Banuelos, Sanchez among first round of roster cuts

Via Chad Jennings, both Manny Banuelos and Gary Sanchez have been reassigned to minor league camp. The first wave of roster cuts also includes pitchers Adam Miller, Dan Burawa, Ryan Pope, Brett Marshall, Graham Stoneburner, and Chase Whitley. Position players Corban Joseph, David Adams, J.R. Murphy, Kyle Higashioka, Zoilo Almonte, and Melky Mesa have also been sent to the back fields. David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell have been impressive so far, and they’ll each get to stick around a little longer.

2012 Season Preview: Control Freaks

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

There are few things in baseball more frustrating than watching a pitcher with no control. Even when he’s ahead in the count, it’s a struggle to finish off hitters. Thankfully, the Yankees have put something of an emphasis on control. They’ve acquired some guys who throw strikes and keep a game moving. They also shed one of their most notorious base on balls issuers, A.J. Burnett. That should help boost the staff by itself. Here are some of the other guys who avoid issuing the free pass.

CC Sabathia

Like many pitchers, Sabathia developed control as he matured. It’s easy to forget that he debuted as a 20-year-old, pitching a full season for the Indians in 2001. Unsurprisingly, he walked 4.74 per nine, which was about one and a half more than the league average. It took him a few years to harness his arsenal, but once he did his career took off.

In 2007, when he won the American League Cy Young Award, Sabathia walked just 1.38 batters per nine innings. Only two pitchers, one of whom was Greg Maddux, walked fewer batters per nine innings. Sabathia’s control continued into his landmark 2008 season, as he walked just 2.10 per nine — and just 1.72 per nine once with the Brewers.

In the last three seasons it might appear as though Sabathia hasn’t displayed quite the same level of control. Yes, his walk rates are still low — usually around 2.5 per nine — but they’re not otherworldly low as they were in 2007 and 2008. Yet those raw numbers don’t take into account his move from the AL Central to the AL East. He’s facing some of the toughest hitters in the game, and he’s faring as well as one could expect. That low walk rate has perhaps allowed him to succeed where a similar pitcher with less control might fail.

Hiroki Kuroda

In the last three seasons, only seven qualified pitchers have walked batters less frequently than Kuroda. That’s great news for the Yankees. Their pitchers ranked right in the middle of the pack in terms of walk rate, and they lost one of their best control pitchers, Bartolo Colon. Kuroda steps right into that role, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him replicate Colon’s 2011 — while pitching a few more innings, of course.

Yet as we saw with Sabathia, the change of divisions could have an effect on Kuroda’s walk rate. From 2006 through 2008 Sabathia was right around, or below, 2.00 walks per nine, and dipped well below that during his short stint in the NL. With the Yankees he’s averaged 2.58 walks per nine. Last year Kuroda’s primary opponents in the NL West had walk rates of 8.8, 8.7, 8.2, and 7.4 per nine. The non-Yanks AL East went 9.3, 9.0, 8.5, and 7.3 percent. That might make it tougher on Kuroda, but it underscores the importance of having control guys in this division.

Cory Wade

In the middle relievers preview I couldn’t help but marvel at Wade’s walk rate. He might not have much major league experience — just 138.2 innings spread over three seasons — but he’s still managed to keep his walks low. Despite a 2009 season in which his control struggled, likely due to a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery, he still has walked only 2.14 per nine in his career. Last year he got it below 2 per nine, as he did in 2008. That’s a breath of fresh air for a reliever these days; it seems that the great majority of them have trouble consistently throwing strikes.

Mariano Rivera

Need we say much about Rivera’s pristine control? The man hasn’t walked more than two batters per nine since 2005, and even then he was just a hair over that mark. For his career he has walked 2.04 per nine, and in the last five seasons he has walked 1.3 per nine. One. Point. Three. In the last three seasons he has walked the second fewest batters per nine, just 0.02 behind Edward Mujica.

Since 1950, only four relievers have walked fewer batters than Rivera. Surprisingly, one is the Twins’ Matt Capps. The others: Dennis Eckersley, Dan Quisenberry, and Dick Hall. Of them, only Quisenberry is within 300 of Rivera’s relief innings pitched.

* * *

Finding pitchers who can retain control while facing AL East hitters is no easy task. Last year the Yankees walked the fewest batters in the division, at 3.13 per nine. (Though the Rays were right there, just fractions of a point behind.) The Orioles, Red Sox, and Blue Jays were all in the bottom third of the league in walk rate. Thankfully, the Yankees do have some proven control artists to help prevent issuing free passes.

Andy Pettitte to attempt 2012 comeback in the Bronx

It came out of nowhere, which makes it all the better. Minutes ago Jack Curry reported that the Yankees have signed Andy Pettitte to a one-year, $2.5 million minor league deal that does not include any incentives. Joel Sherman has since confirmed the report. At 1 p.m. the YES Network will have more details. Chances are Pettitte won’t be ready for Opening Day — he does need to get into the swing of things — but he’ll be around for the 2012 season. Forget Michael Pineda. Forget Hiroki Kuroda. This is the most exciting news of the off-season.

Update by Ben (1:03 p.m.): According to multiple reports, Pettitte got the itch to rejoin the club when he visited Spring Training a few weeks ago. After considering a return throughout the off-season, he reached out to the club recently, and the team responded in kind. As Sherman reported, Yankee sources said, “It’s Andy Pettitte; if he wants to come back, we say yes.”

For now, Pettitte’s comeback attempt — and that’s what this is — will have little impact on the starting rotation. Pettitte, who turns 40 in June, will have to work his way back into game-ready condition, and the Yanks plan to give him as much time as he needs. He should probably be viewed as an option come mid-May or even early June. Much depends upon the current condition and the shape of his left arm and legs.

When or if Pettitte is ready to return to the Majors, the Yanks will have the luxury of seven viable starters. He could slot in behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda while taking pressure off of the young Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda with Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes in the wings. Pettitte’s return would also make Garcia, signed to just a $4 million deal, a potential trade chip.

It’s something to think about how, just over two months ago, the Yanks were facing a shortage of starting pitchers but now find themselves awash in arms.

Update by Mike (2:01 p.m.): In an appearance on YES, Brian Cashman said the team offered Pettitte a substantial contract back in December, around $10-12MM. He decided to work out on his own to see how he felt before accepting, but basically told the team to plan on now having him. Following the Pineda and Kuroda moves, Cashman told Pettitte to stop working out because they didn’t have room for him. Andy kept going and here we are.

ST Game Thread: Three For The Price of One

(All photos via AP)

This was all written well before the big news broke.

You can make a case — albeit a flimsy one — that the Yankees three most important pitchers will appear in today’s game. CC Sabathia, the team’s unquestioned ace, will get the start and throw his four prescribed innings before giving way to either Mariano Rivera or Phil Hughes. I’m guessing it’ll be Mo since a) they’ll want him to face big league hitters, and b) he has serious pull and will get to leave the park a few innings sooner. Hughes, the club’s enigmatic young hurler, will get his four innings in as well. Should be a fun game, especially with Bryce Harper playing for the other team. Here’s the starting nine…

CF Curtis Grandersonbirthday boy turns 31 today
2B Robinson Cano
3B Alex Rodriguez
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Andruw Jones
DH Raul Ibanez
C Frankie Cervelli
LF Bill Hall
SS Doug Bernier

LHP CC Sabathia

Available Pitchers: RHP Rafael Soriano, LHP Mike O’Connor, RHP Adam Miller, RHP Chase Whitley, RHP Ryan Pope, and LHP Cesar Cabral are all available in addition to Mo and Hughes.

Available Position Players: C Gus Molina, 1B Brandon Laird, 2B Corban Joseph, SS Jayson Nix, 3B J.R. Murphy, LF Cole Garner, CF Justin Maxwell, RF Colin Curtis, and DH Eric Chavez will replace the starters.

This afternoon’s game starts at 1pm ET and can be seen on YES . We’re going to chat during the first few innings, so I’ll see you after the jump.

[Read more…]

Injury Updates: Jeter, D-Rob, Martin, Swisher

The agony of da feet. (/crickets) (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Yankees seem to be losing the Spring Training injury war at the moment, but thankfully they haven’t run into anything too serious yet. Here’s the latest news on the walking wounded…

  • Derek Jeter has a “tender” right calf and will be shut down until Tuesday. This is not the same calf that caused him to miss a month last season. [Mark Feinsand]
  • David Robertson still feels “a little” soreness in his bone bruised right foot. He’s been running on a treadmill but has yet to get outside and really test it out. Robertson did play catch yesterday though, and that’s good news. [Jack Curry & George King]
  • Russell Martin has some tightness in his left groin, so he’s going to be held out of action for a few days. It’s unclear if it happened when he nearly collided with Chien-Ming Wang at first base yesterday. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Nick Swisher‘s sore groin is feeling better, but the team is giving him an extra day off just as a precaution. [Feinsand]
  • Eduardo Nunez is going to swing a bat tomorrow after doing nothing the last three days. He hasn’t played since getting hit by a pitch in the right hand last Monday, and was scratched from a game earlier this week after testing it out in batting practice. [Curry]
  • Russell Branyan is getting an epidural for his sore back. He hasn’t played at all this spring and was barely able to take batting practice before it flared up. There’s a pretty good chance he’ll get released before he ever gets into a game. [Chad Jennings]
  • Manny Delcarmen (remember him?) has started throwing off a half mound as he works his way back from a lat strain. [Jennings]

Just as a quick recap, here’s a list of the walking wounded: Jeter (calf), Robertson (foot), Martin (groin), Swisher (groin), Nunez (hand), Branyan (back), Delcarmen (lat), Joba Chamberlain (elbow), George Kontos (oblique), Ramiro Pena (ankle), Freddy Garcia (hand), Austin Romine (back), and Dan Burawa (oblique). Given all the injured shortstops, we’re going to be seeing a lot of Doug Bernier over the next few days.

Mailbag: Parra, Outfield, Pineda, RoY

I’m going to have to start every mailbag with this until the emails stop coming in: No, the Yankees can not backload or frontload any contracts to wiggle around the luxury tax threshold in 2014. The luxury tax is based on the annual average value of contracts, so it doesn’t matter how the money is actually paid out. Got it? Good. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up whatever your heart desires.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Mike asks: What do you think of the Yankees trading for Gerardo Parra from the D’Backs? He’s young, productive, stuck on the bench, and most importantly cost-controlled. Do you think that Brian Cashman and Kevin Towers may be able to make a trade? He could be a good replacement for Nick Swisher that fits in the austerity budget.

I like Parra, but the problem with bringing him in as a potential replacement for Swisher means the Yankees will be rolling the dice with two mostly powerless corner outfielders. Parra has more pop than Brett Gardner (who doesn’t?) and Yankee Stadium might help him a bit as a left-handed batter, but at the end of the day he’s a speed guy (but not a Gardner-level speed guy) who draws walks and plays an absurdly high level of defense. Carrying a pair of corner outfielders who might top out at 15 homers combined would be a little easier to swallow if Curtis Granderson keeps swatting 40+ dingers a year, but even then they’d be pushing it.

Cashman and Towers are pretty tight, which is why the latter was willing to spend a season in the Bronx as a special assistant. They’ve only gotten together for three trades over the years though, all three involving bit pieces and spare parts. That doesn’t mean they can’t work something out obviously, but the Diamondbacks seem pretty intent on either keeping Parra or getting a hefty return. I do like him as a player and he definitely fits into the future payroll plan (arbitration-eligible for the first time next year), he just doesn’t really fit the roster as currently constructed. The Yankees are going to have to replace Swisher’s power somehow, and Parra just can’t do it.

J.R. asks: With Zoilo Almonte on the 40-man and Chris Dickerson not, if Swish went on the 15-day DL, would Almonte get the call up just to preserve depth?

It doesn’t have to be Swisher who gets hurt, it could be any of three outfielders really. I think it depends on the severity of the injury more than anything. If it’s only going to be a quick little two-week thing, I think they’ll just call up a 40-man roster guy and roll with Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez for the time being. Remember, Brian Cashman said one of the reasons they preferred Ibanez to Johnny Damon was that he’s more physically able to play the outfield for two weeks at the time if needed. Ramiro Pena makes sense since Eduardo Nunez can fake the corner outfield in an emergency.

A long-term injury would be a little different. In that case you’d probably see them bring up Dickerson, who is better equipped to sit on the bench for an extended period of time. Actual prospects like Zoilo should play everyday this summer. Dewayne Wise is another non-40-man guy they might consider since they’d have no problems cutting him once he’s no longer needed. I would much prefer Dickerson over Wise, however.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Chris asks: Pineda’s K/9 is insane but do you know what his called strike vs. swing and miss is? Are you worried if one is much higher than the other? For example I would be more worried if someone has 75% swing and miss vs 25% caught looking for a variety of reasons. Mainly because eventually the laws of averages suggest a percentage of those swings will become fouls, hits and home runs. Is there any down side to having a ton of swing and misses for projecting a pitcher down the road?

The league average swing and miss rate was 8.6% last year, which Pineda easily cleared at 11.8%. Just under 20% of all plate appearances against him ended with a swinging strike three (19.3% to be exact) while 5.6% ended with called strike three, so roughly 77.5% of his strikeouts were swinging. The league averages last were approximately 11.5% (swinging strike three), 4.5% (called strike three), and 71.9% (percentage of strikeouts that were swinging), so Pineda is well ahead of the curve in each.

The ability to induce swings and misses is a skill and something pitchers can repeat. It’s not like pitcher BABIP, which tends to regress to something near the league average over time. Whiff rates are determined by the pitcher (and in part the batter), and just because Pineda excelled at getting swings and misses last year does not mean he’s doomed to regress to the league average this year. Given the quality of his fastball-slider combo, he’s a guy that figures to maintain a really high whiff rate going forward, and in fact I’d bet on all those rates going up if he figures out a usable changeup.

Patrick asks: How about Jesus Montero‘s ROY chances? What other rookies around the league have a chance to beat him out for the award?

I thought Montero was going to win the Rookie of the Year before the trade, and I’m not going to change my opinion now. He’s my pick.

As for the rest of the field, Montero’s primary competition will be Yu Darvish, who really isn’t a rookie based on his experience level and stuff. He’s got a pretty big head start compared to everyone else. Matt Moore’s also a serious candidate, and I suppose Yoenis Cespedes is as well. I don’t think Mike Trout will get enough playing time to make a run at the award, but he’s too talented to dismiss. My darkhorse pick is Jarrod Parker of the Athletics, though he’s not exactly some unknown prospect. Oakland pitchers always put up great numbers because of their ballpark and team defense. My money is still on Montero though.

Open Thread: 3/15 Camp Notes

Chien-Ming Wang strained a hammy today. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Yankees beat the Nationals today by the score of 8-5. Michael Pineda allowed two runs and struck out four in 3.2 IP before reaching his pitch count (video), and his fastball was sitting right around 90 mph and topping out at 92 [Marc Carig]. He said he only threw about ten changeups, but it felt like a ton more than that, particularly with no one on base. He got a few swings and misses with it (and at least one ground ball), and his slider was stupid good for the most part. Neither Pineda nor Russell Martin think much of the velocity, but the right-hander was pretty thrilled about the changeup. [Jayson Stark]

Bill Hall (2-for-3) doubled off the wall to the opposite field to drive in a pair, and Justin Maxwell went 2-for-2 in garbage time. Jose Gil also drove in two with a single in his only at-bat. Brett Gardner went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, and he must have seen 20 pitches in the process. He was fouling off everything it seemed. Clay Rapada walked a left-handed batter after getting ahead in the count 0-2, which is a definite no-no. Brett Marshall threw the best 2.1 IP of two-run ball you’ll ever see, I thought he looked very good. Here’s the box score, and here’s the rest from the day in Tampa…

  • Freddy Garcia has a big wrap on his right hand but says it’s just a bad bruise. He thinks he’s only going to miss a few days after getting hit by an Edwin Encarnacion comebacker yesterday, but who knows. [MarcCarig]
  • Joba Chamberlain will throw 50 pitches in the bullpen tomorrow, with the last ten being sliders. No, they’re not stretching him out to be a starter, it’s all about building arm strength at this point. [George King]
  • Austin Romine took some dry swings today, the first time he’s done anything with a bat since hurting his back earlier in camp. He’s still a week away from full workouts. [Carig]
  • Ramiro Pena left today’s game with a sore ankle after sliding into second awkwardly while attempting to steal a base in the fourth. There are no tests planned. Martin is fine following the collision with Wang you see above. Here’s video if you want to see what happened. [Carig, Carig]
  • D.J. Mitchell broke out a new cutter during his three stellar innings yesterday, though apparently he started working on it last year. Boone Logan has also been focusing on a changeup during side sessions, which is a pitch he threw a while ago but has since scrapped as a reliever. George Kontos (live batting practice), Ivan Nova and David Phelps (bullpens) threw today. [Chad Jennings]

Here is your open thread for the night. All three hockey locals are in action tonight, plus MLB Network will be airing a game a little later tonight. You folks all know what to do by now, so have at it.