My Fifth Starter Mini-Rant

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Over the weekend, the Yankees announced that Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia will be their fourth and fifth starters when the season opens while Bartolo Colon shifts to the bullpen and does the long man routine. I don’t think anyone has an issue with Nova being in the rotation, he showed enough in his cameo late last year and continued to impress in camp. Given the alternatives, there was no reason not to give him one of the open spots. That last spot is a little more up for debate.

The decision was made with heavy influence from the 157 innings Garcia mustered for the White Sox last year. That part is pretty clear. They weren’t the best innings (4.77 FIP), but hey, a typical fifth starter is 14% worse than league average and Garcia wasn’t all that far off from that mark last year (16.9%). Colon didn’t pitch at all last season and has managed just 101.1 IP in the bigs since 2007. The Yankees need reliability at the back of the rotation and their decision reflects that based on each guy’s recent history.

However, my thinking about the fifth starter’s spot is a little different. We know that both Garcia and Colon have battled some major, major shoulder issues in the last few years, and I think we all expect both guys to break down at some point this season. Ironically enough, we consider them band-aids for the rotation. At some point, we’ll just rip them off and throw them away. So anyway, my thinking is that when you have two guys this close to the end of the line, two guys that slip right off the cliff at any moment, their recent histories don’t mean all that much. At some point you have to look at what you have in the here and now and ignore what happened last year or over the last three years or whatever.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Colon, by any measure, beat out Garcia (and really Nova too, for that matter) for a rotation spot in camp. We know that Spring Training stats mean nothing, but if you’re the kind of person that puts value in them, then you probably know that Colon’s 17 strikeouts leads Yankees pitchers this spring, and he walked just one batter in 15 IP (four runs). Garcia, on the other hand, had another ugly spring in a career full of them, allowing nine runs in 13.2 IP. He did strike out a dozen and walked just two, but he gave up a hit per inning. At a time when he had to pitch well, he was underwhelming.

Just looking at the stuff, and it was painfully obvious that Colon was better. He’s not the guy he was in his prime, when 96+ mph fastballs were the norm, but he was consistently at 92 and touching 94 on occasion with his four-seamer while his sinker sat just below that. His offspeed offering – whether you want to call it a changeup or splitter or forkball or junkball is unimportant – did the job of keeping hitters off balance. Garcia’s kitchen sink approach featured a lot of fastballs in the 80’s and various breaking balls just off the plate. The kind of breaking balls that get hammered if they aren’t located properly. Based on what we saw in camp (an albeit limited sample), Colon has much more margin for error right now. That isn’t to say he has a lot, but it’s more than Garcia.

Chances are I’m making too much of nothing, but I would have started the season with Colon in the rotation to get as much out of him as humanly possible before his arm explodes. He’s throwing the ball better than Garcia is right now, and I would have milked it for all it’s worth. Then again, it’s not my neck on the line, and we are talking about two guys brought in to be placeholders. The Yankees will eventually find someone better and move on, and we’ll all look back at this fifth starter/long man debate and laugh. But for now, I would have done things differently.

Late Night Linkage: Media, Offseason, Prospects

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Here’s some links for you night owls…

Surviving the Media

The New York media can be something else, to put it kindly, so Dan Barbarisi of The Wall Street Journal took a look at what the Yankees are doing to help their players cope with all the attention. It wasn’t until 2007 that the team put some sort of media training in place, when Brian Cashman sat down with media relations guru Jason Zillo to hammer out a plan of attack. Now the club has mandatory training that includes mock interviews, guest speakers, and more, and young players (three or fewer years of service time) are stuck with even more intense training. I recommend giving it a read, stuff like that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

Yankees win 2011 Bobby Murcer Award

Two years ago, the Baseball Assistance Team announced the creation of The Bobby Murcer Award, which is given annually to the team whose players contribute the most to B.A.T. through MLB’s payroll deduction program. The Yankees announced yesterday that they have won this year’s award, just like they did in 2010 as well as in 2009. B.A.T. gives aid and support to members of the “baseball family” who are unable to help themselves, and this is an award I hope the Yankees win every year.

MLBTR’s Offseason In Review

We’ve written countless words about the Yankees and their less than stellar offseason here at RAB, but sometimes it’s good to see an outsider’s opinion. Tim Dierkes tackled the subject at MLBTR yesterday, and started out by stating the obvious: “Only the Yankees can spend $130MM on free agents and have it seem like they didn’t do much during the offseason.” He gave the team credit for landing Pedro Feliciano on a two-year deal when inferior relievers were getting three years, but in the end, Tim draws an all too common conclusion: “The main goal may be to wring a couple of good months out of the rotation candidates.” Hopefully the trade market takes shape sooner rather than later.

FanGraphs Top 100 Prospects

Marc Hulet at FanGraphs finally got around to posting his list of the game’s top 100 prospects on Monday, and Jesus Montero came in at number five overall. He trails only Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Jeremy Hellickson, and Domonic Brown. Manny Banuelos placed 18th, Gary Sanchez was 40th, Dellin Betances was 57th, and Austin Romine just made the cut at number 100. Five top 100 prospects seems to be the consensus this offseason, even if it hasn’t always been the same five names in the same order.

Open Thread: Injury Updates

Kevin Millwood made it to Tampa. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

All of the roster and transactions news was posted this afternoon, but Chad Jennings offered up some injury updates as well. Let’s recap it here…

  • Tonight’s game was canceled because it’s pouring in Tampa, so Curtis Granderson was unable to do his scheduled work this afternoon. “Very close to it, if not on it,” said the center fielder, referring to being ready for Opening Day. Grandy wants to play in a game before Opening Day, but the final game of the Grapefruit League schedule will be played tomorrow afternoon. I guess the good news is that he’s not far off from returning. (Update: John Flaherty says Grandy took batting practice inside and could play in a minor league game tomorrow, weather permitting.)
  • Once healthy, Pedro Feliciano says he’ll only need “a couple of bullpens” to get himself into game shape.
  • Chris Dickerson’s hamstring injury is “manageable” and doesn’t seem to be much of an issue.
  • Frankie Cervelli will be free of his protective walking boot for good tomorrow.

Anyway, that’s it. No game tonight like I said, so you’re going to have to dig around for something else to watch. The only local team in action is the Knicks, who’ve managed to lose nine of their last ten games. Same ol’ Knicks even with Carmelo, eh? You all know what to do, so have at it.

The Bench Takes Shape

Update (5:43pm): Lots and lots of updates via Bryan Hoch and Ben Shpigel. First of all, that Sanchez trade? Forget it. He’s being sold to a team in Japan, where I assume he’ll have a much greater opportunity. Good luck to him. Fat Sanchezes 4 life.

We also have ourselves a bench now. Jesus Montero, Ramiro Pena, Justin Maxwell, and Doug Bernier were all sent to Triple-A this afternoon while Austin Romine went back to Double-A Trenton. Ronnie Belliard was released (nice knowin’ ya), and Mark Prior is going to hang around in Tampa for a while, which I assume means Extended Spring Training. Based on all that, the big league bench will consist of Chavez, Andruw Jones, Eduardo Nunez, and Gustavo Molina. Curtis Granderson‘s replacement is still TBD, if one is even needed.

Original Post (4:30pm): As Spring Training nears an end, the Yanks’ Opening Day roster and 40-man are starting to take shape. We have a few afternoon updates including news of a new addition to the Yanks. As they announced in their game notes release this afternoon, the Yankees have signed Eric Chavez to a Major League contract and have added him to the 25-man roster. Chavez had been in camp on a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite, and he has impressed everyone this spring. He hit .405/.432/.571 in 42 at bats and will spell A-Rod and Mark Teixeira at the corners this year.

Via Mark Feinsand, we learn that Romulo Sanchez was seen shaking hands and saying his goodbyes in the clubhouse, indicating that the out-of-options right-hander has been traded or released. Problem is the Yankees haven’t announced where to or for what yet, so stay tuned. We first heard that something was up with Romulo yesterday.

Via Bryan Hoch and Ben Shpigel, lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano will stay behind in Tampa when the team heads north for Opening Day and begin the season on the disabled list. He expected to be there “for a few weeks,” which doesn’t sound good but could easily mean the 15-day minimum. Feliciano’s been dealing with a triceps issue and hasn’t appear in the game in about two weeks now. That’s a shame.

The RAB Radio Show: March 28, 2011

The Yankees have the roster pretty much figured out. Mike and I open with the rotation and bullpen decisions, which came down over the weekend. That leaves just a few odds and ends to figure out before Thursday.

We discuss the backup catcher situation at length, particularly as it regards Jesus Montero. Plus, if the Yankees are looking to trade Romulo Sanchez, will they get back a catcher better than Gustavo Molina?

Podcast run time 41:14

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

Simulating the 2011 AL season

Today is a wonderful time if you love season projections and simulations. Which is to say that it’s a great day for the nerdiest of the nerdy. Today at Replacement Level SG has posted his 2011 Diamond Mind simulations for the American League. For those unfamiliar, Diamond Mind is a simulator that takes input stats, runs hundreds of thousands of simulations, and spits out probabilities for wins and losses, among other things. For the inputs he uses five projection systems: Bill James, CAIRO, Marcel, Oliver, and PECOTA.

The Yankees come out with 92.4 wins, two wins behind the Red Sox, but six wins ahead of the Rays. That puts them comfortably into a playoff spot. Make sure to check out the whole post for the full standings. Most of all, check out the disclaimers. SG lays out all the stuff we should know — we can’t predict injuries, these aren’t predictions, etc. — but often forget when looking at simulations.

2011 Season Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

It’s been 13 years since the Orioles last qualified for the postseason, and four years since they finished somewhere other than last place in the AL East. Despite that, they made some noise in the second half of last season, hiring former Yankees manager Buck Showalter in late-July and going 34-23 under his watch, the best record among AL East teams during that time. Before Buck came aboard, Baltimore won just 32 of 105 games.

After employing the American League’s third worse offense (.309 wOBA, 613 runs), worst starting rotation (4.74 FIP), and fifth worst bullpen (4.25 FIP) in 2010, the O’s went out and made several notable moves in the offseason. They traded four young relievers for Mark Reynolds, Brendan Harris, and J.J. Hardy, then signed free agents Vlad Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Justin Duchscherer, and Kevin Gregg, among others. Koji Uehara, Mark Hendrickson, and Cesar Izturis were also retained. Those additions undeniably help improve the team, but just how much?


Last year’s Orioles had exactly two well-above-average regulars on offense, and both are returning. Luke Scott led the team in pretty much everything, including wOBA (.387), homers (27), walk rate (11.4%), and ISO (.251). Nick Markakis finished second in wOBA (.353) and led the team in OBP (.370), producing yet another solid season in a young career full of them. Reynolds might be a whiff machine, but .241 career ISO’s don’t grow on trees, and neither do guys with legit 30+ homer power (at least these days). Vlad isn’t really as good as his 2010 first half (.319/.364/.554 with 20 homers) but probably isn’t as bad as his 2010 second half (.278/.322/.426, nine homers), so the middle ground (.355-ish wOBA) is the best bet this season. That’s four legit middle-of-the-order bats, two more than Baltimore had last year.

The defense has been upgraded at short with Hardy, who has the second highest UZR (+21.4) at the position over the last three years. Lee’s reputation with the glove is stellar, far better than what the incumbent Ty Wigginton can do at first. Reynolds is hardly a wizard at the hot corner, but he’s better than Miguel Tejada, so three of the four infield positions have been upgraded defensively. They’re not the ’99 Mets, but the infield defense has been massively improved.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Orioles also boast what should be an improved relief corps. Uehara was brilliant late last year as closer (11.25 K/9, 1.02 BB/9, 2.40 FIP) and has some competition from Gregg, who’s had a sub-3.90 FIP in four the last five years, including 3.57 in 2010. Mike Gonzalez missed much of last season due to injury, and he overcame his early-season struggles to post a stellar 2.79 FIP. Left-handers that can strike out double-digit batters per nine innings are a rare breed. Add in Jason Berken (3.59 FIP in 2010) and Jim Johnson (3.08), and Showalter should have a solid set of middle relievers and setup men at his disposal.

Jeremy Guthrie, while no All-Star, is a fine rotation option with three straight years of 190+ IP plus a mid-4.00’s FIP in three of the last four seasons. He has a knack for outperforming his peripheral stats, posting a sub-4.00 ERA in three of the last four years. Behind him will be southpaw Brian Matusz, one of the very best young pitchers in the game. He had a fine rookie season (4.05 FIP in 175.2 IP) and was nothing short of brilliant down the stretch (2.18 ERA, 3.35 FIP in his final 11 starts). The O’s have a chance to win whenever either of those two guys is on the bump.


Just as was the case last year, this Orioles team is only going as far as the pitching staff takes them, and it won’t be that far. Beyond Guthrie and Matusz is a group of has-beens and never-wases, highlighted by Duschscherer. He started just five games last season after missing all of 2009, and has already been setback by nagging issues with his surgically repaired hip a few times this spring; the Duke of Hurl has two whole Grapefruit League innings to his credit and is expected to start the season on the disabled list. Say what you want about Kevin Millwood’s awful season in 2010 (4.86 FIP, 5.10 ERA), but at least he made 31 starts.

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Behind Duchscherer lies Brad Bergesen, a low-slot righty with a career 4.70 FIP, the inability to miss bats (5.7% swinging strikes), and a considerable platoon split (5.32 xFIP vs. LHB, 4.09 vs. RHB). He’s young (25) and a ground ball guy (49.3% career), but the AL East is a tough place to live if you can’t get strike three consistently (4.48 K/9). Jake Arrieta showed flashes of good and bad in his debut last season, ending up with a 4.76 FIP and nearly as many walks (48) as strikeouts (52) in 100.1 IP. Chris Tillman is still struggling to find his way at the big league level (6.00 FIP in 118.2 IP), but has more talent than either Bergesen or Arrieta. Young pitchers tend to take a lot of lumps in this division, and it probably won’t be any different for Baltimore this summer.

Aside from Duchscherer, both Brian Roberts and Lee offer major health concerns. Roberts missed more than three months last year with an abdominal injury and has been limited by neck issues in camp. Lee had offseason wrist surgery and has already been slowed by soreness in the wrist, and the duo has combined for just 16 games played this spring. If they miss any length of time this year, the likely replacements are some combination of Izturis, Robert Andino, Jake Fox, and Josh Bell. Yikes.

The offense is still below average at short (Hardy has a .302 wOBA over the last two seasons) and behind the plate (Matt Wieters has a .315 wOBA in his young career), though both are capable of much more. Markakis’ cannon arm doesn’t make up for his shoddy range (-11.0 range runs over the last three years), and although Scott isn’t as bad with the glove as you’d think, going from Felix Pie in left to him is a step down.

Furthermore, the Orioles have one of the weaker farm systems in the game, ranked in the bottom third by most publications. Zach Britton, arguably the best left-handed pitching prospect in the game, will make his debut at some point this year, but as we saw with Matusz early last year, quick success is no guarantee. Bell, Wynn Pelzer, Brandon Snyder, and Ryan Adams are more solid contributors than future cornerstones. There just isn’t much help on the way right now.

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Overall Outlook

If the Orioles are going to make any noise in the AL East this year, it won’t be because of veteran additions like Vlad, Gregg, and Duchscherer. It’ll be because the young guys all take a major step forward, a step forward that will inevitably be attributed to Showalter. Markakis has flashed MVP potential in the past, and Wieters has all the talent in the world. Adam Jones is a fine player, but a .325 wOBA and just 5.5 fWAR is not what everyone expected in his first 1,800 PA. Matusz, Tillman, and Britton are the makings of a stellar rotation, but progress must first be made by all three. Again, the talent is there, it just has to turn into performance.

Are the Orioles a better team than they were 12 months ago? Sure, I don’t think there’s a doubt about that. Unfortunately, we’re talking about a 74-76 win team being better than a 66 win team. The improvement under Showalter is real but only to a certain extent. Anyone thinking they’ll maintain that 97-win pace they had under Buck over a full season is going to be very disappointed. The O’s are not going to be a total pushover in 2011, but they’re not going to be a real threat to the three AL East powers either.