Last call (this time around) for the RAB fantasy leagues

It’s been a week or so since we last visited the RAB fantasy leagues. As I can best tell from emails, all of the leagues I’ve posted are full. Emails also indicate that some people might have submitted leagues that never got posted. If this is the case, send me an email or leave a comment, and I’ll add them to this post. Hopefully we’ll have a few by tomorrow morning.

Yankees sign Robinson Cano’s cousin, Burt Reynolds

Via Kevin Goldstein, the Yankees have signed utility man Burt Reynolds. Apparently he’s Robinson Cano‘s cousin, and yes his name is really Burt Reynolds. The 23-year-old spent some time in the Nationals and Rays farm systems back in the day, but played for the independent Newark Bears last season. He hit .232/.291/.445 with 13 homers and 95 strikeouts in 286 plate appearances. All I know is that having a dude named Burt Reynolds in the organization is pretty badass.

Side note: Burt’s Twitter account is the greatest thing ever.

Open Thread: 2/22 Camp Notes

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Day three, complete. Here’s the latest from Tampa…

  • As always, Chad Jennings has today’s bullpen and hitting groups. Every member of the projected big league pitching staff threw off a mound today except for Mariano Rivera. Andruw Jones, David Adams, and Justin Maxwell were again the only non-catchers to hit.
  • Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, D.J. Mitchell, and Cesar Cabral are ahead of schedule and threw live batting practice today. They faced Ray Kruml, Kyle Roller, Ronnie Mustelier, and Shane Brown, who came over from minor league camp.
  • Joba Chamberlain was supposed to throw off a full mound today, but he instead threw off a half-mound again, saying it went “really, really good.” Joe Girardi agreed. Joba will throw again on Friday, but it’s unclear if it’ll be off a full or half-mound. [Jennings & Mark Feinsand]
  • Bill Hall, Brandon Laird, Ramiro Pena, Jayson Nix, Jorge Vazquez, Doug Bernier, and Corban Joseph all took infield practice at the minor league complex. Hall worked at second while Laird spent time at both first and third. [Jennings]
  • “It’s really hard to talk about someone being gone when they’re still here. I think we’ll just appreciate him while he’s here,” said Derek Jeter ominously when asked about Mariano Rivera’s future. The Cap’n knows what Mo plans to do after the season, but isn’t telling. [Mark Feinsand]

Here is your open thread for the night. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, but talk about whatever’s on your mind here. Have at it.

Piniella officially joins YES Network

Back in December we learned that Lou Piniella would be joining the YES Network, a move that was officially announced today. Piniella will be a “special contributor” to YES, working 20-30 events throughout the season. “I’m honored and excited to join the Yankees network and be part of the Yankees family again,” said Piniella in a conference call. Sweet Lou will work as an analyst in the booth — including Spring Training games and on Opening Day — as well pre- and post-game work from the studio. He’ll also contribute to and do a CenterStage.

Just in case you were wondering, Piniella laughed when asked if he was gunning for Joe Girardi‘s job. He made it clear that he’s retired from managing and loving it, though he is looking forward to getting to camp to see some of team’s young players. Piniella mentioned Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova by name. Hopefully that leads to more enjoyable broadcasts throughout the spring and regular season.

Yanks interested in lefties, just not Kazmir

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees continue to have interest in left-handed pitchers, but not Scott Kazmir (or Damaso Marte). The former Devil Rays’ ace threw for scouts last week, and was sitting 86-87 with a few 91s according to Buster Olney. Kazmir, who just turned 28, is trying to come back from a myriad a shoulder problems. He was never know for his control, but now he’s going to have to be even more precise with the diminished fastball. There’s no such thing as a bad minor league contract, but I can understand why the Yankees passed.

David Aardsma gives Yanks another mid-season bullpen option

Bryan Hoch reports that the Yankees have signed right-handed relief pitcher David Aardsma to a MLB contract for 2012, with a team option for 2013. Aardsma, 30, missed the entire 2011 season due to hip and elbow troubles, though he didn’t undergo Tommy John surgery until July. That means he’ll be out until at least this July, meaning he could help the Yankees in the second half. The bigger part of the move, however, is the team option for 2013. That gives the Yankees one more in-house bullpen option, which could come in handy should Mariano Rivera retire and Rafael Soriano opt out of his contract.

Aardsma first made a splash in 2003, when he closed games for the College World Series Champion Rice Owls. He holds Rice records for both single-season and career saves. From there it was onto the MLB draft, where the Giants selected him number 22 overall in 2003. He threw 18.1 innings for their advanced-A club that year, dominating the competition — he struck out 28 of the 74 batters he faced. Following the season Baseball America ranked him the Giants’ No. 3 prospect, one spot behind Matt Cain.

Things get a bit confusing here. Baseball America says that at Rice he ditched his slider for a knuckle-curve, and that his changeup is “major league-ready.” Yet Baseball Info Solutions data suggests he barely used either his changeup or his curve, instead opting for a slider. Pitch f/x, once introduced in 2007, confirms that he’s mainly a fastball-slider guy, with some splitter mixed in. Classification issues make it tough to determine how frequently he has used the splitter in the past; before 2010 many splitters were lumped in with his fastballs, but in 2010 he threw the splitter about 13 percent of the time.

As is the case with so many highly ranked prospects, Aardsma struggled out of the gate. His 10.2 innings in 2004 went about as poorly as possible; in those innings he walked 10 and struck out five. He did continue striking out a fair number of hitters in the minors, about one per inning, though his control remained an issue. In 2005, after seeing his strikeout rate dip below six-per-nine at the AA level, the Giants dished him to the Cubs in exchange for LaTroy Hawkins. While his strikeout numbers rose in the Southern League, he control problems lingered.

In 2006 Aardsma would return to the bigs. He was intriguing in ways, because he found ways to strike out batters. Unfortunately, he also walked far, far too many. A high strand rate saved him in 2006, but when that started to dip in later years his ERA suffered greatly. From 2006 through 2008, during which time he pitched for three different teams, he sported a 5.17 ERA. Despite striking out exactly one batter per inning during that span, he could not maintain a decent strikeout-to-walk ratio, putting 80 men on or free — 75 of them unintentionally. He was also incredibly hittable in that period, allowing almost a hit per inning. Combined with the walks, it was easy to see why, despite his strikeout tendencies, he just couldn’t keep runs off the board.

Before the 2009 season the Red Sox traded Aardsma to the Mariners for some forgettable minor leaguer. Something apparently clicked during his time in the Pacific Northwest. Last winter Matthew Carruth of Lookout Landing examined what changed with Aardsma when he came to Seattle. It wasn’t necessarily the huge park, though that surely helped a bit. Instead, Aardsma apparently focused on his fastball more, challenging hitters up in the zone and generating some more swings and misses. Pitching higher in the zone led to plenty more fly balls, but he did keep them in the park (even against lefties, who do not have nearly as hard a time as righties at Safeco).

For a $500K guarantee, the Yankees essentially made a mid-season bullpen acquisition. True, with Joba Chamberlain returning ahead of Aardsma, the bullpen could be full. But that’s only if nothing goes wrong. Aardsma provides some mid-season insurance. Still, he might not be all the way back from surgery. Since control is the last thing to come back after Tommy John, he could be pretty rough around the edges in 2012. That’s why the Yankees got a 2013 club option. If he shows flashes of his 2009 and 2010 self, the Yankees can keep him around to help the 2013 bullpen.

It’s odd to see the Yankees hand out a major league contract to a pitcher who missed all of 2011 with elbow woes. But, given the ease with which they can add Aardsma to the 60-day DL, it doesn’t make a huge difference. They can keep his 40-man roster spot free whenever they need it. In fact, he’ll probably hit the 60-day DL once the Eric Chavez signing becomes official. While there’s risk involved in the signing, it’s at a low level. The payoff can be huge, especially for the 2013 team.

New and improved PITCHf/x data

A couple of Fridays ago a bomb was dropped on the analytical baseball community. However, in this case, it was perhaps the greatest bomb ever deployed. You see my friends, Dan Brooks of the renowned Brooks Baseball announced with zero fanfare that Brooks — a terrific asset as far as individual game data goes, but lagging behind and in multi-seasonal data — would not only now be carrying Player Cards featuring seasonal data, but that the PITCHf/x data dating back to 2007 (the first year data became available) had been manually reclassified by PITCHf/x gods Lucas Apostoleris and Harry Pavlidis.

That’s right; somehow, someway, Lucas and Harry sifted through three-and-a-half-million pitches worth of PITCHf/x data, so that amateur analysts like myself would have the most accurate data possible to play with.

Why is this important? Well, for starters, pretty much any time I’ve talked about Ivan Nova over the last six months, it came with the caveat that we knew his second-half success was due in part to increased deployment of his slider, but I didn’t have the data to back this assertion up, as the PITCHf/x system stubbornly insisted that Nova only threw a slider 3.9% of the time. Now we know the truth.

Check out the following table, showing Nova’s non-reclassified 2011 PITCHf/x data, against Lucas and Harry’s reclassified 2011 PITCHf/x data:

The four-seam classification was pretty much on the money, as was the curveball, but the rest of Nova’s repertoire was pretty butchered by PITCHf/x. As you can see, Nova actually threw his slider 13% of the time instead of 3.9%, while the reclassification also determined that Nova threw a sinker, not a two-seamer. He also threw about half as many changeups as the un-reclassified data said he did, and he doesn’t actually have a cutter at all.

However, Lucas and Harry could’ve called it a project and we would’ve been plenty happy simply having accurate PITCHf/x data. But no, they decided to go even further, providing pitch and sabermetric outcome breakdowns by pitch type, and while some of these categories have been available at T-Leaguers and Lefkowitz, never before has all of this data been available in one place. In particular, the Whiff/Swing% on an individual pitch level is simply astounding, and something that’s never been freely available. Check out the remainder of Nova’s 2011 stats:

Now, we had a pretty good idea that Nova’s new-and-improved slider was nasty, but I don’t think anyone realized it was 43.1% Whiff-per-Swings-Taken nasty! As a frame of reference, CC Sabathia, who boasts one of the top sliders in the game, recorded a Whiff/Swing of 40.9% last season (though in fairness, he also threw it 27% of the time).

In the aftermath of this insane treasure trove of new data, I couldn’t help but wonder whether they’d be adding league average data (helpful as an additional reference point), and also if we could expect to have manually reclassified data for the upcoming 2012 season, as it’d be quite helpful to have the full spectrum of accurate data when looking at a given pitcher’s offerings across multiple seasons. Incredibly, both Lucas and Harry confirmed via e-mail that they do indeed plan to reclassify pitches on an ongoing basis throughout the season.

This is probably one of the most important sabermetric projects undertaken in the last 10 years. It’s incredible that not only have they devoted their time and energy into delivering a product any of us can access free of charge, but that they’ve also committed to maintaining an accurate set of data on a go-forward basis is just mind-blowingly awesome.