Open Thread: February 22nd Camp Notes

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The latest from Tampa…

  • Derek Jeter responded to Hank Steinbrenner’s comments just as you’d expect he would. “I’m not upset. It doesn’t bother me,” said the Cap’n. “Owners can say what they want. They can express their opinions. I’m not upset.” Jeter joked that he isn’t moving (houses, not positions), and pointed out that construction on his mansion started long before the 2010 season. As for the lack of hunger thing … he said he didn’t see it. (Marc Carig, Dom Amore, Ben Shpigel, Carig, Carig & Carig)
  • Mark Prior threw an early morning batting practice session with Bradley Suttle hitting from both sides of the plate. Joe Girardi, Larry Rothschild, Mike Harkey, and pro scouting director Billy Eppler all watched. Eppler said Prior, who threw fastballs, curveballs, and splitters, looked good, and reiterated that the former Cub is viewed strictly as a reliever. (Carig, Carig & Carig)
  • Freddy Garcia, Luis Ayala, Buddy Carlyle, Ryan Pope, Bartolo Colon, Sergio Mitre, Robert Fish, and Hector Noesi all threw live BP as well. Colon appeared to have some zip on his heater, though Russell Martin homered off him. Girardi said Garcia looked “pretty good … threw strikes, got a lot of ground balls.” Despite that, Eduardo Nunez took him deep. (Bryan Hoch, Erik Boland, Amore & Shpigel)
  • CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Rafael Soriano all threw bullpens this morning. Phil Hughes is scheduled to face hitters tomorrow. Boone Logan also did some throwing, but no little girls got hurt today. (Chad Jennings & Carig)
  • The position players went through pop-up drills. Riveting stuff. (Hoch)
  • In case you missed it, Bartolo Colon will start the Grapefruit Opener.

This is the open thread for the night. The three hockey locals are in action, but neither of the basketballers. Talk about whatever, go nuts.

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The price to sign Daniel Bard

In 2006, the Yankees picked Ian Kennedy with the 21st pick of the amateur draft. In the lead-up to the draft, the Yanks were rumored to be interested in both Kennedy and Daniel Bard, and the Bombers eventually saw Bard slip to the Red Sox. It wasn’t the first time Bard was linked to the Yanks though.

Three years earlier, the Yankees used their 20th-round pick to select the current Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard out of high school but failed to sign him. WEEI’s Alex Speier caught up with Bard recently, who said he told the Yankees it would have taken $2 million to turn pro. “I think I told them I wanted $2 million, and if it happens, great,” said the right-hander. “They never even made an offer. I [thought] they would have. But they knew I was geared towards going to college.” Bard instead went to North Carolina to start.

The draft, and especially the Yankees draft philosophy, was quite different back then. Going way over slot to sign late round picks was not yet the norm, and the Yanks really weren’t all that focused on the draft back then. A $2 million signing bonus would have been the tenth largest given out that year, whereas it would have been only the 13th largest bonus of the the first round in last year’s draft.

Meanwhile, late-round overreach picks are fairly common. The Yanks tried to draft Daunte Culpepper late in the 1995 draft when he was a heralded high school arm, but he opted not to sign. The Red Sox selected Pedro Alvarez late in the 2005 draft, but the current Pirate turned down $1.5 million to go to college. Bard long ago joined that list of missed picks that litter the majors.

While we’re on the subject, make sure you check out Cliff Corcoran’s chat with Kevin Goldstein about some Yankees farmhands over at Pinstriped Bible. Some great stuff in there.

The RAB Radio Show: February 22, 2010

Hank Steinbrenner ran his mouth yesterday, which always proves entertaining. He didn’t disappoint. Mike and I discuss his little sound bytes.

Then, just when you think we’re going to wrap it up, I kinda of unleash the fury on White Sox GM Ken Williams. Calling for a work stoppage isn’t exactly appropriate, especially with the CBA expiring this winter.

Podcast run time 28:51

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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Projecting bounce backs for key players

It might be tough to find fault in an offense that scored 41 more runs than its next closest competitor, but it’s not impossible. The 2010 Yankees offense was clearly tops in the league, but they weren’t, as they say, firing on all cylinders. In fact, three of the first four hitters in the lineup experienced their worst seasons in recent memory. If the 2011 team is again going to dominate opposing pitchers, it’ll need plenty of help from Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot, Mark Teixeira at No. 3, and Alex Rodriguez hitting cleanup.

The reports on the two from camp so far have been almost universally positive. Jeter showed up early — easy for him, since he resides in Tampa — and worked on his new, lower-energy swing. Both Teixeira and Rodriguez appeared in good shape when they showed up, particularly A-Rod. While those certainly present positive signs, they don’t mean much in terms of performance. As Dave Cameron recently noted, reports of peak physical condition do not necessarily coincide with increased performance.

One place we can look for educated guesses about a player’s upcoming season is a projection system. Before launching into the numbers, I’ll provide the same warning that comes hand-in-hand with projections: these are not predictions. Each system takes into account certain factors and uses them to compare players to themselves and to their peers, and spits out an educated guess as to what we can expect from that player. Each system uses a different set of inputs and processes the data differently, hence the variations in projections.

Here’s how five major projection engines — CAIRO, PECOTA, Bill James, Marcel, and ZiPS — view the 2011 seasons for these three players.

Jeter:

A-Rod:

Teixeira:

* Note: ZiPS does not forecast HBP, but I had to put in zero to make the formula work.

The mean projection on Jeter isn’t that bad, but it’s not exactly a guy you want in the leadoff spot all season. A .353 OBP isn’t bad, but if Brett Gardner is exceeding that, as he did by a solid margin in 2010, there will and should be calls for him to take over the spot. CAIRO’s variables like him a lot more, and if he got his OBP over .360 I think he could fit in the lead-off spot. Then again, is that big enough a gap to make a he should/he shouldn’t delineation?

On A-Rod, Marcel seems to be the believer in his true decline. It’s the only projection system that pegs him at under 30 home runs, and also clearly has him at the lowest OBP. Still, it’s good to see all the positive projections, even if they don’t amount to 2007, or even 2008, A-Rod.

Again with Teixeira Marcel sees more of a true decline than a one-year blip. PECOTA, which is often considered the most discerning projection engine, actually favors him for a bounce back. I think everyone in the room would take that line from him, especially if he did it in 682 PA. That means he’s on the field, healthy, and contributing.

One final note on these projection engines: they’re all relative. For instance, despite downcasting A-Rod a bit, ZiPS actually projects him to be the best hitter on the team and one of the best in the league. Bill James, on the other hand, always appears to have optimistic forecasts, but that seems to be true across the league. That’s my only hesitancy with averaging out these projections. They make different assumptions up front, and those assumptions can lead to different baselines.

Once March 31 hits, it won’t matter how good of shape these guys are in, and it won’t matter what the projection engines say. These are just pre-season indicators we use to fill time between the start of spring training and Opening Day. Still, it’s nice to see pretty overall positive forecasts on the team’s three most important hitters. If they improve over 2010, the Yanks will be in for another big season in 2011.

Yanks tab Colon to start Grapefruit League opener

Per Bryan Hoch, the Yanks will start their back-end rotation competition with a bang as Bartolo Colon will start the Yanks’ Grapefruit League opener on Saturday. He’ll go up against Cole Hamels and the Phillies in Tampa. The Yanks are going with Colon, who threw a bunch of innings in winter ball because he is “best prepared for the assignment.”

Following him in the rotation will be Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia. Sergio Mitre, the fourth candidate for one of two rotation spots, will work in relief for now. As we’ve covered to death, Colon, Garcia, Nova and Mitre will be competing for two rotation spots, and it’s likely that Colon and Garcia will have a leg up if they can throw well and get outs this spring. For purposes of early-season depth alone, the Yanks may opt for the veterans over Nova. How long they last is anyone’s guess.

Going inside Jorge’s head

Former NFL defensive back Dave Duerson’s suicide last week sent shockwaves through the NFL. As part of his continually excellent coverage of head injuries in football, Alan Schwarz reported that Duerson wants his brain donated to research and shot himself in the chest so that his damaged brain would still be intact. Duerson is just another in a long line of aging football players to suffer from or fear the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and people in the sport are beginning to listen.

Baseball doesn’t receive nearly the same attention for its brain injuries simply because they are far less common. In fact, when high-profile players suffer concussions, it garners far more attention than any NFL injury, and over the past few years, we’ve seen Mike Matheny and Corey Koskie retire because of head injuries. We’ve seen Jason Bay and Ryan Church felled by concussions. We see Justin Morneau still not at 100 percent eight months after he got knocked out.

Closer to home, the Yankees are dealing with their own star who has dealt with head injuries. One of the driving motivations behind Jorge Posada‘s switch to designated hitter this season is his and the team’s fear for his long-term safety. In an excellent piece in the Bergen Record this past weekend, Bob Klapisch examined Jorge’s health. The relevant parts:

As the sports world’s awareness of concussions grows, the Yankees’ medical staff is keeping closer tabs on Posada. Scouts say his reaction time, particularly on defense, has slowed in the last two to three seasons, although that may be due, in part, to his advancing age. But Posada was almost knocked out by a foul tip in a Sept. 7 game against the Orioles, returning to the dugout feeling disoriented and dizzy.

“I remember telling [former pitching coach] Dave Eiland, ‘Something’s wrong with me, I just don’t feel right,’” Posada said. “I felt like I was about to throw up, I was dizzy, everything felt weird. The next day I was still having headaches. It was scary, I have to admit.”

Although a CAT scan revealed no bleeding in the brain, the Yankees nevertheless had Posada undergo a comprehensive memory test. The computerized program, called ImPACT, was designed at the University of Pittsburgh concussion center. It runs for 15-18 minutes, measuring attention, memory, processing speed and reaction time…

Posada said the test results were “not good” after the September incident. In fact, his results were subpar in two of the three tests he took in 2010. Does this mean Posada is at risk for brain damage? No one knows for sure, but the data is troubling.

Posada is well aware of the recent studies conducted on football players and knows he has a lot to live for after his playing days are over. “I have to think about my kids. I want to enjoy growing old,” he said. “I don’t want to be sick…It’s something I’m starting to worry about, it’s something we have to keep an eye on. At my age, there’s reason for concern, especially since we know so much more about concussions. It used to be, you just shake it off, and keep going. But there’s more to it than that.”

Right now, the long-term effects of concussions in baseball are still relatively unknown, and the former players Klapisch speaks to — Joe Girardi, Butch Wynegar — seem to downplay the impact getting knocked in the face had on them. But the Yankees are right to be cautious with Jorge. Staying healthy after his career is over is far, far more important than eking out another costly season behind the plate. Knowing when to scale back isn’t a trait many baseball players have, and Jorge’s family should thank him for it.

The Right-Handed Nick Swisher

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Over the last few years, the Yankees lineup has been a matchup nightmare for opposing managers because it’s so diverse. They’ve mixed quality left-handed batters with quality right-handed batters, mixing in a few quality switch-hitters just to be mean. One of those switch-hitters is Nick Swisher, who has consistently been better as a lefty batter in his career (.371 wOBA). That’s not to say that he’s been poor from the right side, because he certainly hasn’t (.352 wOBA), but with more righty pitchers around (it was almost 75/25 RHB/LHP in 2010), it’s a good thing that Swish is more prolific from the south side.

As a power hitter, really a three-true outcomes guy prior to 2010, Swisher has done most of his damage when he pulls the ball. That’s pretty normal, bat control freaks that go to the opposite field as often as say, Derek Jeter or Tony Gwynn, are just that, freaks. Swish’s output as a right-handed batter did change a bit last season though, let’s take a look…

There’s a lot to take in here, but the first thing that should jump out at you is where he’s hitting the ball. From 2007 through 2009 he was an extreme pull hitter as a right-handed batter, with more than half of his balls in play getting hooked into left field. Swish trimmed almost 13% off that total last season, redistributing most of it towards center and a little bit towards right. He also increased his overall production, with most of his damage coming on balls hit the other way. Of course, a standard small sample size warning applies.

The batted ball profiles changed a bit as well. When Swisher did pull a ball as a right-handed batter last year, there was better than a 50-50 chance that it was a grounder and less than a one in five chance that it was a fly ball. In years past it was closer to 40% grounders and more than 30% fly balls. Ground balls are more likely to go for hits, but fly balls have a tendency to land over the fence, so it’s not much of a surprise that his wOBA fell almost two hundred points to the pull field.

Things changed some on balls hit to center field, as Swish traded in a few ground balls for some more fly balls and line drives. The result was an additional two hundred and fifty points of wOBA, but again, sample size. There wasn’t much of a change on balls to the opposite field, at least in terms of batted ball type. What is interesting is that Swisher went the other way 31 times last season, just about half as many times as he did in the previous three years combined.

(AP Photo/Peter Morgan)

As we know, Swisher changed his setup with some help from Kevin Long, starting back in the 2009 postseason. He closed his stance a bit and quieting some pre-swing movement in his hands. Although we can’t say that those adjustments have resulted in a right-handed batter that uses the whole field (at least moreso than he did before) with any certainty, we shouldn’t just rule it out. More than anything, we have to see how things play out in 2011. For all we know it could just be small sample size noise.

Here’s one last little interesting nugget about the right-handed version of Nick Swisher: he walks a whole lot more than he strikes out. That’s surprising since he can be prone to strike three, putting it nicely. Since 2007, Swish has drawn 141 unintentional walks as a righty but has struck out just 122 times. It’s pretty consistent on a year-to-year basis as well; he hasn’t struck out more than he’s walked as a righty since 2006. Over the same time as a left-handed batter, it’s 174 uIBB and 609 K. I don’t know what Swisher’s natural side is (he’s a lefty thrower), but for whatever reason he’s a much better contact hitter when looking over his left shoulder.

The AL East boasts the best collection of left-handed pitching in the game, so having a switch-hitter capable of hitting so well right-handed is an obvious advantage. Leaving out CC Sabathia because he plays for the good guys, there’s also Jon Lester, David Price, Brian Matusz, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, and Marc Rzepczynski. The Orioles could call up Zach Britton and/or the Red Sox could insert Felix Doubront into their rotation at a moment’s notice. If Swisher can maintain what may or may not be a newfound all-fields approach withot sacrificing power as a right-handed hitter, well that would be splendid.