The RAB Radio Show: January 4, 2011

It appears as though the Rangers will sign Adrian Beltre. What does this have to do with the Yankees? It makes the Angels that much worse. Again, what does this have to do with the Yankees? They have some decent pitchers on staff, and the Yanks could go shopping in Anaheim come deadline. Mike and I run down the guys they have and who we’d want.

(Also, more Scott Kazmir than you ever wanted to hear.)

After poking around the Angels and discussing their bleak situation, we move onto divisional matters. The Orioles further strengthened their bullpen by adding Kevin Gregg. If they have a lead late they might actually hold on. Plus, there’s another positive to signing Gregg.

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The 2010 Yankees & Inherited Runners

That was a bad day. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

One of the most frustrating things to watch in baseball is when a reliever comes into a game and isn’t able to put the fire out. Instead of stranding the runners like he was asked to do, they end up coming around to score, and even worse is when he piles some more runs of his own on top of that. It inevitably happens throughout the season, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it. Those inherited runners are one of baseball’s little statistical quirks, because when those runs score don’t get charged to the pitcher that was actually on the mound at the time.

Let’s say it’s the seventh inning, and CC Sabathia loads the bases with two outs on an infield single, a bloop into the triangle in shallow right-center, and a hit by pitch that grazed the batter’s jersey. Joe Girardi takes his ace out at 118 pitches and gives the ball to Chad Gaudin because he’s trying to force feed him a spot on the playoff roster. Gaudin walks two straight batters then gives up a solid single to center, allowing all three of those inherited runners to score before getting the final out. All three runs are charged to Sabathia while Gaudin exits with a shiny 0.00 ERA. It’s not fair or an accurate representation of what happened, but those are the rules.

As a whole, the Yankee pitching staff allowed 61 of 212 inherited runners to score in 2010, or 28.8%. The major league average was 30.8%, so the Yanks were solidly better than the rest of the league in that department. I’m guessing that has to do the team’s primary relievers having down right excellent strikeout rates, close to or above one strikeout per nine innings pitched. The best team at stranding inherited runners in 2010 was the Twins (23.8% allowed to score), the worst was the Diamondbacks (41.3%, yikes). Here is the inherited runner breakdown for Yankee relievers with at least 25 innings pitched in 2010…

It’s not an enormous amount of baserunners on an individual level, but every little bit counts. Fun fact: All three of those inherited runners Mo allowed to score came in one game, the May 16th game when he walked Jim Thome with the bases loaded before allowing the grand slam to Jason Kubel (pictured above). To give you an idea of how unstable this data really is, David Robertson‘s percentage of inherited runners scored would have been an above league average 28.1% instead of a below average 31.3% had he allowed nine runners to score instead of ten.

Aside from Mitre and CHoP, the team’s core relief crew did a fine job of stranding runners, basically league average or better. None of the primary guys really had an especially poor season in this department. But what about the starting pitchers that handed the ball off to said relief crew?

Among the many great stats kept at Baseball Reference is data on bequeathed runners and bequeathed runners scored. That is runners left on base by a starting pitcher and handed over to a reliever, the other side of the inherited runner coin. Here’s a breakdown of the team’s five regular starters from 2010, with their bequeathed runner data…

Again, it’s a relatively small amount of runners on an individual level, but it still puts a dent in the ol’ ERA. Both Pettitte and Hughes appear to have benefited greatly from work by the guys relieving them, Sabathia not so much. I wanted to get an idea of how much having an above or below average rate of bequeathed runners score impacted these guys’ ERA’s, so let’s figure out how many runners would have been expected to score had each received the team average of 28.8% inherited runners scored…

Okay, so it’s not much of a difference, nothing worth getting upset over. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started writing this post, so for all I knew it could have been a 0.50 ERA swing in some cases. I wish there was a way to get bequeathed runner data for relievers, but alas, B-Ref only keeps it for starters. I suspect that Joba might have been a little unlucky in those spots, I seem to remember quite a few times when he was lifted with men on base only to watch the inning implode. Heck, those three inherited runners Mo allowed to score in that game all belonged to Joba. Could be confirmation bias, so who knows.

As it stands, the only significant addition to the 2011 bullpen is Pedro Feliciano. He’s been an inherited runner stranding machine over the last four years, allowing just 51 of 235 runners to score (21.7%) over the last four years. Over the last two seasons, it’s 18.3%. That definitely has something to do with his status as a lefty specialist though, so don’t get too excited. As long as the Yankee relievers keep missing bats and getting outs on strike three, I would expect them to be better than league average at stranding extraneous baserunners.

The Edwin Jackson trade possibility

(Paul Beaty/AP)

As we weather the final three months before Opening Day, we’ll spend most of our time talking about pitching. Everywhere else the Yankees are decently set, and where they’re not set they have options. With the pitching staff the options aren’t immediately clear. What is clear is that no one is satisfied with Sergio Mitre. I imagine, then, that until the Yankees clear up the back end of the rotation that it will dominate our conversation.

In early December MLB Trade Rumors ran a poll asking where Rafael Soriano would land. Of the teams listed, the Angels got the most votes, but that doesn’t appear to be a strong possibility at all. They already signed Scott Downs and generally have a decent bullpen. Their needs lie elsewhere. The next top vote-getter: The Chicago White Sox. They just lost their closer, Bobby Jenks, and while Matt Thornton had a great 2010, he’s probably best used as an elite setup man. We saw that idea gain some merit on Saturday when Jon Heyman reported that “there seems to be some interest” on the part of the Sox.

The problem, as Heyman noted, was that the White Sox have little money left in the 2011 budget. After signing Adam Dunn and re-signing Paul Konerko the team has $110.575 million in committed salaries. Baseball Reference pegs their total after arbitration and reserve clause obligations to just under $120 million. The Sox have hit that total only once in team history, in 2007 when they finished 72-90. If they do intend to sign Soriano, it appears as though they’d have to shed at least one contract. Since they do have a number of quality pitchers, the Yankees will likely take a look if they make one available.

Last month Mike took a look at Mark Buehrle, who is owed $14 million this season before he becomes a free agent. There also was a clause in his contract that gave him a $1 million raise, plus a guaranteed $15 million in 2012. From the way it looks on the White Sox Cot’s page, that clause expired when Buehrle gained 10 and 5 rights on July 16, 2010. That means he can reject any trade for whatever reason. The White Sox, then, might look to another pricey starter who hits free agency next season if they want to free up some payroll.

Yankees fans should be familiar with Edwin Jackson. In 2008 he faced the Yankees six times and allowed one or fewer runs in half of those starts. Thankfully, in the other three he allowed five or more. The next year he moved to Detroit, where he’d face the Yankees less, but in his two starts he pitched 13 innings and allowed just two runs. That was by far his best year, and it was even better until he flopped in September (and helped the downfall of the then-playoff-bound Tigers). When the Tigers traded him last off-season the Yankees were involved. Could his next trade involve the Yankees again?

Jackson has certainly experienced his ups and downs throughout his big league career. He made his major league debut in 2003 at age 19, and after the season was named Baseball America’s No. 4 overall prospect. Yet he never found consistent success with the Dodgers. They eventually gave up on him, sending him to Tampa Bay in exchange for Danys Baez in the winter before the 2006 season. It took Jackson a couple of years, but by 2008 he appeared to be a decent pitcher. In 2009 and 2010 he gained notoriety, first for his spectacular first half in 2009, and then for pitching a no-hitter in 2010. He ended the 2010 season in Chicago, where he pitched exceptionally well, striking out more than a batter per inning in his 11 starts.

The problem with Jackson is that even though he has pitched in the majors for parts of eight seasons, we still don’t have a decent grasp of what to expect from him. For instance, in 2008 and 2009 he posted identical 39.1 percent ground ball rates. But in 2010 that jumped all the way to 49.4 percent. His strikeout rate has jumped around, too. In 2008 he struck out just 5.30 per nine, but in 2009 that went up by more than a batter per nine to 6.77. In 2010 he appeared to be at a similar pace, 6.97 per nine with the Diamondbacks, before he exploded at the end of the season and ended up with a K/ of 7.78.

There are two aspects of Jackson’s game that I’m comfortable in forecasting. He’s probably going to walk three per nine, which is completely acceptable for any pitcher, and actually a very good mark for a back-end guy. Also, his HR/FB ratio has hovered right around 10 percent for the past few years, which is about league average. This is excellent news if he’s the 50 percent ground ball from 2010, but less good news if he’s closer to 40 percent. Again, it’s hard to get a solid reason on the exact type of pitcher he can be for the Yankees.

The biggest obstacle in any potential Jackson trade is Chicago’s demands for a return. This will not be another Nick Swisher trade. Jackson is coming off a solid year that got substantially better at the end, when he moved back to the AL. Chicago is clearly all-in this season, so they’re not going to let one of their starters go for cheap — especially because of the uncertainty surrounding Jake Peavy. The White Sox need a third baseman, and the Yankees don’t have one to spare. Or, at least, they don’t have one who represents a substantial upgrade over what the Sox already have in-house. That means finding another match, or involving another team. That complicates the issues, and complications often kill potential trades.

If the White Sox do intent to acquire Rafael Soriano and shore up their bullpen, I would like to see the Yankees engage them regarding Jackson. He’s not a perfect fit, as his numbers have been all over the plate in the last three seasons. But he does represent an upgrade over Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova, which is something the Yankees should be seeking right now. The Sox and the Yanks might not match up on a trade, so I don’t expect anything to come from this. But if he’s available, I’d like to see the Yankees make a decent run for his services.

Stealing Wins: The 2010 Yankees & Baserunning

Run Brett run. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

For the most part, we recognize that the game exists in three distinct parts: hitting, pitching, and fielding. The last two go together to a certain extent. Those are just broad generalizations of course, we know that fielding consists of catching and throwing, that pitching consists of game-calling and executing the pitch, and that hitting consists of swinging a bat and baserunning. That baserunning part is what we’re going to focus on here, and it’s probably the most ignored skill in the game.

The Yankees as a team come off as a terribly bland baserunning squad to the naked eye. Oh yes, it’s fun to watch Brett Gardner soar around the bases at the top speed, and thanks to him the Yanks stole 100+ bases for the fifth consecutive year (103 steals at a 76.9% success rate, to be exact). Beyond Gardner though, the team is loaded with a pack of cloggers led by Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada. Both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are slowing down, and even Robbie Cano is nothing special on the basepaths despite being young and relatively athletic. When I looked at the team’s baserunning ability last winter, I found that the 2009 squad was worth 10.30 runs below average in non-stolen base situations. I suggest you go back and read that post just to get familiar with the tools we’re working with here.

That -10.30 run output was an eight run drop-off from 2008 and was the third worst in the game, ahead of only the Braves and Orioles. In sabermetric jargon, it means that the Yankees essentially cost themselves a win on the basepaths. That’s not good, obviously. Thankfully the team improved in these non-stolen base baserunning situations in 2010, jumping all the way up to 0.32 runs above average. It’s a negligible amount when you look at it on its own, but in the context of the last two years it’s a considerable 10.62 run improvement that should not be ignored. Here’s a breakdown of the team’s baserunning performance, and like I said before, I recommend re-reading last year’s post just to get familiar with the stats used

The most noticeable improvement comes from two players: Gardner and Posada. Gardner went from 284 plate appearances and 2.50 runs above average in 2009 to 569 plate appearances and 4.81 runs above average in 2010. It’s quite simple, they gave the guy more playing time and he rewarded them on the bases. Posada was the game’s worst baserunner a season ago (8.23 runs below average), but he improved his effort by two-and-a-half runs this past season for a total of 5.66 runs below average. Yes, it was still the second worst baserunning performance in the league (sorry, Adam LaRoche), but it was an improvement. Jorge stole a career high three bases in 2010, and he also performed better when it came to advancing on base hits according to the component data. That doesn’t necessarily mean he advanced more often, it just means he got thrown out less. Sometimes staying put is the best thing to do.

Jeter’s overall offensive performance cratered in 2010 but his baserunning did rebound. He went from just about a full run below average (0.90 to be exact) in 2009 to 1.76 runs above average, back in line with his career performance. Looks like his ’09 baserunning was just a blip on the radar. Of course, I’d gladly give up those extra three-ish runs of baserunning if it meant Jeter would hit like he did in 2009 again. Replacing Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon with Curtis Granderson and the Nick Johnson/Marcus Thames/Lance Berkman mash-up resulted in a 0.82 run upgrade on the bases. Replacing Melky Cabrera with Greg Golson, Colin Curtis, Chad Huffman, and Austin Kearns was a tiny little 0.23 run upgrade. Nick Swisher‘s baserunning performance fell off by close to two-and-a-half runs, and he was the most significant decline.

Cano’s baserunning skills caught my eye so much last year that I wrote an entire post on the topic. I showed that while he was generally a crappy basestealer, he had improved in the other aspects of baserunning in each of his four big league seasons. Unfortunately the improvement did not continue, as he dropped from 2.46 runs above average in 2009 to just 1.37 runs above average in 2010. A little more than a run isn’t that big of a deal, but it would have been cool to see that improvement continue. I guess Robbie had grown accustomed to simply trotting around the bases last summer (hiyo!). As long as he’s in the black, I’m cool with it.

The Yanks have added just one significant position player this offseason, importing Russell Martin to be the everyday catcher. Unlike most backstops, he’s not a total slug on the bases. He swiped 21 bags in his breakout 2007 season and has stolen at least ten bases in each of his five professional seasons (although he has just a 70.2% success rate) save for 2010, when the hip injury robbed him the season’s final 55 games. Martin’s legs were worth 0.22 runs below average in non-stolen base situations last summer, an improvement from -1.58 runs in 2009 and a downgrade from +0.04 runs in 2008. By no means is he a great baserunner, but for a catcher, he’s pretty good.

Once again, the big thing to take away from this is that baserunning doesn’t impact the game all that much on an individual level. You’ll live with Tex being a below average baserunner because he does quite literally everything else in the game well. Nick Swisher cost the team three runs on the bases? Who cares, he can make that up in a week with his bat. The overall impact at the team level can be significant, and it’s worth nothing that the difference between the best baserunning team (Texas, +12.08 runs) and the worst (Arizona, -10.29) was more than two full wins last year. The Yankees are one of about a dozen teams scrunched right around the league average, give or take three runs in either direction.

More playing time for Gardner, a healthier and improved Granderson, and the addition of Martin should be enough to mitigate any decline by Posada, A-Rod, and Jeter in 2011, hopefully keeping the team right around that league average mark. It would be nice if they were a better and more dynamic team on the bases, sure, but that’s just not their game. Considering the minimal overall impact, that’s perfectly fine with me if they mash away.

The other guy in the A-Rod trade

Twenty minutes later, Luis Gonzalez totally ruined this moment for everyone. (AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta)

For Yankee fans in the early part of the 21st Century, few players in pinstripes elicited as much excitement as Alfonso Soriano. He was tall and thin — sinewy almost — and with a bat speed that simply wowed the crowd. His home runs were majestic; his speed on the base paths blazing. He made it look so easy, but after a rapid rise, he quickly fell out of favor. It would change the Yanks forever.

Signed as an international free agent out of Japan, Soriano made his Yankee debut in September of 1999, and he quickly made a mark. His first Yankee hit was a walk-off home run against Norm Charlton and the Devil Rays on a Friday night in the Bronx, and as Chuck Knoblauch began to suffer from baseball-induced psychosis in 2000, Soriano’s hot hitting drew raves.

In 2001, Soriano emerged as the Yanks’ starting second baseman, and he had a respectable rookie campaign. He hit .268 but with only a .304 on-base percentage and slugged .432. He did steal 43 bases and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. For a few minutes at the end of Game 7 of the World Series, it seemed as though Soriano would emerge as the hero. His 8th inning home run off of Curt Schilling gave the Yanks a 2-1 lead with Mariano looming. But alas.

Still, Soriano seemed to use that home run as a spring board to greatness, and the next season was truly his break-out campaign. He struck out too often and walked just 23 times, but he still hit .300/.332/.547 with 39 home runs and 41 stolen bases. It was good enough for a third place MVP finish. In 2003, the power dipped, but the patience improved. He hit .290/.338/.525 with 38 home runs but stole just 35 bases.

Yet, rumblings of displeasure were emerging out of the Yankee camp with Soriano. In the playoffs against Boston and the Marlins, Soriano went just 9 for 55 and struck out 20 times. He was benched in the World Series, and the Yankees seemed to think that he spent too much admiring his home runs and not enough time closing the holes in his swing. When destiny intervened in February, the Yanks did not hesitate to send Soriano off to the Rangers.

As Alex Rodriguez came to New York, Soriano went to Texas, bound for a last-place team. The Yanks had no real clear successor to Soriano at second base as Robinson Cano was still just a prospect, and those close to the Yanks were sad to see Soriano go. “We gave up a great player” Yogi Berra said to the Daily News. “Once he learns the strike zone, he’ll be even better.”

Others shared Yogi’s sentiments. “He’s got a long way to go. He hasn’t even come near reaching his potential. “I was excited to see him grow and develop into the player he is,” Jorge Posada said during the early days of Spring Training. “A-Rod is an exciting player, but Alfonso is pretty similar. He’s going to develop into an A-Rod. He has that potential, and when everything is said and done, when he’s 32, we’ll talk about Soriano as the best player in the big leagues.”

Of course, things didn’t quite turn out A-Rodian for Soriano. He gained two years of age when he was traded, and suddenly, the Yanks had sent not an up-and-comer to the Rangers but someone just a year younger than A-Rod west. Both teams knew of the age discrepancy at the time of the trade.

Since leaving the Bronx, Soriano has had an uneven career. He never did find the strike zone as Yogi thought he would, but he has belted 216 home runs in the intervening seven seasons. As he’s aged, his stolen bases have trailed off to just five last season, and he’s battled hamstring problems while playing the outfield for the Cubs. He’s under contract in Chicago for another four years, and the Cubs still owe him $72 million. They’d move him if they could.

When Soriano hit 46 home runs for the Nationals in 2006 and the Yanks grappled with mid-decade failures, it seemed as though he would become the one who got away from the Yanks, but time has a way of changing things. These days Alfonso Soriano is working to regain that stroke and consistency he once flashed in the Bronx. He’s fifth in strike outs since his 2001 season and eighth in home runs. Alex Rodriguez, of course, leads baseball in the former category over the last ten years, and despite those fears and a very respectable career, Soriano never did become an A-Rod-like player. Almost, but not quite.

Pettitte not expected to decide on 2011 this week

Earlier today, we reported that the Yanks aren’t expecting Andy Pettitte to return, but we did say they were expecting to hear from the lefty this week. Apparently, those earlier reports were erroneous. As Brian Costello of The Post reported this afternoon, Brian Cashman said he doesn’t believe he’ll hear from Pettitte this week.

In a related post, T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com’s Rangers reporter, confirms that Texas did indeed reach out to Pettitte. The ballclub was informed that Pettitte “will either retire or go back to the Yankees.” Sullivan believes Pettitte will make up his mind in February which is in line with what we’ve heard concerning the Yanks’ decision to move ahead on the assumption that Pettitte will retire. Either way, Pettitte, says Sullivan, “wants to retire as a Yankee,” and the club will happily give him the time he needs to come to a decision.

Open Thread: A.J. turns his number

(AP Photo/Rob Carr)

A happy birthday goes out to A.J. Burnett today, the right-hander turns 34. There’s no beating around the bush here, the Yankees need Burnett to be better than he was last year, and that would be true even if the team managed to sign Cliff Lee. Hopefully a new pitching coach and an offseason of rest (both physical and mental) does the trick. Know who else celebrates a birthday today? The best bad utility infielder infielder ever, Luis Sojo. He turns 45. Happy B-day to both.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Islanders are the only local team in action, which kinda sucks. Baseball can’t come back soon enough. You know what to do, so have at it.