Chuck Greenberg opens mouth, inserts foot

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Yankees have been and always will be an easy target. They’re the biggest and baddest, the Goliath to everyone’s David. That has to do with their payroll and popularity, and that’s fine. We’re all used to it by now, and in fact I think we take a certain level of enjoyment in seeing how outrageous Yankee-bashing gets. Hating on the Yankees is the easiest form of hate, it requires little thought and even less research. Broad generalizations do just fine.

It’s one thing to bash the team, the entity that is the Yanks, but it’s another thing to overstep that bound and start getting personal. That’s what Rangers’ owner Chuck Greenberg did early Monday while appearing on ESPN’s Radio “Ben and Skin Show.” Here’s the quote…

“I think our fans have been great. I think particularly in Game 3 of the World Series they just blew away anything I’ve seen in any venue during the postseason. I thought Yankee fans, frankly, were awful. They were either violent or apathetic, neither of which is good. So I thought Yankee fans were by far the worst of any I’ve seen in the postseason. I thought they were an embarrassment.”

Greenberg’s comments come on the heels of Kristin Lee’s comments about Yankee fans, which for all intents and purposes said the same thing. The people at Yankee Stadium are violent and obnoxious, dangerous and disinterested. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the insults to the backbone of the sport.

The Yankees were reportedly furious over Greenberg’s comments, and were preparing to respond once the World Series ended. “At this time, we are honoring the commissioner’s policy regarding respecting and not distracting from the World Series,” said team president Randy Levine, but they wouldn’t have to wait that long. Greenberg spoke to both Levine and Hal Steinbrenner later in the evening, apologizing for his comments. Here’s the half-assed apology statement…

“Earlier today, in the course of praising the extraordinary support and enthusiasm of Texas Rangers fans, I unfairly and inaccurately disparaged fans of the New York Yankees. Those remarks were inappropriate. Yankees fans are among the most passionate and supportive in all of baseball. I have spoken directly to Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine to apologize for my intemperate comments. I would like to express again how proud we are of our fans and how remarkably they have supported the Rangers throughout lean times and now during this magical season.”

That all well and good, but all he did was wear 15 pieces of flair. It’s the bare minimum, the least he could do. In fact, Greenberg didn’t even bother to issue the apology until Commissioner Bud Selig stepped in and gave the rookie owner a stern talking to. Hell, Greenberg barely even managed to apologize the people he actually insulted, us fans. I had to read it twice just to make sure it was actually in there.

Honestly, I couldn’t care less about being called violent or obnoxious or something like that, it’s the apathetic part that gets me. Maybe the corporate slime that inhabits the lower rungs of the New Stadium doesn’t care about this team, but we certainly do. Those of us here at RAB and countless other sites, those of us sitting out in the bleachers or in the grandstands, we care. You better believe we care.

The best and simplest course of action is to just roll our eyes and leave it at that. Take the high road. File it away in the Yankee-hate cabinet with countless other forgettable and unintelligent attacks on the team. But don’t think we’ll forget. Greenberg and his team now have a giant target on their backs, moreso than they did before the ALCS. So congrats Chuck Greenberg, you managed to look like a bigger ass than the people you insulted, and now you have all winter to think about it.

Romine picks up a pair of knocks

Baseball America has started posting their top ten prospects lists for all 30 teams, starting today with the Orioles. They’ll be posting the Yankees’ list on Friday, so get ready for that.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (3-2 loss to Surprise)
Brandon Laird, LF: 0 for 4
Austin Romine, C: 2 for 4, 1 K – they stole three bases off him in three tries, including one by Graham Stoneburner’s brother

No pitchers. Lame.

Report: Yanks to speak with Gil Patterson about pitching coach vacancy

Via Mark Feinsand, Athletics pitching coordinator Gil Patterson has received permission from his team to speak with the Yankees about their vacant pitching coach position. Patterson has coached in the Yanks’ minor league system a few times, most recently 2005-2006, and according to B-Ref he was fired in 1984 for refusing to let Al Leiter pitch with a sore arm. Imagine that.

Anyway, the Yankees are obviously familiar with Patterson and he’s familiar with them, so it’s no surprise that he’s the first outside-the-organization name we heard about. Make sure you check out this 2006 profile by Tyler Kepner, that’s some great stuff.

Open Thread: World Series Game Five

Faceplant. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Okay, it’s time for the Rangers to put up or shut up. Their backs are up against the wall, Cliff Lee is on the bump, they’re playing at home … no excuses, they have to win this one. I know Tim Lincecum’s a tough matchup, but dammit do your stupid little antler and claw tricks and win. If the baseball season ends tonight, I will never forgive them. I’m not ready for baseball to go away. [/end rant]

Here’s tonight’s open thread. Aside from the World Series, you also have Monday Night Football (Texans @ Colts) and hockey (both Rangers and Devils). Talk about whatever, just be cool.

Gardner takes home top honors in Fielding Bible Awards

The voting for the 2010 edition of the Fielding Bible Awards are out, and Brett Gardner took home the top spot among all leftfielders. He was either first (six votes) or second (four) on all ten ballots, topping Carl Crawford by a not-small margin (96 to 86). It didn’t factor into voting, but Gardner did finish with the highest UZR (+22.3) and UZR/150 (+39.7) in baseball this season, regardless of position. Pretty sweet.

As for everyone else, Mark Teixeira finished fourth, Robbie Cano sixth, and Curtis Granderson eighth at their respective positions. All of the other regulars were no-shows in the top tens, unsurprisingly.

What Went Right: Boone Logan’s Second Half

(Paul Sancya/AP)

Real quick: take a look at Boone Logan’s 2010 numbers. They look pretty spiffy, no? You can’t ask much more from a young lefty reliever. What made Logan look even better was the value he provided. Although he faced just 169 batters in 40 innings, he still produced 0.4 WAR, which was 0.6 more than the other player the Yankees acquired from the Braves last winter. Since Logan provided more value this year and will continue to provide more in the future, we can accurately term this the Boone Logan Trade. But it wasn’t always that way.

Because the Yankees started the season stocked with bullpen arms, Logan started the year in AAA Scranton. He made his way to the big league club early on, and made his first appearance on April 20. Things didn’t go so well during that first stint. Logan faced 49 batters in 10.2 innings and walked seven batters while striking out six. It led to six earned runs, a 5.06 ERA. The Yankees optioned him, but then recalled him again in mid-June, though that didn’t exactly go well either. This time Logan faced 33 batters in 7.2 innings, striking out seven and walking five. The results were better, but he clearly still had control issues.

Logan’s 3.93 first half ERA didn’t look so bad, but his walk issues made it hard to trust him against tough left-handed hitters. He finished the half with 12 walks in 18.1 innings, leading to an opponent OBP of .390. He threw 314 pitches to 82 batters, almost four per. Clearly something would have to change if he was going to stick in the second half. By the time the Yankees recalled him for the third time in the season, something had.

The second half didn’t open ideally for Logan, as he allowed a run in 1.2 innings against the Rays. The good news is that he didn’t walk a batter, and he threw 15 of 23 pitches for strikes (65%). He continued to throw strikes in subsequent appearances, and it paid off. He walked just eight in 21.2 second-half innings, a marked improvement over his first half numbers. It led to a mere .264 opponents’ OBP. Hitters also had trouble making solid contact, as his BABIP went down to .235. This was due, in large part, to a mere 8 percent line drive rate, down from 25 percent in the first half.

How did Logan accomplish this mid-season transformation? Part of it was certainly throwing more strikes. In the first half he threw 60 percent of his pitches for strikes, while in the second half that was up to 63 percent. That might not seem like a huge increase, but it can make a big difference when you’re often working one batter at a time. But it doesn’t account for the entire difference. The biggest change, as most of us can probably intuit, was pitch selection and effectiveness.

In the first half Logan was extremely fastball heavy, throwing it 70.9 percent of the time. He got a meager 8.9 percent whiff rate on it, leading to a 21.5 percent in play rate. In the second half he started leaning on his slider a lot more, using it 32.4 percent of his time. Opponents put it in play just 10.2 percent of the time, while whiffing 27.8 percent of the time. The pitch ended up being his best per FanGraphs’ Pitch Type Values, 3.8 runs above average overall, and 2.34 per 100 pitches. All it took was him using it more and commanding it better.*

*Looking at the PitchFX numbers, Logan got -0.07 inches of vertical break and -1.13 inches of horizontal break on the slider in the first half. In other words, it darted downward and towards a right-handed batter. In the second half it was 2.02 inches of vertical break and -0.29 inches horizontal. That might seem like less movement, but I have a pet theory on this. It basically goes that Logan was letting the slider fly more in the first half and was a bit more careful with it in the second half. He might have had more movement in the first half, but he was wild with it. In the second half the lower break figures point to a greater command over the pitch. Again, this is just a pet theory, but I’d love to hear some point-counterpoint on this if anyone is interested.

Just so you can see the difference, here are Logan’s slider plots from the first and second halves.

First half

Second half

Everything was away in the second half, and he buried plenty in the dirt. It’s tough to pick out the subtleties, because he threw far more in the second half than in the first. But I do think it’s clear that he kept the slider below the zone in the second half, while he was low and away in the first half. This probably led to the pitch being a lot more effective.

Given his second half performance, it’s hard to not like Logan as the primary lefty in 2011. He showed great improvements, from his peripheral numbers — 10.38 K/9, 3.32 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 in the second half — to his pitch selection and command. Whether he can maintain these improvements remains to be seen, but he’ll get every chance to do so. With Damaso Marte out for most of, if not all of, the 2011 season, Logan becomes the primary lefty in the pen. Six months ago that would have left me feeling queasy. Amazing what a little improvement can do.

The Yankees and the Rule 5 Draft

One of my favorite events of the baseball year is the annual Rule 5 Draft, which takes place during the Winter Meetings in December (apparently it’s going to be earlier than that this year) and is designed to help advance the careers of players stuck in the minors. The rules are pretty simple; any player selected has to stick on his new team’s 25-man roster all season or be offered back to his old club for half the original $50,000 claiming fee. The Yankees have lost a few players to the Rule 5 gods over the years, most notably Kanekoa Teixeira (Mariners) and Zach Kroenke (Diamondbacks) last season.

Last year the Yankees traded Brian Bruney to the Nationals for the player to be named later, though they worked out a deal with Washington that gave them the first overall pick in the R5D. They drafted outfielder Jamie Hoffmann, gave him a look in Spring Training, and ultimately decided to return him to the Dodgers. A few years before that they rolled the dice with Josh Phelps. Rule 5 picks rarely stick and when they do they’re often spare parts like middle relievers or bench players. Every once in a while there will be a Dan Uggla or Johan Santana or Joakim Soria or Josh Hamilton though, which is what makes it so interesting.

For all intents and purposes, high school players drafted in 2006 and college players drafted in 2007 (or earlier, of course) are eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. Through the miracle of the internet, Donnie Collins provided us with a full list of Yankee farmhands – confirmed by VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman – eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. For prospect nerds like me, it’s pretty much a gold mine. Jesus Montero, despite signing as a 16 year old in 2006, is not eligible this year. Don’t ask me how, I don’t completely understand the eligibility rules, but all I know is that the team confirmed he isn’t eligible.

There are currently 43 players on the Yanks’ 40-man roster since Al Aceves, Damaso Marte, and Nick Johnson are sitting on the 60-day DL. Johnson, Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, Chad Moeller, Marcus Thames, Javy Vazquez, and Kerry Wood all go away once free agency starts next week. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte will come off the 40-man as well, but they’re coming back or will be replaced by someone. That puts the Yanks at 36 players, and you have to assume they’ll sign a few free agents, so let’s call it an even 40. Cut candidates include Sergio Mitre, Dustin Moseley, and Chad Gaudin, but let’s play it safe and say that two of them will be back. Reegie Corona and Royce Ring can go, ditto Steve Garrison.

That gives the Yankees four 40-man roster spots to use for protecting prospects from the Rule 5 Draft. Dellin Betances and Brandon Laird are absolute no-brainers, so we’re already down to just a pair of spots. I see four realistic candidates for these spots: George Kontos, Lance Pendleton, Ryan Pope, and Craig Heyer. Almost everyone else on the list can be left unprotected for obvious reasons, and I don’t believe Melky Mesa and Bradley Suttle are advanced enough to stick on a big league 25-man roster all season. The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of them being returned at some point should they get picked.

Let’s break down the cases for Kontos, Pendleton, Pope, and Heyer…

George Kontos
The Greek God of Pitching returned from Tommy John surgery this June and transitioned from starter to reliever. Kontos pitched well after coming back from surgery (3.37 FIP in 45 IP) and is currently getting his brains beat in (8 IP, 20 baserunners, 13 runs) like every other pitcher in the Arizona Fall League. The 25-year-old righty has firm stuff (low-90’s heat, good slider, eh change) tailored for a relief role, which is realistically the only spot he’d fill for the Yanks. His minor league strikeout rate at and above Double-A is very good (8.6 K/9), but the walks are a touch high (3.5 BB/9) and he’s always been homer prone (one longball for every eleven innings pitched as a pro). The equipment is there for Kontos to be a serviceable reliever.

Lance Pendleton
The Yanks’ fourth round pick in 2005, Pendleton missed the entire 2006 season due to Tommy John surgery (damn Rice pitchers). He’s been an absolute workhorse ever since, throwing a total of 445.1 innings (3.28 FIP) in the last three years, including 154.2 this year. The elder statesmen of this group, Pendleton is already 27, so his solid but not overwhelming rates (8.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.9 HR9) have to be taken with grain of salt since he’s always been older than the competition. I’m not sure if and how much the scouting report has changed through the years, but he was a low-90’s fastball guy with a curve and change back when he was drafted. It’s enough that he can start, and frankly he’s probably no worse than Moseley. At the very least he’s cheaper.

Ryan Pope
Pope’s always been an interesting case just because he the second player ever drafted out of the Savannah College of Art and Design. A year ago we wouldn’t have even been having this conversation, but the 24-year-old righty put himself on the map this summer after shifting into a relief role. He went from a fringy guy without swing-and-miss stuff (6.9 K/9 before 2010) to a dominant reliever, striking out 9.7 batters per nine while walking just 1.8 unintentionally. The homers are a bit of an issue (0.9 HR/9 as a reliever), but that’s life. We have to be careful with the sample (just 59 IP as a reliever), but Pope’s definitely put himself into the mix as a bullpen prospect.

Craig Heyer
Heyer’s been sneaky good since signing as a 22nd round pick back in 2007, earning the praise of Keith Law recently. Still just 24 years old, his walk (just 14 unintentional walks the last two seasons, or 0.8 BB/9) and homer (0.3 HR/9 career) rates are the stuff of legend, but the problem is that he doesn’t miss many bats (5.1 K/9). Heyer also has yet to pitch above High-A. The Yankees sent him (and Pope) to the AzFL to get a longer look, so you know he’s at least on their minds. The stuff is fine (click the link above for a scouting report), but the experience isn’t.

* * *

Of those four, I’m taking Kontos and Pope. Pendleton will almost definitely be selected since cheap spot starters/long men are always in demand around the league, but that’s the cost of doing business. Heyer might get picked, but chances are he’ll be offered back at some point. Kontos and Pope have by far the best chance of being impact players for the Yankees in 2011, and more importantly have a better chance of sticking on another club’s 25-man roster next year. The Yanks need to keep replenishing their pipeline of young and cheap strikeout relievers, and these two are next in line. If they somehow clear up a fifth 40-man spot, I’d go with Pendleton over Heyer given how much closer he is.

If you’re losing players in the Rule 5 Draft, it’s a good sign, not necessarily a bad thing. It means you have players in your system other teams covet, which is one of the caveats of a deep farm system. The Yanks have some tough decisions to make this year and well definitely lose a player or three, but that’s life. the important thing is that they keep the right ones.

Hoffmann, Kontos photos both courtesy of the AP.