Soriano faces hitters in Tampa; Feliciano and Marte continue throwing

Via the AP, Rafael Soriano threw 25 pitches to hitters in live batting practice today, his second live BP session. I can’t imagine a minor league rehab stint will be far behind, and that’s good news. Pedro Feliciano, meanwhile, resumed a throwing program after being shutdown for a week with soreness in his injured left shoulder. Damaso Marte continues to throw bullpen sessions as well. Good news all around, though the last two are still long shots to contribute this year.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

Which Yankee would do the best on Jeopardy? Who on the Bombers is the snazziest dresser? Loudest on the plane? Biggest card shark? Behold these answers and more in Dan Barbarisi excellent glimpse at the life of the Yankees. The Wall Street Journal scribe surveyed 18 Yankees on a variety of topics, and for once, we learn a little bit more about our favorite players. Of course, Nick Swisher and Joba Chamberlain are the most boisterous on team flights, and of course, Francisco Cervelli takes the longest to get cleaned up after games. But Mark Teixeira, brainiac? That surprised me.

The funniest part involved Jorge Posada. Named the slowest Yankee by his teammates, the DH did not take too kindly to it. “I’m not the slowest runner here. I’m just telling you right now,” he growled at Barbarisi. Plus, if you read it, you’ll find out why the Yankees reacquired Sergio Mitre and which outfielder could be a future politician. While we wait for baseball games to return, it’s a fun read.

Open Thread: 2011 Triple-A All-Star Game

Last night it was the big leaguers, now it’s the guys one notch below them. The Triple-A All-Star Game is being played in Salt Lake City tonight, and former Yankees farmhand Zach McAllister is making the start for the International League. Z-Mac made his big league debut last week in case you missed it, allowing three runs in four innings against the Blue Jays. He’s the eighth player from the Yankees’ 2006 draft class to reach the show, joining Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Colin Curtis, Mark Melancon, Dan McCutchen, David Robertson, and Kevin Russo. Dellin Betances and George Kontos have a chance to make it ten, which would be pretty amazing.

Anyway, here are the lineups for the International League and the Pacific Coast League. Yes, we have a Cody Ransom sighting. The only Yankee there is Adam Warren, and I imagine he’ll get an inning in at some point. Jesus Montero, Jorge Vazquez, and Kevin Whelan all withdrew due to injury. The game starts at 9pm ET and can be seen on the MLB Network, so use this thread to talk about that or whatever else your heart desires. You all know what to do by now, so go nuts.

Modell’s, Steiner, Miller help Lopez with taxes, loans

When Christian Lopez decided to give Derek Jeter the ball from the Yanks’ short stop’s 3000th hit in exchange for Yankee schwag,, Lopez, as we discussed yesterday, may have inadvertently incurred a decent amount of tax liability on top the $100,000 in outstanding student loans he owes. Today, we learn that this story has a happy ending. As ESPN New York reported, Modell’s and Miller High Life have both offered to help out. The beer company said they would cover Lopez’s tax liability while Modell’s said a portion of sales of Yankee merchandise would help offset Lopez’s loans as well. Furthermore, as NBC’s Bruce Beck noted, Brandon Steiner and Mitchell Modell both guaranteed $25,000 for Lopez’s loan repayments as well. Good deeds sometimes do get rewarded.

Yanks turned down K-Rod, not in on Beltran

With the Yanks’ crosstown rivals looking to free up money to keep Jose Reyes while attempting to restock their financially depleted system, a few Mets have flitted across the Yanks’ radar. The Flushing Nine delivered an All Star surprise when they shipped K-Rod to the Brewers last night, but they didn’t send away their high-priced closer before checking in with the Yankees.

According to numerous sources (Olney, Klapisch), the Yankees could have gotten K-Rod for simply money as well but opted against the move. As we noted in last night’s post on the trade, I was nominally in support of a move to acquire K-Rod, but the Yanks’ rationale for turning down the Mets’ offer seemingly rests on two grounds, one sounder than the other.

The first, I have to assume, concerns the dollars. K-Rod is owed around $5 million this year and with a $3.5 million buyout. Even with the Mets’ picking up some salary, that’s a hefty amount to pay to a late-inning guy for two and a half months. The Yanks were willing to pick up Kerry Wood’s hefty salary last year because they needed set-up help. This year, their pitching dollars are likely allocated to any potential starter or lefty relievers who may become available. Plus, Brian Cashman should know by now that sinking dollars into replaceable late-inning set-up men isn’t a good use of resources.

The other reason seems to concern the bullpen composition itself. Joel Sherman reported that, had the Yanks acquired K-Rod, either he or Soriano would have manned the 7th while the other secured the 8th. The team, he said, thought that “would be a problem with [the] emotional duo.” Both are used to closing; both would be in reduced roles. It’s worth remembering too that K-Rod’s demotion to the 7th or 8th will likely cost him a hefty 2012 salary. Valid reason for giving up the chance to upgrade the bullpen for only dollars, albeit a lot of them? Perhaps so.

In other Yankee/Met news, Buster Olney says that the Yanks are not interested in Carlos Beltran. The Mets have more leverage with regards to Beltran than they did with K-Rod and will ask for a steep package for the outfielder who would make a fine AL DH. I believe he could have a role on the Yanks as a DH/OF, but that would involve marginalizing Jorge Posada. As Beltran is the best bat available, the Yanks are sending signals that want to spend on starting pitching.

Comparing the Yankees to their peers: The starters

So far, in examining the Yankees offense, we’ve learned that the infield is pretty good and that the outfield is phenomenal. It all adds up to the second-best offense in the league (though the most high-powered one). Yet it’s the pitching staff that has impressed the most this year. Thought to be one of the team’s weak points heading into the season, the pitchers have stepped up and have allowed just 3.80 runs per game, which ranks fourth in the AL. Let’s see how the starters stack up.

Comparing pitchers is a bit trickier than comparing hitters. Defense consists of two aspects: pitching and fielding. Both have an effect on run-scoring, and so when I say that the Yankees pitchers’ have held opponents to 3.80 runs per game, I really mean that the Yankees pitchers and fielders have done that. Sticking with the three-point comparisons, we’ll go with ERA, which includes both pitching and fielding, FIP, which isolates pitcher-specific events, and WAR.

NOTE: There are 113 qualified pitchers.

CC Sabathia

(Paul Sancya/AP)

Coming into the season, Sabathia was the one pitcher on whom the Yankees could rely. With only Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett as surefire rotation candidates behind him, the Yankees needed Sabathia to step up and again be the ace they signed to the most expensive contract for a pitcher in MLB history. He’s done that and more, turning in a superb first half.

ERA: 2.72, 14th. In years prior, a 2.72 ERA would certainly rank higher than 14th in the majors. But in this reduced run-scoring environment it’s a degree lower. Still, plenty of teams don’t have a player with an ERA nearly this low. It’s a great mark, even if it’s not top-10 in teh league.

FIP: 2.50, 5th. Now we’re talking. Thanks to a low walk rate and an even lower home run rate, Sabathia’s fielding-independent stats rank far higher than most of his peers. His strikeout rate has been rising, too, especially in his last few starts.

WAR: 4.8, 2nd. This is what happens when you have the second most innings pitched in baseball. Sabathia provides major value this way. He not only pitches quality innings, but he pitches a lot of them. There aren’t many workhorses left, and that’s one reason that Sabathia is the richest pitcher in baseball.

Bartolo Colon

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Who would have thought that Colon would even make the team out of spring training, never mind turn into their second best pitcher? Bart has been a pleasant surprise of the greatest kind. Not only has he been effective in the first half, but he’s been a joy to watch. That two-seamer is a thing of beauty, and we can only hope beyond hope that he remains healthy in the second half.

ERA: 3.20, 35th. Big Bart has done a great job keeping runs off the board in his 90 innings. His season is so far bookended by two tough appearances, meaning all the appearances in between were that much better. He certainly does take advantage of the defense, though he does have a decent strikeout rate.

FIP: 3.54, 42nd. Colon’s success might seem like luck, in large part, but he’s actually pitched well in fielding-independent terms. This is because he doens’t walk many batters, a 2.20 BB/9. That, combined with a slightly below average BABIP, means he has fewer runners on base when he allows home runs — he’s given up 11 in 90 innings. This does give some hope for the second half.

WAR: 1.6, 50th. Such are the perils of starting the year in the pen and then spending a few weeks on the DL. Colon would be higher if he had pitched more than 90 innings, but hey, he’s got fewer innings pitched than the other pitchers who are around the 1.6 WAR mark. Again, it bodes well for the second half — if he stays healthy.

A.J. Burnett

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

This is a big year for Burnett. He slid considerably in 2010, and the Yankees needed him to step up in a rebound effort. If he didn’t, who knows what they’d have to do. It’s not easy to deal with a guy who has that much money remaining on his contract. He’s been decent, at best, but it could obviously be a lot worse. It’s not acceptable really, but it’s reality at this point.

ERA: 4.15, 77th. Honestly, this could be a lot worse. It’s certainly below average, but it’s not nearly as bad as last year. The main difference is that he’s so far avoided his June, 2010-like implosion month. His strikeout rate is acceptable and his walk rate is predictably high, but Burnett has managed to get the job done.

FIP: 4.54, 96th. What happens when you give up a lot of homers and walk too many batters? Usually it will lead to an inflated ERA, but in the case of Burnett it has only inflated his fielding-independent stats. A .242 BABIP helps keep men off base, thus reducing the effect of the homers. I just fear that the magic wears off in the second half. On the other hand, xFIP, which normalizes home run rate based on fly balls allowed, has Burnett several degrees better, at a 3.85 mark.

WAR: 0.9, 83rd. Burnett has pitched 119.1 innings, so that’s not the issue with his WAR. Rather, it’s his 4.54 FIP. It would be a shame to see the Yankees get less than two wins over replacement for their $17.5 million, but that was the risk with Burnett. Of course, the original risk was that he’d get hurt and not pitch enough innings to eclipse 2 WAR. I don’t think anyone figured him to pitch this poorly.

Freddy Garcia

(Frank Franklin II/AP)

Garcia hasn’t been a surprise on the level of Colon, in that he doesn’t dazzle with his stuff. But he has been far more effective than anyone could have wished. When the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal it made sense, since they had recently heard of Andy Pettitte‘s retirement. At that point I thought he’d fill in for a month or two and then be back on the scrap heap. But he’s been a big part of the rotation’s success so far.

ERA: 3.13, 32nd. This is the biggest surprise of all. Who would have thought that Garcia would have the second-lowest ERA on the team through the first half? I’m guessing it’s only slightly larger than the number of people who thought he’d be here, period. Garcia has used smoke and mirrors to work his way through lineups, but hey, the Yanks will take it at this point.

FIP: 3.97, 72nd. While Colon has put up solid fielding independent numbers, Garcia has been a bit less than that. Again, it’s to be expected. He’s kept the ball in the park despite a low ground ball rate, but he has an embarrassingly low strikeout rate. Still, even if he regresses to his FIP in the second half, he’ll still be only slightly below average. Again, I’m pretty sure everyone would have taken that from Freddy when he signed this winter.

WAR: 1.3, 71st. As with Colon, this is largely a product of innings, just 92. Since FanGraphs WAR is based on FIP, Garcia gets dinged a bit here. Again, the idea is not to show what should have happened. Rather, it’s to give the pitcher credit for only things that he, and not the defense, did.

The Yankees have also gotten 22 starts out of Ivan Nova, Brian Gordon, and Phil Hughes. While I’d love to put them into the comparison, Nova is in AAA and the other two have combined for 25.2 innings. Nova would rank just ahead of Burnett in the ERA and FIP categories while falling 0.1 WAR behind (on account of innings pitched). Overall it’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of the starting staff. It might not be pretty, but they’ve gotten the job done.

Past Trade Review: Tyler Clippard

(From Flickr user MissChatter via Creative Commons license.)

Last year, as he continued his ascension as one of the league’s better setup men, Tyler Clippard earned a reputation. He cruised through the first half of the season with a remarkably low ERA, but he had a knack for allowing inherited runners to score. The Nationals’ offense also had a knack for scoring runs just after Clippard had blown a lead. That led to an 11-win season for a guy who pitched just 91 innings, all in relief and mostly in late relief. It begat the term, clipping a win, in which a reliever blows a lead but the offense gives him the win anyway. Last night he was at it again, facing one batter in the All-Star game and allowing a single, but benefitting when Hunter Pence gunned down Jose Bautista at the plate to end the inning. Prince Fielder homered in the bottom half of the inning, and so Clippard was awarded the W.

Only the youngest of fans doesn’t remember Clippard’s time with the Yankees. He was a 9th round draftee in 2003, and he quickly established himself by striking out a batter per inning or more through his first four seasons in the minors. His stuff wasn’t overpowering, but he mixed pitched and employed enough deception to fool minor league hitters. In 2006 he even tossed a no-hitter, which elicited this juvenile response from some amateur hack. Baseball America rated him the Yanks No. 7 prospect before 2007, right behind Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy. It was during the 2007 that he got his first taste of the show.

The Yankees had plenty of pitching problems that year, and by mid-May they absolutely needed a starter. Clippard was struggling in the upper minors — he had a 4.50 ERA between AA and AAA that year — but a need is a need. Clippard came up to start a Sunday night game against the Mets, and he got through it as well as anyone could have hoped: six innings of one-run ball, including six strikeouts. That earned him a longer look, though his next few starts didn’t go as well. After a failure in his repeat performance against the Mets — 3.1 IP, 5 R — the Yankees sent him back down to the minors. About six months later, he was no longer on the team.

That September the Nationals put on display one of their lesser regarded pitching prospects, Jonathan Albaladejo. He made a quick impression, striking out three in 1.2 innings in his debut appearance. He pitched very well that month, allowing just three runs while striking out 12 and walking just two in 14.1 innings. This came after he tore through AAA in a mid-season promotion. The Yankees, wanting to cash in while they could on Clippard, thought they could get a quality major league reliever in Albaladejo, and so made the swap that December.

Albaladejo definitely impressed the Yankees brass, as he broke camp with the team in both 2008 and 2009. There were circumstances involved in both instances, and he was soon after optioned to the minors. But they still liked his stuff, especially his sinking fastball. But with the results not coming, they had little choice but to stash him in the minors. Even in 2010, as he dominated as Scranton Wilkes-Barre’s closer, they hesitated to call him up. When they finally did they saw more of the same: not enough strikeouts, too many walks. After the season they released him and allowed him to sign with a Japanese team. His final tally as a Yankee: 59.1 IP, 4.70 ERA, 5.21 FIP, -0.2 WAR.

After the trade Clippard had his own set of struggles. He returned to AAA for the Nationals in 2008, and in 26 starts he produced a 4.66 ERA, which was in part because he walked far too many batters. This was a problem he faced in 2007 as well, making it seem like a longer-term issue. It didn’t help that he walked seven in 10.1 innings (two starts) during a brief call-up. He still had some promise, but things didn’t look optimistic. He was a guy with average, at best, stuff, and he couldn’t control it.

After the season the Nationals shifted him to the bullpen, and that’s where he began to shine. He pitched 39 innings in AAA in 2009, allowing just four earned runs while striking out 42 and walking 15. Something had apparently clicked. In late June they called him up to the big league club, and he never looked back. He continued to walk a ton of batters, but he compensated by striking out more than a batter per inning. A .197 BABIP helped get him through 2009, but in 2010 that went up to .284 and he was still reasonably effective: 3.07 ERA and 3.18 FIP in 91 innings. This year he’s been even better, lowering his walk rate by nearly a batter per nine while maintaining an 11 per nine strikeout rate. His 1.75 ERA is aided by his .184 BABIP and an astounding 99.4 percent strand rate, but by all means he has gotten the job done.

In the excellent interview with NoMaas, Yankees VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman said of Clippard, “The mistake we made was not seeing what [he] looked like in the pen.” It’s an understandable mistake, but it’s one that the Yankees probably won’t make again. Even the Nationals continued to view him as a starter for another year following the trade. It wasn’t until he had completely disappointed everyone in that role that they tried him as a reliever. Sometimes, that type of move sticks. The Yankees absolutely lost out on this trade, even though it seemed like a minor one at the time.