As the Old Guard bows out…

Andy Pettitte went out on top. He still had the itch when he called it a career last week, and he knew he could still pitch well, still get Major Leaguers out, still win games. It wasn’t time to say good bye, but we had no other choice.

Something about Pettitte’s retirement struck a heartstring for many Yankee fans. It’s not just the fact that the team badly needed his arm in the rotation or his calming demeanor on the mound. That’s almost too altruistic. Rather, his retirement, at least for me, resonated on a more personal level. If Andy Pettitte is facing down baseball mortality, aren’t the rest of getting older?

I don’t remember the first time I witnessed an Andy Pettitte appearance in person. By the time baseball resumed in 1995 after a crushingly disappointing end to the 1994 season, Pettitte’s name had become a fixture around the Yanks. He was featured in the team’s “Down on the Farm” section in the annual yearbook, and while not widely regarded as a youngster, the Yanks thought they had something.

I was 12 when Pettitte made his Yankee debut just like I was 12 when Derek Jeter burst onto the scene, 12 when Mariano Rivera arrived and 12 when Jorge Posada showed up. That was the year Bernie Williams cemented himself as a big-time New York star both during the regular season and epic ALDS against the Mariners. I was eight the year Bernie made his big league debut.

Throughout high school, these guys were the stars I watched mature into a cohesive team. Once or twice, I would head from school to the stadium for a student special on Tuesday or Wednesday nights. A valid ID would net a $10 Tier Reserve seat, and in those days, we could move up at will. On a good night, the old stadium will host 30,000 fans as the Yanks went about their winning ways year after year after year.

As the years wore on, those five players would be the stand-outs. They had a pretty damn good supporting cast too. Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius played their roles while Chuck Knoblauch had his moments, for better or worse. Paul O’Neill too, the Yankees’ own warrior, deserves a big tip of the cap too. I watched David Wells throw a perfect game while working on a science project at home, and I heard the end of David Cone’s perfect day on a blisteringly hot afternoon in Western Massachusetts. I remember the anticipation of El Duque’s debut, and the overhyped and perhaps slightly underappreciated nature of Hideki Irabu’s tenure in the Bronx.

Through it all, though, Andy, Derek, Jorge, Bernie and Mariano served as icons of a farm system. This was the true core of a championship team developed from within and allowed to grow. Bernie didn’t fit into the Mel Hall-dominated clubhouse as a shy young kid, and George Steinbrenner always wanted to trade Andy Pettitte for something worse. But they stuck around — and won — for years.

Bernie, the oldest, was the first to go. Felled by a knee injury, he didn’t retire after 2006, but the Yanks weren’t interested in guaranteeing him dollars. It was a bitter divorce smoothed over by time, and after arriving late at Andy Pettitte’s press conference, Williams announced that he too is about to officially retire. Of course, he’s the last one to know that he’s retired, but that’s how it is for many of these guys. “I think one of these days I’m going to make it official,” Williams said. “It’s redundant, but after five years, I think I’m pretty much done.”

Bernie’s last appearance was a strike out against Kenny Rogers in the 2006 ALDS. Andy Pettitte’s last appearance ended with a Bengie Molina groundout. He left it all on the field during Game 3 of the ALCS, but much like in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, the other team’s pitcher was just better.

Next up in the march toward the new era will likely to be Jorge Posada. The one-time catcher will serve as the DH this year, and even if he has a decent season, it’s tough to see the Yanks re-upping with him once he hits free agency. He’s been with the club since they drafted him in 1990. Would Posada call it quits or sign with another franchise?

Once he goes, Derek and Mariano will be the aging duo that survived my trip through high school, through college, through law school. Time might be nipping at Jeter’s heels, and it will one day come a-knockin’ on Mariano’s door too. For now, though, I’ll sit back and appreciate what these Yankees have done and what they still have left to do. For five guys who were Yankees since they were kids, the past two decades have been as close to baseball perfection as it comes these days.

Yanks set to expand Times Square presence

Millions of tourists from all over the country walk through Times Square every year, and odds are good that most of them hate the Yankees. Now, they’ll be greeted with 2000 square feet of the Yankees right in the Paramount building. As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, the team has signed a 15-year lease for the storefront next to the Hard Rock Cafe at 1501 Broadway. The team store, says reporter Dana Rubinstein, will open “within the next few months,” and I have to believe the club will shutter the much smaller team store on 42nd St. between 7th and 8th Aves. in exchange for this massive space on the Great White Way.

Open Thread: Chase Wright

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Whenever the name Chase Wright is brought up, you’ll inevitably think of the back-to-back-to-back-to-back homer episode of 2007. Who could forget it? It was horrible. The Yankees called Wright up straight from Double-A and he predictably flopped, and two years later he was designated for assignment and traded to the Brewers for one of the players that eventually went to Pittsburgh for Eric Hinske. That didn’t stop Steve Lombardi from comparing him to Erik Bedard, but that’s cool, we all say stupid stuff from time to time*. In a weird bit of timing, today is Wright’s 28th birthday and also the three-year anniversary of Bedard’s trade to the Mariners. Funny how that worked out, huh?

Anyway, here is the open thread for the evening. Both the Devils and Isles are in action, but talk about whatever you want. Have at it.

* One of these days J.B. Cox will replace Mariano Rivera, you watch! [/Axisa circa 2006]

Red Sox ink Aceves to Major League deal

Via PeteAbe, the Red Sox have signed former Yankee Al Aceves to a guaranteed Major League contract. Buster Olney says he gets $650,000 with incentives, which strikes me as a lot since he’s still in his pre-arbitration years. Jon Heyman says the Mets also offered the right-hander a guaranteed deal, but Aceves wanted to pitch in Boston.

The longman missed basically all of last season with back issues and suffered various setbacks throughout the year. Then, this offseason he broke his clavicle riding his bike and required surgery to repair the damage. Reports in December said he was expected to miss at least some of Spring Training, and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to start the season on time. Olney says he passed his physical though for what that’s worth.

Aceves will always be remembered for his heroic relief work in 2009, when he threw 84 innings with a 3.75 FIP. The back injuries last year are nothing new though as he also had some physical trouble in 2009. The Mexican Gangster was awesome, and I wish him the best against everyone but the Yankees.

Russell Martin ‘still not 100 percent’

Via Erik Boland and Brian Costello, new catcher Russell Martin told reporters after today’s pre-camp workout that he’s still not 100% recovered from the hip injury that ended his 2010 season in August, though he hopes to catch tomorrow and is expected to be ready by Opening Day. Martin suffered a hairline fracture in his right hip when he stepped on home plate awkwardly, however there was no damage to his labrum and he did not need surgery. He also told reporters that he’s shed 15 lbs. this offseason doing MMA training, which has helped his endurance. I know nothing of MMA or the kind of training it requires, but I imagine the hip is recovering well if doctors cleared him to do that.

The RAB Radio Show: February 8, 2011

We might have missed a couple of days, but we haven’t skipped a beat. The latest development for the Yankees involves two new competitors for the 25th roster spot. Eric Chavez and Ronnie Belliard are coming to camp on minor league deals. We love the kids and all, but Mike and I discuss why this is a prudent move.

Podcast run time 21:49

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Once again, Yanks among the best at working pitchers

Probably looked at one too many that time. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Just like they did in 2009, the Yankees led baseball in team on-base percentage last year and it’s not particularly close. Only one team was within ten points of their .350 mark, and that was the Twins at .341. Quite the gap there. Unsurprisingly, the Yankees also led baseball in runs scored last year, again by a considerable margin. They put 859 runs on the board, and the Red Sox were the distant second at 818. The Rays (808) were the only other club over 800. Leading the league in OBP and runs scored is not a coincidence, folks.

As a group, Yankees batters saw 25,026 pitches last season, second only to the Red Sox (25,540). That works out to 3.92 pitches per plate appearance, fourth most behind the Sox (4.02), the Diamondbacks (4.01), and the Rays (3.94). Yankees batters reached base by something other than a hit (meaning an unintentional walk or a hit-by-pitch) a whopping 699 times, tied with Tampa for the most in the game. The only other team over 600 was the Braves at 635. If you want to add in intentional walks, since those are real baserunners that contribute to real runs being scored, the Yankees are in sole possession of first at 735 non-hit times on base (Tampa’s at 729).

If you’re reading this site, then you’re no doubt aware that the Yankees have long built their offense around high-OBP batters that take pitches and make pitchers work for every out. Last year was no different, and 2011 will certainly be no different. Sixty-two players spent 2010 with one team and saw at least four pitches per plate appearance (min. 400 PA), and five of them were Yankees. Boston and Arizona each had four such players, and a handful of clubs each had three, but no one besides New York had five. That doesn’t include Austin Kearns (4.03 P/PA) or Lance Berkman (4.00), who spent some time in pinstripes. If we drop our criteria to 3.90 P/PA, the Yankees still lead the way with seven players not counting Kearns and Puma.

The table on the right lists each 2010 Yankee who came to the plate at least 400 times, and the number of pitches they saw per plate appearance. I added in their 2008-2010 P/PA and 2010 MLB rank just for comparison purposes. Brett Gardner led the league in P/PA last season and by a wide margin. Daric Barton was second with 4.40 P/PA, so we’re talking about a difference of one extra pitch every 4.76 PA. That doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of 600 PA, it’s an extra 126 pitches. That a full start by a pitcher.

Curtis Granderson also ranks high up there, and his 2010 performance in this department was right in line with what he’s done the past few years. Jorge Posada has always worked the count well, so it’s not a surprise that he’s over four. Nick Swisher‘s another guy that has always walked a lot, but he saw 0.25 fewer pitches per plate appearance last season than he had in the past, basically one fewer pitch per game. Swish’s walk rate fell from about ~13% for his career to 9.1%, though he did trade some of those walks for hits. His OBP just about matched his career mark (.359 vs. .358) but fell from his 2010 mark (.373). Despite that, his wOBA went up two points (the league average wOBA dropped eight points from 2009 to 2010, so those two extra points are bigger than they appear) because of the extra power. If Swish can get back to his previous walk rates while maintaining his 2010 contact and hit rate, awesome, but if not, I’ll take the hits every day of the week as long as OBP stays around .360. The next walk that goes for an extra bases or over the fence will be the first.

Swisher’s drop was the most significant, though that’s relative to the rest of his career. Seeing more than four pitches per plate appearance is damn good. Derek Jeter‘s drop was considerable at 0.09 P/PA, though his 8.5% walk rate is better than the 7.8% he posted in both 2007 and 2008, when he had .388 and .363 OBP’s, respectively. It’s all about the base hits with the Cap’n, his eye and ability to get on base in other ways is still fine. Robbie Cano‘s always going to be well down there on the P/PA leaderboard (186th out of 205 qualified players in 2010), in part because he makes contact so easily. His 11.0% strikeout rate and contact rate are the 15th lowest and 13th highest in baseball since 2008, respectively. Robbie’s not going to change, he is who he is and that’s perfectly fine when you hit like he does.

All of those guys in the chart are coming back next year, and the one new face will be Russell Martin. He didn’t reach my arbitrary 400 PA minimum (387 PA before the hip injury), though he saw a healthy 3.84 P/PA in 2010, down a touch from his 3.90 mark over the last few years. He’s essentially taking the place of Frankie Cervelli, who saw 1,160 pitches in 317 PA last summer (3.66 P/PA). Martin was brought in for his defense, but if he even comes close to repeating that 3.84 P/PA mark this coming season, it’ll make the lineup that much tougher to go through.

Remember, seeing a ton of pitches isn’t just about drawing walks, though that’s certainly a benefit, but it also helps get guys into hitter’s counts and find a pitch to drive. Feasting on middle relief, often the weak underbelly of a club, is another Yankees trademark that stems from working the count. It can be a boring strategy at times, especially for fans who watch pitch after pitch go by, but it’s a devastating approach that has led to fantastic results for New York. I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.