Josh Hamilton takes home AL MVP Award

Josh Hamilton was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player today, receiving 21 of 28 first place votes. Robbie Cano placed third, not too far behind runner-up Miguel Cabrera. He did not receive any first place votes. There’s no shame in that, Robbie had a great season and just being mentioned as an MVP is a success all by itself. Jose Bautista and Paul Konerko round out the top five.

Hamilton hit .359/.411/.633 (.447) this season and was particularly harsh of right-handed pitchers, tagging them for a .401/.447/.716 batting line (.490 wOBA) in a not insignificant 352 plate appearances. His 8.0 fWAR led all of baseball even though he missed much of September with rib issues. Congrats to him, it’s well deserved.

CC Sabathia finished 13th, Alex Rodriguez 15th, and Mark Teixeira 20th in the voting.

Are the Yanks at Sabathia levels with Lee?

Sometimes a huge detail slips through the cracks. That happens often during the hot stove season. Yet, even as I’ve kept abreast of most developments, this Tim Brown column at Yahoo escaped my attention yesterday. That’s a shame, because it contained quite the interesting tidbit:

An industry source said Monday the Yankees have offered Cliff Lee(notes) nearly $140 million over six years, but Lee continues to hold out for a seventh year.

On the RAB Radio Show yesterday I predicted that Lee would eventually sign for those six years and that $140 million. But until Brown published that column all we’d heard is that the Yankees “are in the $115 – $120 million range for five years.” We hadn’t even heard they’d made that a formal offer. For them to offer six years at $140 million at this point seems a bit unbelievable.

If true, I don’t think Lee will hold out for that seventh year for much longer. No team, not even the Rangers, is likely to match six years at $140 million. Lee might be trying to coax it out of someone, but once it’s clear that no one will bite I imagine he’d sign that contract with a mile-wide grin on his face. That might not be the largest total contract for a pitcher, it would provide Lee with the highest average annual value for a pitcher in history. Considering his age, I think that’s as big a win as he can expect.

Still, something about this doesn’t make sense. Why would the Yankees make this offer right at the start? How did everyone let this tidbit slip for a full day without regurgitating it? I really don’t think the Yankees would offer a sixth year on their own volition. Rather, they’d do so in reaction to an increased bid by Texas. Again, I think the Yankees eventually get to that 6/140 spot, but I’m not sure they’d try to blow away Lee with it in the same manner they did Sabathia. But it’s possible, I guess.

As Mike and I discussed on yesterday’s show, chances are Lee won’t sign until the Winter Meetings. We’d all love a Thanksgiving present, but with Lee reportedly seeking to induce a bidding war, there’s little to no chance of that happening. His next press conference, I expect, will be at Yankee Stadium. But I wouldn’t bank on that until December.

What Went Right: Nick Swisher

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

It’s easy to forget that when the Yankees originally acquired Nick Swisher in a steal of a trade from the White Sox last offseason, he was expected to be their starting first baseman. It’s even easier to forget that after the Yanks signed Mark Teixeira, Swisher was then pushed into a rightfield platoon with Xavier Nady even though he was a switch hitter. The rest is history. Nady blew out his elbow in April, giving Swish the playing time he deserved, and he rewarded the team with the best offensive season of his career (.375 wOBA).

There were no hurdles for Swisher to clear when the 2010 season started. The starting rightfielder’s job was his outright, and he began the season with a six game hitting streak that never seemed to stop. Swish hit .298/.377/.524 (.391) with 15 homers in the first half, earning his first All Star Game berth as the Send Swish! campaign landed him the Final Man vote. He even got to take some hacks in the Homerun Derby. Swish opened the second half with a walk-off hit against the Rays (after tying the game in the eighth) in the first game after George Steinbrenner‘s passing. It was Nick’s Bobby Murcer moment, arguably the most memorable game of the season.

While Swish has always been a productive offensive player, he did some work with hitting coach Kevin Long last winter to help him better combat breaking balls. The work really started during the 2009 playoffs, but the offseason gave the two plenty of times to get things straight. The result was a setup in the batter’s box that was much quieter than in the past. Here’s a video of Swisher from April 2009, and here’s April 2010 for comparison. There’s less movement in general but especially with his hands, and his stance closed up as well.

The result was, again, the best season of Swish’s career. He hit a career high .288, trading in some base hits for walks, and his strikeout rate (24.6%) was the second lowest since his rookie season. Average offensive around the league fell eight points to a .321 wOBA in 2010, but Swisher improved two points to .377 (.288/.359/.511 with 29 homers overall). Add in basically average defense, and the total package was worth 4.1 fWAR, the best mark of his career and seventh best among AL outfielders. It’s hard to complain about Nick Swisher’s 2010 season, the guy has been nothing but productive in pinstripes since Kenny Williams gave him away.

Yankees will not offer Jeter arbitration

Via Marc Carig, the Yankees will not offer Derek Jeter arbitration before tonight’s deadline, meaning they will not be entitled to draft pick compensation in the unlikely event that the Captain signs elsewhere. Joe laid out the case for offering Derek arbitration just yesterday, but apparently the Yanks deemed it too risky. Perhaps it’s a sign of good faith?

Update: Buster Olney thinks the Yanks would “essentially would bail him out after a down year” by offering arb since he “might make $22-23 million” through the process. I’m not sure I buy that though. Jeter wants a multi-year deal.

2010 Dominance Factors

We fans aren’t privy to any in-depth scouting reports like the 30 MLB teams are, so really all we have for information about our favorite minor leaguers is second-hand publications (Baseball America, etc.) and statistics. Stats are great fun and tell us a lot, but they lie when it comes to the minors. They lie like you wouldn’t believe. A tremendous amount of context is needed for them to be useful, covering everything from age to league to park, the whole nine. A 19-year-old with a 4.00 FIP in Double-A is more impressive than a 24-year-old with a 2.70 FIP in Single-A.

A few years ago, Brett Sullivan at Project Prospect developed a stat called Dominance Factor, which measures how “dominant” a pitcher was (based on strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates) relative to his age and the level he played in. Here’s the quick-and-dirty explanation of the formula and logic…

Dominance Factor, DF = (K% + 0.72*GB% – BB%)+ (Age Level Standard – Actual age)*7

GB% is multiplied by 0.72 because generally speaking, 72% of groundballs turn into outs. The Age Level Standards are basically the average age at a given level, and are 20-yrs old for Low-A, 21 for High-A, 22.5 for Double-A, and 24 for Triple-A … The stat doesn’t have any real analysis purposes because of the assumptions used for GB% and age, so it’s best used for reference. It’s still fun to look at, though.

For the second year in a row, Manny Banuelos posted the largest DF in the system, coming in at 72.1. He topped last year’s mark by 7.1, but Phil Hughes still holds the overall record thanks to his 86.0 DF effort with Triple-A Scranton back in 2007. Kinda puts in perspective how absurdly good Hughes was in the minors. Ivan Nova was a rather distant second to Banuelos at 55.0. The Double-A version of Adam Warren was right behind him for third (53.5), then Brett Marshall and the Triple-A version of David Phelps tied for fourth at 50.0. Unsurprisingly, various dreck like Wilkins Arias (-24.4), John Van Benschoten (-18.5), and Tim Redding (-12.8) populate the bottom of the list. It’s all about age relative to level.

Here are the 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006 DF’s. The full 2010 chart is after the jump, but there’s a few things to know first: starting pitchers are in bold, players no longer with the organization are in yellow, and players eligible for the Rule 5 Draft are in blue. The K%, BB%, and GB% data all came from First Inning, and I intentionally omitted Josh Romanski because FI doesn’t have data for him. The average DF was 23.6 with a standard deviation of 20.2. That means the data is pretty well spread out. Anyway, table’s after the jump, I hid it for space and load time reasons.

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Yankees sign Neal Cotts (UPDATE: Daniel Martinez too)

Via Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed lefty reliever Neal Cotts to a minor league contract. Cotts, 31 in March, has not pitched since June 2009 due to Tommy John and hip surgery. He’s spent the last four seasons with the Cubs, so new pitching coach Larry Rothschild knows him well, and believe it or not he actually has a reverse split (.336 wOBA against vs. RHB career, .351 vs. LHB). I suspect Cotts is the 2011 version of Royce Ring and not the second lefty the Yanks are said to be seeking for their bullpen.

Update: Eddy says they also signed 20-year-old lefty Daniel Martinez. He’s spend the last four seasons walking everyone (88 BB in 138.2 IP) down in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Mo seeking two years, $18M per

Via MLBTR, Mariano Rivera is seeking a two-year contract that will pay him $18M a season. The Yankees, understandably, want to limit the soon-to-be 41-year-old’s contract to just one season. Mo earned $15M in each of the last three seasons and is already the highest paid closer in the game. An $18M annual payout would make him the fifth highest paid pitcher in baseball, starter or reliever. I love you Mo, but 2/36 is pretty insane.