Open Thread: 3/21 Camp Notes

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

The Yankees beat the Rays 5-2 this afternoon. Phil Hughes made one ugly mistake to Matt Joyce (two-run homer to dead center) but otherwise was pretty darn effective. I’ll have more on him tomorrow. Clay Rapada struck out the two lefties he faced (Luke Scott and Carlos Pena), and Cesar Cabral struck out six (!) in two innings. He had a man on third with no outs in his second inning of work but escaped by whiffing the next three hitters. Impressive.

The go-ahead ninth inning rally was fueled by doubles by Cole Garner and the scorching hot Justin Maxwell. Gus Molina chipped in a two-run jack as well. Russell Martin, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez all had one hit each, though Martin’s single was the only non-double. Jorge Vazquez also doubled on a ball that I thought was gone off the bat. It just died in the air. Here’s the box score and here’s the rest from Tampa…

  • Nick Swisher stayed at the complex all day to receive treatment on his two injured groins, but he’s feeling better. They’re going to take it day-by-day and make sure it’s 100% before getting him back on the field. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Derek Jeter (calf) is on target to return to the lineup on Friday. The Yankees had a long road trip today and have an even longer one tomorrow, so he’ll play in the next home game. [Kieran Darcy]
  • David Robertson (foot) is scheduled to throw batting practice again on Friday and could get into a game this weekend. Freddy Garcia will pitch in Saturday’s game, his first time since getting hit by that comebacker in the right hand. [Chad Jennings]

Here’s your open thread for the night. The Rangers, Knicks, and Nets are playing, and MLB Network will be showing a game a little later on. Talk about whatever your heart desires here, have at it.

Cashman on Pettitte and Pineda

A few days ago Brian Cashman talked to Ian O’Connor on ESPN Radio, mainly about Andy Pettitte and Michael Pineda. You can listen to the whole thing here (the Pineda bit starts at around five minutes). Cashman said that it’s “a great thing for him to experience right now” in regards to Pineda and the New York media scrutiny he’s faced this spring. He called Pineda’s missing velocity “a curiosity,” noting that he “has more velo in the tank.” The most interesting line, however, comes when Cashman discusses Pineda’s work habits this past off-season. “I bet, the way — you know, he showed up 20 pounds heavier than he was with Seattle at the same time last year. I betcha it’s the first time he picked up a ball and started working out, and he’s probably using — it doesn’t make it right, if it’s the case, but I can’t tell you it’s the case — but he’s probably using spring training to get himself in shape.” He then goes on to praise Pineda’s secondary stuff, saying that hitters are getting poor swings. “We have a really good pitcher as is right, and and he’ll be a great pitcher when that velo comes back.” Comme si, comme sa.

Update: I’ve been told, in certain and unfriendly terms, that the term “v-lo” is unacceptable. Velo it is, you authoritarians.

2012 Season Preview: Speed Demons

It'll be nice to see Gardner off to the races in 2012. (via Getty Images)

Remember the days when Johnny Damon was the fastest player in the Yankees’ lineup? They didn’t even carry much speed on the bench. That has changed in the past few years. It started, really, when Brett Gardner began to play regularly. He and Curtis Granderson do possess pure speed tools, as does Eduardo Nunez. And, because stealing bases isn’t all about pure speed, the Yankees have a few other options strewn throughout the roster. They’ll never be a burner team, but they do have enough legitimate base stealers for a lineup mostly built on power.

Brett Gardner

In his two years as a full-time player Gardner has proven himself as one of MLB’s most prolific bag swipers. He stole 47 in 2010, fourth most in the league, and then swiped the second most last season with 49. His 49 last year is made all the more impressive, because his OBP was considerably lower in 2011 than it was in 2010. That might be taken as a sign of his progress on the base paths.

At the same time, Gardner hasn’t been the most efficient base stealer. He got caught 13 times last year, fourth most in the bigs. Even still, he hovered right around an 80 percent success rate. He was, however, a bit more efficient in 2010, successfully swiping bats 84 percent of the time. If he can get back to that level, while attempting steals at a slightly greater frequency than he did in 2011 (which probably means an OBP closer to 2010), the Yankees will have one of the best, if not the best, base stealing weapons in the league.

Eduardo Nunez

Maybe it’s because I don’t pay as close attention to the minors as Mike, but I never remember Eduardo Nunez being a burner in the minors. Perhaps that’s because he wasn’t quite efficient once his name starting coming up in prospect talks. he did steal 19 in AA in 2009, but he got caught seven times. In 2010 things seemed to come together, as he swiped 23 bags in 28 tries at AAA, and was successful in all five of his attempts during his brief major league stint.

Last year he became a true weapon on the base paths. He swiped 22 bags while getting caught six times, which put him near the 80 percent mark. He seems to have a decent instinct when breaking from first base, which helps him even on good throws. A little more refinement in that regard can make him a better weapon on the base paths in 2012. He could get some chances both as a starter and a pinch runner; if Andruw Jones or Raul Ibanez get on base late in games, Girardi probably shouldn’t hesitate to pinch run. If only they had a decent fielding fourth outfielder, we could even add Nick Swisher to that list.

Curtis Granderson

When Baseball America scouted Curtis Granderson before his debut in 2004, they said that he was “not a big home run or stolen base threat.” In 2006 he started to prove the first part wrong, belting 19 homers. He further proved that wrong in 2007 when he hit 23 homers and stole 26 bases — and was only caught once. Since then Granderson’s stolen base numbers have fluctuated a bit, but he remains a mostly effective base swiper.

Last year he got caught a bit too often, 10 times in 35 attempts (71 percent). For his Yankees career he’s 37 for 49, which is just over 75 percent. Given his spot in the order he’s probably not going to swipe a ton. But if he picks his spots like he did in 2010, he can sometimes sneak into scoring position, leaving plenty of opportunities for Cano, A-Rod, and Teixeira to drive him in.

Russell Martin

No, Martin is not a speed demon. In fact, he hasn’t attempted more than 10 stolen bases since 2009. But he appears to know what he’s doing when he does swipe a bag. He proved that on Opening Day last year, effortlessly taking a base on Justin Verlander. He made nine more attempts throughout the season, getting caught just twice. He’ll never win a crown, and he’ll almost certainly never steal more than 20, as he did in the 2007 season. But he can seemingly pick his spots well. That’s pretty much all you can ask from a catcher.

In the past both Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter provided threats when at first base. Jeter has cut down on his attempts in the last few years. After stealing 30 in 35 attempts during he 2009 season, he stole 18 in 23 attempts in 2010 and then 16 in 22 attempts last year. You can look at that as him slowing down, but he did feature similar numbers in 2007 and 2008, coming off a 34-steal 2006 season. Rodriguez used to be a paragon of base stealing efficiency, especially after his 40-40 season in 1998. But in the last two years he’s combined for just eight stolen bases in 11 attempts. He gets good reads, but he won’t be going often.

Having guys like Gardner and Nunez is a boon for the Yankees, a team that in previous seasons didn’t have that kind of speed. Having one starter and one guy off the bench helps create a more well-rounded base stealing strategy. It helps, too, that there are a few players for whom Girardi shouldn’t hesitate to pinch run late in games. Granderson is a bit of a bonus. If he, along with Jeter, Martin, and Rodriguez, can pick spots here and there to take a free base, the Yankees will be a bit more well rounded with their offense. That’s a valuable feature for an offense built mostly on power.

Triple-A stadium situation could linger into 2013

The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Empire State Yankees will be stuck on a season-long road trip this year, playing “home” game in six different cities as PNC Field is renovated. Apparently the renovation is actually a total replacement, as Josh Leventhal reports that the current stadium will be torn down and replaced with a new $40M facility. That’s great, but the problem is that demolition must start on April 1st in order for the place to be ready for next season.

According to Leventhal, the $14.5M sale of the team from Lackawanna county to the Yankees and Mandalay Bay is still being finalized. Those funds are needed for the new facility, so construction can’t begin until a deal is hammered out. International League president Randy Mobley says the two sides are still negotiating, but “with this construction start deadline rapidly approaching, it is all going to become pretty evident, pretty quickly, what is or isn’t going to happen.”

There is no contingency plan in place if the stadium is not ready in time for Opening Day 2013. “This is a one-year arrangement, not to be repeated,” said Mobley of the team’s unfortunate 2012 plans. It’s bad enough that some of the organization’s best prospects will be stuck on the road all year with the Triple-A squad, doing something similar in 2013 would be a disaster. Everyone involved — especially the Yankees — has every reason to want to get a deal done so construction can start on time, and I suspect it will.

ST Game Thread: Broken Up

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

This spring was supposed to be about Phil Hughes and his latest chance to establish himself as a big league starter, but then the Yankees had to go and trade for Michael Pineda so he could hog all the spotlight. St. Philip of Hughes has been piggybacking with CC Sabathia most of the month, coming out of the bullpen to get his work in once the big guy was done. It’s time for the two to be broken up, with Hughes getting the ball today and Sabathia getting an extra day of rest before going tomorrow. Phil’s had a fine spring statistically but no one really cares. He’s shown improved fastball velocity and his curveball was much sharper in his last appearance than it was at any point in 2011, and at least one scout agrees. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come and not just a March mirage. Here’s the lineup…

C Russell Martin
2B Robinson Cano
3B Alex Rodriguez
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Raul Ibanez
SS Eduardo Nunez
CF Dewayne Wise
LF Cole Garner
RF Chris Dickerson

RHP Phil Hughes

Available Pitchers: RHP Adam Warren, LHP Clay Rapada, LHP Mike O’Connor, LHP Cesar Cabral, LHP Juan Cedeno, RHP Cory Arbiso, RHP Mark Montgomery, and RHP Preston Claiborne all made the trip and are available if needed. Arbiso, Montgomery, and Claiborne are up from minor league camp for the day.

Available Position Players: 1B/C Jose Gil, C Gus Molina, IF Doug Bernier, UTIL Bill Hall, IF Brandon Laird, IF Jayson Nix, IF Ramiro Pena, 1B Jorge Vazquez, OF Justin Maxwell, and OF Colin Curtis are on the bench and available.

Today’s game starts at 1:05pm ET and can be seen on ESPN. We’re going to chat for the first few innings, so join the fun after the jump.

[Read more…]

2012 Draft: Senior Signs

(Jay Janner/Associated Press)

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has taken a bite out of the draft, but a few weeks ago I outlined two ways to sort of massage the system and maximize spending ability. One way is to embrace college seniors, taking some of these relatively cheap players towards the back end of the top ten rounds and reallocating the draft pool money elsewhere. The lack of leverage hurts the player but benefits the team, though the two sides could work together so everyone wins.

One of the most intriguing senior prospects in this year’s draft is a guy the Yankees drafted last year but did not sign: Texas left-hander Sam Stafford. They didn’t like something they found in medicals and passed on signing him as their second round pick, and sure enough Stafford is now out for a while due to shoulder surgery. The Yankees did get a compensation draft pick this year (#89 overall) as a result. The college senior talent pool took a bit of a hit with Stafford’s injury, but there are still plenty of interesting guys out there that would make fine draft-pool-saving picks in the eighth, ninth, or tenth rounds.

Taylor Dugas, OF, Alabama
An eighth round pick of the Cubs last summer, Dugas is leadoff type in center fielder. He’s very patient at the plate and regularly puts the ball in play (53 strikeouts and 113 walks in 150 games since the start of 2010), but he has little power (just ten homers during that time) and not enough speed (31-for-46 in stolen base attempts, 67.4%) to be a real offensive weapon. Dugas figures to be able to play center in the long-term, though his arm isn’t anything great.

(Michael Gethers/DailyCal.org)

Matt Flemer, RHP, Cal (video)
The Royals were unable to sign Flemer as a 19th round pick last year, and now the 6-foot-2, 215 lb. right-hander has moved into the Bears rotation after pitching out of the bullpen his first three years on campus. He’s an extreme strike-thrower, walking just 31 batters in 158 career innings (1.77 BB/9) and only 16 batters in 107 IP (1.35 BB/9) since the start of 2010. Flemer is just a two-pitch pitcher at the moment (low-90’s heat with a slider), so he profiles best as a reliever in pro ball. He’s aggressive and misses bats out of the bullpen, making him a prime candidate to fit right into the Yankees’ relief pipeline.

R.J. Hively, RHP, Mississippi
The Yankees drafted but did not sign Hively back in 2010, when they grabbed him in the 26th round out of Santa Ana Junior College. The right-hander transferred to Ole Miss, worked primarily out of the bullpen last year, and now holds down a weekend rotation spot for the Rebels. He’s extremely athletic with a very loose arm, throwing strikes with a high-80’s fastball that should tick up a notch once some pro instructors get a hold of him. Hively is another guy that profiles best as a reliever long-term. The Yankees have a bit of a history with him, so if nothing else, they’ve already seen something they like.

Matt Reckling, RHP, Rice (video)
It’s not often that a Rice pitcher comes out of school with relatively few miles on his arm, but Reckling did not start pitching until his senior year of high school and has only thrown 165 IP during his four years with the Owls. A big (6-foot-4, 215 lbs.) right-hander with power stuff, he sits in the low-90s with a power curve as a starter but figures to offer a bit more in relief. Command is an issue because he has limited pitching experience (and because of a funky arm action), but there is still some untapped potential here. The Indians rolled the dice on Reckling in the 22nd round last year but came up empty.

Jacob Stallings, C, North Carolina
A 42nd round pick of the Reds last year, Stallings figures to go a bit higher this year because he can hit a little and is expected to remain behind the plate long-term. He doesn’t offer much pop (just seven homers in 140 games over the last three years) but he draws walks (84 BB in those 140 games) and makes enough contact (94 strikeouts) to be more than a zero at the dish. Stallings is fantastic defensively, with a great arm that shuts down the running game and good mobility behind the dish. He’s cut from the P.J. Pilittere cloth, though he’s more athletic and has a better chance at a career as a big league backup than the former Yankees farmhand.

(Photo via Texas A&M Athletics)

Ross Stripling, RHP, Texas A&M
Like Reckling, Stripling didn’t start pitching until his senior year of high school. He broke his leg playing football, and out of boredom he started throwing off a mound with the cast on his leg. Five years later, he’s one of the most successful pitchers in Aggies history and a legitimate pro prospect with three pitches: low-90s fastball, curveball, and changeup. Stripling is a big kid (6-foot-3, 190 lbs.) who’s thrown quite a few innings since the start of 2010 (250.1 IP), but he has control (1.94 BB/9) and can miss bats (8.63 K/9). The equipment is there to start, though he might wind up in the bullpen long-term like everyone else in this post. The Rockies took Stripling in the ninth round last year, and he could go just as high again this summer.

* * *

An important thing to remember when it comes to college seniors is that they generally stink. The best amateur players tend to sign either out of high school or as college juniors, so the senior talent pool is very diluted. Someone like Adam Warren — who is the on verge of being a back-end big league starter — is basically the best case college senior scenario. Getting a bench player or bullpen guy might not sound sexy, but when you’re talking about a minimal investment both financially and in terms of draft slot, it’s a quality return.

Pettittef/x

Welcome back, old friend. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty)

At this point the wonderful news of Andy Pettitte‘s return to the fold has already been covered to death, and so there’s no need to rehash all of the details here. As a Yankee fan I’m thrilled, and as a statistical analyst I’m equally thrilled (I did something of an ode to Andy a little over a year ago, so be sure to have a look at that). Andy has been a pillar of consistency throughout his career. To wit:

1995-2003: 3.94 ERA (86 ERA-)/3.73 FIP (83 FIP-)/3.41 xFIP (77 xFIP-), 6.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 49.3% GB%
2004-2006: 3.38 ERA (77 ERA-)/3.58 FIP (81 FIP-)/3.41 xFIP (77 xFIP-), 7.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 50.4% GB%
2007-2010: 4.08 ERA (92 ERA-)/3.89 FIP (88 FIP-)/4.05 xFIP (93 xFIP-), 6.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 46.9% GB%

However, today I’m primarily concerned with reviewing Pettitte’s stuff, and thankfully with Brooks’ excessively robust and reclassified new PITCHf/x database, we can have a more advanced look at what Pettitte did during the last few seasons of his career than ever before. The following table I’ve compiled details takes a look at each of Pettitte’s five pitches during the last three years he was active across a variety of categories. PitchIQ is ostensibly the equivalent of OPS+/ERA+; 100 is league average, while anything above is above-average and below is below-average. This is outstanding, as it gives us an idea of how well or poorly Andy’s pitches fared in comparison to his peers.

While he’s never had blow-you-away stuff, Andy’s been an incredibly successful Major Leaguer (and perhaps borderline Hall-of-Famer) due in part to his ability to hit his spots and change his speeds with a variety of secondary pitches that play off his 90mph fastball. According to Lucas’ and Harry’s reclassified PITCHf/x data, during his last three seasons in pinstripes Pettitte threw a fastball, sinker, cutter, curveball and changeup. Interestingly, ESPN’s Stats & Info blog put up a post last week detailing how one of the keys to Pettitte’s success in 2010 was his slider; however, according to this data Pettitte throws no such thing. I don’t know what data ESPN is being supplied with, but I’m inclined to go with the guys who manually reclassified more than 3 million pitches.

Per our data, Andy’s bread-and-butter — at least on a whiff/swing basis — has been his cutter, with a whiff/swing% an impressive 37% better than league average in 2010. None of his other pitches generated an above-average percentage of whiffs/swing. Part of the reason Andy’s able to get away with not having overpowering stuff is that his sinker and changeup each got him ground balls more than 50% of the time in 2010.

The one aspect of the PitchIQ Scores I’m still trying to get a firm read on is how to interpret them when it comes to LD/BIP and FB/BIP. I have an e-mail into Dan Brooks about this, and I’m pretty sure that we need to be looking at the PitchIQ Scores for these two categories as if they were “minus stats,” (i.e., below 100 is above-average and vice versa), given that general baseball convention holds that lower flyball and line drive percentages are thought of as a good thing. If my interpretation is indeed correct, both Pettitte’s curve and cutter have helped him limit the percentage of line drives, although the cutter is his only pitch that yields a FB% higher than 30%.

I also compiled Pettitte’s platoon splits from 2007-2010, although I won’t make your eyes glaze over by also posting a JPEG of that chart; feel free to download it here if you’d like. The gist of it is, Pettitte, as one would expect, handles righties and lefties with equal aplomb, although he’s really really good against same-side batters, with a PitchIQ whiff/swing of 148 on his cutter against lefties. For comparison’s sake, Jon Lester’s cutter against lefties during the same time period was 16% above average; while Cliff Lee’s is, rather surprisingly, 4% below league average. That doesn’t seem like it could be right, although then again for as good as Lee is I guess he’s always been a bit more about generating weak contact than outright overpowering hitters with strikeouts (though it’s not as if a 7.6 K/9 since 2007 is anything to sneeze at).

Conclusion and projections

So how well will Andy fare? Clearly if he can come close to throwing the way he’d been throwing during 2010, the Yankees will be adding a bona fide #2/#3 lefty starter at some point in May, which is just awesome to think about. Of course, only Andy knows how his soon-to-be 40-year-old body will react to returning to the grind of retiring Major League hitters and whether he still has the craftiness he’ll need to succeed.

Mike covered Pettitte’s ZiPS projection earlier this week, which sees a 4.45 ERA and 1.5 WAR for Pettitte in 125.1 IP. Marcel has Pettitte at 73 innings of non-adjusted 4.07 ERA/4.06 FIP ball; while SG’s baseline forecast (which is park- and league-adjusted) calls for 127 innings of 4.01 ERA/4.00 FIP ball. The 65% CAIRO forecast is even sunnier, with 140 innings of 3.69 ERA/3.64 FIP ball. All things considered, those are some pretty robust projections for an older player who skipped an entire season of work, and if he’s able to approximate some sort of amalgam of those numbers the Yankees will be in very good shape.