The RAB Radio Show: April 1, 2011

Finally, baseball. Mike and I talk about the underreported aspects of Opening Day, but we can’t help but feast on the highlights. If you’re a Curtis Granderson fan, this podcast is for you. If you’re not a Curtis Granderson fan, well, I believe you will be in due time.

Podcast run time 23:48

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: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

Introducing the RAB Paywall

Since late February in 2007, long before Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia were Yankees, long before we knew about Manuel Banuelos or the power of Kevin Long, Joe, Mike and I began RAB as an experiment in blogging. We had been writing for various other outlets and thought we could do a better job on our own site. Since then, we’ve followed four baseball seasons, penned over 11,200 posts, received 950,000 comments and see 1.2 million of you reload the site every month.

For years, RAB has been a labor of love. We earned some money off of advertising, but it’s not enough to run the site full time. Mike has worked as an engineer and writer for MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs; Joe has a day job as a tech/mobile phone writer and also contributes to FanGraphs; I’m in law school and recently picked up a gig at Baseball Prospectus. Still, we’d love to focus on River Ave. Blues as a full-time venture, and so we announce today a trailblazing path in baseball blogging: The RAB paywall.

Drawing inspiration from The New York Times’ recent foray into charging for web content, we’ll be doing the same. After all, while free content is a nice benefit of the Internet, those who produce the content need to be adequately compensated for their time and energy.

So how will this work? First, the good part: Some of our articles will be free. You can still enjoy game threads and open threads as well as the numerous asides we post. Those aren’t going anywhere. But long-form pieces and recaps will fall behind the paywall. Our readers too can access a certain number of free posts per month. Here’s how it works:

  • 27 free articles per month. After 27, you can buy a monthly subscription for $3.14.
  • 42 free comments per year. After exceeding that total, commenters can purchase an annual unlimited account for $19.23.

Of course, we’ll also offer some bonuses as The Times is doing. Those of you who find their way to RAB via our @RABFeed Twitter account or Facebook page won’t be docked for article views. We still want to make RAB as accessible as possible while working toward drawing in enough revenue to make the site sustainable.

We know many of you might not be happy about this news, but we hope it will lead to better and more thorough coverage. With the added revenue, we’re going to upgrade our offerings, post more frequently and provide more in depth coverage. Over the next few months, you’ll see some changes to the site that aren’t quite ready for prime time, and by next April Fools Day, the paywall will be live.

DirecTV’s deal with YES Network expires today

Yankees fans nearly faced a cataclysmic situation last fall. FOX, which had exclusive broadcast rights for the World Series, was involved in a contract spat with Cablevision, which serves millions of customers in the tri-state area. Thankfully for Yanks fans, the ALCS was broadcast on TBS. But had the Yankees advanced to the World Series, those fans might have been blacked out, as Fox pulled its programming from the cable carrier. The two parties averted disaster, though the point became moot when the Yankees were eliminated.

The situation now facing DirecTV customers will affect Yankees fans on a greater level. While the World Series is the main event, as the Yankees showed last year, it doesn’t matter much if you don’t get there. The regular season, though, goes 162 games whether there’s a broadcast or not. Today the agreement between DirecTV and YES Network expired, leaving those Yankees fans in limbo. Could they possibly miss a portion of the regular season because the two parties can’t reach a new deal?

The two sides have had their says in the matter. Says DirecTV: “DirecTV customers should not be forced to pay a penny more for YES Network.” The company claims that YES is seeking a fee “significantly higher” than it receives from other cable providers. A YES spokesman says, “We are negotiating in good faith with DirecTV in hopes of resolving this matter quickly.”

This current incident brings to mind a nearly decade-old dispute between, surprise-surprise, Cablevision and the YES Network. When the network debuted in 2002, Cablevision did not carry it. The Yankees had previously been broadcast on MSG, which is owned by Cablevision. Only government intervention brought the two parties together.

It is not clear whether the two parties have made any progress in the matter. DirecTV says they will keep the station alive during negotiations, but YES could opt to pull it. It’s unfortunate to see these kinds of disputes, since it ultimately hurts the consumer in the end. Still, it could be worse. You could be a Dish Network subscriber. That carrier has never broadcast the YES Network.

Yankees top FanGraphs’ organizational rankings, again

What happens when you combined a talented Major League roster with a top five farm system and more financial resources than any other team? You land in the top spot of FanGraphs’ organizational rankings, which the Yankees have now occupied for the second year in a row. The ranked first in big league talent and financial resources and third in baseball operations and farm system, which seem like reasonable rankings. “It’s a tough combination to beat, honestly,” said Dave Cameron, who wrote the article but didn’t rank the teams, that was a group effort. “A well run baseball operations staff backed by revenue streams larger than several other organizations put together, in the largest market in the country, with a brand that is synonymous with baseball itself – the Yankees aren’t going anywhere any time soon.”

The Red Sox, Phillies, Rays, and Braves round out the top five of the rankings, basically the five best teams in baseball.

Recapping the majors

If you’re looking for a way to catch up on games around the league, but want to do it as quickly as possible, I have a solution. At FanGraphs I’ve started a daily featured called The Morning After, which is way too long and takes forever to produce. Understandably, I want you to read it and provide feedback. You can read today’s The Morning After at FanGraphs, and then comment here. Deal?

Mailbag: Banuelos, Walk Year, Pitchers in the OF

Three questions this week and I tried to be concise with my answers, but I failed. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your submissions.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Williard asks: Since spring training, Manny Banuelos has been praised highly by many writers and scouts. But what can we actually expect out of him in terms of ceiling and probability?

There’s no hype quite like New York hype, so sometimes it can be tough to read through the garbage and figure it what is and what isn’t true. I’m certainly guilty of over-hyping prospects, we all are. It comes with the territory, and there’s nothing we can really do about it.

As far as Banuelos, he certainly got a lot of exposure and generated a lot of buzz this spring, and the Yankees didn’t help matters by keeping him in big league camp until the very last day. The good news is that we were able to watch him pitch some in Spring Training, so we could see if the goods matched the reports. And yes, they did. Banuelos legitimately sits 92-94 with his fastball and generates that velocity with surprising ease for a dude on the wrong side of six foot. His curveball is progressing and at times it looked unhittable, and other times it was meh.

What makes Banuelos stand out is two things. One, he’s got a dynamite changeup, and that was on full display last month. That gives him a weapon to get out right-handed batters, and finding a way to neutralize batters of the opposite hand is a common obstacle for young pitchers. He’s already taken care of that. Two, the kid really does look like a veteran up there. Very poised, he’s always got the game face working, and he never seems to get overwhelmed. Granted, it was just Spring Training, but we’ve been hearing that about him since the day he signed.

Left-handers with that kind of velocity and a knockout secondary pitch are at worse, mid-rotation starters. Add in the makings of a strong curve, the willingness to throw strikes, and the ability to not crap his pants on the mound, and we have a true ace caliber pitcher. Banuelos isn’t a finished product even though the general consensus seems to be that he could hold his own in the majors right now; he still needs to refine that curveball and just work on command in general. But he’s legit, there’s true frontline potential and he should find his way into the Yankees rotation before long. There’s always risk, but having the control and changeup down already means his probability is much higher than most 20-year-olds.

Clark asks: Other than empirical evidence, is there any data that supports that players perform better in contract years?

The definitive study on contract years was done by Dayn Perry and can be found in Baseball Between The Numbers. I recommend reading the entire book because it’s incredibly informative, but Perry found that from 1976-2000, the top free agents tended to be about 10% more productive in their walk year that either the year before or the year after. To put numbers on it, the average WARP during a contract year during that time was 5.56. The average the year before was 5.08, and the year after it was … 5.08.

Perry notes that this has a lot to do with player aging and not just trying harder to land that big contract. The average age during the walk year was 31, which is pretty close to when a player starts leaving his prime and entering decline. Just under 38% of players in the study peaked during the walk year while 34% peaked the year before and just 28.3% peaked the year after. It’s not really a surprise that performance tends to decline after players land that contract; the players are simply get older.

There’s definitely a very real impact from players trying harder during their walk years – don’t we all work a little harder the month or two before our companies conduct performance reviews? – but there are other factors at play. It’s not all because of greed.

Oswalt played some outfield last year. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Charley asks: So, I had this dream last night where Red Sox were playing the Yankees and they were tied in the bottom of the ninth. The Yankees had runners at 2nd and 3rd and Tito put 3 pitchers in the OF. A ball was hit to Beckett and he threw a laser to home plate. You think this could ever be a scenario; even just one pitcher in the OF to start the inning? Sounds like a Joe Maddon move.

True story. A few years ago I had a franchise going in MVP 2006 NCAA Baseball, and I was in Game Three of the best-of-three Super Regionals. So winner goes to the College World Series. I had a one-run lead in the ninth but there was a man on third and one out. Might have been bases loaded or first-and-third, I forget, but there was definitely a guy on third and one out. I wasn’t taking my regular center fielder out because he was my best player, but I put pitchers in left and right for this very reason. Granted, I cheated a little because they were two-way players capable of hitting, fielding, AND pitching, but still. Anyway, there was a fly ball to the right fielder, and he ended up throwing the ball to the backstop to allow the run to score. I ended up losing that game in extras, which sucked.

I can’t imagine any big league manager, even Joe Maddon, trying something like. I think the fear of injury (not necessarily the actual injury risk, just the fear of injury) is too great. It’s takes quite a bit of effort to throw a ball from the outfield to the plate, and you don’t want a pitcher to do that without properly warming up. Plus throwing mechanics for pitchers and outfielders are different. It would be a ballsy move, and I think I’d prefer to take my chances with a real outfielder instead of take a pitcher out of his comfort zone. But that’s just me.