett and James Shields (though among the Yankees that’s far from a Swisher-only issue), but on the whole, I’m not sure one could reasonably conclude that Nick Swisher routinely struggles against good pitching.

(Ed. Note: Keep in mind that while .641 OPS against Felix over the last three seasons looks bad, Hernandez has held all hitters to a .616 OPS during that time. We’re referencing a very different baseline when talking about top pitchers. Context is everything.)

For the folks who want to pin his postseason struggles on something tangible, there really is no better explanation than Swish happening to slump on three separate occasions, with each unfortunately coming at one of the worst possible times for the Yankees. This doesn’t make his regular season contributions — which have helped the team get to the playoffs in each of his three pinstriped years — any less valuable, nor does it mean that he is forever doomed to postseason failure (see Rodriguez, Alex).