Mailbag: Joe Saunders

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

Shaun asks: I see on MLBTR that Arizona might non-tender Joe Saunders. Do you guys like him? Would you trade anything to get him before they let him go to keep him off the market? This is all hypothetical of course! Thanks!

To answer the second question first, no I would not trade something for Saunders to keep him from hitting the market. MLBTR projects his 2012 salary at close to $9M his third time through arbitration, and that’s just not happening. Saunders isn’t good enough to give up something of value for the right to pay him that much. I’d wait until Arizona non-tenders him before even considering him for a spot on the Yankees.

Saunders had a nice year in 2008, but he’s been consistently below-average ever since. He did manage a 4.57 FIP in 203.1 IP in 2010, but that stands out compared to a 5.17 FIP in 2009 and a 4.78 FIP this season. Like Jon Garland, Saunders has managed to get the reputation of being a ground ball guy even though he doesn’t actually get a ton of ground balls (44.5% in 2011, 45.5% career). He does have the “doesn’t miss bats” part down pat though (4.58 K/9 and 6.2% swings and misses in 2011, 5.02 and 6.7% career, respectively). His walk rate is probably his best attribute (2.84 BB/9 in 2011, 2.87 career).

I think we have enough info here to say Saunders is back-end starter at best, we’re talking more than 600 IP in the generally weak AL West and NL West since he was last league average (in terms of FIP) in 2008. I worry about the inability to miss bats and the general lack of ground balls, especially moving into the AL East. I’m sure the Yankees would love to add a southpaw to the rotation to help counteract Yankee Stadium‘s short right field porch, but I don’t think Saunders is a guy they can count on to consistently do that.

There is another angle worth considering here, and that’s a relief role. Saunders completely shut down lefties this season, holding them to a .212/.240/.341 batting line with 40 strikeouts and six walks in 181 plate appearances this season. His career split isn’t nearly as good, so I could just be a one-year fluke. It is worth noting that Saunders did throw his curveball less frequently in 2011 while beefing up the usage of his slider, which could certainly explain the improvement against lefties. It’s something to keep in mind, but I’d prefer to wait until he’s actually on the market before digging deeper into his validity as a reliever.

I wouldn’t have any interest in Saunders as a starting pitcher, unless he was willing to come absolutely dirt cheap (like, a million bucks or so), but he’s somewhat interesting as a lefty reliever. If there’s one thing we know about the Yankees, it’s that they place a high value on left-handed bullpen arms. I suspect that Saunders won’t have any trouble finding work as a starter this winter, maybe not at $8-9M, but I’m sure some team like the Pirates, Marlins, or Padres would be willing to guarantee him a rotation spot. I’m just not sure I see a fit for him in New York at a reasonable price.

Nova makes Baseball America’s All-Rookie Team

Baseball America announced their rookie awards yesterday, giving their Rookie of the Year honors to Jeremy Hellickson. Ivan Nova earned one of the five starting pitcher spots on their All-Rookie Team (no subs. req’d), joining Brandon Beachy, Michael Pineda, Vance Worley, and Hellickson. “Viewed as rotation insurance at the outset of the season, Nova ascended to No. 2 starter status behind C.C. Sabathia by the time the playoffs rolled around,” said BA. “He led all rookies with 16 wins during the regular season—New York supported him with 6.7 runs per nine innings—then added one more against the Tigers in the AL Division Series.”

The BBWAA will announce the AL and NL Rookie of their Year awards on November 14th, so still another three weeks away. Nova will undoubtedly get some first place votes, though I’m not sure if he’ll win. He’s definitely a candidate though, the Yankees best since Robinson Cano finished second behind Huston Street in 2005.

Open Thread: Travelin’

(Robb Carr/Getty)

I can’t imagine Arlington to St. Louis is that far of a trip, but the Rangers and Cardinals have the night off anyway. Google Maps says it’s only 650 miles, so that’s what … a two-hour flight at most? Whatever, there’s no World Series game tonight whether you like it or not. The Devils are the only local hockey team in action, so there’s really not much going on when it comes to New York sports. Supposedly it’s against the unwritten laws of blogging to push traffic away from your site, but I highly recommending going out tonight. It’s Friday, the weather’s nice enough, no baseball to miss, go out and live a little. That’s what I plan to do. Use this thread however you see fit.

Unpublished photos from 1961

You might have seen this already, but I’m a little behind the times here. LIFE Magazine published a never before seen collection of photos from the 1961 Yankees yesterday, Mickey Mantle’s 80th birthday. Here’s more from the mag…

In 1961, during spring training, LIFE gave 25-year-old Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek a camera and asked him to photograph his teammates: Mantle, Berra, Maris, Ford, and the rest of the players on what would, in time, be seen as one of the greatest teams in baseball history. The resulting photos were never published…

You can click through the gallery above, or see it at LIFE’s site. That’s some pretty awesome stuff.

The RAB Radio Show: October 21, 2011

After a week off we’re back with a nice, long podcast for your Friday afternoon listening pleasure. Topics covered:

  • The World Series: how they got there, how it’s going. Honestly, this has been a greatly enjoyable series through two games.
  • Yankees housekeeping: not much going on right now, other than a few minor roster moves. But two Yanks execs have been interviewed for Anaheim’s GM gig.
  • We play a little game that brings to the fore a number of weird hypotheticals.
  • Plus our standard brand of miscellany.

Podcast run time 50:48

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

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

RAB Live Chat

What Went Right: Curtis Granderson

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Like Spring Training, a surge at the end of a season can be deceiving. September rosters feature a lot of players that wouldn’t be in the big leagues without expanded rosters, so a big time performance might just be an illusion. Curtis Granderson‘s late-season dominance in 2010 proved to be very real in 2011, and the best part is that we actually have some tangible evidence for his improvement. That mid-August 2010 pow-wow with hitting coach Kevin Long is world famous by now. Okay, maybe not, but you get my drift.

Granderson’s season started much like the same way last season ended, with him getting big hits and helping the Yankees win games. His Opening Day solo homer off former Yankee (and lefty) Phil Coke to leadoff the seventh inning broke a 3-3 tie and helped the Yanks win their first game of the season. He homered again in the team’s only first half win over the Red Sox about a week later, and a few days after that he homered yet again. Following a five homers in seven days binge in mid-April, Curtis was hitting .292/.343/.708 with seven dingers in the team’s first 18 games.

A short-lived slump followed that (8-for-45 across eleven games), but Granderson got right back on the horse and started raking again. He went deep twice against the Rangers on May 6th, then hit another six homers in his next 15 games. By June 1st, the Yankees center fielder was hitting a .284/.355/.627 with 17 homers, more than anyone in the game not named Jose Bautista. From that two-homer game against Texas to another two-homer game against the Orioles on August 28th, a span of 100 games and 463 plate appearances, Granderson hit .282/.389/.601 with 30 homers and 103 runs scored. Opponents started to pitch him more carefully, and rather than chase stuff out of the zone, Curtis simply took his walks and beefed up his OBP…

That performance earned him a starting outfield spot on the AL All-Star Team and Player of the Month honors for August. Although the month of September was not kind to the Grandyman (.186/.301/.340 during the team’s final 32 games), Curtis was again one of the team’s very best hitters in the playoffs, reaching base nine times in the five games, including a double, a triple, and a homer. He finished the season with a .262/.364/.552 batting line, a .394 wOBA that was dragged down by September but still managed to be the 11th highest in all of baseball. At 7.0 fWAR and 5.2 bWAR, he was either the eighth or 20th most valuable position player in the game in 2011, respectively, and either of those is pretty awesome.

Granderson finished the season with some rather gaudy old school counting stats, including 136 runs scored (15 more than anyone else), 119 RBI (most in the AL, seven behind Matt Kemp for the MLB lead), and 41 homers (two behind Joey Bats for the MLB lead). He was five steals short of becoming just the third 30-30 player in Yankees history (joining Alfonso Soriano and Bobby Bonds), but he did manage to become the first 40-25 player in team history and just the 15th all-time. Curtis also became the tenth player in history with 25+ homers, 25+ doubles, 25+ steals, and 10+ triples in a single season. He’s the only member of that group to go deep 40+ times.

As much fun as the raw numbers are, perhaps the most impressive thing about Granderson’s season is the way he demolished left-handed pitching. He’d hit just .212/.271/.336 against southpaws from 2006-2010, but Curtis actually hit them better (.272/.347/.597) than he did right-handers (.258/.372/.531) in 2011. That’s a .400 wOBA against lefties and a .388 wOBA against righties. His 16 homers off left-handers were the most in the majors, and that includes right-handed hitters. Jay Bruce was second on the left vs. left list with 11 dingers. Granderson didn’t just feast on soft-tossers either, he took Gio Gonzalez, Matt Harrison (twice), David Price (twice), and Jon Lester deep, among others. Those three combined to give up just 18 homers to lefties all season, and Curtis accounted for a third of them.

From Opening Day through Game Five of the ALDS, Granderson was the Yankees best player in 2011. He’s been one of the very best players in all of baseball since revamping his swing with Kevin Long last August, but don’t ask them about, they insist it was just a minor tweak or two. They’re probably right, but there’s nothing minor about the results. Granderson was a legitimate MVP candidate this year thanks to one of the best performances by a Yankee in recent memory.