The RAB Fantasy Baseball League(s)

Well, it’s that time of year again. Last year we had nine leagues, and it looks like our master plan of relegation and all that won’t happen. It seemed a little too ambitious at the time, but so be it. First thing we have to do is get the leagues back open and see who’s returning. I’ve already renewed my league, and if you were commissioner of one of the other eight, please go to Yahoo! and renew yours today. If you don’t want to be commish anymore, renew the league and invite everyone back, then let me know.

Let’s give everyone a chance to accept the invites before we start filing empty spots, so check back in next Monday for another update.

Open Thread: Spring Training TV Schedule

Musta been watching Montero take BP. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

It’s Valentine’s Day, and you know what I love? Watching the Yankees play baseball. Now that pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training, real live games aren’t far off. After the jump is a list of which exhibition games will be on television for all to enjoy (all times ET), the first of which is less than two weeks away. Otherwise here’s the open thread for the night, just in case you’re a loser like me and not doing anything for the holiday. The Nets are the only local team in action, making tonight that much more depressing…
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Two great Yanks blogs become one

If you read any Yanks blogs other than RAB, I’d guess that Yankeeist and TYU are among them. If you’re an astute reader, and I know you are, you might have noticed that those blogs no longer exist on our blogroll. That’s because they’ve merged. Head on over to The Yankee Analysts to read content from Larry, Moshe, and the rest of both blogs.

It’s (finally) official: Andruw Jones is a Yankee

At long last, the Yankees have officially announced that they have signed outfielder Andruw Jones. The two sides originally agreed to terms about four weeks ago, but for whatever reason the signing was delayed. Jones was issued number 18 and had a locker in the clubhouse today, so it was only a matter of time.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees have designated right-hander Brian Schlitter for assignment. They claimed him off waivers from the Cubs last month, but they have more pitchers in camp on minor league contracts than they know what to do with. Schlitter was nothing more than an up-and-down guy, so he drew the short straw. I’m surprised that Reegie Corona lived to see yet another day.

Bidding war could damper Yanks’ radio signal

Ma & Pa Pinstripe could find their radio tenures soon coming to an end. (Murawinski/Daily News)

With the Yanks’ radio deal with WCBS AM 880 expiring after the end of the 2011 season, rumors of a potential switch to another station along the dial are swirling. As Bob Raissman reported in the Daily News this weekend, the Yankee brass would like to cash in on the value of their radio rights, and other prominent media companies — including ESPN — are prepared to enter the bidding.

This isn’t the first time this winter that Raissman has broached the topic of the Yanks’ radio machinations. In November, he questioned the futures of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. If the Yankees switch frequencies, the new station managers may opt to bring in their own on-air talent. Sterling and Waldman, after all, elicit strong reactions — few positive — from Yankee fans, and fresh blood could drive up the ratings.

But before the personnel decisions are to be made, the Yanks must secure a good deal for themselves. They currently earn $13 million a year from WCBS, but as Raissman notes, the club would rather get Red Sox money — $18 million a year. In a bad market for radio, could the team cash in? If the right outlet enters a bidding war, they certainly could, but the fans might lose out.

Raissman notes that ESPN-1050 with its weak and confined signal could be a likely landing space. He writes:

ESPN-1050 will be a player for Yankees rights. It could play the role of the “desperate” outlet. Acquiring Yankee baseball would instantly fill a huge void for a station hustling for ratings, bringing it higher visibility from a vast audience that has no idea ESPN-1050 even exists. A 1050 partnership with the Yankees would instantly turn up the competitive heat on WFAN, home of the Mets, by increasing – probably significantly – 1050’s ratings.

There’s a major stumbling block for ESPN-1050 – its weak signal. Two Dixie Cups attached by a string is a powerhouse by comparison. Seriously though, Yankees brass probably doesn’t want its games airing on a station with – literally – no juice.

ESPN can alleviate the problem by purchasing a station with a strong signal. Industry sources say ESPN has shown interest in buying RXP 101.9, an FM station owned by Emmis Communications. Emmis was asking $125 million for the station, but the price has apparently dropped to $100 million. If ESPN does not acquire a station with a big-time signal, but comes in with the highest bid, would the Yankees decide to glom the money at the expense of being stuck on 1050?

The Cardinals tried a similar move in 2005, but it backfired. Fan complaints pushed them back to the KMOX powerhouse this year, and the Yanks were certainly watching that saga unfold. Meanwhile, Raissman notes that the Yanks could try to push the Mets off of WFAN or they could buy their own radio station spots by purchasing time on another network.

No matter how this ends, two off-field storylines here are worth watching. The first concerns Sterling and Waldman. Older fans seem to enjoy Sterling’s histrionics while younger fans would prefer a better broadcaster. Will the next radio broadcaster opt for traditional or change? Second, will the Yanks flip to a weaker signal? Fans in Connecticut and New Jersey simply cannot get ESPN 1050 over the air, and the Yanks would alienate a significant portion of the fan base if they do. Such a change could have far-reaching ramifications for the club looking to cash in on valuable broadcast rights.

The RAB Radio Show: February 14, 2011

It’s pitchers and catchers day, which means that we get to invent some news. A few items swirled around camp on the first day, including bits about CC Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain. We look at that and a few other items of note.

Podcast run time 17:23

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

Looking at Phil Hughes’ changeup curveball

Changeup! (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Last year was really a tale of two seasons for Phil Hughes. He was brilliant early on, striking out close to a batter per inning (8.1 K/9) and earning a trip to the All-Star Game. Things started to come apart down the stretch, as his strikeout rate fell (6.6 K/9) and he suddenly become homer prone. Opponents had just a .295 wOBA (.138 ISO) off Hughes in the first half (which exactly matches Jeff Francoeur’s 2010 mark, for perspective) compared to a .330 wOBA (.181 ISO) in the second. Although most of our focus was on Phil’s changeup, perhaps we should have been paying attention to one of his other pitches.

For the most part, Hughes is a three-pitch guy. He throws a regular old four-seam fastball that sat right in the 92-94 mph range all season, a sneaky little cutter in the high 80’s, and a big breaking over-the-top curveball. That last one is the offering we’re going to focus on. The table on the right shows how often Hughes threw his curve, plus how often the batter swung at it and how often they swung and missed, broken down between the two halves of the season.

The first thing that (should have) jumped out at you was the whiff rate. Hitters swung and missed at Hughes’ curve 8.6% of the time in the first half, but that fell all the way down to 3.4% in the second half. That 5.2% drop is drastic, and it’s compounded by the fact that he started throwing the pitch a whole lot more often down the stretch. Turning to PitchFX, we can see that the vertical break of the curve was fairly consistent throughout the season, but the pitch was drifting all over the place horizontally…

Click the image for a larger view or better yet, look at this gif of the two graphs overlaid onto each other. It’s easier to compare them that way. The curve is the splotch of blue in the lower right quadrant.

The majority of Phil’s second half curves ended up about three or four pitches from the center of the plate to his glove side, which for all intents and purposes is right down the middle. In the first half it was more like five to seven inches off center, a pretty big difference. Hughes’ bender was was just far enough away from righties and too far inside on lefties for them to do any major damage in the first half, but they had a little easier time getting to it after the break.

Not only was Hughes’ curve finding the heart of the plate with more regularity in the second half, but he also lost about two miles an hour off the pitch. Hitters had that much more time to react to a pitch over the plate, a straight up bad combination. A power curve that generated swings and misses becamee a little more loopy down the stretch and simply wasn’t missing any bats. The decline of the curveball (theoretically) explains the decline in Hughes’ whiff rate, which in turn explains the decline in his overall strikeout rate.

There’s two things I should mention because they seem relevant enough. First of all, the All-Star break is right around when Hughes eclipsed his innings total from the previous year. He threw 105.1 total innings in 2009, and following his first start after the break in 2010, he was already at 106 IP. Could be a coincidence, could be meaningful (fatigue?). The other thing is that his release point changed, raising about six inches from the first half to the second. Here’s a gif comparing before and after. Again, it could mean something, it could mean nothing.

The changeup is undoubtedly going to be priority number one for the Yankees’ young hurler in 2011, but getting the curveball back to where it was in the first half will be key as well. Hopefully it’s nothing more than a fatigue issue and an offseason of rest does the trick. If it’s a mechanical issue, well those can be a pain in the ass.

Big ups to Texas Leaguers for PitchFX data and graphs.