Should the Yankees pursue Barret Loux?

(AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

You probably caught this yesterday, but Bud Selig and the rest of his Major League Baseball gang have ruled that Barret Loux, a 21-year-old righthander out of Texas A&M, will become a free agent on Sept. 1st of this year and be able to sign with any club he chooses. The Diamondbacks selected Loux with the sixth overall pick in June’s amateur draft, then reached an agreement with him on a slightly below slot $2M bonus (he was generally considered more of a back of the first round talent) only to have the player fail his physical due to shoulder and elbow issues.

The decision by MLB was remarkably fair actually, since the hard asses at the NCAA would have ruled Loux ineligible to play for the Aggies next year since he used an agent to negotiate with Arizona (nice job driving one of your best athletes away, NCAA!). His only option would have been an independent league, far from ideal. The Diamondbacks will get a compensation pick for their troubles (meaning they’ll likely have two top seven picks in next year’s epiphany draft), and now Loux gets to shop his services around to the highest bidder. The problem is that he’s damaged goods.

According to Jeff Passan, Loux’s physical revealed two major issues: he has a tear (of unknown severity) in his labrum, and enough ligament damage to his elbow to forecast Tommy John surgery in the future. While obviously very serious, the elbow is not the long-term concern, the shoulder is. The 6-foot-4, 220 lb. righty wasn’t a huge stuff guy to begin with – low-90’s fastball, hard changeup, okay slider and knucklecurve (video) – and the labrum issue could potentially sap his arsenal even further. The Diamondbacks took Loux with the idea of having him moving quickly as a mid-rotation starter to help their beleaguered staff, not because he had tremendous upside.

I thought I remember seeing that the Yanks were interested in Loux with their first round pick back in the spring, but I’m wrong. Turns out they were just projected to take him in a mock draft. Either way, here’s an opportunity for the Yankees to add a first round caliber talent to the system using nothing but their checkbook. They have shown a willingness to gamble on injured prospects in the past, though they’ve definitely scaled back on the practice in recent years.

Given the injury, it’s incredibly unlikely that Loux will command the same $2M bonus he’d agreed to with the Diamondbacks, but the competitive nature of the open market should still land him a seven-figure payout. I can’t imagine that he and his agent would reasonably demand a big league contract even ignoring the injury, he’s simply not that kind of talent. All it takes it one GM to make it happen, though. While the allure of adding a highly touted talent to the farm system is exciting, we have to remember what we’re dealing with here. Shoulder issues are scary, scary business, and if the Yanks had drafted him and the injury came to light later, we’d all want them to walk away and take the compensation pick like the Diamondbacks did. Loux being a free agent now shouldn’t change things.

It’s just money, something the Yankees have plenty of, but we’re not talking about a high reward kind of player with Loux. He was projected as an unspectacular mid-rotation guy from the outset, and his two arm-related injuries greatly increase the likelihood of a zero return. It’s one thing to gamble on a player with the upside of Andrew Brackman when he needs a routine (but again, obviously still serious) elbow reconstruction, but it’s another thing all together to do that when the best case scenario is a middling return.

The Yanks have build up a tremendous amount of pitching depth in the minors, and while there’s always a reason to add more, at some point you have to take a step back and look at a player for what he is. Loux has the mystique of being a high draft pick, but he’s damaged goods and I would not recommend spending seven figures on him. That money, no matter what budget it’s coming out of, can be better used elsewhere.

CC Sabathia’s Cy Young Case

(AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

It wasn’t long ago, about a month and a half, that something seemed wrong with CC Sabathia. Through 12 starts he had allowed 12 home runs. He had allowed just 18 in all of 2009. His ERA seemed a bit high at 4.14, and at that point he was pitching like the team’s fourth-best starter. In the linked post I looked at his peripherals and determined his home runs to be the only issue, but that seemed like a significant one. The Yankees were relying on Sabathia to be their workhorse ace.

As expected, he turned around his season at that point. On June 9, six days after he allowed two home runs to a then-hapless Orioles lineup, he held them to just two runs, none via the homer, through seven innings. That started a run of excellence that ran through last night’s seven-inning, two run performance. In that 103.1-inning span he has a 2.35 ERA, striking out 82 to 37 walks. Best of all, he’s allowed just three home runs — and two of them were solo shots last night. If I’ve learned one thing about aces over the last few years, it’s to not sweat it when they surrender solo home runs.

This run, unsurprisingly, has gotten people talking about Sabathia’s Cy Young candidacy. He leads the AL in wins and has lowered his ERA to 3.12. Since those two stats factor heavily into the BBWAA voters’ decisions, it stands to reason that Sabathia has a decent shot at the award. But if the baseball writers cast their votes for the actual best pitcher in the AL, rather than the one who has the most pitcher-wins, Sabathia will not win. He’s having a top-10, maybe even top-5, season, but that isn’t good enough to win the Cy Young Award. For that you need to have a top-1 season.

Seven AL pitchers currently have an ERA better than Sabathia, though that can be misleading. Being the best in the league means not only having the best rate stats, but also the best counting numbers. A pitcher who eats a larger percentage of his teams overall innings is more valuable than a pitcher who produces similar results while pitching a bit less. Only two of the pitchers ahead of Sabathia have as many as his 26 starts, and one of them, Jered Weaver, has thrown 14.2 fewer innings. Only Felix Hernandez has a better ERA and more innings than Sabathia. That would certainly strengthen his case, but it still doesn’t put him over the top.

Hernandez, it seems, has the best case. He has the third-best ERA in the AL and has pitched at least 49 more innings than the two pitchers ahead of him. He also has the fourth-best FIP and xFIP, again having pitched more innings than the pitchers ahead of him. His 8.13 K/9 ranks ninth in the league, though only one pitcher ahead of him, Jered Weaver, has a better walk rate. The only area where Hernandez is deficient is in wins, and that’s more a product of having the league’s worst offense behind him. But that also means that he doesn’t have the advantage of facing that offense.

These differences in offense show up in Baseball Prospectus’s quality of batters faced report. Felix has faced hitters with a collective .261/.330.399 line, while Sabathia has faced slightly worse hitters, .256/.327/.395. Yet Felix has held those slightly better hitters in check, allowing a .231/.288/.336 line on the season, while Sabathia has allowed opponents to hit .246/.301/.370. So not only is Felix’s ERA a half-run lower than Sabathia’s, but he’s done it while facing slightly tougher hitters. And, of course, with the league-worst offense supporting him. That would seem to bolster his case considerably.

There are other cases to be made, as there are every year. Cliff Lee has been otherworldly, unintentionally walking just 10 hitters in 169 innings. He’s also averaging eight innings per start, a full inning more than Sabathia and 2/3 of an inning more than Hernandez. Francisco Liriano has allowed just two home runs all year and has a league-leading FIP and xFIP. Jered Weaver has a 4.33 K/BB ratio and a 1.10 WHIP, both second-best in the league (to that Lee character). But all of these guys you can put in the same category as Sabathia, which is the conversation for runner up. Felix, by most appearances, has been the best pitcher in the American League this season.

CC Sabathia is great. I love watching him pitch. It’s a great feeling, every five days, to say, “hey, the Yanks have one of the best pitchers in the league on the mound.” But the key part of that phrase is “one of.” He is, without a doubt, the best pitcher on the league’s best team. But that doesn’t make him the best pitcher in the league. That would be Felix Hernandez right now. The lackluster offense should not be held against him. After all, he’s not the one who put it together. Plenty can change between now and October 4, but on that date I still expect Hernandez to stand ahead of the pack.

For key Yanks, age is more than just a number

When the 2009 Yankees won the World Series, they did so by defying history. Their catcher was a 37-year-old who homered 22 times and posted an OPS+ of 133 while playing just 111 games; their third baseman, 33, hit 30 home runs with an OPS+ of 147 while missing 38 games; their short stop, 35, had a career year with a .334/.406/.465 batting line. In fact, no team since the 1950s had captured a World Championship with a short stop that old, and the Yankees played as though age meant nothing.

Seemingly as retribution for the magical October of 2009, Father Time has come roaring back with a vengeance this year. Jorge Posada, who just turned 39 yesterday, might have tied his career high with 3 stolen bases, but his other numbers aren’t looking too pretty. He’s played in just 85 of the team’s 119 games, and he’s caught only 451.1 innings, over 120 fewer than Francisco Cervelli. His triple slash line — .253/.361/.451 — is great for a sometimes-catcher, but he’s probably going to post full-season lows in home runs and batting average while his slugging and OBP are well below career norms. After last year’s stellar season, his injury-plagued 2010 has been a disappointment.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the infield, the Yanks are facing similar problems. A-Rod, battling tendinitis in his hip and now a calf strain, is hitting just .265/.334/.486 with 21 home runs and is on pace for career lows in his rate stats. His streak of 30-home run seasons, currently at 12, is in jeopardy. Derek Jeter has stayed healthy this year, but he’s batting just .279/.341/.387, well off his career .315/.385/.455 line, and his only home run since June 12 was an inside-the-parker that happened when David DeJesus broke a finger. Not surprisingly, Jeter and A-Rod are rated below average defensively as well.

The only group of people more in denial over aging baseball players than the players themselves are fans. We don’t like to hear that Derek Jeter, a Yankee since I was 12, is getting old. We don’t want to see Jorge Posada break down as the wear and tear of being a 39-year-old catcher begins to take its toll. We don’t want to admit that Alex Rodriguez might be mortal. Yet, we can’t deny it. As Andy Pettitte‘s groin lingers, as A-Rod’s legs cry out for regular rest, we see these stalwarts getting older. What though are the Yankees to do?

For the Bombers, this trio of position players presents the organization with a crossroads of sorts. Since 2004, the Yanks have been about Derek and Alex and Jorge with a cast of supporting characters. Now, it’s time for the supporting characters to take center stage. The younger guys — Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson — are good enough to be stars in their own rights. Cano, who has slowed lately, is having an MVP-caliber season from second base, and after a horrendously slow start, Mark Teixeira leads the Yanks in home runs. Swisher has flirted with a .300 batting average and a .900 OPS for the last few weeks, and even Curtis Granderson is showing signs of life.

But larger questions loom. A-Rod is under contract through 2017, and the Yankees have to figure out a way to restore him to health. He needs regular rest but hasn’t gotten it. Derek Jeter’s contract situation is the looming albatross around the organization’s neck. Can the Yankees give him a long-term deal for top dollar when he isn’t worth the money on the field or the commitment in terms of years? And what of Jorge Posada? Will he have the dignity to retire after 2011 when his contract up or will the Yanks again be confronted with a face-off between sentimentality and nostalgia on one side and the reality of age on another?

This month, we’ve seen a malaise envelope the Yankees as they’ve staggered through a 7-9 stretch of play. They’re still in first place; they still have a solid lead on a playoff spot; they’ve still scored more runs than any other team in baseball. Yet, Father Time is knocking, and if it isn’t the quite the last gasp for the older players, the end is nearing. No one likes to contemplate that looming baseball mortality.

Yanks end offensive drought in 6-2 win

The American League’s best offense returned last night. The Yanks knocked out nine hits, including two home runs, and put 15 men on base in a 6-2 victory over the Tigers. CC Sabathia did his part, holding the Tigers to just five hits in seven innings, striking out nine along the way. It added up to the Yanks’ first victory since Saturday.

Biggest Hit: Swisher brings it back

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Last night’s game started in a way you never want to see while at home. Austin Jackson took the first pitch of the game, a fastball that caught most of the plate, over the wall in left for a quick run. Had Vazquez or Burnett been on the mound it might have elicited a groan or two, but this was CC Sabathia. Sure enough he finished the first in relatively easy fashion.

With a lead already in hand Justin Verlander took the mound, but it was soon clear that he didn’t bring his best stuff along for the road trip. Brett Gardner started things with an opposite-field single. Derek Jeter followed him with a walk. Robinson Cano eventually loaded the bases with a walk, which set up Nick Swisher to be the hero. He came through with a sharply hit grounder through the infield, scoring both Garder and Jeter and giving the Yanks the lead.

After the last couple of games it was nice to see the Yanks get the offense going early. Yet it wasn’t all good. The Yanks also had the biggest downer of the evening just a few batters later.

Biggest Bummer: Thames kills the rally

The Yanks had the lead, but they also had Justin Verlander on the ropes. After Swisher’s two-RBI single Verlander walked Jorge Posada in seven pitches, driving his pitch count up to 33 with the bases loaded and one out in the first. Normally this would have brought up Lance Berkman, but because he’s out with an ankle injury Marcus Thames got the day at DH against the righty. The at-bat did not go so well.

Verlander had already walked three in the inning and was generally having problems finding the strike zone. His first pitch to Thames was way up high for an easy ball one. His next pitch was still high, but even at 96 it looked hittable. But Thames couldn’t center the ball. He bounced it back to Verlander, who threw home to get the lead runner. Catcher Gerald Laird then fired to first to get Thames and erase the threat.

That was the second time in their previous two innings that the Yankees had faced a wild pitcher, loaded the bases, and then ultimately let him off the hook before putting up a crooked number. Both situations ended in double plays. The difference, of course, is that the second instance came in the first, giving the Yanks time to come back and score more. To everyone’s delight they not only scored six runs, but they spread them over four innings.

CC laughs at your threat

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

CC Sabathia’s night was far from perfect. He threw 115 pitches through seven innings, mainly because he fell behind a number of hitters. That led to three walks, which is again uncharacteristic of CC. But he made up for it by striking out nine guys and keeping six of 16 balls in play on the ground.

The highest leverage situation he faced came in the fourth, when the Yankees led 3-1. Ryan Raburn had just drawn a walk, putting runners on the corners with two outs. That created a 1.99 LI situation for Brandon Inge. Sabathia apparently had a plan, throwing him a changeup and then two straight fastballs low and inside. All three missed the zone. Up 3-0 Inge was taking, and Sabathia slung a fastball over the outside edge for a strike. Inge took again 3-1, this one a changeup high in the zone.

With count 3-2 CC went back to his fastball, again with the target low and away. It looked like he missed inside a bit, but Inge took a weak hack and missed. The Tigers didn’t really threaten for the rest of the evening.

Miscelanny

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It’s all in the swing: Curtis Granderson went 1 for 3 with a walk. He is now 8 for 22 (.364) with three walks (.440 OBP), two homers and two doubles (.727 SLG) since the supposed changes to his swing. He has struck out three times in that span (13.6%).

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

With his 2 for 3, one-walk night Brett Gardner is now 8 for his last 19 (.421) with four walks (.480 OBP) and three doubles (.579). There were no reported changes to his swing.

Cano’s homer was his first since July 31.

Jorge Posada, on his 39th birthday, set a career high with his third stolen base of the season. His first of the season came on August 7.

After Marcus Thames had his bloop infield single, the YES camera crew cut to the Yankees dugout and showed Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter yukking it up. It’s almost as if winning puts them in a better mood.

Graph and box

The line goes up. The Yankees win.

More at FanGraphs. I wish we had an easy way to embed the box score.

Up Next

Jeremy Bonder man and Dustin Moseley are set for tomorrow at 7. Lineups. First pitch. Baseball.

Heathcott ignites offense in Charleston win

Keith Law posted his review of each American League team’s draft today (sub. req’d), and he says he was “surprised that the Yanks didn’t go for more ceiling, without a single player in this draft who was seen as a first-rounder by the industry,” and openly wonders if ownership isn’t giving scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and Co. enough cash to worth with. My rough calculation has it at approximately $7M for the 29 signed players this year, maybe a touch less, which is on par with what they spent on the 2006-2009 draft hauls ($6.85M average in those years).

Meanwhile, The Windsor Star had a little piece on new Yankee prospect Evan Rutckyj. In addition to his $500,000 signing bonus, he got an education package worth another $150,000. Paying for college is pretty standard in these deals, but I didn’t think they gave them that much. Damn.

And finally, Jason Hirsh has been placed on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. That’s always good. Kevin Whelan takes his place.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 loss to Columbus)
Kevin Russo, LF & Jorge Vazquez, DH: both 0 for 4 – Russo K’ed once, JoVa twice … Russo also committed a fielding error
Eduardo Nunez, SS & Jesus Montero, C: both 1 for 4 – Montero K’ed twice
Juan Miranda, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 R
Colin Curtis, RF: 0 for 2, 1 RBI
Brandon Laird, 3B & Eric Bruntlett, 2B: both 0 for 3, 2 K
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 K – 11 for his last 37 (.297) with five doubled and a pair of homers
Zach McAllister: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 5-6 GB/FB, 1 E (throwing) – 59 of 96 pitches were strikes (61.5%) … well, at least he didn’t give up any homers
The Ghost of Kei Igawa: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-3 GB/FB – a whopping 17 of his 21 pitches were strikes (81%)
Amaury Sanit: 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-0 GB/FB – 11 of his 17 pitches were strikes (64.7%)

[Read more…]

MRI reveals A-Rod has low grade strain of left calf

After leaving last night’s game with a tight left calf, Alex Rodriguez underwent an MRI today that revealed a “low grade strain” of the muscle. He’s still day-to-day, but it’s good that they got it checked out to make sure it was nothing more serious. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got another day off tomorrow, and I can’t say I’d be opposed to it either. He’s one guy they absolutely need to be healthy down the stretch.

Pettitte MRI reveals small strain in groin

Update (8:43pm): The MRI revealed a “small persistent strain” of the left groin, and Andy will not throw off a mound for another week. He will continue to throw off flat ground, however.

6:17pm: Via Marc Carig, Andy Pettitte is going for an MRI on his injured groin, saying he still feels a “pull” when he tries to pitch at game intensity. Even if the MRI comes back clean, I can’t say I’m optimistic that he’ll be back before mid-September. Perhaps his rehab was too aggressive, too early, but we can’t say for sure.