Kontos takes a beating in Arizona

Keith Law provides a little blurb on Manny Banuelos from his outing in Saturday’s Rising Stars Showcase (Insider req’d)…

… a ridiculous changeup that had plus arm speed and hard, late fading action, and he touched 94 as well. I don’t see much physical projection with Banuelos, who is already pretty maxed out physically (unless he gets taller — he is just 19), but his feel for pitching and fastball command are extremely advanced and tightening his curveball would give him three above-average or better pitches too.

Sounds good to me.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (16-8 loss to Peoria) this team stinks, seriously
Brandon Laird, DH: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K
Joe Pirela, 2B: 0 for 5, 1 K – .175/.224/.206 … it’s a hitter’s league!
Craig Heyer: 2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 5-0 GB/FB – 24 of 42 pitches were strikes (57.1%)
George Kontos: 0.2 IP, 5 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 2-0 GB/FB – half of his 34 pitches were strikes … allowed two homers too, but at least one of the walks was intentional … this is bad George, very very bad
Ryan Pope: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1-2 GB/FB, 1 E (throwing) – 19 of 29 pitches were strikes (65.5%)

The Boss and Billy up for Hall consideration

Even in death, George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin remain linked. The two headline a list of 12 individuals under consideration for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame as part of the Expansion Era ballot in front of the veterans committee this year. Results of the voting will be announced during the Winter Meetings on December 6 at 10 a.m.

To gain entrance into Cooperstown, candidates must receive votes on at least 75 percent of the 16 ballots casts, and George and Billy join ten other former players on this year’s slate. Also up for consideration are former players Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons and Rusty Staub; and executives Pat Gillick and Marvin Miller. Of the 12, only Martin and Steinbrenner are deceased.

The Expansion Era ballot is something of a new creation. To ensure more veterans earn their spots in the Hall, the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors opted this year to split baseball’s history into three eras with a three-year cycle. This year, the Expansion Era (1973-present) receives consideration. Next year, Golden Era (1947-1972) baseball folks will get their due, and in 2012, Pre-Integration (1871-1946) candidates will be up for a vote. If the Boss, for instance, isn’t elected this year, he won’t get another shot until 2013.

“Our continual challenge is to provide a structure to ensure that all candidates who are worthy of consideration have a fair system of evaluation. In identifying candidates by era, as opposed to by category, the Board feels this change will allow for an equal review of all eligible candidates, while maintaining the high standards of earning election,” Jane Forbes Cook, chair of the Hall, said.

Those who will consider the ballot include: Hall of Fame members Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith; major league executives Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Orioles) and Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox); and veteran media members Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun), Tim Kurkjian (ESPN), Ross Newhan (retired, Los Angeles Times) and Tom Verducci (Sports Illustrated).

Interestingly, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America put forward the ballot, which means that many of the people who relied on George Steinbrenner for copy consider him at least worthy of consideration. For us, this isn’t the first time we’ve pondered Steinbrenner’s role in baseball history and the merits of his career. In fact, on the week of his 80th birthday and shortly before his passing, I explored this very topic. Both Wallace Matthews and Filip Bondy said the Boss should be in Cooperstown. I wasn’t as sure:

When George’s health started to slip away, the tributes came out in full. Matthews, who doesn’t want to limit the Hall of Fame to only those who were “exemplary human beings,” says Steinbrenner should be in Cooperstown because of his contributions to the game. The Yankees, through their spending, have radically changed baseball economics, and even when the game off the field shakes down to 29 clubs facing off against George’s dollars, Steinbrenner’s clubs have kept on winning. TV deals are more lucrative because of him, and record-breaking crowds flock to see the Yanks both at home and on the road. What’s good for baseball is, after all, good for baseball.

But George isn’t an easy man to pigeonhole. He violated campaign finance laws and was suspended after he sent a private investigatory to spy on Winfield. He was a cranky and temperamental owner whose need to have his finger stirring the pot probably cost the Yankees more championships during his reign than they won. Some would say he ruined the game with his spending.

The question, I said then, remained open-ended, and four months after his death, it’s still as muddied. He changed baseball, some would say for the better, others for the worse. But it might boil down to one simple fact: If Marvin Miller isn’t elected to the Hall of Fame, neither should George Steinbrenner. If Miller gets in, all bets are off.

Open Thread: Yankees on Twitter

I don’t know how many of you out there use Twitter, but it’s turned into the go-to place for up-to-the-second news and information. Not just about baseball either, though that’s mostly what I use it for. Anyway, I wanted to compile a list of all of the Yankee players and prospects on Twitter in case you missed any of them, so here it is…

The Yanks’ 2009 fifth rounder Caleb Cotham was on Twitter for a while, but apparently he deleted his account at some point. Oh well. You can also follow David Robertson‘s wife Erin (@ERob3) and Swish’s better half JoAnna Garcia (@JoAnnaLGarcia). Here’s the full list of MLB players with verified Twitter accounts. I recommend David Price, Will Rhymes, and the king of big leaguers on Twitter, Logan Morrison. Obviously some are more active than others.

As for the individual teams, you of course have the big league club (@YankeesPR), plus five minor league affiliates: Triple-A Scranton (@SWBYankees), Double-A Trenton (@TrentonThunder), High-A Tampa (@TampaYankees), Low-A Charleston (@ChasRiverDogs), and Short Season Staten Island (@SIYanks). They’ll tweet lineups, injury news, signings, stuff like that. If there are any Yankee players or related personnel you know of that aren’t mentioned above, well quit holding out and post them in the comments.

Oh, and follow everyone at RAB too. There’s me (@mikeaxisa), Ben (@bkabak), Joe (@joepawl), Steve (@SteveH_MandAura), and then @RiverAveBlues and @RABFeed. The former is for quick comments, discussion, and random links, the latter automatically tweets a link whenever a new post goes up.

Once you’re done with that, use this sucker as your open thread for the evening. MNF has the Steelers at the Bengals, and that’s pretty much it for sports. Talk about whatever you want, just be cool.

Miller, Morgan out at ESPN Sunday Night Baseball

The rumors have been bubbling for weeks, and Richard Sandomir of The Times has the scoop: After 20 years as the Worldwide Leader’s lead baseball team, Joe Morgan and Jon Miller are out at ESPN. Morgan’s contract has not been renewed, and Miller has been asked if he wants to stay on as the network’s radio voice for its baseball slate. Sandomir reports that Miller and Morgan will likely be replaced by Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine, if he’s not chosen to manage a Major League franchise.

“We’ve decided to make a change and introduce new voices and new perspective,” Norby Williamson, an ESPN executive vice president, said to The Times. “Twenty one years is an eternity in this business. And today is about acknowledging the contributions they made to the franchise.” I guess Ken Tremendous and Co. can rest easy now.

Grapefruit League set for Feb. 26 opener

Mark your calendars. Yankee baseball returns in just 110 days.

The team announced today that their Grapefruit League play will commence on Saturday, February 26 with a 1:05 p.m. match-up against the Philadephia Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. This is, said the team, the second-earliest Spring Training start in the last 60 years, behind only 2009’s World Baseball Classic-inspired February 25 opening day. The teams begin Spring Training play so early this year in order to fit in a lengthy slate of 32 games and to ensure that the World Series ends before November begins.

The tentative schedule is available here. Per the team, the highlights are as follows:

  • The Bombers play 16 home games including four Saturday games all at 1:05 p.m.
  • The Grapefruit League schedule ends with five of six games at Steinbrenner Field. The Tigers will be the team’s final Spring Training and first regular season opponent.
  • The Yankees play seven home night games: Friday, March 4 vs. Boston; Wednesday, March 9 vs. Pittsburgh; Wednesday, March 16 vs. Baltimore; Thursday, March 17 vs. Tampa Bay; Wednesday, March 23 vs. Toronto; Friday, March 25 vs. Houston; and Monday, March 28 vs. Tampa Bay.
  • Pitchers and catchers will report on February 14, and the first full-squad workout is set for February 20.

In addition to a full spring of games, the Yanks will also host the “Florida Four” on Tuesday, March 1. The University of South Florida will play Miami at 4 p.m., and Florida will play FSU in the second game.

Season tickets for the Grapefruit League are on sale now at Yankees.com, and individual game tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on December 3. If you have the opportunity to go Tampa for Spring Training, take it. It’s truly great fun.

Do the Yanks and A’s match up for a trade?

Last week I explored the possibility of the Yankees pursuing Japanese righthander Hisashi Iwakuma, noting that I wasn’t thrilled about his low strikeout, pitch-to-contact approach. I still implored the Yanks to submit a moderate bid, $8-10M or so, just in (the unlikely) case that he fell into their laps for a lower than expected price. With the bidding now closed, we know that three AL West teams – the Rangers, Mariners, and Athletics – submitted competitive bids, but it’s those small market A’s that won out. All they have to do now is work out a contract with the player.

Over the weekend Ken Rosenthal reported that the A’s, already flush with young pitching, were likely planning to move one of their excess starters for a bat if they landed Iwakuma. They desperately need offense, as their .315 team wOBA was fifth worst in the league. That’s what happens when you have and just four (!) guys who hit more than eight (!!!) homers. The Yankees, as you already know, are in the market for a starting pitcher or two. The younger the better, and that’s what the A’s have plenty of. Let’s break them down quickly…

(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Brett Anderson

The 22-year-old Anderson (23 in February) would be the guy to target in any trade talks with Oakland. Acquired from Arizona in the Dan Haren swap, his rookie year in 2009 featured a 3.69 FIP in 175.1 innings, good for 3.7 fWAR. He’s able to generate groundballs (52.4% career) with his low-90’s heater and miss bats with both a slider and curveball (7.70 K/9 in ’09), but Anderson spent two lengthy stints on the disabled list with a strained flexor tendon and inflammation in his throwing elbow this season. The injury complicates things, as does the four year, $12.5M contract they signed him to last April, but this is the most talented player on Oakland’s pitching staff.

Dallas Braden

Pretty much every Yankee fans knows Braden after his run-in with Alex Rodriguez earlier this year, but we have to acknowledge that the guy is a quality pitcher even if he is a tool. He’s pitched to a 3.77 FIP and 5.8 total fWAR over the last two seasons, but there are drawbacks. Braden is a fly ball pitcher (42.4% career) and doesn’t strike out many batters at all (5.30 K/9 over the last two years) despite a top-of-the-line changeup, and he also missed time with forearm and elbow issues this year. My guess is that this is who the A’s would like to move because his stock is at its high point (woo perfect game!), and also because he’s due for a considerable raise his first time through arbitration this winter.

Trevor Cahill

Cahill started the season in the minors after posting an ugly 5.33 FIP in his first season as a big league starter in 2009, but he came up in April and rebounded very well, finishing the season with a shiny 2.97 ERA in 196.2 innings. The problem is that his FIP (4.17, still good of course) doesn’t agree with the ERA because he only struck out 5.40 batters per nine. The 22 year old is a true sinkerballer (56% ground balls this year, fifth best in baseball), though as we know ground balls go for hits more often than their fly ball counterparts. Somehow Cahill managed to post a .238 BABIP this season, the best in baseball by nearly ten points. The chances of that being sustainable are somewhere between slim and none.

Gio Gonzalez

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Oakland’s workhorse this year, the well-traveled Gonzalez (he’s been traded three times already) logged a team high 33 starts and 200.2 innings this year, finishing with a 3.78 FIP and 3.2 fWAR. Gio turned 25 late in the season and missed bats at exactly the league average rate this year (8.5% swinging strikes) thanks to his big breaking curveball, but he’ll get himself into trouble with walks (4.13 BB/9) and can be homer prone (1.03 HR/9 career, but 0.67 this year). He’s going to qualify as a Super Two after 2011, so his days of being dirt cheap are numbered.

Vin Mazzaro

Born and raised in Hackensack, the 24-year-old Mazzaro was exactly replacement level (0.0 fWAR) in 122.1 innings this year thanks to his 5.13 FIP. He’s the least established starter on their staff but a case could be made that he has the best stuff of anyone besides Anderson, a lively low-90’s fastball and a wipeout slider, plus a nice little changeup. Mazzaro hasn’t figured out how to consistently strike batters out yet (5.81 K/9 both this year and last) and he’s very vulnerable to the long ball (1.31 HR/9), but the equipment’s there.

* * *

I’m assuming that Cahill (coming off a very good year) and Anderson (stock’s down after the injury, and they did just give him a new contract) are off limits, and none of the other three really stand out. The A’s might want to move Braden because of his upcoming arbitration case, but I’m certain that teams will show more interest in Gonzalez. Either way, no one outside of Anderson really fits what the Yankees need, a strikeout starter that an keep the ball on the ground.

Even beyond that, do the Yankees really have the bat to offer the A’s? A Jesus Montero for Anderson swap would a) be pretty cool, and b) make sense for both teams, but the lefty’s elbow issues make it too risky. Brett Gardner isn’t the answer to any team’s offensive woes, and both Curtis Granderson ($8.25M in 2011) and former Athletic Nick Swisher ($9M as part of a contract the A’s signed him too) are likely out of Oakland’s price range. Maybe Brandon Laird makes sense for them on some level, but it’s a stretch to call him MLB ready. Maybe Eduardo Nunez whets their appetite, or Juan Miranda. I wouldn’t get my hopes up though.

You guys get the point. Oakland has a bevy of young and cheap yet flawed (each in their own way) starters, and the Yanks don’t really have the bat to offer up in return anyway. Unless the A’s are willing to sell Anderson for pennies on the dollar (not happening) or the Yanks think they can maximize Gonzalez’s abilities, I just don’t see these two clubs matching up in a starter-for-a-bat trade.

What Went Right: Curtis Granderson

#cured (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Joe looked at the first two-thirds of Curtis Granderson‘s season earlier today, when he hit just .240/.307/.417 (.308 wOBA) in 335 plate appearances. To call it a disappointment would be an understatement, as the Yanks thought they were getting a power hitting outfielder in the prime of his career. Instead all Grandy was giving them was a non-switch hitting version of Melky Cabrera, if that. With Austin Jackson and (to a lesser extent) Ian Kennedy and Phil Coke performing very well in Detroit and Arizona, Yankee fans were quick to slap the BUST moniker on this trade.

After finishing up an early-August six game homestand in which he went 3-for-19 with seven strikeouts against a pair of division rivals (Blue Jays and Red Sox), Granderson approached hitting coach Kevin Long and asked for help. The Yanks were in Texas to play the Rangers for two games on August 10th and 11th, but Grandy didn’t start either game so he and Long could go to the work. He did pinch hit in the first game then pinch ran in the second, but that was irrelevant. School was in session behind the scenes.

Both Granderson and Long downplayed the changes, repeatedly saying they were minor adjustments and not a complete overhaul. It wasn’t the first time they tinkered with the centerfielder’s set-up and swing this summer, and the differences were very subtle. They spoke about quickening Grandy’s hands to allow him to get to the inside pitch sooner, and even our untrained eyes were able to see that his follow through went from a one-handed helicopter to a more controlled two-hander.

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

The results were immediate. In his first at-bat after the changes were implemented, Granderson singled off back up the middle off lefty Bruce Chen in Kansas City, driving in a run. Next time up he yanked a Chen pitch into the rightfield corner for a double, and although his third trip to the plate resulted in a flyout, the ball was hit to the warning track off righty (and former Yankee farmhand) Kanekoa Texeira. Granderson’s first start with his new swing concluded with a four pitch walk off rookie righthander Greg Holland. He singled and hit two more balls to the warning track the next day, and then followed that up with a homer and two more deep fly balls a day later.

The adjustments weren’t easy to see by the results were. Granderson hit .261/.356/.564 (.400 wOBA) after the changes, hitting more homers (14) than everyone in baseball not named Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, and Jay Bruce. He drew almost as many unintentional walks (24) in 192 plate appearances after the changes as he did in 336 plate appearances before (26), and his strikeout rate remained almost identical, from one every 4.54 plate appearances to one every 4.24 plate appearances.

Just as important as the overall improvement is the progress he made against lefthanded pitchers. Grandy’s struggles against pitchers of the same hand was well documented coming into the season, and sure enough he hit just .206/.243/.275 with a total of four extra base hits (two doubles, ones triple, one homer) in 110 plate appearances against lefties during the season’s first four-plus months. Once K-Long did his magic, Grandy clubbed southpaws to the tune of .286/.375/.500 with six extra base hits (three doubles, three homers) in 64 plate appearances. A night and day difference.

Granderson’s improvements carried right into the postseason as well, when he was the team’s best hitter not named Robbie Cano. He clubbed a two run triple off not just any southpaw in Game One of the ALDS, it was Francisco Liriano, who held lefties to a .234 wOBA in 2010. Overall, Grandy hit .357/.514/.607 (.471 wOBA) with more walks (eight, zero intentional) than strikeouts (five) in 38 trips to the plate during the playoffs.

As much as the hits and homers stick out, the outs became noticeably loud as well. Granderson seemed to drive the ball deep to the outfield with much more regularity after the fixes, even if they sometimes ended up in the outfielder’s gloves. He also went to the opposite field far more often than he had been. Here’s Grandy’s spray chart from before the fix …

And here’s after …

Focus on left-centerfield, the area in front of the 399 sign. Granderson hit almost nothing that way during the first few months of the season, there were just four balls hit moderately deep in that direction. After the changes though, he become much more adept at driving the ball the other way. There’s six balls hit in front of the 399 sign in the second chart, which is basically one for every 21 times he put the ball in play. Before the changes to his swing, it was one every 58.5 balls in play. The results of going the other way aren’t there just yet, the process has improved.

Granderson’s late surge brought his season line up to a respectable .247/.324/.468 (.346 wOBA), which combined with very good centerfield defense resulted in a 3.6 fWAR season. Of course it’s important to remember that we’re dealing with a relatively small sample sizes here. Grandy came to the plate just 192 times after he and Long went to work, 230 if you count the playoffs. The results were very encouraging, as his production bounced back up to 2007-2008 levels. There’s still a long way to go however, now it’s up to Granderson (with Kevin Long’s help) to keep making progress.