Projecting bounce backs for key players

It might be tough to find fault in an offense that scored 41 more runs than its next closest competitor, but it’s not impossible. The 2010 Yankees offense was clearly tops in the league, but they weren’t, as they say, firing on all cylinders. In fact, three of the first four hitters in the lineup experienced their worst seasons in recent memory. If the 2011 team is again going to dominate opposing pitchers, it’ll need plenty of help from Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot, Mark Teixeira at No. 3, and Alex Rodriguez hitting cleanup.

The reports on the two from camp so far have been almost universally positive. Jeter showed up early — easy for him, since he resides in Tampa — and worked on his new, lower-energy swing. Both Teixeira and Rodriguez appeared in good shape when they showed up, particularly A-Rod. While those certainly present positive signs, they don’t mean much in terms of performance. As Dave Cameron recently noted, reports of peak physical condition do not necessarily coincide with increased performance.

One place we can look for educated guesses about a player’s upcoming season is a projection system. Before launching into the numbers, I’ll provide the same warning that comes hand-in-hand with projections: these are not predictions. Each system takes into account certain factors and uses them to compare players to themselves and to their peers, and spits out an educated guess as to what we can expect from that player. Each system uses a different set of inputs and processes the data differently, hence the variations in projections.

Here’s how five major projection engines — CAIRO, PECOTA, Bill James, Marcel, and ZiPS — view the 2011 seasons for these three players.




* Note: ZiPS does not forecast HBP, but I had to put in zero to make the formula work.

The mean projection on Jeter isn’t that bad, but it’s not exactly a guy you want in the leadoff spot all season. A .353 OBP isn’t bad, but if Brett Gardner is exceeding that, as he did by a solid margin in 2010, there will and should be calls for him to take over the spot. CAIRO’s variables like him a lot more, and if he got his OBP over .360 I think he could fit in the lead-off spot. Then again, is that big enough a gap to make a he should/he shouldn’t delineation?

On A-Rod, Marcel seems to be the believer in his true decline. It’s the only projection system that pegs him at under 30 home runs, and also clearly has him at the lowest OBP. Still, it’s good to see all the positive projections, even if they don’t amount to 2007, or even 2008, A-Rod.

Again with Teixeira Marcel sees more of a true decline than a one-year blip. PECOTA, which is often considered the most discerning projection engine, actually favors him for a bounce back. I think everyone in the room would take that line from him, especially if he did it in 682 PA. That means he’s on the field, healthy, and contributing.

One final note on these projection engines: they’re all relative. For instance, despite downcasting A-Rod a bit, ZiPS actually projects him to be the best hitter on the team and one of the best in the league. Bill James, on the other hand, always appears to have optimistic forecasts, but that seems to be true across the league. That’s my only hesitancy with averaging out these projections. They make different assumptions up front, and those assumptions can lead to different baselines.

Once March 31 hits, it won’t matter how good of shape these guys are in, and it won’t matter what the projection engines say. These are just pre-season indicators we use to fill time between the start of spring training and Opening Day. Still, it’s nice to see pretty overall positive forecasts on the team’s three most important hitters. If they improve over 2010, the Yanks will be in for another big season in 2011.

Yanks tab Colon to start Grapefruit League opener

Per Bryan Hoch, the Yanks will start their back-end rotation competition with a bang as Bartolo Colon will start the Yanks’ Grapefruit League opener on Saturday. He’ll go up against Cole Hamels and the Phillies in Tampa. The Yanks are going with Colon, who threw a bunch of innings in winter ball because he is “best prepared for the assignment.”

Following him in the rotation will be Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia. Sergio Mitre, the fourth candidate for one of two rotation spots, will work in relief for now. As we’ve covered to death, Colon, Garcia, Nova and Mitre will be competing for two rotation spots, and it’s likely that Colon and Garcia will have a leg up if they can throw well and get outs this spring. For purposes of early-season depth alone, the Yanks may opt for the veterans over Nova. How long they last is anyone’s guess.

Going inside Jorge’s head

Former NFL defensive back Dave Duerson’s suicide last week sent shockwaves through the NFL. As part of his continually excellent coverage of head injuries in football, Alan Schwarz reported that Duerson wants his brain donated to research and shot himself in the chest so that his damaged brain would still be intact. Duerson is just another in a long line of aging football players to suffer from or fear the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and people in the sport are beginning to listen.

Baseball doesn’t receive nearly the same attention for its brain injuries simply because they are far less common. In fact, when high-profile players suffer concussions, it garners far more attention than any NFL injury, and over the past few years, we’ve seen Mike Matheny and Corey Koskie retire because of head injuries. We’ve seen Jason Bay and Ryan Church felled by concussions. We see Justin Morneau still not at 100 percent eight months after he got knocked out.

Closer to home, the Yankees are dealing with their own star who has dealt with head injuries. One of the driving motivations behind Jorge Posada‘s switch to designated hitter this season is his and the team’s fear for his long-term safety. In an excellent piece in the Bergen Record this past weekend, Bob Klapisch examined Jorge’s health. The relevant parts:

As the sports world’s awareness of concussions grows, the Yankees’ medical staff is keeping closer tabs on Posada. Scouts say his reaction time, particularly on defense, has slowed in the last two to three seasons, although that may be due, in part, to his advancing age. But Posada was almost knocked out by a foul tip in a Sept. 7 game against the Orioles, returning to the dugout feeling disoriented and dizzy.

“I remember telling [former pitching coach] Dave Eiland, ‘Something’s wrong with me, I just don’t feel right,’” Posada said. “I felt like I was about to throw up, I was dizzy, everything felt weird. The next day I was still having headaches. It was scary, I have to admit.”

Although a CAT scan revealed no bleeding in the brain, the Yankees nevertheless had Posada undergo a comprehensive memory test. The computerized program, called ImPACT, was designed at the University of Pittsburgh concussion center. It runs for 15-18 minutes, measuring attention, memory, processing speed and reaction time…

Posada said the test results were “not good” after the September incident. In fact, his results were subpar in two of the three tests he took in 2010. Does this mean Posada is at risk for brain damage? No one knows for sure, but the data is troubling.

Posada is well aware of the recent studies conducted on football players and knows he has a lot to live for after his playing days are over. “I have to think about my kids. I want to enjoy growing old,” he said. “I don’t want to be sick…It’s something I’m starting to worry about, it’s something we have to keep an eye on. At my age, there’s reason for concern, especially since we know so much more about concussions. It used to be, you just shake it off, and keep going. But there’s more to it than that.”

Right now, the long-term effects of concussions in baseball are still relatively unknown, and the former players Klapisch speaks to — Joe Girardi, Butch Wynegar — seem to downplay the impact getting knocked in the face had on them. But the Yankees are right to be cautious with Jorge. Staying healthy after his career is over is far, far more important than eking out another costly season behind the plate. Knowing when to scale back isn’t a trait many baseball players have, and Jorge’s family should thank him for it.

The Right-Handed Nick Swisher

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Over the last few years, the Yankees lineup has been a matchup nightmare for opposing managers because it’s so diverse. They’ve mixed quality left-handed batters with quality right-handed batters, mixing in a few quality switch-hitters just to be mean. One of those switch-hitters is Nick Swisher, who has consistently been better as a lefty batter in his career (.371 wOBA). That’s not to say that he’s been poor from the right side, because he certainly hasn’t (.352 wOBA), but with more righty pitchers around (it was almost 75/25 RHB/LHP in 2010), it’s a good thing that Swish is more prolific from the south side.

As a power hitter, really a three-true outcomes guy prior to 2010, Swisher has done most of his damage when he pulls the ball. That’s pretty normal, bat control freaks that go to the opposite field as often as say, Derek Jeter or Tony Gwynn, are just that, freaks. Swish’s output as a right-handed batter did change a bit last season though, let’s take a look…

There’s a lot to take in here, but the first thing that should jump out at you is where he’s hitting the ball. From 2007 through 2009 he was an extreme pull hitter as a right-handed batter, with more than half of his balls in play getting hooked into left field. Swish trimmed almost 13% off that total last season, redistributing most of it towards center and a little bit towards right. He also increased his overall production, with most of his damage coming on balls hit the other way. Of course, a standard small sample size warning applies.

The batted ball profiles changed a bit as well. When Swisher did pull a ball as a right-handed batter last year, there was better than a 50-50 chance that it was a grounder and less than a one in five chance that it was a fly ball. In years past it was closer to 40% grounders and more than 30% fly balls. Ground balls are more likely to go for hits, but fly balls have a tendency to land over the fence, so it’s not much of a surprise that his wOBA fell almost two hundred points to the pull field.

Things changed some on balls hit to center field, as Swish traded in a few ground balls for some more fly balls and line drives. The result was an additional two hundred and fifty points of wOBA, but again, sample size. There wasn’t much of a change on balls to the opposite field, at least in terms of batted ball type. What is interesting is that Swisher went the other way 31 times last season, just about half as many times as he did in the previous three years combined.

(AP Photo/Peter Morgan)

As we know, Swisher changed his setup with some help from Kevin Long, starting back in the 2009 postseason. He closed his stance a bit and quieting some pre-swing movement in his hands. Although we can’t say that those adjustments have resulted in a right-handed batter that uses the whole field (at least moreso than he did before) with any certainty, we shouldn’t just rule it out. More than anything, we have to see how things play out in 2011. For all we know it could just be small sample size noise.

Here’s one last little interesting nugget about the right-handed version of Nick Swisher: he walks a whole lot more than he strikes out. That’s surprising since he can be prone to strike three, putting it nicely. Since 2007, Swish has drawn 141 unintentional walks as a righty but has struck out just 122 times. It’s pretty consistent on a year-to-year basis as well; he hasn’t struck out more than he’s walked as a righty since 2006. Over the same time as a left-handed batter, it’s 174 uIBB and 609 K. I don’t know what Swisher’s natural side is (he’s a lefty thrower), but for whatever reason he’s a much better contact hitter when looking over his left shoulder.

The AL East boasts the best collection of left-handed pitching in the game, so having a switch-hitter capable of hitting so well right-handed is an obvious advantage. Leaving out CC Sabathia because he plays for the good guys, there’s also Jon Lester, David Price, Brian Matusz, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, and Marc Rzepczynski. The Orioles could call up Zach Britton and/or the Red Sox could insert Felix Doubront into their rotation at a moment’s notice. If Swisher can maintain what may or may not be a newfound all-fields approach withot sacrificing power as a right-handed hitter, well that would be splendid.

On mansions, hunger and Hank Steinbrenner

An aerial view of St. Jetersburg (Photo Credit: Michael Egger,

Derek Jeter has built himself an huge mansion on Davis Island overlooking the Tampa Bay. Jeter spent $7.7 million on two lots back in 2005 and 2006, and in early 2009, he started construction on his $7.7 million house. It’s a very big house, the largest square-foot-wise in all of Hillsborough County.

Hank Steinbrenner, the Yanks’ general partner and co-chairperson, doesn’t much go for mansions. While talking off the cuff with reporters on Monday afternoon, Hank attempted to channel his dad as he questioned his team’s hunger in 2010. “Sometimes, I think maybe they celebrated a bit too much last year, and some of the players were too busy building mansions and doing other things and not concentrating on winning,” he said. “I have no problems saying that. I think they’ll come into this spring with a new hunger, and that’s what it takes to win.”

When a reporter noted that only Jeter built a mansion this past year, Hank backtracked a bit. He didn’t, however, note that the mansion under the microscope had been under construction during the Yanks’ 2009 World Series run. “I’m not singling anybody out,” he insisted. “Maybe they were riding the wave of ’09 a little too much. It happens. Psychologically, it happens.”

Except for a digression on Rafael Soriano, those were Hank’s most strident words during the nine-minute session with reporters. Afterwards, Erik Boland of Newsday took to Twitter to remind the amused masses that the eldest Steinbrenner son has “little influence on day-to-day operations.” The comments are, in other words, “nothing more than entertainment.”

But I think there’s more going on than just entertainment. Hank is defensive about his money. He’s made that perfectly clear in his repeated attacks on Major League Baseball’s revenue sharing system, and again yesterday, he called it either communist or socialist. Bud Selig, he says, wants to “do something” about it.

With Jeter, then, Steinbrenner, who doesn’t involve himself with the Yanks too closely, saw what we all saw. George’s golden boy — the short stop/captain who could — is getting older. With free agency looming, the 36-year-old hit .270/.340/.370 last year and produced career lows in nearly every offensive category. He was also coming off of a 10-year, $189-million contract but still wanted to be paid like the icon he is and the player he was.

After bitter negotiations made worse by incessant media coverage, the Yanks and Jeter struck a deal. For the next three years, Jeter will average $16 million in annual salary, and he holds an $8 million player option for 2014 that could be worth as much as $17 million. As Jeter noted this weekend, he intends to play out the duration of the contract. “That’s my option, buddy,” he said.

We don’t know what kind of season Jeter will have this year. We don’t know if Kevin Long can stave off an age-related decline. We don’t know what 39-year-old or 40-year-old Jeter will look like. We do know that he’ll be living in a mansion in Hank’s backyard that’s bigger than any house around. No wonder the Yanks’ owner is taking jabs at mansions.

Hanks likes to roar; that’s nothing new. But taking aim at Jeter won’t earn him many accolades from the fans. The Yanks are moving forward with Jeter, as they should, and that’s just the way of things, mansions and all.

A Note on Soriano

In the same interview, Steinbrenner defended the Yanks’ signing of Rafael Soriano, and he adamantly compared the reliever to Cliff Lee. “Everybody’s missing the point,” he said of the criticism surrounding Soriano. “We didn’t get Lee, but we got the second best relief pitcher in the American League next to our own guy…They seem to be conveniently forgetting that fact.” He again repeated, “We didn’t get the starter, but we got the reliever.” As the Yanks head into the season with a mixture of Sergio Mitre, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon holding down the back end of the rotation, I wonder who exactly is missing the point.

A hat tip to Marc Carig for the Hank Steinbrenner audio.

Vegas Watch 2011 Over/Under

Vegas Watch (via Bookmaker) posted the 2011 over/under win totals over the weekend, and they set the Yankees at 91. I’m going to take the over, but not by much. I remain unconvinced that going from 21 starts of Andy Pettitte, 26 starts of Javy Vazquez, nine starts of Dustin Moseley, and seven starts of Ivan Nova to about 60 starts of Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Sergio Mitre, Nova, misc. prospect, misc. free agent, and misc. trade acquisition, is more than a four win downgrade, though it’s certainly a downgrade. What do you think?

A few others that I’m sure will get mentioned in the comments: Red Sox (96), Phillies (97), and Rays (86). I’m going to say under on the first two and over on the last. I don’t feel comfortable saying any team will win more than 95 games, nevermind 97. Tampa’s still really good, though not as good as last year.

Open Thread: February 21st Camp Notes

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The latest from camp on a rather busy day…

  • Hank Steinbrenner stole the show by mouthing off about a number of topics. “Some of the players [were] too busy building mansions and doing other things, not concentrating on winning. I have no problem saying that.” Gee, I wonder who he was referring too. Hank also questioned the focus of the 2010 team, saying they celebrated too much after the 2009 World Series. This is the same team that won 95 games and was two wins away from the World Series. Although I suppose it’s easy to think the team isn’t focused when you go to two games a year. (Mark Feinsand)
  • Alex Rodriguez conducted a much more civilized press conference, saying that his hip is healthy enough that he can return to the same workout routine he adhered to prior to the surgery. That’s what led to the weight and body fat loss this offseason. (Joel Sherman)
  • Dellin Betances threw an early morning batting practice session in front of some serious heat: Joe Girardi, Tony Pena, Larry Rothschild, pro scouting director Billy Eppler, pro scout Rick Williams, guest instructor David Wells, and a handful of minor league pitching coordinators were all there to watch him. (Chad Jennings & George King)
  • The list of non-Betances pitchers that threw live BP today: Andy Sisco, Andrew Brackman, Steve Garrison, Daniel Turpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, and Eric Wordekemper. Joe Girardi raved about Brackman and his cleaned up mechanics, but cautioned not to read too much into a BP session. (Marc Carig, Carig & Carig)
  • Jorge Posada was in full catcher’s gear, participating in fielding drills. There’s no reason not to have him in catching shape when the season begins. Ronnie Belliard also took reps at first base, Eric Chavez third base. The Yankees will play both guys at the corner infield spots this spring.  Outfielders took turns trying to rob homers at the wall. (Carig, Carig & Jennings)
  • Boone Logan airmailed a throw and hit a little girl in the stands in her arm. He ran to the dugout, got some ice, and she was ultimately fine. I’m guessing she got at least a ball and an autograph out of it, hopefully from someone better than Boone Logan. (Carig & Erik Boland)
  • A-Rod made a nice little play over a diving Joba Chamberlain during the fielding drills, then called the right-hander a “good husky.” He meant Husker, as in Nebraska Corn Husker. I laughed. (Bryan Hoch & Ben Shpigel)
  • After working out with Robbie Cano during the offseason, Eduardo Nunez was crushing the ball in batting practice. (Boland & Hoch)
  • The Yankees had their annual umpires meeting this morning. (Mark Feinsand)
  • And finally, the Yankees are converting minor leaguer Addison Maruszak into a catcher. An infielder so far in his career, the Yankees are trying to turn him into some sort of eight-position super-sub. Injuries have slowed him a bit in the last two years, but Maruszak is a good athlete and can hit a little (career .324 wOBA in 808 PA), so there’s a non-zero chance it’ll will work. (Jennings)

Here’s the open thread for the night. The Islanders are the only local team in action, so yeah. You all know what to do, so go nuts.