Mailbag: Parra, Outfield, Pineda, RoY

I’m going to have to start every mailbag with this until the emails stop coming in: No, the Yankees can not backload or frontload any contracts to wiggle around the luxury tax threshold in 2014. The luxury tax is based on the annual average value of contracts, so it doesn’t matter how the money is actually paid out. Got it? Good. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up whatever your heart desires.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Mike asks: What do you think of the Yankees trading for Gerardo Parra from the D’Backs? He’s young, productive, stuck on the bench, and most importantly cost-controlled. Do you think that Brian Cashman and Kevin Towers may be able to make a trade? He could be a good replacement for Nick Swisher that fits in the austerity budget.

I like Parra, but the problem with bringing him in as a potential replacement for Swisher means the Yankees will be rolling the dice with two mostly powerless corner outfielders. Parra has more pop than Brett Gardner (who doesn’t?) and Yankee Stadium might help him a bit as a left-handed batter, but at the end of the day he’s a speed guy (but not a Gardner-level speed guy) who draws walks and plays an absurdly high level of defense. Carrying a pair of corner outfielders who might top out at 15 homers combined would be a little easier to swallow if Curtis Granderson keeps swatting 40+ dingers a year, but even then they’d be pushing it.

Cashman and Towers are pretty tight, which is why the latter was willing to spend a season in the Bronx as a special assistant. They’ve only gotten together for three trades over the years though, all three involving bit pieces and spare parts. That doesn’t mean they can’t work something out obviously, but the Diamondbacks seem pretty intent on either keeping Parra or getting a hefty return. I do like him as a player and he definitely fits into the future payroll plan (arbitration-eligible for the first time next year), he just doesn’t really fit the roster as currently constructed. The Yankees are going to have to replace Swisher’s power somehow, and Parra just can’t do it.

J.R. asks: With Zoilo Almonte on the 40-man and Chris Dickerson not, if Swish went on the 15-day DL, would Almonte get the call up just to preserve depth?

It doesn’t have to be Swisher who gets hurt, it could be any of three outfielders really. I think it depends on the severity of the injury more than anything. If it’s only going to be a quick little two-week thing, I think they’ll just call up a 40-man roster guy and roll with Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez for the time being. Remember, Brian Cashman said one of the reasons they preferred Ibanez to Johnny Damon was that he’s more physically able to play the outfield for two weeks at the time if needed. Ramiro Pena makes sense since Eduardo Nunez can fake the corner outfield in an emergency.

A long-term injury would be a little different. In that case you’d probably see them bring up Dickerson, who is better equipped to sit on the bench for an extended period of time. Actual prospects like Zoilo should play everyday this summer. Dewayne Wise is another non-40-man guy they might consider since they’d have no problems cutting him once he’s no longer needed. I would much prefer Dickerson over Wise, however.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Chris asks: Pineda’s K/9 is insane but do you know what his called strike vs. swing and miss is? Are you worried if one is much higher than the other? For example I would be more worried if someone has 75% swing and miss vs 25% caught looking for a variety of reasons. Mainly because eventually the laws of averages suggest a percentage of those swings will become fouls, hits and home runs. Is there any down side to having a ton of swing and misses for projecting a pitcher down the road?

The league average swing and miss rate was 8.6% last year, which Pineda easily cleared at 11.8%. Just under 20% of all plate appearances against him ended with a swinging strike three (19.3% to be exact) while 5.6% ended with called strike three, so roughly 77.5% of his strikeouts were swinging. The league averages last were approximately 11.5% (swinging strike three), 4.5% (called strike three), and 71.9% (percentage of strikeouts that were swinging), so Pineda is well ahead of the curve in each.

The ability to induce swings and misses is a skill and something pitchers can repeat. It’s not like pitcher BABIP, which tends to regress to something near the league average over time. Whiff rates are determined by the pitcher (and in part the batter), and just because Pineda excelled at getting swings and misses last year does not mean he’s doomed to regress to the league average this year. Given the quality of his fastball-slider combo, he’s a guy that figures to maintain a really high whiff rate going forward, and in fact I’d bet on all those rates going up if he figures out a usable changeup.

Patrick asks: How about Jesus Montero‘s ROY chances? What other rookies around the league have a chance to beat him out for the award?

I thought Montero was going to win the Rookie of the Year before the trade, and I’m not going to change my opinion now. He’s my pick.

As for the rest of the field, Montero’s primary competition will be Yu Darvish, who really isn’t a rookie based on his experience level and stuff. He’s got a pretty big head start compared to everyone else. Matt Moore’s also a serious candidate, and I suppose Yoenis Cespedes is as well. I don’t think Mike Trout will get enough playing time to make a run at the award, but he’s too talented to dismiss. My darkhorse pick is Jarrod Parker of the Athletics, though he’s not exactly some unknown prospect. Oakland pitchers always put up great numbers because of their ballpark and team defense. My money is still on Montero though.

Open Thread: 3/15 Camp Notes

The Yankees beat the Nationals today by the score of 8-5. Michael Pineda allowed two runs and struck out four in 3.2 IP before reaching his pitch count (video), and his fastball was sitting right around 90 mph and topping out at 92 [Marc Carig]. He said he only threw about ten changeups, but it felt like a ton more than that, particularly with no one on base. He got a few swings and misses with it (and at least one ground ball), and his slider was stupid good for the most part. Neither Pineda nor Russell Martin think much of the velocity, but the right-hander was pretty thrilled about the changeup. [Jayson Stark]

Bill Hall (2-for-3) doubled off the wall to the opposite field to drive in a pair, and Justin Maxwell went 2-for-2 in garbage time. Jose Gil also drove in two with a single in his only at-bat. Brett Gardner went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, and he must have seen 20 pitches in the process. He was fouling off everything it seemed. Clay Rapada walked a left-handed batter after getting ahead in the count 0-2, which is a definite no-no. Brett Marshall threw the best 2.1 IP of two-run ball you’ll ever see, I thought he looked very good. Here’s the box score, and here’s the rest from the day in Tampa…

  • Freddy Garcia has a big wrap on his right hand but says it’s just a bad bruise. He thinks he’s only going to miss a few days after getting hit by an Edwin Encarnacion comebacker yesterday, but who knows. [MarcCarig]
  • Joba Chamberlain will throw 50 pitches in the bullpen tomorrow, with the last ten being sliders. No, they’re not stretching him out to be a starter, it’s all about building arm strength at this point. [George King]
  • Austin Romine took some dry swings today, the first time he’s done anything with a bat since hurting his back earlier in camp. He’s still a week away from full workouts. [Carig]
  • Ramiro Pena left today’s game with a sore ankle after sliding into second awkwardly while attempting to steal a base in the fourth. There are no tests planned. Martin is fine following the collision with Wang you see above. Here’s video if you want to see what happened. [Carig, Carig]
  • D.J. Mitchell broke out a new cutter during his three stellar innings yesterday, though apparently he started working on it last year. Boone Logan has also been focusing on a changeup during side sessions, which is a pitch he threw a while ago but has since scrapped as a reliever. George Kontos (live batting practice), Ivan Nova and David Phelps (bullpens) threw today. [Chad Jennings]

Here is your open thread for the night. All three hockey locals are in action tonight, plus MLB Network will be airing a game a little later tonight. You folks all know what to do by now, so have at it.

ST Game Thread: An Old Friend

(Daniel Shirey/Getty)

It’s been two and a half years since Chien-Ming Wang threw a pitch for the Yankees, but doesn’t it feel like much longer than that? His final appearance in pinstripes came on Independence Day 2009, when he allowed four runs in 5.1 IP against the Blue Jays. Apparently that was good enough to beat Roy Halladay.

Wang needed surgery to repair the capsule in his throwing shoulder soon thereafter, an injury that required nearly two full years of rehab. He made it back for 11 reasonably effective starts with the Nationals in 2011, who signed the sinkerballer after the Yankees non-tendered him following that 2009 season. CMW is healthy now and competing for a spot in Washington’s surprisingly crowded rotation, and today he gets the ball against the team that originally signed him out of Taiwan. Oh, and Michael Pineda is starting for the Yankees today. He’s kind of a big deal. Here’s the lineup…

LF Brett Gardner
C Russell Martin
DH Andruw Jones
RF Chris Dickerson
3B Bill Hall
CF Dewayne Wise
2B Jayson Nix
1B Jorge Vazquez
SS Ramiro Pena

RHP Michael Pineda

Available Pitchers: LHP Cesar Cabral, LHP Juan Cedeno, RHP Brett Marshall, LHP Mike O’Connor, LHP Clay Rapada, RHP Graham Stoneburner, and RHP Adam Warren are all on the trip and available if needed.

Available Position Players: C J.R. Murphy, 1B Jose Gil, 2B David Adams, SS Doug Bernier, 3B Brandon Laird, LF Justin Maxwell, CF Melky Mesa, RF Zoilo Almonte, and DH Gary Sanchez will replace the starters. C Kyle Higashioka, IF Corban Joseph, OF Colin Curtis, and OF Cole Garner also made the trip and are available if needed.

Today’s game is the first of two straight against the Nationals, and both will be televised. Bryce Harper is scheduled to play both games, but Stephen Strasburg just pitched yesterday so we won’t get to see him. For shame. Today’s game begins at 1:05pm ET and can be seen on MLB Network. The blackout has been lifted in the Tri-State Area. We’re going to chat during the first couple of innings, so join in the fun after the jump…

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Report: No expanded instant replay in 2012

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has garnered lots of negative attention mostly due to spending restrictions on amateur players, but one of the great things it’s done is expand instant replay. In addition to homers (“boundary calls,” technically), the replay system will be expanded to include fair-or-foul calls, trapped calls, and fan interference. Unfortunately, it won’t happen in 2012.

According to the AP, expanded replay will not be instituted this year because MLB and the two unions (players and umpires) were unable to come to an agreement on an acceptable set of rules. The umpires want something in return for agreeing to replay — like improved benefits or pensions — and there is also concern about different camera angles at different parks. I’m amazed they rushed to get the new playoff system put in place but not expanded replay. If I had to pick one or the other for this season, I know which one I would pick, and it isn’t the one they chose.

David Phelps & Spring Training Buzz

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The pitching staff has been the focus of Spring Training so far and rightfully so. The Yankees made two big name pickups this offseason and those players have been under the microscope (though the Michael Pineda coverage has gone from intense to flat out absurd), plus Phil Hughes has some serious questions to answer after his disastrous 2011 campaign. Mariano Rivera didn’t help matters by hinting at retirement his first day in Tampa, and neither did David Robertson‘s foot injury.

While all that has been going on, the team’s minor league pitching depth has been quietly plugging along and getting outs. The quartet of Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Brett Marshall, and D.J. Mitchell had not allowed a single run this spring (combined 19.2 IP) until Banuelos got knocked around yesterday, but it’s another minor league hurler that has apparently piqued some interest. Courtesy of Joel Sherman

One Yankees player getting some buzz among scouts is David Phelps, who on Tuesday night against Boston continued his good vibrations by striking out five of the 10 Red Sox he has faced.

Both the Yankees and a few scouts noted to me that Phelps has ticked his fastball up to the 92-93 mph range. And a particularly impressed scout said that has raised his profile because the righty already had good aptitude and competitiveness on the mound.

Phelps, 25, has allowed one unearned run in seven innings this spring, striking out seven. He ranked 12th on my list of the team’s top 30 prospects thanks to his four-pitch mix and MLB readiness, though I’m not entirely sure what the big deal is with his fastball getting up to 92-93. Baseball America had him throwing 92-95 mph way back in their 2010 Prospect Handbook, though I suppose they could have been wrong. Maybe he lost a little velocity following the shoulder tendinitis that shelved him for close to two months last summer. Who knows, but whatever is going on, people around the game are starting to take notice.

The Yankees added Phelps to the 40-man roster this past offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, though they were prepared to call him up for a spot start in mid-June before the Brian Gordon signing. I’m not entirely sure who the Yankees would call up first for a such a start at the moment, I go back and forth between Phelps and Mitchell depending on the day. Adam Warren is in that mix as well, but he’s at the disadvantage of not being on the 40-man. In reality, a call-up will have just as much to do with the schedule as it does performance. Whoever’s lined up to pitch that day will be the frontrunner.

It’s nice to hear that Phelps is generating some buzz during a time when most reporting focuses on what a player is not rather than what he is, but we’ve known about him for a while now. The Yankees could use him (and others) in a variety of ways — starter, reliever, trade bait — so they have a pretty nice core of minor league pitching depth. The best case scenario calls for us to see none of these guys in 2012, but that’s next to impossible. The more attention these guys get, the better.

Open Thread: 3/14 Camp Notes

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

The Yankees lost to the Blue Jays 7-5 this afternoon, and the biggest news of the day was Freddy Garcia’s right hand contusion. Thankfully x-rays came back negative after he got hit by an Edwin Encarnacion line drive. Freddy allowed two runs in three innings, including an Encarnacion homer. Manny Banuelos got roughed up pretty bad, allowing four runs on three hits and two walks in one inning of work. One of those hits was an Encarnacion homer. That guy really did some damage today.

Yankees’ center fielders went a combined to go 4-for-5 today, with Curtis Granderson (pair of doubles) and Dewayne Wise picking up two knocks each. Mark Teixeira also singled to the opposite field off a right-handed pitcher, so hooray for that. Frankie Cervelli, Doug Bernier, and Cole Garner all doubled, accounting for all of the club’s extra-base hits. D.J. Mitchell hit two batters in three otherwise perfect innings, recording four outs with strike three and five others on the ground. Not bad. Here’s the box score and here’s the latest from Tampa.

  • Michael Pineda has changed his between-start routine. He now throws his bullpen session two days before starts rather than three, which is what he did with the Mariners last year and is most comfortable with. Joba Chamberlain, Hiroki Kuroda, Rafael Soriano, Dellin Betances, and Matt Daley all threw their scheduled side sessions today. [Chad Jennings]
  • David Robertson jogged on a treadmill for 30 minutes today and didn’t feel any pain or soreness in his right foot. There’s a pretty good chance he’ll throw a bullpen session this weekend. [Jennings]
  • Nick Swisher left today’s game with minor tightness in his right groin. It doesn’t sound like a big deal though, just a precaution. I’ll worry if we don’t see him for a few days. [Mark Feinsand]
  • George Kontos was scheduled to appear in his first game of the spring this Friday, but he’ll instead throw another round of live batting practice tomorrow and probably get into a game at some point over the weekend. [Jennings]

Here is your open thread for the night. The Nets and Mike D’Antoni-less Knicks are both playing tonight, and MLB Network will be airing some games as well. Talk about whatever you like here, go nuts.

Update: X-rays negative after comebacker forces Garcia from game

Update (4:53pm): The Yankees have announced that Garcia’s x-rays came back negative. No word on how long he’ll be out, but I’m sure he’ll get a few days off just to make sure everything’s okay.

Update (2:24pm): Via Marc Carig, the team announced that Garcia has a right hand contusion and is being taken for precautionary x-rays. That was fast.

2:19pm: Freddy Garcia left this afternoon’s game against the Blue Jays after taking an Edwin Encarnacion line drive to his right (pitching) hand. He immediately walked off the mound with the trainer and headed to the clubhouse. He may only be penciled in as the sixth starter/swingman, but Sweaty Freddy is a pretty nice piece of pitching depth. We’ll update with more as it’s available.