Open Thread: Army-Rutgers

In case you haven’t heard, Yankee Stadium will be hosting its third college football game since opening next weekend, when Army takes on Rutgers next Saturday (the 12th). Thanks to our friends at TiqIQ, we can help get you into the game at a 30% discount. Just click the image above or this link. I’m sure we’ve got some Scarlet Knights out there in our readership, so get out there and support your team while giving the Yankees some more of your hard-earned cash. Seriously though, I heard the previous two football games were absolutely amazing.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series will resume tomorrow, so you’re baseball-less tonight. The Devils are the only local hockey team in action, but I’m sure you can find another way to spend the evening. You all know how this works, so have at it.

Discussion Question: Keeping it semi-realistic, what is your dream rotation for 2012?

Granderson, Cano take home Silver Slugger Awards

Via Chad Jennings and Enrique Rojas, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano have won AL Silver Slugger Awards at their respective positions. The winners are being announced live on MLB Network right now, but the list is being updated at MLB.com. Congrats to both of these guys, they were well deserving of the awards given their offensive dominance in 2011.

Report: Yankees concerned about Oswalt’s back

Via Wally Matthews, the Yankees are unlikely to pursue free agent right-hander Roy Oswalt this offseason because of concerns about his back. “[They’re] very worried about his injury history,” said Matthews’ source. “The guy’s falling apart from that back of his. That’s why Houston dumped him.”

Oswalt, 34, has a pair of degenerative discs in his lower back that have required numerous cortisone shots but never surgery. He talked openly about retirement when recurring back pain sent him to the DL this summer, saying: “I’ve had a pretty good one … I don’t want to be labeled a quitter. I’m kind of a liability more than anything.” Oswalt’s a sexy name given his past accomplishments, no doubt about it, but there is a ton of risk here and the Yankees need certainty more than anything.

Why the Yankees are unlikely to trade Montero

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

At his press conference yesterday, Brian Cashman made it sound as though Jesus Montero‘s presence on the 2012 roster is a certainty. “He could be a catcher, he could be a DH, he could be a bat off the bench, depending on how the roster looks,” he said. Of course, that leaves out one possibility. Cashman did speak to this possibility, though not to Montero specifically: “If anybody wants to approach me on anybody on this roster, if they don’t have a full no-trade clause, worst I can tell em is no.” Yes, there is a chance that Montero opens the 2012 season in a different uniform. But just how likely is that scenario?

When speaking of the Yankees off-season plans, Cashman uttered a familiar refrain. “Pitching, pitching, pitching. That will be the main trust of this stuff.” The Yankees have a number of able candidates for the rotation, but with close competition from the Rays and the Red Sox, and with the second Wild Card adding emphasis to winning the division, the Yankees would do well to add another high-end arm to complement CC Sabathia. A few options exist on the free agent market, namely C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish, But there is a good chance the Yankees avoid another long-term deal and instead pursue the trade market.

Should the Yankees seek another team’s pitcher, Montero would prove a valuable trade chip — perhaps the Yankees’ most valuable, though left-hander Manny Banuelos will surely garner plenty of interest. In fact, just last week FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron, writing for ESPN Insider (sub. required), suggested that Cashman “use Jesus Montero as trade bait to get the front-line starter he really covets.” For the DH slot the Yankees could sign David Ortiz, turning the tables on the rival Red Sox. Yet there are two problems with the idea of trading Montero, and neither involves prospect love.

If the Yankees stick to their payroll level from the past few seasons, they could run into a snag when trading Montero. He’s ultra-cheap, and will remain so for the next three seasons. Before factoring in arbitration figures for Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Russell Martin, Brett Gardner, and David Robertson the Yankees already have $174 million committed to the 2012 payroll. A rough estimate puts those totals a little under $20 million, so the Yankees are already near their previous $200 million level. Adding Ortiz would cost them at least $13 million in 2012, and a frontline starter could cost just as much, if not more. That’s quite a payroll bump.

The other reason involves the Yankees matching up with other teams. Montero is not a player the Yankees should dangle for any old pitcher. He has immense value, even if he’s stuck at DH (or 1B for another team), in his bat alone. He is not, in other words, a player the Yankees should trade for someone with one or two years remaining before free agency. The only scenario in which they should consider trading him involves a 25- to 28-year-old starter who has at least three more seasons of team control. He has to be an established starter, and his current team has to either 1) have enough of a pitching surplus that they can spare such a valuable arm, and 2) have a need for offense, particularly at first base or DH.

That doesn’t sound like a large group of teams and players to make a match.

After scouring each team’s roster and removing the players who absolutely won’t move anywhere — think Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, etc. — and teams that will surely contend in 2012, I’ve come up with only three names.

Mat Latos: This is the first and most attractive match. Latos is just 24 years old, and despite a rough start to the season — perhaps due to a big innings jump between 2009 and 2010 — he still finished with quality numbers. He strikes out plenty and has a decent walk rate. Even factoring in his HR/FB ratio, perhaps a product of Petco Park, he still grades out as a very good starter. At 24 he should only get better. The Padres might want more than just Montero, but the Yankees have a number of major league ready pitchers who could go along in the deal. For Latos it could be worthwhile. It doesn’t hurt that Cashman and new Padres GM Josh Byrnes hooked up on a relatively complex deal two years ago.

Jaime Garcia: This is unlikely, mostly because St. Louis recently inked him to a long-term extension. Garcia has just two years in the majors, but they’ve been two impressive years. He combines a decent strikeout rate with good control and ground ball tendencies, which makes for a quality starting pitcher. He ran into some problems later in 2010, likely because he was gassed — he threw 163.1 innings in 2010 after just 33.2, while rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery, in 2009. When he’s on he has stuff that dives and darts all over the strike zone, and he could absolutely be a No. 2 for the Yankees. Unfortunately, the Cardinals probably need him more than they need Montero, who wouldn’t fit with the Cardinals unless Albert Pujols signed elsewhere. Even then, it’s unlikely they’d part with a 25-year-old pitcher with a quality major league record.

Jordan Zimmermann: Chances are the Nationals envision a rotation that includes both Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg at its head, so they’re not likely to deal him. If they did make him available, the Yankees would have to listen. He showed impeccable control in 2011, one year removed from Tommy John Surgery, and he could be even better heading into 2012, his age-26 season. As with Garcia he combines a quality strikeout rate with a low walk rate, though he doesn’t get as many ground balls. Still, if the Nationals want to add Montero as their first baseman, the Yankees should settle for no less than Zimmermann.

As you can see, the options are not only slim, but unlikely. Of the three Latos has the greatest chance of moving east in a trade, and even that’s not so likely given the state of San Diego’s farm system. With the lack of matches, combined with the payroll issue, it’s highly unlikely that the Yankees could trade Montero for something they’d consider equal value, even if they were inclined to do so. There are no guarantees, of course, but I’d bet decent money that Montero opens the 2012 season wearing pinstripes with the interlocking NY on his chest.

What Went As Expected: Mariano Rivera

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

It’s only fitting that we conclude our season review series with the guy who has been finishing off Yankees games for than a decade. Mariano Rivera was again his superlative self in 2011, finishing the season with a 1.91 ERA to make it eight sub-2.00 ERAs in the last nine seasons. His 8.8 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9 (0.9 uIBB/9) resulted in a 7.50 K/BB ratio, the second best of his great career. Aside from his usual bad week in April and bad week in August, Rivera was as dominant as ever at age 41, his 17th season in the league.

Along the way, Mariano made some history. On September 13th in Seattle, Mo watched Russell Martin throw out Ichiro trying to steal second base to end the game, giving Rivera his 600th career save. Only two men in baseball history have recorded 500 career saves, nevermind 600. Four days later, on the road in Toronto, Mo retired the Blue Jays in order for career save number 601, tying Trevor Hoffman for the all-time career saves record. Two days after that, on his home turf in Yankee Stadium, Rivera took sole possession of the all-time career saves record by sitting the Twins down for save number 602.

Mariano finished the year with 603 career saves and 44 on the season, just the second time he’s had to save that many games in a single season since 2006. The six unintentional walks he issued tied his career low (set in 2008), and he managed to lower his career WHIP from 1.00348 to 0.99808. That’s the second lowest in baseball history (min. 1000 IP) and easily the lowest in the expansion era. Rivera retired all four men he faced in the ALDS, continuing his postseason dominance even though the Yankees’ season ended a bit prematurely.

Being the spoiled Yankees fans that we are, we’ve taken Mo for granted. The greatness that he showed in 2011 has become routine, and nothing makes that more obvious than watching other so-called “top closers” like Neftali Feliz and Jose Valverde struggle to get three outs before blowing a lead in postseason. That’s just business as usual for Mariano, we wouldn’t be able to tell if he was pitching in October or on a back field in March just by looking at him. Rivera is the greatest player to ever play his position, and he didn’t need some career saves record to prove it. Thanks for another stellar season, Mo.

A-Rod’s continued woes against left-handed pitching

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Alex Rodriguez has been an equal opportunity masher for almost the entirety of his career, bashing righties to the tune of a .306/.386/.570 line and crushing lefties with a .289/.386/.559 triple slash. However, something funny happened on the way to Alex’s 2010 campaign — his production against left-handed pitching fell off dramatically, as he put up a meager .217/.314/.441 line (.323 wOBA, 96 wRC+) against lefties across 172 plate appearances.

(please click to enlarge)

Last winter I dug into the numbers to figure out why that might have been, and concluded that Alex’s struggles against lefties appeared to be due in part to an uptick in cutters (7.2% of the time), two-seamers (15.3%) and changeups (16.1%) seen, none of which he handled particularly well last year.

v LHP 2010 GB% LD%
FC 57.1% 14.3%
CH 53.8% 15.4%
FT 41.2% 5.9%
Season (v all) 46.0% 17.8%

(PITCHf/x data courtesy of JoeLefkowitz.com)

My former co-writer at TYA, William J., followed my A-Rod post up with a comprehensive look of his own, and found that Alex’s struggles against lefties likely had something to do with his minuscule .212 BABIP, which probably was partially the result of his LD% against lefties falling from 26.4% in 2009 to 12.1% last season. William also dug a bit deeper and found that 26% of Alex’s plate appearances against lefties came against the AL’s elite southpaws — including David Price, Ricky Romero, Jon Lester and Cliff Lee, among others — and found that his production essentially decreased across the board year-over-year against the league’s best.

So how did Alex follow this (hopefully) one-year aberration in production against left-handed pitching in 2011? Well, for one, he managed to dramatically improve both his batting average and on-base percentage, and also bettered his 2010 wOBA v. lefties with a .333 mark, which actually made him a slightly above-average producer against southpaws (105 wRC+). Some of this was no doubt fueled by a .100-point-plus increase in BABIP against lefties to .316 in 2011 (which itself was the partial result of a rise in LD% back up to 19.2%). However, his ability to hit for power fell off a cliff (though as we saw in the second-half following his return from the DL, this wasn’t an issue exclusive to facing lefties), as he put up a mere .383 SLG against lefties in 2011. In fact, A-Rod only hit two home runs off left-handed starting pitching all season — one against Chris Capuano on May 21, and the other against former-Yankee-killer Brett Cecil on September 4.

Now we do need to acknowledge that there are some sample size issues here, as he only came to the plate 109 times against left-handed pitching in 2011, compared to an average of 168 PAs from 2004-2010. Still, that lack of power is troubling, especially since he showed he can still get on base against left-handed pitchers.

The pitch selection against Alex varied (though it’s important to bear in mind that year-over-year PITCHf/x data is not the most reliable thing in the world, given the myriad misclassification issues that can arise, but as I don’t have time to manually reclassify questionable pitches we have to use the data that’s readily available), with the percentage of cutters and two-seamers down from 2010 (to 4.1% and 11.9%, respectively), which changeups ticked up slightly (17.4%). However, they remained rather effective weapons against Alex, as his batted ball results against these three pitches didn’t exactly improve:

v LHP 2011 GB% LD%
FC 50.0% 16.7%
CH 79.9% 0.0%
FT 75.0% 8.3%
Season (v all) 48.4% 13.2%

As in 2010, a little over a quarter of his PAs against left-handers came against the league’s elite, as he stepped to the plate against Ricky Romero, Jon Lester and David Price 31 times over 7 games, and they continued to crush him, as he picked up a mere three hits against that trio.

Now, in fairness, Alex really didn’t look right after returning from knee surgery in late August — although the majority of his PAs against lefties came prior to his stint on the DL — so I’m willing to give him a slight pass on his late-season performance. Also, as previously acknowledged, this isn’t a perfect comparison, given that Alex’s number of PAs against lefties fell by 36% in 2011. However, I think we have enough of a sample to concur that A-Rod has definitely struggled against left-handers for two straight seasons, with the former seemingly due in part to some bad luck and the latter due to an inability to drive the ball.

It’s difficult to be terribly optimistic about Alex’s chances of a significant bounceback year after two straight injury-riddled ~.360 wOBA campaigns featuring diminished performances against pitchers he should in theory have a platoon advantage against. However, it seems like a 100% healthy A-Rod should be able to outdo a .333 wOBA against portsiders. At this point I suppose the biggest question is whether he can actually stay healthy.

What Went Right (And Wrong): Farm System

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Major League portion of our season review is just about complete, and now it’s time to dig into the minor league system. As is the case every year, some things went right and some things went wrong in the farm system. There were breakout performances, injuries, disappointments, surprises, same kind of stuff we see every season.

What Went Right

First and foremost, it was health on the pitching side. Aside from David Phelps‘ sore shoulder (six weeks on the shelf) and Graham Stoneburner’s neck sprain (two months), all of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects remained on the mound in 2011. Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, and Brett Marshall combined to throw 454 IP and at least 140 IP each. Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances each eclipsed the 120 IP plateau, right in line with what they were expected to do before the season. Even relief prospects Chase Whitley, Dan Burawa, George Kontos, and Tommy Kahnle were able to log 80+ IP each this summer.

Secondly, the Yankees enjoyed some nice early returns from their 2010 and 2011 draft classes. Mason Williams (.404 wOBA) and Tyler Austin (.478 wOBA) broke out in big ways in the lower minors, while Dante Bichette Jr. (.438 wOBA) and Matt Duran (.395 wOBA) made strong first impressions after being drafted in June. The team’s Latin America program also enjoyed some success with Isaias Tejeda (.443 wOBA), Claudio Custodio (.439 wOBA), and Ravel Santana (.423 wOBA). These guys represent the next wave of prospects behind the crop at Double and Triple-A.

Thirdly, there were the breakouts and surprise performances. Williams was definitely the biggest breakout, but you had under-the-radar players like lefty Jose Quintana (2.96 FIP in 102 IP) force their way into the prospect picture. Ramon Flores (.350 wOBA) led the farm system in walks (61) a 19-year-old. The Almontes – Zoilo (.365 wOBA) and Abe (.331 wOBA) – stayed healthy and put together strong campaigns. The former did so as a switch-hitting outfielder and reached Double-A, putting him on the big league radar. It was the second and third-tier prospects that really stepped up this year, not necessarily the headliners.

What Went Wrong

(Photo Credit: Alan Hawes, The Post and Courier)

Obviously, Andrew Brackman‘s return to 2009 form headlines the disappointments. He completely flopped in 13 starts, walking 54 batters and striking out just 41 in 59.1 IP for Triple-A Scranton before shifting to the bullpen and finding himself a bit. After whiffing 34 and walking 21 in 36.2 IP out of the bullpen to finish the minor league season, the Yankees gave him his second straight September call-up and actually used him this time. He walked three and struck out none in 2.1 IP with the big league team. Brackman will be 26 in December, and rather than give him another chance, the Yankees declined his 2012 option and released their 2007 first rounder yesterday.

While the pitchers stayed healthy for the most part, many position players did not. Austin Romine was limited to just 89 games in Double-A due to a concussion and back trouble this summer, though he returned and was able to make his big league debut in September. Slade Heathcott injured his left shoulder again, his third shoulder injury since 2008. J.R. Murphy and Nik Turley were having fine seasons before a pair of fluke injuries ended them prematurely; Murphy fouled a ball of his leg and Turley took a line drive to his pitching hand. David Adams has played in just 29 games since fracturing his ankle last May, as in 2010.

Some players, like Melky Mesa and Jose Ramirez, did not take step forwards in their development. Mesa was unable to build on his standout 2010 season that earned him a 40-man roster spot, reverting back to his hacktastic ways that exposed a weakness against non-fastballs. Gary Sanchez started slow, had to be disciplined for attitude problems, then broke a finger while in the middle of a monster second half. Banuelos and Betances didn’t have the dominant years we expected, but I think it’s hars, h to consider them disappointments this season.

* * *

Overall, the farm system has a pretty average year, but it felt like a down year compared to the massive success of 2010, when seemingly everything went right. The Yankees still boast some star power at the upper levels in Banuelos and Betances, but Jesus Montero will graduate to the big league team next season, and their next real impact position player prospects are Sanchez and Williams in the low minors. Romine, Zoilo, and Corban Joseph are solid players that definitely serve a purpose, but they aren’t stars. The Yankees system definitely took a hit this season, but it’s still in the top half of all the farm systems in baseball.