Open Thread: Nova turns 24

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

A very happy birthday goes out to Mr. Ivan Nova, who turns the ripe old age of 24 today. Nova’s role with the 2011 Yankees became exponentially more important when Cliff Lee decided to sign with the Phillies, and it continues to increase in importance with each quiet offseason day that passes. He pitched to a 4.36 FIP in the big leagues last year, and I’m sure we’d all be ecstatic if he was able to reproduce that performance over say, 175 innings. Nova won’t make or break the Yankees’ season, but he’s going to get every chance in the world to prove himself, something I think every 24-year-old is looking for.

Anyways, here’s the open thread for the evening. Both the Nets and Knicks are playing, but not until a little later one because they’re on the other side of the country. Treat the thread as you see fit, enjoy.

ESPN’s early-season slate heavy on the Yanks

The Worldwide Leader announced its Sunday Night Baseball lineup for the first few months of the 2011 season, and, as expected, it’s heavy on the Yanks. In three of the season’s first seven weeks, the Yanks will play on Sunday night with first pitch shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern time. They’ll face the Red Sox in Boston on April 10 before hosting the Rangers the following Sunday night. With the Red Sox in town on May 15, ESPN will air that game as well. The Subway Series the following weekend thankfully won’t air on ESPN, but the Yanks’ 1 p.m. Opening Day match-up against the Tigers on March 31st will.

ESPN’s decision to air so many Yankee games is one driven simply by ratings. Fans come out to watch the Yanks in droves, and while I can’t stand the late starts, the late ends and the overly dramatic production, at least we won’t be stuck with Joe Morgan and Jon Miller this year. With Dan Shulman, Orel Hershisher and Bobby Valentine manning the booth, the games should be more tolerable. ESPN’s Sunday night slate so far can be found right here.

The RAB Radio Show: January 12, 2011

The Rays signed a reliever familiar to the Yankees. Kyle Farnsworth will now pitch out of their bullpen, which has caused varying reactions from the Yankees fanbase. Mike and I revisit the career of Farnsworth.

But we don’t stop there. Then it’s onto what this signing means for the rest of the relief market. Do the Rays know something about Grant Balfour that the rest of us don’t? He clearly has no leverage, since there aren’t many teams that are going to pony up a draft pick for him. So why did the Rays sign Farnsworth, rather than wait it out with Balfour?

Also: what’s the difference between Rafael Soriano now and Kyle Farnsworth in 2006? There is certainly a performance gap, but it might not be as large as you imagine.

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Did intentional walks help the Yankees in 2010?

This IBB didn't work out at all. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

A lot of baseball’s little nuances annoy me, none more than sacrifice bunt. A close second is the intentional walk however, just because I’m generally opposed to giving the other team free baserunners since it increases their chances of winning. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely has a time and a place, but I do think it’s used a bit too liberally these days.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees’ coaching staff had their pitchers intentionally walk 36 batters during the 2010 regular season, some of which ended up working out okay and some of which completely blew up in their faces. This post is going to take a look at those free passes and the resulting win probability swing. To do this, I’m going to compare the win expectancy after the batter after the IBB to the win expectancy before the IBB. The logic is that the batter was put on base intentionally so the pitcher could (theoretically) face the inferior batter behind him, so what that second guy does is what’s important. Follow? Good. It’s like Mark Teixeira getting walked to face Alex Rodriguez; I’m comparing the win expectancy before Tex’s at-bat to the win expectancy after A-Rod‘s, since that will tell us if the intentional walk “worked,” so to speak. If it improved the team’s chances of winning great, if not, then damn.

Here are the four most significant intentional walk events of the 2010 season, split into good and bad…

Biggest Gain: Sept. 19th, Kerry Wood vs. Nick Markakis
You probably remember this game, it was the one when Luke Scott homered off Mariano Rivera leading off the ninth inning to tie the game, which the Yankees eventually lost in extras. In an inning before that, Boone Logan was summoned from the pen to face a pair of lefties, the punchless Corey Patterson and the slightly dangerous Matt Wieters. Patterson bunted up the first base line for a hit and then Wieters slapped one through the 3.5 hole for a single to put men on the corners with no outs and the Yanks up by two.

Logan gave way to Kerry Wood, who promptly allowed a run scoring single to Felix Pie. Brian Roberts sacrificed the two runners over for reasons unknown, then Wood got Robert Andino swinging for out number two. At this point the Yankees’ win expectancy was 66.5%. Joe Girardi waved the four fingers and had his setup man load the bases intentionally. After the IBB to Markakis, the Yanks win expectancy was 63.9%. Adam Jones bailed them out in no time, flying out to left on the first pitch to end the inning and the threat. The Yanks’ win expectancy after Jones’ at-bat was 83.7%, meaning the total win probability shift of the intentional walk event was 17.2% (83.7%-66.5%).

Honorable Mention: July 4th, David Robertson vs. Lyle Overbay
This was the Marcus Thames walk-off broken bat single game, which I’m sure is fresh in everyone’s memory. Oddly enough, this game featured a Mo blown save as well. In between the blown save and Thames’ heroics, David Robertson ran into a little trouble in the tenth inning. Jose Bautista hit a rare non-homer, leading off the frame with a bloop single. Adam Lind then walked after a seven pitch at-bat, but was erased at second when Edwin Encarnacion bunted into a 5-6-4 double play (Robbie Cano was covering first because Mark Teixeira charged the bunt). That left Bautista at third and two out in the inning.

At this point, the Yankees had a 52.7% chance of winning, but after intentionally walking Lyle Overbay to bring Jose Molina to the plate, they were down to just a 50.8% chance of winning. Robertson got Molina to flail at strike three, ending the inning with the Yankees at a 65.6% chance of being victorious. Five batters later, Thames did his thing. The total win probability shift of the intention walk encounter: 12.9%.

Biggest Loss: July 10th, Joba Chamberlain vs. Russell Branyan
This is an ugly game that no one wants to remember. The Yankees managed to scratch a run off Felix Hernandez and led one-zip into the eighth inning thanks to seven brilliant innings from Javy Vazquez. Go figure. Things got ugly fast after that.

Jack Wilson led off the eighth with a single, but he was erased at second on an Ichiro infield chopper. Chone Figgins singled to move Ichiro over to second, and the pair moved up another base on a wild pitch. At that point, the Yankees had a 48.2% chance of winning, but after Russell Branyan was intentionally walked to load the based with one out, it dropped a bit to 47.8%. Three pitches later, Jose Lopez hit a grand slam, and the Yankees’ win expectancy fell all the way down to just 2.1%. The total change in win probability from the start of Branyan’s at-bat to end of Lopez’s was a staggering 46.1%, all in the wrong direction.

Honorable Mention: May 1st, David Robertson vs. Carlos Quentin
I honestly don’t remember this game at all, but the Yankees were up by a run heading into the seventh inning. Andruw Jones made a quick out to start the inning, but then Paul Konerko doubled to put the tying run in scoring position. Robertson got a weak groundout from Mark Teahen, forcing the ChiSox captain to remain at second. He was then ordered to put Quentin on first base intentionally with the Yankees having a 72.1% chance of winning.

Once the free pass was issued, Damaso Marte was summoned to face the lefty hitting A.J. Pierzynski with the Yanks’ win expectancy at 69.3%. Pierzynski doubled into the left-centerfield gap, allowing both Konerko (tying run) and Teahen (go-ahead run) to score. The chances of a Yankee win dropped all the way to 34.7% after that, meaning the win probability swing was 37.4% in the negative.

* * *

Like I said, I’m generally opposed to the intentional walk but it has it’s moments. Putting Miguel Cabrera on base to face whoever is behind him with the tying run in scoring position is a no-brainer, you’ll take your chances with the next guy just because Miggy is that damn good. There’s also the case when you’re on the road and the winning run is at third and you’re creating the force at any base. The guys on first and second don’t matter, so who cares, put them on and make the play at home easier. Then you have pitchers in the National League, which is another animal all together. That said, I still think it’s a widely overused strategy in the game today. I just hate giving the other team free baserunners.

The full table of intentional walk data for the 2010 Yankees is after the jump for space reasons, but I’m going to throw some notes here…

  • The total WPA swing of Yankees’ intentional walks in 2010 was just -.034, meaning that they lost just less than four-hundredths of a win over the course of the season due to putting men on base intentionally. Peanuts.
  • Of the 36 intentional walks the Yankees issued in 2010, a whopping 25 improved the team’s chances of winning. However, the average WPA of those 25 was just +.053, or barely more than five percent of a win. The average WPA of the remaining 11 was -.125, which means they hurt the Yanks more than twice as much as the good IBB’s helped, on average.
  • Twenty-one of 36 IBB came with the Yankees trailing in the game, and I’m not sure I like that. If you’re trying to catch up and the tie the game, the last thing you want to do is give the opponent more baserunners. Nine of the remaining 15 IBB came with the game tied, and the same logic still applies.
  • Some of the awful hitters the Yanks intentionally walked in 2010: Jeff Francoeur, Scott Moore, Jason Kendall, Jason Donald, and Erick Aybar. Le sigh.

[Read more…]

Jorge Posada: Catcher of the decade

Shoulda played Jorge more in '98 (Kathy Willens/AP)

When you think about the best catchers in baseball during a certain period, who comes to mind? I go from Bill Dickey to Yogi to Johnny Bench to Carlton Fisk to Gary Carter to Ivan Rodriguez to Mike Piazza to Jorge Posada to Joe Mauer. I know I’ve missed a few, but this is the general idea. The one name that might stand out among these is Posada. Here we have listed the greatest catchers of all time — Hall of Famers, the lot of them. How does Posada fit on this list?

I think that Posada’s case among the all-time great catchers gets caught up in arbitrary end points. There’s one period that begins in the early 90s, when Rodriguez and Piazza came up, where they absolutely dominated. From 1991 through 2003 Piazza produced 62 fWAR and Rodriguez produced 56. The next closest, Jason Kendall, produced 29. Then, from 2004 through 2010 we have the Joe Mauer era. While he doesn’t so thoroughly destroy the competition, his WAR is the highest of that period and he has the narrative of catcher dominance.

Where does Jorge fit in? For starters, he’s at 26 fWAR from 2004 through 2010, just seven behind Mauer, so his case there is immediately understated. But there was a period when he stood above all of his peers. Now we can see it in a somewhat visual format, as FanGraphs has introduced WAR Grids. Here are the top 25 catchers of the last decade, 2000 through 2009:


Click for larger

This isn’t Mauer 2004 through 2010 dominance, though it’s not quite Piazza/Rodriguez dominance, either. Stil, Posada put up 10 more fWAR than his closest competitor, and he did it at the same age range. If we add in 2010, to cover Posada’s tenure a the Yankees’ starting catcher, he’s 12 WAR ahead of No. 2. Even if we go back to 1998, the first year Posada played more than 100 games, he’s still No. 1.

In a few years, Posada’s name will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot. Maybe the process for induction will have changed by then, but I doubt it. That leaves the writers with the responsibility to determine Jorge’s case. I’m not saying that WAR alone is grounds for Posada’s induction. But I do think that his reign over the league since he became a half-time player, and his sheer dominance in the 00s, makes for a strong foundation. He might get trapped between Piazza/Rodriguez and Mauer, but that doesn’t make his career any less impressive.

Arbitration Case: Boone Logan

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

As we sit and wait for the Yankees to make some kind of transaction this month (just to liven things up for cryin’ out loud, forget about strengthening the team at this point), there’s some in-house stuff to be taken care of behind the scenes. Teams and players are currently in the process of filing for arbitration, and will exchange salary figures six days from now. Brian Cashman recently told Chad Jennings that the team always looks to have a contract in place before a hearing (just like everyone else), but they’re not afraid to go to one if they feel the player is asking for unfair compensation. Chien-Ming Wang learned this the hard way back in 2008.

The Yankees have just three arbitration-eligible players this winter, and we’ve already covered Phil Hughes’ case as well as Joba Chamberlain’s. That leaves Boone Logan, who has already been usurped as the club’s primary lefty reliever by Pedro Feliciano this offseason. This is actually Logan’s second time through the arbitration process since he’s a Super Two. That just means he’s eligible for arbitration four times instead of three because he’s going to fall a few weeks short of qualifying for free agency in a couple of years. It’s just a way of making that extra three-fourths of a year of team control slightly more fair to the player. Logan pulled down $590,000 in 2011, not all that much more than the league minimum. He’ll get a decent raise this offseason after a fine second half that saw him strike out 25 batters and hold opponents to a .247 wOBA in an admitted small sample of 21.2 IP.

Remember, arbitration cases are built on old school stats that are simple for the three-person panels to understand, so that’s what we’re going to stick with here. It was real tough to find comparables for Logan, since lefty relievers come and go like buses at rush hour. I did the best I could, and here’s who I came up with…

So yeah, they aren’t perfect comparables, but that’s life. If we apply the 137.6% average raise (which is weighted by innings pitched) to Logan’s 2010 compensation, we get a projected 2011 salary of $811,840, which is still dirt cheap. Because he was so good late in the season, I’m willing to bet he gets a slightly larger raise than that, and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up making a million bucks or so this coming summer.

Logan’s arbitration case will be little more than a nuisance to the front office given the relatively small amount of money at stake (less than one percent of the payroll even if he beats them in a hearing), but it’s a sizable raise for him. It does a good job showing you how much the arbitration process keeps salaries down though, because he’s going to earn about a quarter of what Feliciano will for similar work and what could easily be similar performance.

All told, the Yankees are looking at about $7M in 2011 payroll obligation through their three arbitration cases this winter, about $5.5M more than what Hughes, Joba, and Logan earned in 2010. I thought it would be a lot less than that coming into the offseason, but that’s because I didn’t have a firm grasp on the salary scale. Given how much money the team is paying some its older stars, getting cheap production from players like this is imperative to balance out the payroll and keep spending in check.

Roger Clemens and the late-winter trade

Of all the dramatic things I've ever seen, Roger Clemens pitching on Opening Day in 1999 was not one of them. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

These days, Yankee fans have a relationship with Roger Clemens that could be described as tenuous at best. Our final memories of the Rocket include his early departure in Game 3 of the 2007 ALDS, a mediocre half season in the Bronx and Suzyn Waldman’s infamous histrionics on the day of his return to pinstripes. Today, Clemens’ pending perjury case may be pushing Andy Pettitte away from the Yanks, and no one wants to dwell on that sad state of affairs.

But Clemens’ first tenure in pinstripes was cause for celebration. He won an undeserved Cy Young Award and two World Series rings. He went 77-36 and was a key cog in the last years of the great Yankee Dynasty of the 1990s and early 2000s. To top it off, the Yanks didn’t land Clemens until February 18, 1999, two days before pitchers and catchers were due in Tampa. How did it all go down?

The Yankees’ love for Roger Clemens started long before the winter after their 114-win season. After a 10-13 season in which he sported a 3.63 ERA and a 9.5 K/9 IP, Clemens was a free agent bound for greener pastures. The Red Sox didn’t want to pony up, and George Steinbrenner had his sights set on the Rocket. The Boss offered four years and $32 million while Clemens instead signed with Toronto for three years and $24.75 million (with an $8.1 million option). He received a higher average annual salary but signed for fewer guaranteed years to go to Toronto, and the Yanks signed David Wells instead.

After two seasons of spinning his wheels in Toronto, Clemens was tired of Canada. He won two Cy Young Awards and went 41-13 with a 2.40 ERA, but the Blue Jays finished in last in 1997 and in third, nearly 30 games behind the Yanks , in 1998. So he asked for a trade, and the Blue Jays were willing to oblige. Although the Rocket eventually rescinded that request, Toronto found a market and an opportunity to free up $9.85 million.

As with any big trade, this one did not come easy, and in fact, it dragged on for months. The Yankees were interested from the get-go; in fact, they were eyeing Clemens at the 1998 trade deadline. The price to land Clemens, however, was steep. In early December, as the Yanks were competing with the Rangers, the Rockies, the Tigers, the Indians and the Astros, the club seemed willing to trade Andy Pettitte to Toronto. The Blue Jays, though, wanted some package including some or all of Orlando Hernandez, Ramiro Mendoza, Homer Bush, Mike Lowell and top prospect Alfonso Soriano.

In January, after Clemens withdrew his trade request — a request deemed to be against MLB rules anyway — talks stalled. The Yankees tried and failed to pry Curt Schilling away from the Phillies, but the Blue Jays kept lingering. And then, on the precipice of Spring Training, it all clicked. Toronto asked for David Wells, Homer Bush and Graeme Lloyd, and the Yanks pulled the trigger. New York and David Wells mourned David Wells’ exile from the Bronx, and up in Boston, Red Sox fans were quite blue as the Yanks landed their ace.

Today, we’re waiting for the Yanks to fill their holes. They’re not coming off a historic season or a World Series win. They fell two games short of the Fall Classic this past year and failed to land Cliff Lee last month. But the off-season isn’t over until Opening Day, and we’ve seen big trades happen on literally the last day of baseball’s winter. Until then, the 2011 Yankees are still just a work in progress.