Valuing Eduardo Nunez

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

As fans, we come up with our own evaluations of players. They’re impacted by our emotions and confirmation bias, though I think we’ve done a better job of being more objective over the years. Teams have their own evaluations of players as well, evaluations based on stats and hordes of scouting reports dating back to when the player was just some kid in Single-A. The evaluations of fans and teams are often totally different, that much is obvious.

Over the last two or three years, another thing has become obvious: Major League teams value Eduardo Nunez. The Braves have interest in him for the second straight offseason, and the Mariners wanted him in the Cliff Lee non-trade last year. Those are just the rumors we’ve heard about, but I’m willing to bet several other clubs have inquired about his availability without us knowing. We see Nunez as a hacker at the plate and unable to consistently make the routine throw, but other teams see him as a valuable piece. Why? I’ll give you six reasons why…

  1. Aaron Hill, two years and $11M
  2. Clint Barmes, two years and $10.5M
  3. Mark Ellis, two years and $8.75M
  4. Jamey Carroll, two years and $6.75M
  5. Willie Bloomquist, two years and $3.8M
  6. John McDonald, two years and $3M

Those six players have signed those contracts this offseason. They average 34.5 years of age, hit a combined .255/.307/.351 in 2011, and will earn an average of $3.65M next season. Nunez turned 24 in June, hit .265/.313/.385 in 2011, and will earn roughly $500k next season (as well as the year after). Now it’s easy to see why other teams have been asking the Yankees about Nunez. The middle infield market is absolute garbage these days.

It’s great that the Yankees have an asset in Nunez, an asset other teams covet, but what exactly should they do with him? We could argue this nonstop from here until Opening Day, and I don’t think there’s a right answer. If a deal comes along that will allow them to add an impact starting pitcher, then they should trade him. If nothing like that materializes, then they should keep him because Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter aren’t getting any younger. There’s no rush to do anything right now, so the Yankees can wait to see just what offers come along, if any.

Is Nunez a frustrating player to watch? Oh hell yes, there’s little argument to be made there. Frustrating does not mean worthless though. Eduardo has real life value as long as the middle infield situation around the game remains awful and utility guys are getting two guaranteed years and starting spots on the open market. It’s just a question of whether he’s more valuable to the Yankees on their roster, or as trade bait.

Inside the best-pitched game of the Yankees’ 2011 season

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

For my money, there are few things more thrilling in modern-day baseball than a complete-game shutout. A large part of my thirst for the complete game is that unless you’re Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, it’s a feat that’s grown rarer as baseball marches on. Last season there were 75 complete-game shutouts, or 2.5 per team, although four teams didn’t record a single one — Cleveland, Houston, Kansas City, and somewhat surprisingly, San Diego.

That 2011 tally of 75 may have been up from 2010’s 59 and 2009’s 63, but even though CGSHOs seem to be coming somewhat back into vogue, it hasn’t necessarily been that way for the Yankees.

The Yankees technically authored three complete-game shutouts in 2011, although only two were of the nine-inning variety. Phil Hughes was credited for a complete-game shutout for his rain-shortened six-inning win against the White Sox on August 2nd, but that really doesn’t count.

Truly, keeping an opposing team off the board for nine full innings is a pretty herculean task. When Bartolo Colon did it on Memorial Day back at the end of May, I was exceptionally pumped, as it was the first Yankee complete-game shutout since Sabathia authored one against the Orioles on May 8, 2009, not to mention the fact that if you’d told me Colon would pitch a CGSHO at any point in the 2011 season I would’ve thought you were crazier than the National League for making pitchers hit. It was also only the third recorded by a Yankee since 2006, and if you go back over the last 10 seasons, Yankee pitchers have only recorded 17 complete-game shutouts. Admittedly the Yankees’ potential shutout tally is inherently limited by the presence of the Greatest Closer of All Time, but that only adds to the scarcity and makes the accomplishment that much more impressive in my eyes.

As great as Bartolo’s game was, if you sort by Game Score, CC Sabathia threw an even more dominating start a month-and-a-half later, which, at 87, was the top Game Score by a Yankee pitcher of the 2011 season. At the time, it represented the second-highest WPA for a starting pitcher in all of MLB after Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter. Sabathia’s CGSHO wound up finishing third overall come season’s end.

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc ? WPA
1 CC Sabathia 2011-07-10 NYY TBR W 1-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 1 9 0 113 79 87 0.761
2 Bartolo Colon 2011-05-30 NYY OAK W 5-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 0 6 0 103 71 85 0.365
3 CC Sabathia 2011-07-26 NYY SEA W 4-1 GS-7 ,W 7.0 1 1 1 3 14 0 102 71 82 0.167
4 Bartolo Colon 2011-05-18 NYY BAL W 4-1 GS-8 8.0 3 0 0 1 7 0 87 61 82 0.629
5 CC Sabathia 2011-06-30 NYY MIL W 5-0 GS-8 ,W 7.2 6 0 0 2 13 0 118 77 78 0.317
6 CC Sabathia 2011-04-05 NYY MIN L 4-5 GS-7 7.0 2 0 0 1 6 0 104 67 78 0.278
7 CC Sabathia 2011-05-19 NYY BAL W 13-2 GS-8 ,W 8.0 7 0 0 0 9 0 109 84 77 0.097
8 CC Sabathia 2011-07-16 NYY TOR W 4-1 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 1 1 3 8 0 110 74 77 0.339
9 Ivan Nova 2011-06-20 NYY CIN W 5-3 GS-8 ,W 8.0 4 1 1 0 7 0 105 70 77 0.289
10 CC Sabathia 2011-07-05 NYY CLE W 9-2 GS-7 ,W 7.0 5 0 0 2 11 0 100 69 76 0.162
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/17/2011.

Given Sabathia’s dominance of the Rays on July 10th, I wanted to see how exactly he attacked them that afternoon. The following is a breakdown of Sabathia’s complete-game shutout compared with his insane eight-start run from June 25nd through August 1st (62.2 innings, 78(!) strikeouts, 16 walks, .503 OPSa, 1.01 ERA), his entire season, and the league average numbers for left-handed pitchers:

Sabathia’s four-seamer was something else on July 10th, averaging 95mph, going for a strike over three-fourths of the time, coaxing a swing well over 50% of the time, and generating a well-above average percentage of whiffs. Interestingly, he increased his deployment of the slider both during the July 10th game and throughout his eight-start run, compared with how frequently he used it on the season.

I say interesting because CC appeared to be getting into some trouble later in the season due to increased slider usage, although looking at the data in this chart compared to the August data in that link we see that the slider was breaking slightly less during his rough August stint (-0.43 inches of V-break compared to -0.73 during the dominant run) and was also roughly one mph slower. Those are both such minimal changes that I don’t feel comfortable drawing any conclusions about the slider one way or another, although given how important it is to CC’s repertoire it’s possible something even as minor as 0.30 less inches of average vertical break at one mile per hour slower would have a deleterious effect.

But I digress. The other interesting thing that sticks out to me on the above chart is that CC got zero swings-and-misses on on his sinker during the eight-start beast run, despite throwing it 12% of the time. Like any good sinkerballer, it’s obviously more of a pitch-to-contact pitch for him, but I hadn’t really realized that about his sinker until I looked at the numbers.

In any event, I’ll eagerly await the next CC Sabathia shutout complete-game shutout, not to mention a few more insane 1.00-ERA runs he’d like to string together.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 28th, 2011

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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Open Thread: Cody Ransom

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

As much as we’d like it to be, a Triple-A team is never all prospects. It’s just not realistic. Clubs use their Triple-A team basically as a taxi squad these days, keeping spare parts for the big league roster stashed down there in case of emergency. There’s a few extra bullpen arms, a sixth or seventh starter, the fifth outfielder, maybe an extra utility infielder, stuff like that. Not all of these guys have to be long-term pieces though, and in fact they shouldn’t be unless you want to clog up your 40-man roster and have little flexibility.

The Yankees signed Cody Ransom to be one of those spare pieces on this date in 2007, stashing him in Triple-A in case someone got hurt. He started the next season in Triple-A, hitting .255/.338/.482 with 22 homers in 116 games before being called up to replace Richie Sexson in mid-August. Ransom made his first appearance as a Yankee the next day, pinch-running for Jason Giambi in the seventh inning before being pinch-hit for by Wilson Betemit in the eighth. He got his first at-bat the next day, replacing Giambi in the late innings of a blowout, clubbing a two-run homer off Jeff Fulchino of the Royals. After again replacing Giambi five days later, Ransom hit a three-run homer off Fernando Cabrera of the Orioles. Two at-bats as a Yankee, two homers. The legend had been born.

Ransom saw a decent amount of playing time the rest of the way, especially once the Yankees had been eliminated from postseason contention. He hit two homers against the Red Sox in Fenway Park on the second to last day of the season, and finished the year with a .302/.400/.651 batting line in 51 big league at-bats. He also recorded the final out at the Old Yankee Stadium, an unassisted putout on a Brian Roberts ground ball to first. A faction of fans though Ransom was worthy of regular playing time that offseason, perhaps inserting him as the regular first baseman or making him him a super-utility guy that plays a different position every day or by trading the disappointing Robinson Cano (.271/.305/.410 in 2008) and making him the full-time second baseman. Those fans got their wish in the spring, when news broke of Alex Rodriguez‘s hip injury and subsequent surgery. Ransom was going to be the full-time third baseman until A-Rod came back.

In a column that has since disappeared off the face of the internet, Ian O’Connor infamously argued that the Yankees were better off with Ransom at third than Alex. “[F]acts are facts,” he wrote. “The Yankees haven’t reached the World Series in Rodriguez’s five seasons, and they reached six in the eight seasons before he arrived. Coincidence, or guilty as charged?” That sounds even sillier now than it did back then, and of course Ransom was awful in 2009. He was hitting .180/.226/.320 when he blew out his quad in late-April, then he resurfaced in late-June as the utility infielder. With his batting line sitting on .190/.256/.329 on August 8th, the Yankees sent Ransom packing and released him. He finished the season in Triple-A after re-signing to a minor league pact, then moved on to the Phillies after the season.

Ransom is the model Quad-A masher, the guy that puts up big numbers in the minors but wilts against big leaguers. He turned a solid late season showing in 2008 into a full-time job to open 2009, but his true colors eventually shined through. Ransom does have a World Series ring though, the same one as A-Rod. Coincidence? Ian O’Connor thinks not.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. The afternoon football games are still being played, and the late game is the Steelers at the Chiefs (8:20pm ET on NBC). That’s all you’ve got as far as sports go, but The Walking Dead midseason finale is on tonight. I’m giving that show one last chance, I didn’t think a show about bloodthirsty zombies could move along so slowly and with so little action. Anyway, anything goes here, so talk about whatever you want. Enjoy.

Noesi, Sanchez, Pena continue strong winter ball showings

The Yankees have re-signed Josh Romanski, though they lost Steve Garrison to the Mariners. Not the end of the world. Apparently if a minor leaguer is released before becoming a six-year free agent, they go year-to-year after that. A team can’t sign someone and get his extra years of control, if you know what I mean. That’s why Romanski became a free agent even though he was just drafted (by the Brewers) in 2008.

Arizona Fall League (final stats)
Corban Joseph, 2B: 25 G, 22 for 97, 14 R, 8 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 9 BB, 17 K, 1 SB, 3 CS (.227/.287/.371)
Ronnie Mustelier, UTIL: 16 G, 22 for 64, 8 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1 BB, 7 K, 3 SB, 1 CS (.344/.354/.516)
Rob Segedin, 3B/LF: 29 G, 27 for 108, 21 R, 6 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 17 BB, 25 K, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.250/.367/.407)
Dan Burawa, RHP: 12 G, 0 GS, 14.1 IP, 20 H, 16 R, 12 ER, 8 BB, 11 K, 1 HB, 1 WP (7.53 ERA, 1.95 WHIP)
Preston Claiborne, RHP: 12 G, 0 GS, 12 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 7 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 1 HB, 1 WP (3.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP)
David Phelps, RHP: 8 G, 8 GS, 32.2 IP, 36 H, 16 R, 16 ER, 9 BB, 28 K, 3 HR (4.41 ERA, 1.38 WHIP)
Chase Whitley, RHP: 12 G, 0 GS, 16.2 IP, 12 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 13 K, 2 HR, 2 HB (1.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP)

Dominican Winter League
Abe Almonte, OF: 21 G, 3 for 24, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 SB, 1 CS (.125/.192/.125) – I wonder if he’s just out of has, he just stayed healthy for a full season for the first time in his career and is now playing winter ball
Zoilo Almonte, OF: 5 G, 2 for 12, 3 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K (.167/.286/.167) – hasn’t played in a while
Melky Mesa, OF: 16 G, 9 for 41, 6 R, 2 2B, 3 3B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.220/.273/.415)
Gary Sanchez, C/DH: 7 G, 5 for 15, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 7 K (.333/.412/.333)
Ronny Marte, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 0 IP, 1 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB (? ERA, ? WHIP)

Mexican Pacific League
Walt Ibarra, IF: 23 G, 10 for 61, 6 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 15 K, 1 CS (.165/.215/.197)
Ramiro Pena, IF: 16 G, 17 for 57, 5 R, 3 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 7 BB, 7 K, 1 SB, 1 CS (.298/.375/.456) – Rakin’ Ramiro
Jorge Vazquez, 1B/DH: 37 G, 52 for 149, 24 R, 5 2B, 14 HR, 44 RBI, 12 BB, 43 K, 1 HBP (.349/.399/.664)
Pat Venditte, SwP: 19 G, 0 GS, 23.2 IP, 15 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 1 BB, 21 K, 4 HR, 1 WP (3.04 ERA, 0.68 WHIP)

Puerto Rican League
Ray Kruml, OF: 13 G, 9 for 40, 3 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 6 K, 2 SB, 2 CS (.225/.225/.275)

Venezuelan Winter League
Dan Brewer, OF: 6 G, 1 for 19, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 10 K, 1 HBP (.053/.174/.053) – need to make up the at-bats he lost due to injury this year
Colin Curtis, OF: 15 G, 14 for 51, 9 G,4 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 5 BB, 9 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.275/.351/.471)
Jose Gil, C/1B: 22 G, 18 for 63, 15 R, 7 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 6 BB, 12 K (.286/.348/.476)
Jose Pirela, IF: 35 G, 47 for 140, 15 R, 5 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 26 RBI, 6 BB, 16 K, 2 SB, 1 CS, 3 HBP (.336/.368/.457)
Rich Martinez, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 2 K (0.00 ERA, 2.50 WHIP)
Hector Noesi, RHP: 6 G, 6 GS, 23.1 IP, 25 H, 14 R, 6 ER, 6BB, 15 K, 1 WP (2.31 ERA, 1.33 WHIP) – he’s up to 104.1 IP on the season after throwing 160.1 IP in 2010 … I think they might have shut him down because he hasn’t pitched in close to two weeks

Based on his Twitter feed, Zach Varce is playing winter ball in Colombia this year. If I knew where to find those stats, I’d pass them along.

Joba’s rehab right on schedule

Via Larry Brooks, Joba Chamberlain‘s rehab from Tommy John surgery is right on schedule. He spoke to reporters yesterday while at the NY Rangers game. Joba had his surgery in mid-June, putting him on track for a mid-June return next season. The Yankees should stretch him out so he can return to the rotation but they won’t, so I wonder if he’ll come back a little earlier than expected just because he’ll be preparing for one inning at a time rather than six or seven.

Changes To The Game Suggest Darvish Is The Right Move

One thing Yankees fans are great at is fitting an attractive player for pinstripes before he is a free agent. We see a Joe Mauer or Cole Hamels or Felix Hernandez on the horizon, and we start dreaming up the various ways in which the player will become a Yankee. We often take it as a given that the Yankee will acquire the players they need, whether via trade or free agency. In recent seasons we have added prospect hype to the equation, assuming that the farm system will eventually produce a big bat or a top of the rotation starter who will allow the Yankees to eschew free agency. Somehow, the Yankees will end up with the great talent necessary to continue contending on a regular basis.

However, recent events have seemingly conspired to make the acquisition of top young talent more complicated for the Yankees.  The new CBA will make it more difficult for the Yankees to pursue elite talents in the later rounds of the draft, as well as entirely destroy their ability to target top international free agents. They can no longer buy Austin Jackson types out of scholarships in the later rounds by going well over the recommended slot money, nor can they throw big contracts at the next Jesus Montero or Gary Sanchez. Furthermore, while the new luxury tax might actually help the Yankees in the short-term, its lack of adjusment for inflation makes it likely that it will curtail the Yankees ability to expand their budget in the middle of the decade. With a number of aging players slated to earn large paydays during that period, the Yankees might find their ability to compete on the free agent market hindered to some extent.

Finally, from a purely anecdotal perspective, it seems like more and more teams are locking up their young stars before they ever hit free agency. Contracts that buy out a few years of free agency and give the player some financial security are all the rage, and the ramifications of that trend are obvious. Most of the players who make it to free agency are of the CJ Wilson, Zack Greinke, or Francisco Liriano ilk, players with elite talent who have some questions surrounding them that make teams fearful of handing them huge contract extensions. There are fewer elite talents hitting the free agent market, and when they do make it to free agency, the competition for them is likely to be significantly stiffer.

However, with all of these factors suggesting that the Yankees will have a difficult time acquiring exciting young talent, there is one loophole that could allow the Yankees to make a splash. As Mike said in the CBA post linked to above:

Players under 23 years old and with less than years of professional baseball experience will be considered amateurs and count against the spending cap. That means guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Japanese veterans will be treated as a true free agents. Japanese players run through the posting system will not count against the cap.

Cespedes is something of a wild card whose price seems to be rocketing out of control, and I simply do not know enough about him to advocate that the Yankees throw a ton of cash at him. Yu Darvish, however, is an exciting 25 year old Japanese pitching prospect who is likely to be posted this offseason. Unlike Cespedes, Darvish fits an obvious need for the Yankees, as they have a hole near the front of their rotation that Darvish should be able to fill even if he is only 75% as good as he was in Japan. Furthermore, while his total cost will be prohibitive (likely in excess of 100 million dollars), a large chunk of that money (the posting fee) will not be counted against the luxury tax. That makes Darvish a cheaper long-term option than a guy like CJ Wilson.

There are obvious risks associated with a large outlay for Darvish. Japanese pitchers have not exhibited sustained success in the majors, and some have suggested that the routine for pitchers differs enough between NPB and MLB to make the transition a difficult one. Furthermore, any large amount of money spent on a pitcher who has never thrown a major league pitch represents a major gamble, particularly when reliable veterans such as Mark Buehrle and Roy Oswalt can be had at a significantly cheaper rate.

Despite the risks, the changing nature of the game makes taking a chance on Darvish the right play for the Yankees. They will have a more difficult time acquiring top draft and IFA prospects, making the development of elite talent significantly more complicated. Throw in the fact that the alternative is the shrinking free agent pool, and taking a risk on a 25-year old with Darvish’s stuff is something the financially powerful Yankees should strongly consider. This is one area where the club can still throw around their dollars to grab a young player, and it would behoove them to jump at the opportunity.