Late-night reading: Levine messes with Texas

If you’re done arguing about the relative merits of Freddy Garcia on a minor league deal and guaranteed money for Justin Duchscherer, take a read through this gem from Jon Heyman. Shortly after Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg took credit for keeping Cliff Lee away from the Yanks, New York’s own club president Randy Levine fired back. “Chuck’s delusional. He’s been in the game for a few minutes and yet he thinks he knows what everyone’s thinking,” Levine said. “I think he should let Cliff Lee speak for himself. He could really impress us when he keeps the Rangers off of welfare and keeps them from receiving revenue sharing the next three years.”

As Heyman notes, Levine is picking up on the fact that the Rangers, playing in the large Dallas/Fort Worth market, collected revenue sharing checks in each of the past three years. While I know some sports talk radio voices have been critical of Levine for engaging with Greenberg, I love these ownership spats. Levine is sticking up for his club and showing that the Yankee brass still isn’t thrilled with Greenberg’s attempts to cast the Yanks as his spunky club’s villain. Let Levine and Greenberg battle it out off the field. On the field, I think the Rangers needed Cliff Lee even more than the Yanks did, and they were left empty-handed on the mound this winter.

Garcia, Yanks agree to minor league deal

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Update (10:32 p.m.): Freddy Garcia may get his wish after all. According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the right-hander has agreed to a Minor League deal with the Yankees. The 35-year-old will get an invite to Spring Training and a chance to win a job in the starting rotation, though he’ll have to compete with Bartolo Colon.

If he makes the team, Garcia will earn a $1.5M base salary plus another $3.6M in possible incentives. He’ll have to make 30 starts to max out the bonuses, something he hasn’t done since Jaret Wright made 27 starts for the Yanks. If he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training, Garcia can opt out of his deal by March 29th.

Garcia, now three years removed from shoulder surgery, managed to throw 157 innings for the White Sox last year after three seasons of no more than 58 IP. He wasn’t all that good though, pitching to a 4.64 ERA (4.77 FIP, 4.59 xFIP) with 5.10 K/9 and 40.7% ground balls in 2010. Although he walked just 2.29 batters per nine innings unintentionally, Garcia managed to surrender one homer for just under every seven innings pitched. It’s been a long time since he was a 200 innings a year horse for the Mariners, but all the Yankees are asking him to do is be better than Sergio Mitre. That doesn’t seem hard, but you never know.

Always a sinker-slider-changeup guy, Garcia threw the pitches in almost equal parts last year, though his fastball averaged just 87.6 mph. He’ll also mix in the occasionally curveball and cutter, but they’re just show-me pitches. At this point of his career, Garcia can’t survive by trusting his stuff, he’s got to mix his pitches well and locate. His margin for error is small, and the Yankees know this.

I’ve been pretty critical of a potential Garcia signing this winter, though that’s because I expected a Major League contract. A minor league deal is no risk, but I wouldn’t exactly call it high reward.

Additional reporting and commentary by Mike Axisa.

Open Thread: Morgan Ensberg

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Long before the days of the Mark Teixeira, the Yankees used a number of stopgap first baseman during the end of the Jason Giambi era. There was Doug Mientkiewicz, Josh Phelps, Andy Phillips, and even Morgan Ensberg. Ensberg had some huge years in Houston (.391 wOBA in 2003, .395 wOBA and a fourth place finish in the MVP voting in 2005), but he signed with the Yanks three years ago today after an ugly 2007 season (.318 wOBA) with the ‘Stros and Padres. He was supposed to be a righty hitting option of the bench that could fill-in at the infield corners, but that never materialized. Ensberg had just a .228 wOBA in 80 plate appearances for New York before being designated for assignment on June 1st. He finished out the year in Cleveland’s minor league system, and was out of baseball for good by Spring Training of the following season. Ensberg is now on Twitter and runs a fantastic blog, but like many before him and what will surely be many after him, his Yankees career was completely forgettable.

Anywho, here is the night’s open thread. The Nets are the only local team in action tonight, so you’re on your own when it comes to entertainment. You all know what to do, so go bananas.

Freddy Garcia wants to pitch in New York

Via MLBTR, free agent right-hander Freddy Garcia recently told a Venezuelan newspaper that he wants to pitch for the Yankees in 2011. “My preference is to be with the New York Yankees, and it’s not unreasonable to have that in mind, because I’ve demonstrated that I can be useful,” said Fred. “A team like New York would be ideal for my age, [as would] playing in a successful, media-heavy, demanding division. Without doubt it would be an inspiration.”

I’m glad he’s inspired by playing in New York, because his 5.10 K/9 and 1.32 HR/9 from a year ago doesn’t inspire any confidence in me. I have a feeling Bartolo Colon might be the only free agent pitching signing for the time being, but once Spring Training starts and the season gets away, it’ll be open season on the trade market.

The last of a dying breed

Chances are it didn’t register as anything more than a blip on your radar, but 42-year-old reliever Russ Springer announced his retirement over the weekend. Why should you care? Because as Cliff Corcoran explains, Springer was the last active player to have suited up for a losing Yankees team. He appeared in 14 games as a rookie for the 1992 Yankees, a team that went 76-86 and finished fourth in what was then a seven-team AL East. Springer’s career in pinstripes lasted only those 14 games (6.19 ERA in 16 IP); he was traded to the Angels after the season as part of the package for Jim Abbott.

The Yankees have finished over .500 every year since then, and they own the major’s longest streak of consecutive winning seasons. The Red Sox and Phillies are the only other clubs to have not had at least one losing season since 2006 2007. That blows my mind.

The RAB Radio Show: January 31, 2011

RAB took a field trip to Foley’s on Saturday for SABR day, sponsored by Baseball Prospectus. They ran four discussion panels, and they were all of note in some way or another. Mike and I break them down.

There’s some great stuff in there about Hit F/X and Field F/X, off-field value, prospect evaluation, and more.

Podcast run time 33:43

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Mariano’s 2010 dip against lefties

(Chris O'Meara/AP)

By the results, there was nothing out of the ordinary with Mariano Rivera‘s 2010 season. He hit a couple of rough patches, including a period early in the season where his ribs prevented him from pitching in games, but at the end he had delivered his customary sub-2.00 ERA. His peripherals also came close to his 2009 numbers. The biggest difference was in his strikeouts, down to 6.75 per nine. While we typically regard Mo as immortal around these parts, I wouldn’t blame anyone for asking whether this forecasts some trouble for 2011.

While Mo’s strikeout numbers were down across the board, the biggest difference came against left-handed hitters. He still struck out 31 of the 120 righties he faced, 8.90 K/9, but he struck out only 14 of 110 lefties, 4.40 K/9. In 2009 he struck out 35 of 130 lefties faced, or 9.45 per nine. Mo has always been particularly tough against lefties, getting them to hit dinky grounders and humpback liners in addition to the swings and misses. Might this decreased effectiveness against lefties affect his 2011 performance?

In order to determine the answer we have to find the reason why Mo was less effective in striking out left-handed hitters in 2010. Unfortunately, this is not a question which we are readily equipped to answer. It’s more of a scouting issue, and while we’ve learned plenty by watching hundreds of games every year, this is still a question that is better directed towards a trained scout. In fact, it would probably be best answered by multiple scouts, since the differences can be so subtle and nuanced that different people might see it in different ways. But we do have one tool at our immediate disposal: FanGraphs heat maps.

This morning FanGraphs proprietor David Appelman introduced a customizable heat map tool that will make for many pretty visualizations. In his initial post he used Mo as an example. Yet he uses the red-to-yellow heat scheme, and hasn’t set the intensity particularly high. When examining Mariano’s cutter against lefties in 2009 and 2010 I turned the intensity all the way to 100, and changed the format to display more colors. That should give us a better visual idea of what he did in those two years.

The most noticeable difference comes on the pitches slightly out of the zone. In 2009 he spotted the cutter just out of the zone to lefties. It’s harder to hit a ball out of the zone, and we know that lefties have a hard time when Rivera throws his cutter inside. In 2010 you see a concentration of cutters up and in to lefties, but there isn’t that same concentration of balls that run just out of the zone — inside pitches to lefties. We can’t say for sure that this is the sole cause, but it certainly appears to be part of the answer.

Another neat little feature of these heat maps is that it provides pitch type splits. Check out Mo’s four-seamer. He used it effectively against lefties in 2009 when he wanted to pitch them away. In 2010, though, he hardly touched the pitch against lefties. That also might be part of the answer. Perhaps Mo needs to use that fastball to keep lefties guessing.

Again, these heat maps don’t provide us with answers. Instead they put data into a format that we can easily see. Maybe Mo’s lack of strikeouts against lefties had nothing to do with where he spotted his cutter. But more than likely I expect it played a part. That’s his bread and butter, and he just wasn’t ramming the cutter down lefties’ throats as he has in the past. I suspect that he’ll get back to that in 2011.