Fan Confidence Poll: January 10th, 2011

Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card, lost in ALCS

Top stories from last week:

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Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Matt Garza and the travails of intra-division trades

The Yankees were not particularly fazed by Matt Garza or that thing he had growing off of his chin this year. In three starts against the Yanks, Garza threw 16.2 innings of 8.10 ERA ball. Despite 14 strike outs, the Bombers drew seven walks and blasted five home runs in those three starts, and Garza hardly resembled the pitcher who threw a one-walk no-hitter against the Tigers in July.

Still, three starts does not a pitcher make, and over the past few seasons with Tampa Bay, Garza has been a reliable right-hander who has succeeded in the AL East. In his three full years with the Rays, he put up a combined 7.9 fWAR by missing bats and keeping the ball in the park. His numbers slipped a bit in 2010, but his 200 innings of pitching well above replacement level makes him a valuable commodity.

Last week, then, it was only natural for Yankee fans to ask if Garza would be a potential target. After all, he’s far better than Sergio Mitre or Ivan Nova, two pitchers still projected to be in the Yanks’ Opening Day rotation, and in fact, in his mailbag on Friday shortly before the Cubs landed Garza, Mike fielded a Garza-related question. Mike wrote an answer one could call prescient today:

He’d be an ideal target, but I can’t see the Rays trading him within the division. Andrew Friedman’s been calling the shots in Tampa Bay since the end of the 2005 season, and he’s made exactly three trades within the AL East: He acquired Chad Bradford and Gregg Zaun from the Orioles in separate deals, and he also dealt Nick Green to the Yankees. Just not gonna happen, not at a reasonable cost anyway.

As Garza went to the Cubs in the NL, the point was a moot one fairly quickly, but as fallout from the trade percolated over the weekend, the ties that bound the Yankees to Garza were perhaps a bit stronger than we first expected. The Yanks and Rays had briefly talked about Garza, but Tampa Bay wanted too much from their intra-division rival.

“We never got off the dime,” Brian Cashman said to reporters, “but strong impressions were that it would be something that would cost us more because we are in the division, kind of like Roy Halladay. We like Matt Garza and I had a conversation early in the winter and it was clear that what it would take would be more significant than I wanted to do. And there was also reluctance from them to trading within the division.”

That’s the business of baseball in a nutshell. The Mariners were so eager to trade Cliff Lee to the Rangers because it netted them one of their key division rival’s top prospects. The Blue Jays wanted Jesus Montero plus more for Halladay because such a move would have left the Doc in the AL East. In a vacuum, the Yanks knew what Garza was worth on the open market, and they knew what his AL East asking price would be. It wasn’t worth the further discussions.

Now, the Yanks and Rays could, as Chad Jennings explored this weekend, fight over some remaining pieces. Both teams have some dollars to spend and both teams need a right-handed bat and some bullpen arms, and for the Yanks, the hunt for a pitcher continues with one less arm on the market.

Open Thread: Kind of a big deal

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Four years ago today, the Yankees and Diamondbacks finally completed a long discussed trade that send Randy Johnson back to the desert. The Yanks received three prospects and Luis Vizcaino, all of whom were goners within two years of the trade for entirely different reasons. The Big Unit got a bad rap in New York but his overall body of work was fine: a 4.01 FIP (4.37 ERA) in 430.1 IP across two seasons. Unsurprisingly, he was unable to maintain his 2004 performance (2.30 FIP in 245.2 IP) as a 41-year-old moving from the NL West to the AL East. Such is life.

Anyway, that’s today’s slice of Yankee history. Here’s your open thread for the evening. You can probably still catch the end of the Packers-Eagles game, but otherwise the Devils, Isles, and Knicks are in action at various times. You all know what to do, so have at it.

Baseball Writers Deem Bagwell “way, way too hot” for Hall

Bagwell ponders a career without the "Ab Rocket." (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The sports blogosphere was flooded with angry demands for a revamped Hall of Fame voting system on Saturday after it was reported by Newsday.com that scores of members of the Baseball Writers Association of America had denied Houston Astros great Jeff Bagwell the requisite votes needed for entry due to, as one reporter put it, the former slugger’s “smoking white hotness.”

“Not that I’m gay or anything,” wrote Adam Roberts of the Star-Ledger, in a mid-day online chat, “but in his playing days, that guy was jacked up, shredded to bejesus, and way too hot to not be taking something. Again, not that I’m gay. But, seriously, you could practically feel the heat from the press box.”

Roberts was not alone. The results of a Sunday morning Google search revealed that, “Not that I’m gay or anything” to be the phrase most commonly used by baseball writers attempting to justify their omission of Bagwell based on his impressive physique.

Said former Astros beat writer Pete Scales of the Houston Chronicle, “There’s absolutely no way a guy with a body like that who played in the steroid era was clean. And even if he was, this isn’t the Hall of Bodybuilding were talking about, and it’s not the Hall of Smoking White Hotness – it’s the Hall of Baseball.”

In a prepared statement, Roberts later admitted to completely omitting Bagwell from his ballot in favor of, among others, B.J. Surhoff. “Now there was a ballplayer,” he said, referring to the former Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles catcher. When asked about the portion of Surhoff’s final stat line that deemed him worthy over other eligible candidates like Bagwell, Barry Larkin, and Tim Raines, Roberts replied, “Stats? I throw all stats out the window when it comes to measuring someone’s greatness. Games aren’t won on calculators or spreadsheets. What set B.J. apart were all the little things he did that unfortunately didn’t show up on the stat sheet.

He then added hastily, “Aside from him being the consummate gamer, people forget the way in which B.J. could light up a clubhouse with that million-dollar smile of his. If that isn’t worth ten extra wins a season, nothing is.”

When pressed by a reporter of the difficulty in measuring the impact of a player’s personality on a team, Roberts shot back. “I realize this is probably going to ruffle a lot of feathers for all you new-age amateur mathematicians out there, but there are far better ways to measure a player’s greatness than by using statistics. You ever hear of heart? Guts? Baseball I.Q.? B.J. had ‘em all in spades. Him and Ron Karkovice. Plus, he looks like just a normal guy, a guy who won’t snatch away your Meister Brau and try and replace it with Muscle Milk – or steroids.”

Other sportswriters have echoed Roberts’ line of thinking in recent days.

When confronted by ESPN radio host Dari Nowkhah Saturday morning as to what he did with his allotted ten votes, Dale Simmons of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch conceded to voting for former New York Mets reliever John Franco, “and then for Doug Dascenzo with my other nine.” Simmons explained that voting for the former light-hitting Chicago Cubs outfielder, who has never been included on a Hall of Fame ballot, was a “no-brainer” as well as a “protest of everything that’s wrong with baseball and society.”

Said Simmons, “Guys like Jeff Bagwell and that Bonds had it easy. They were born with natural talent and then took all those pills and shots to puff up their bodies into oblivion. But no one – and I mean no one – played the game like Doug Dascenzo. Maybe Pat Listach. When you talk about Double-D, you’re talking about a real ballplayer. The kid had all the tools: Running, hustle, sliding, diving, diving into fences – the works.

When it was pointed out that Bagwell stole more bases in a two-year span than Dascenzo’s entire career total, Simmons replied, “All right already with your stupid stats! Why don’t you go plot some graphs or something?”

Bagwell, whose career OPS of .948 ranks him 21st all-time, conceded with his usual aplomb that he may have been snubbed due to his impressive physique in an era when all muscular players are now deemed guilty by suspicion. “Honestly, I can sort of see where they’re coming from,” said a wistful Bagwell from his home in a Houston. “I guess in retrospect I shouldn’t have ordered both the Ab Rocket and the Solo Flex.” Bagwell’s eyes grew misty. “God knows the monster I would’ve become had the Shake Weight been around.”

The office of Commissioner Bud Selig issued a statement late Saturday afternoon praising baseball writers “who continue to boldly serve as the moral gatekeepers for the national pastime.”

Jan Spillman, a spokesperson for the league office, added that Major League Baseball is currently piloting Operation Spartacus Blood and Sand, a digitized computer simulation that will superimpose scant articles of clothing, such as lycra half-shirts daisy dukes jean shorts, and loin cloths, over future Hall of Fame candidates during their playing days in an effort to weed out PED-using culprits.

“Bottom line,” said Spillman, “any full-grown man wearing a skin-tight, fishnet tanktop who still somehow looks hot is taking something illegal.”

Get well soon, Jake Peavy

Peavy leaving the game. Check out that kid in the stands. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

On July 6th, 2010 Jake Peavy threw a 94 mph fastball off the outside corner to Mike Napoli.  He then grimaced in pain, held his pitching arm awkwardly, and took himself out of the game.  You can see the video of his injury here.  Peavy had detached his lattisimus dorsi, a broad muscle in the back, and soon underwent season-ending surgery to reattach the muscle.  At the time Will Carroll described his injury accordingly:

Peavy has pulled the muscle out at the insertion. That’s the point where it connects to the upper arm, as seen here. It’s not the best comparison, but if you’ve ever broken down a chicken, this is very similar, though obviously there’s a size (and species) difference. It’s the same kind of muscles and tendons that are pulled apart when taking the wings off before adding the delicious sauce.

Despite the gravity of the injury, Peavy’s surgery went well.  Nearly two months later Carroll updated readers on the status of Peavy’s injury, saying:

Remember when Peavy tore the muscle off the bone in his shoulder? He had the surgery back in early July and he’s making good progress. While he’s a ways off from throwing, he’s been cleared to begin a more involved rehab process including lifting weights and range of motion. Peavy is on track to be on a “normal” throwing program in January leading up to spring training.

The latest update, via CBSSports.com, is that Peavy is on track to begin a throwing program in early January.  White Sox GM Kenny Williams hasn’t put a timetable on Peavy’s return, but has also stated that he doesn’t expect him back for the start of the season. There’s a lot of runway between now and when Jake Peavy returns to the mound for the White Sox, but there is reason for Yankee fans to hope that he recovers in full.

Heading into the 2011 season, the White Sox may have the rare luxury of having more starters than spots in the rotation.  Along with Jake Peavy they boast Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Edwin Jackson.  They also have the option of using Chris Sale in the rotation.  Sale is a rail-thin hard-throwing lefty drafted by the White Sox in the first round of the 2010 draft.  He spent time in Chicago’s bullpen last summer, but is a starter by trade. Having Sale and a healthy Peavy may enable the White Sox to deal another one of their starters to fill holes elsewhere or to free up salary.  In fact, the White Sox seem to be thinking along the same lines.  Jon Heyman indicated as much in his Offseason Winners and Losers column a week ago, saying: “They flirted with the idea of trading Gavin Floyd, but appear to have decided they don’t want to touch their rotation until Jake Peavy returns.”

Before Cliff Lee broke our collective hearts and signed with Philadelphia, Mike reviewed Gavin Floyd as a possible alternative to signing Lee, concluding that Floyd would be an excellent Plan B.  Unfortunately, he noted that there were two big obstacles to the Yankees acquiring Floyd: the potential needs of the White Sox and the timing of the deal.  Mike wrote:

The problem I see is that the two teams don’t really line up for a trade. Williams asked the Rockies for third baseman Ian Stewart in return and the Yanks simply don’t have that kind of bat to give up. The ChiSox already have a speedy singles hitter in Pierre so Brett Gardner doesn’t do much of anything, and you know they won’t want Nick Swisher back. That leaves Curtis Granderson, but I can’t imagine the Yanks will cut bait on him so soon after all the progress he made late in the season. Based on the present construction of their team, the White Sox are trying to win now, so a bunch of prospects probably won’t cut it. I just don’t see how this would work from where I sit, but KW likes to do crazy stuff, so maybe he figures out a three team trade or something. I’m not sure if the timing will work out either, meaning the ChiSox might want to act and make a trade before Lee is ready to sign, but that’s the nature of the beast.

Fortunately, the question of when the White Sox may look to deal Floyd now appears more advantageous for the Yankees.  Cashman’s stated plan is “patience”, and if Andy Pettitte returns he might not attempt to do anything with the rotation until June or July.  The same questions regarding the White Sox’s potential needs still linger, though, despite a busy offseason.  This winter the White Sox have solidified their lineup with Konerko and Adam Dunn, and strengthened their bullpen by inking relievers Jesse Crain and Will Ohman to multiyear deals.  Despite that, the team has a few holes. They jettisoned Bobby Jenks, and it wasn’t a pretty ending, leaving Matt Thornton as the putative closer.  They’ve been linked to Rafael Soriano, but he appears to be out of their price range for now.  Their biggest hole remains at third base. Prospect Brent Morel has the inside track on the job, with Dayan Viciedo and Mark Teahen behind him on the depth chart, but it’s possible that Morel’s bat may not be strong enough for the position.  If so, the Sox may be looking for a replacement.

All told, a healthy Jake Peavy may enable the White Sox to deal one of their starters this summer.  Yet it’s difficult to handicap how the White Sox roster, and the trade market this summer, will firm up.  An unexpected injury could change everything.  This is the price of needing to find players on the trade market rather than acquiring them as free agents: you become increasingly reliant on the relative health, performance and goals of other organizations.  There is little that Cashman could have done differently, but it doesn’t change the fact that whether Gavin Floyd becomes available in a trade later this year may hinge simply on how well Jake Peavy’s lat muscle heals.

By way of introduction, my name is Stephen and I’m very excited to join the River Ave Blues weekend crew.  The best way to contact me is via my Twitter account or by email (stephen dot m dot rhoads at gmail).

Wild Card Weekend Open Thread

This weekend is the first round of the NFL playoffs, so use this thread to talk about the games. The Saints and Seahawks kick off at 4:30pm ET (NBC) this afternoon, then later tonight we’ve got the Jets and Colts. Sunday brings the Ravens and the Chiefs (1pm ET, CBS) and the Packers at the Eagles (4:30pm ET, FOX). Enjoy.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

I’m going to come out and say it right here, even though you probably already know this: Derek Jeter is a terrible defensive shortstop. I don’t care how many Gold Gloves he wins. I don’t care how many times he falls into the stands and cuts his face. I don’t care how many times he ends up between first base and home plate to cut off a terrible throw and backhand it to the catcher. While these plays were stellar, they don’t say anything about his everyday fielding ability. The fact is, his range has gone from mediocre to bad to worse. Since 2002 (when UZR was first recorded), he has had two seasons in the positive: 6.4 in 2009, and 0.9 in 2002. Every other year was in the negatives, the worst being a whopping -17.9 in 2007. That means that in that year, merely having Jeter at shortstop gave up nearly 18 runs to opposing teams.

But that’s all right. You know why? Because he can hit, and that’s not a very common trait among shortstops. Through 2000-2009, Jeter put up the best batting average of all shortstops with 500 plate appearances (.317), ranked second in WAR (47.5), and ranked third in wOBA and OPS behind Alex Rodriguez and Hanley Ramirez. Impressively enough, he managed to do all of this while posting a hideous -37.8 UZR. That’s even worse than Yuniesky Betancourt’s -32.4. Once you’re worse than Betancourt, you’re pretty bad. Maybe it’s even worth trading in that bat for someone who can actually move.

So, let’s swap out our relatively hard-hitting shortstop for one who deserves those Gold Gloves and see if there’s any team improvement. In the same time span, Omar Vizquel was the leading shortstop according UZR, posting an impressive 49.0 on the nose. He committed only 58 errors, a little over a third of Jeter’s total, 158. If Vizquel was the Yankees shortstop through the 00’s, he single-handedly would have stopped opponents from scoring 67 runs. Sounds pretty nice, don’t you think? In 2008, the Bombers lost 18 games by one run. Vizquel could have helped turn those games to wins, catapulted the team into the playoffs, and helped them win the World Series. Even better, the Yankees would still have 31 runs to put towards games in other years. It’s too bad you can’t just pick up runs and stick them wherever you need them.

It sounds nice so far, but now we have to take out Jeter’s offense – can’t have your cake and eat it too. Vizquel batted .270/.339/.370 and managed a wOBA of only .312, way under Jeter’s .374. Jeter also hit three home runs for every one of Vizquel’s, 161 to 44. Even if every one of those dingers was a solo shot, Jeter would still create more than enough runs to make up for the 67 he’s giving up out in the field. In the end, Vizquel racked up only 18.8 WAR, 28.7 less than Jeter. Even with his awesome glove, there’s just no way for Vizquel to make up for the hitting prowess he lacks. Despite Vizquel’s higher defensive capabilities, Jeter’s offense leads to far more wins. Even in Jeter’s rough 2010 season, he still managed to out-wOBA and out-WAR Vizquel while putting up a significantly worse UZR, though Vizquel spent most of his time at third base.

The captain isn’t the only player who’s shown that an above-average offense can make up for a subpar defense: Jorge Posada threw out only 28% of base runners in 100 games in 2009, but he also hit 22 home runs and managed to post a 125 OPS+ and 3.7 WAR. Not bad for a 37-year-old catcher, really. Gerald Laird, on the other hand, threw out an impressive 42% of base runners in 138 games, but only managed to post a 1.5 WAR due to his amazing noodle bat: .225/.306/.320, with a meager four homers and 65 OPS+.

The Yankees have never been interested in stocking up on great defenders (the team posted an abysmal -137 UZR in 2005), and they’ve proved before that it’s a perfectly fine strategy to use.  It’s predicted that Montero will follow in Posada’s footsteps as all-hit-no-catch backstop, and quite frankly, I’m perfectly fine with that. Players like Montero, Jeter and Posada show that the Yankees prefer to outfit the lineup with capable bats up and down, even from fielders you don’t expect to see offense from. It’s definitely worth the few extra bags that may be taken, because the result is the best run differential in baseball for two years in a row, and if all those extra runs means a dribbler gets by Jeter every so often, I’ll live with it just fine.