Scouting The Trade Market: Marco Scutaro

(AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

Eduardo Nunez‘s inability to make the routine play and Jayson Nix’s generally inability to handle shortstop should have the Yankees in the market for a utility infielder prior to the trade deadline. The Rockies are one of the worst teams in baseball this season at 28-44, due in large part to an ineffective pitching staff that has allowed 5.6 runs per game. Although we’ve seen speculation about the availability of Carlos Gonzalez, a much more realistic trade target is Marco Scutaro.

We’re all familiar with Scutaro from his days with the Blue Jays and Red Sox, and I’m sure we all remember the walk-off three-run homer he hit against Mariano Rivera while with the Athletics years ago. He went to the Rockies in a salary dump trade this offseason and with Colorado out of contention, he could be available in another salary dump deal in the coming weeks. Let’s take a look to see what, if anything, he could offer New York…

The Pros

  • A high contact hitter, Scutaro has the second lowest swing-and-miss rate (5.4%) and ninth lowest strikeout rate (9.2%) in baseball over the last three seasons. That has allowed him to consistently hit for a solid average (.284 with a .300 BABIP since the start of 2010).
  • In addition to putting the ball in play, Scutaro has a good eye and will supplement his average with walks. His 7.6% walk rate over the last three years is about league averge and he’s swung at just 18.9% of the pitches he’s seen outside of the strike zone during that time, the seventh lowest rate in baseball.
  • Versatility is a major plus, as he’s played every position other than pitcher, catcher, and center field during his 11-year career. His career UZR marks are right around league average at all positions except first base, which is a super small sample (15 defensive innings).
  • Scutaro is obviously familiar with the AL East and its various pitchers. There is a benefit to that experience but I’m not sure how significant. If nothing else, he’ll know what to expect in this division.
  • Scutaro is a pure rental player, due to become a free agent after the season. He’s making $6M this season, so approximately $1M a month the rest of the way.

The Cons

  • At 36 years old, Scutaro is having his worst offensive season in years. He’s hit .276/.328/.385 with four homers in 301 plate appearances, an 86 wRC+ that is the worst full season mark of his career. His walk rate (6.3%) is his lowest since 2004, his first full season in the show.
  • Although he has experience as a bench player, Scutaro has been a full-time player for the last five years. Sticking a guy who has been accustomed to regular at-bats on the bench and expecting similar production is always a tricky proposition.
  • All of that versatility is a thing of the past. Scutaro has played the middle infield exclusively for the last four seasons, so it’s unclear what he could contribute in the outfield. I’m sure third base wouldn’t be much of a problem though.
  • Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Yankees will not be able to recoup draft pick compensation should Scutaro sign with another team after the season.

Now things got slightly complicated last night because Scutaro took a Stephen Strasburg fastball to the head. He left the game under his own power and will be re-evaluated today, so we don’t know how much or if he’ll miss any time. Right now he’s listed as day-to-day. Obviously a DL stint of any length would throw a wrench into any team’s plans to acquire him. We’re all in wait-and-see mode at the moment.

Assuming he’ll be fine just for the sake of argument, Colorado acquired Scutaro for a pittance (Clayton Mortenson) from the Red Sox because they assumed all of his salary, and the same should be true at the deadline. They need pitching so perhaps a Grade-B pitching prospect fits the bill — Mikey O’Brien? Brett Marshall? — though I suppose it’s worth noting that the Yankees acquired Jerry Hairston Jr. for a Grade-D prospect (catcher Chase Weems) back in 2009. That’s not a perfect comparison since Scutaro is the better player and makes three times the money, but we’re in the same ballpark.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees emphasize rest — both half-days at DH and full days — for their older players and Scutaro would allow them to sit Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter without missing a beat. He would also be able to step right in should an injury arise, an underrated quality. The Yankees could use a little more contact in their offense and Scutaro would certainly help in that regard as well. There is no indication that he is or available or that the Rockies are ready to sell, but if and when the do, the Bombers should get involved and quickly. Replacing Nix with Scutaro is a clear upgrade and one that is unlikely to cost an arm and a leg.

Embracing the flawed, first place Yankees

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Yankees are overly reliant on the homerun. They’ve hit a MLB-best 115 dingers through their first 72 games, the most homers through that many games in franchise history. Something like 52% of their runs this season has scored via the long ball, by far the most in the majors. They hit three more last night in their third straight win. New York lives and dies by the homer right now and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that at all.

I’m pretty sure the Yankees are the only club capable of making people try to spin hitting so many homers into a bad thing. There’s a lot of anti-Yankee stuff out there — I’d venture to say more than every other team combined — because hey, lots of people hate the Yankees and that stuff sells. I know all about the utter lack of hitting with runners in scoring position — .220/.326/.394 after a 1-for-3 effort last night — but we’re talking about 26% of their total plate appearances this season. That other 74% counts as well, and the Yankees do more damage in those situations than any other team in baseball.

Remember, “scoring position” is a cookie cutter definition applied to all players and teams. It refers to plate appearances when there is a runner on second and/or third and while that’s useful to a certain extent, the Yankees also have runners in scoring position when there’s a guy on first or even when the bases are empty. They have a roster full of power hitters and on most nights, have about eight guys in the lineup capable of putting the run on the board by themselves with one swing. Power is becoming harder to find these days and the Yankees have enough to spare.

At some point, the team’s .229 (!) BABIP with men in scoring position (the cookie cutter kind) will correct and that .220 batting average will climb. Most of the time saying BABIP will regress to some mean is lazy, because there can be some very real explanations for why someone’s rate will fluctuate from year-to-year or even month-to-month. The Yankees are nearly 30 points (!) below the second lowest team and about 70 (!!!) points away from the AL average though. Some of those guys are definitely pressing in those spots and it’s hurting the quality of their contact, but they’ve also been quite unlikely in those spots as a team. I mean really unlikely. Even getting up to a .250 BABIP with men in scoring position is going to turn a powerhouse offense into a juggernaut.

People like to say that you can’t really on the homer against quality pitching in the postseason but the Yankees have already hung 5+ runs on the likes of Johan Santana, Justin Verlander (twice), Jamie Shields (twice), David Price, and R.A. Dickey this year. Heck, last year in the ALDS they scored 12 runs in 18.2 innings off Verlander and Doug Fister. When a good pitcher makes a mistake, you have to make them pay. A walk and three singles to score two runs against a top guy just doesn’t happen. They’re great pitchers because they don’t allow extended rallies.

It’s June, and literally nothing that happens in June will tell you anything about what will happen in October. There’s still more than half a season to play and something like 20% of the roster will turn over between now and October, if not more. Hopefully the Yankees will start hitting with men in scoring position soon, but the reason they have the best record in baseball right now is because they hit the ball out of park and get quality pitching just about every night. That’s the formula every team tries to follow and the Yankees have done it better than anyone this year. Embrace the homers and don’t sweat the RISPFAIL just yet. This is a legitimately great team that still has room to improve.

Yanks pound Tribe behind Wise, Cano & Kuroda

Monday night’s game against the Indians was just one of those wonderful games. It was clear from the first inning that the Yankees were going to win, as they built up a sizable early lead and had a veteran pitcher on the mound who worked quickly, threw strikes, and simply got outs. The 7-1 win was their third straight win, 13th in the last 16 games, and 23rd in the last 30 games.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Too Many Homers

I mentioned in the series preview that right-hander Josh Tomlin was a great matchup for the Yankees because he doesn’t miss bats and will allow hitters to put the ball in play in the air, and sure enough that carried over into the game. New York bombed the Cleveland starter for three homers in three innings, including one by Dewayne Wise of all people. It was the 23rd homer of his ten-year career. Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher also went back-to-back, plus Mark Teixeira hit a rocket single off the top of the wall and Robbie laced a two-run double in the first. They were all over Tomlin, who threw 80 pitches and got five swings and misses. The Yankees fouled off 23 of his offerings. Just nuts.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Hirokidoke

You can’t pitch much better than Hiroki Kuroda did on Monday night. He allowed just one run on five hits in seven innings, and two of those hits came leading off the eighth. The run scored after he had been removed from the game. Kuroda struck out seven, walked two, and recorded 19 of his 21 outs on the infield. He allowed just two base-runners to make it as far as second base in the first seven innings. Hiroki dominated with his split-finger, throwing it 16 times out of his 103 pitches (15.5%) and using it to get the strike three six of seven times. Cleveland hitters swung and missed a dozen times, his third highest whiff total of the season. Like I said, it was a veteran pitcher with a big lead. Kuroda just flat out took care of business against the Tribe.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Swisher had himself an eventful evening, hitting the homer, striking out three times — Paul O’Neill called it a “Reggie Jackson game” at the plate — in addition to making a trio of nice plays in the eighth. The first was a sliding grab in front of him, the second a running catch to his right, the third a running catch to his left near the foul line. Swisher was all smiles and he fist bumped some police officers on his way back to dugout. The purist must have been livid. It was awesome.

In addition to the two-run homer, Wise also tripled even though the replay showed he was tagged out at third. The ump said he was safe though, and that’s all that counts. I guess you could say that playing him tonight was … a wise move. /shades /yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah

Every starter reached base at least once — including Chris Stewart, who was hit by a pitch — while Cano (homer and double), Eric Chavez (single and walk), and Wise (homer and triple) each reached twice. Teixeira had the long single and also took a pitch to the right hand, but he remained in the game and appears to be fine.

Clay Rapada and Freddy Garcia retired all six men they faced, though Rapada needed some help from Swisher in that eighth inning. He faced two right-handed batters, so it’s not a surprise he needed a little backup from his defense. The key late-inning arms got a much needed rest after working hard over the weekend.

MLB.com won’t let me embed it, but here’s the video for Monday’s HOPE Week event. The Yankees visited the Flying Manes, a therapeutic horse riding project in the Bronx designed to help disabled children. As you’d expect, it absolutely fantastic. HOPE Week the best week.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

Nice and easy. Needed one of these. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score, and ESPN the updated standings. At 44-28, your New York Yankees own the best record in baseball.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees and Indians will play game two of this three-game set on Tuesday night, when Phil Hughes and his doppelganger Justin Masterson square off. RAB Tickets can help get you in the building if you want to head up to the Bronx.

Williams homers again in Charleston win

RHP Brett Marshall (left leg bursitis) will start on Wednesday, so he only missed one start. No biggie. Meanwhile, OF Mason Williams was named the Low-A South Atlantic League Offensive Player of the Week. Dude hit three homers in four games.

Triple-A Empire State (9-8 loss to Indianapolis)
CF Chris Dickerson: 2-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB — so I guess he won’t be taking Dewayne Wise’s job anytime soon
2B Corban Joseph: 1-2, 2 R, 3 BB — 31 walks and 27 strikeouts in 47 games
LF Ronnie Mustelier: 2-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K
DH Jack Cust, C Frankie Cervelli & SS Ramiro Pena: all 0-4 — Cust walked, scored a run, and struck out three times … Cervelli struck out twice, got hit by a pitch, and allowed a passed ball … Pena walked and whiffed twice
1B Russell Branyan: 2-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K — nine homers in 26 games
3B Brandon Laird & RF Colin Curtis: both 1-5, 2 K — Laird scored a run and drove one in … Curtis doubled and drove in a pair
RHP Dellin Betances: 3 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 2 WP, 1 HB, 0/4 GB/FB — 39 of 78 pitches were strikes (50%) … he was outpitched by Daniel Cabrera, which is probably a bad omen considering that he’s been compared to him quite often
LHP Mike O’Connor: 2.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 34 of 51 pitches were strikes (66.7%)
LHP Justin Thomas: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 20 of 32 pitches were strikes (62.5%)

[Read more…]

Game 72: HOPE

(Photo via Yankees P.R. on Twitter)

The Yankees kick off the 2012 installment of HOPE Week today, beginning with Flying Manes, a “nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals with physical and emotional disabilities by providing therapeutic horse riding instruction.” Chad Jennings has the full details. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
DH Curtis Granderson
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Robinson Cano
RF Nick Swisher
LF Raul Ibanez
3B Eric Chavez
CF Dewayne Wise
C  Chris Stewart

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN2 nationally. It was raining quite hard earlier this afternoon, but the forecast doesn’t look to bad for tonight. Enjoy.

Russell Martin Update: Martin (stiff back) is feeling better but is not quite ready to return to the lineup just yet. He’s available in case of emergency tonight.

Mike Newman on Mason Williams

Hitting leadoff for the prospect-laden Low-A Charleston squad, preseason number two prospect Mason Williams owns a stellar .308/.349/.496 batting line with a measly 9.7% strikeout rate in his first year in a full season league. Mike Newman of FanGraphs recently got a look at the 20-year-old center fielder and says he’s starting to turn his physical abilities into baseball skills. “As it stands, Williams is a surefire top-50 prospect this winter with a legitimate shot at ranking as the top prospect in the Yankees organization,” he wrote.

Newman notes that Williams is hard on himself — to the point where a coach had to intervene and help him refocus — and could do a better job defensively, but the skills are there for him to be an electric leadoff-type from the left side of the plate. Make sure you check it out, it’s a short and interesting read. Here are Newman’s posts on Angelo Gumbs, Tyler Austin, and Gary Sanchez.

Cano joins Jeter & Granderson among leading All-Star vote-getters

Robinson Cano overtook Ian Kinsler in the fan voting for the starting second base spot in next month’s All-Star Game, MLB announced. Cano leads by roughly 97,000 votes and is second in the AL with 3.5 fWAR. He trails only Mike Trout. Yeah, the kid’s been good. Curtis Granderson is second to Josh Hamilton among outfielders and remains in position to start the game along with Robbie and Derek Jeter. Mike Napoli, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Jose Bautista, and David Ortiz are scheduled to start at the other positions.

You can vote for the starters up to 25 times per email address through midnight ET this Thursday; here’s the ballot. I’m not sure if the Yankees will have any All-Stars beyond Derek, Cano, and Granderson. CC Sabathia could get the call again and I suppose there’s a chance Rafael Soriano could make it as well.