Measuring Jorge Posada’s Bat Speed*

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

* Disclaimer: I did not actually measure Jorge Posada‘s bat speed.

We’re almost exactly two-thirds of the way through the season now, and it’s painfully obvious at this point that Posada is pretty much done. I love Jorge, I think he’s one of the greatest Yankees of all-time and one of the most underrated players of the last 15 years, but he’s been an offensive black hole for most of the season. Yes, he’s hitting a respectable .285/.347/.405 since May 17th (when he pulled himself out of the lineup), but that’s buoyed by a three-week hot streak immediately following the incident. Posada is hitting .252/.310/.388 over the last seven weeks and .236/.318/.382 on the season. That’s a .307 wOBA and a .146 ISO, easily the lowest marks of his career (not counting his injury plagued 2008 season).

Although his .269 BABIP is low (.316 career), there’s been a pretty drastic shift in his batting ball profile leading to the drop. His line drive rate is just 16.7%, down from 20.8% from 2008-2010 and his lowest since the data started being recorded in 2002. A 45.2% ground ball rate (his highest since 2004) and an utter lack of speed will also contribute to a lower than usual BABIP. Also, man just watch the games. Jorge doesn’t hit the ball with much authority these days. He hasn’t hit a ball out of the park in over a month and has just three homers since late-April, almost 90 team games. At 39 years old (40 in two weeks) and with all those years of catching on his body, frankly it’s a miracle Posada stayed as productive as long he did.

Thanks to this post over at Getting Blanked, I found out that Hit Tracker records “ball off the bat” speed for all homeruns. That’s pretty amazing, and I wish they had it for all batted balls, but I don’t want to sound greedy. One day we’ll have that data, maybe. Anyway, the table on the right shows Posada’s various ball of the bat speeds through the years. Remember, it’s just homeruns, so we’re talking about pretty small samples. In fact, he hit just three homers in 2008 because of the shoulder injury, so you can probably just disregard that year.

The data is pretty consistent from year to year, averaging right around 105 mph and topping out at north of 110 mph pretty much each year. It’s dropped off this year, about four miles an hour on average. His maximum ball off the bat speed this year is short of his averages for the last four years. Although this is just homeruns (all nine of ‘em in 2011), it’s does support the claim that Posada just isn’t hitting the ball with much authority these days, a claim also supported by his declining line drive rate and the eye test. Less hard contact is a symptom of declining bat speed, so the title isn’t that erroneous.

Had Posada not been “Jorge Posada, All-Time Yankee Great,” he would have been jettisoned many moons ago. He’s basically a switch-hitting version of 2007 Josh Phelps this season, a sometimes first baseman/sometimes DH/emergency catcher that can’t really hit (Phelps hit .263/.330/.363 as a Yankee, better than what Posada is going this year). Phelps was cut in mid-June that year, but Posada met no such fate. Despite his utter luck of offensive production at a position designed only to produce offense, it looks like Jorge will spend the rest of the year with the Yankees before being put out to pasture after the season. The signs of decline are obvious though, and I didn’t need to look at the speed of the ball of his bat to tell you that.

Scouting the Trade Market: Jake Peavy

The non-waiver trade deadline is behind us, but that doesn’t necessarily mean trade activity ceases in August. As we discussed this morning, teams can still swing trades for players who clear waivers. This is where the Yankees can find an under-the-radar deal. The typical player who clears waivers in August has a high salary; that is, teams won’t put in a claim because they won’t risk getting the contract dumped on them. The Yankees can swoop in there and work out a trade, since they’re in a better position than any team to assume salary. One candidate who fits that description this year is Jake Peavy.

Yankees fans got an up-close look at Peavy last night as he handled the Yankees with aplomb after allowing three early runs. He’s not the same guy that brought home a Cy Young Award with the Padres earlier in his career, but there are indications that he’s not just some washed-up bum. Once he clears waivers, he could represent one of those upgrades that the Yankees could use this year and next.

Pros

  • He’s started to adapt to the AL. Peavy’s most dominant days came when he pitched in the league’s most pitcher-friendly park while the AL was the dominant league. He only came over in 2009, and his numbers aren’t exactly pretty since then. But this year he’s done a good job of keeping the ball in the park despite playing in one of the AL’s better hitters’ parks. In fact, he’s pitched far more often at home, and has allowed just two of his four homers there.
  • His control has improved, too, as he’s walking under two per nine. It amounts to a 2.89 FIP, which is quite stellar. He does have a 5.13 ERA, which is alarming at first, until you consider that the White Sox have among the worse defenses in the majors. He’s also been blown up in high-leverage spots this year, which, considering it’s just 64 PA, is not skill-based. In other words, as his luck evens out there his ERA will drop accordingly.
  • ERA estimators in general think he’s a quality mid-level, or even bordering on No. 2, starter. SIERA, tERA, and xFIP all have him in the mid-3s. Other pitchers with a SIERA in the mid-3s: Ricky Romero, Chris Carpenter, Daniel Hudson, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Cain, and Ubaldo Jimenez.
  • He had surgery for a rare injury — a tendon in his arm tore completely off the bone — a little over a year ago. That delayed the start of his season until May, and it’s taken him a while to get back into the swing of things. Last night provided some positives in that regard, as he went seven innings without visibly growing fatigued.
  • He has a $22 million option for 2013 that would certainly be declined. Why is that a positive? It means that the Yankees would have another arm in 2012, allowing them to bypass the one option on the 2012 free-agent market (C.J. Wilson) and focus on the 2013 market, which appears far more robust (Matt Cain, John Danks, Cole Hamels, Anibal Sanchez, Zack Greinke, and Jered Weaver).
  • The White Sox would probably love to shed his salary in 2012, perhaps kicking in money (maybe the $4 million buy-out for 2013) in exchange for a middling prospect. Again, this plays to the Yankees advantage of having deep pockets.

Cons

  • He hasn’t exactly been a bastion of health in the past few years, pitching just 200 innings since coming to the AL in July, 2009. His last injury, however, was a freak one — no MLB pitcher has been known to have completely torn a tendon off the bone — so that might mitigate the circumstances a bit. But only a bit.
  • His strikeouts are down from his peak, as is his velocity. He seems to have compensated by developing even better control over his pitches, but there could still be a learning curve. As we saw with Mike Mussina and even Freddy Garcia, it can take a while to acclimate oneself to a diminished arsenal.
  • In 17 starts last season, by far his largest continuous sample in the AL, he had a 4.01 FIP and 4.63 ERA in 107 innings — and that was while striking out nearly eight per nine innings.
  • The money owed him in 2012, even if the Sox pick up some, means that he’s a lock to remain in the rotation. So while that might be a good thing, it also might work against the Yanks if he can’t continue to improve his game while working with low-90s velocity.
  • As mentioned on YES last night, he seems to fade after he hits 75 pitches, which is about five innings of work. Even after he held the Yanks last night, opponents are still hitting .441/.444/.542 off him after pitch 75. That is, however, 22 singles, three doubles, a homer, and two walks, so there might be some luck there, too. But considering his recent injury history it could also be fatigue. Maybe last night was a sign that he’s getting stronger, but it’s hard to make a solid determination based on one start.
  • He’d fit right into a six-man rotation: on six-plus days’ rest this year opponents are hitting .266/.291/.352 off him in 128 PA, which is his biggest sampling of rest splits.

Given what we’ve seen and heard from Brian Cashman this year, I’d give this maybe a one-percent chance of happening. Maybe less. The Yankees are seeking only proven upgrades, and while Peavy at his best, or even near his best, is a definite upgrade, in his current incarnation he might be too big a risk. Win, and you have not only a pitcher for the stretch run and the playoffs, but also someone to fill a rotation spot next year as the Yankees await a big 2013 free agent class. Lose, and he’s an expensive 2012 liability that could make it difficult to field a top-notch rotation. But when we weigh his positives and negatives and then combine it with the expected costs and risks, I think he’s as good an option as any for the Yankees.

Is the six-man rotation worth keeping?

CC needs a rest. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The Yankees are using a six-man rotation this week more out of necessity than preference, simply because they can’t pull Phil Hughes out of the rotation given the schedule. If they want to do that, they’ll have to wait until next Monday’s off day at the earliest. The White Sox pulled off a six-man rotation for a few weeks earlier in the year, but we usually don’t see big league teams employ them because a) rarely does a club have six quality starters, and b) they don’t want to take starts away from their top arms. Given this current Yankees team though, I think there’s some merit to sticking with a six-man starting staff beyond the next week…

The Upside

The Yankees didn’t make a trade before Sunday’s deadline, so the rotation you see now is (probably) the rotation you’re going to see later in the year. CC Sabathia is a given, but he’s also on pace to throw 250.1 IP through 34 starts. That’s 13 more than he threw last year, 20 more than he threw the year before, and three innings shy of his career high. I’m sure he could throw the 250+ IP with no problem, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. At some point they have to take their foot off the gas and give him extra rest.

Brian Cashman admitted to being in “no man’s land” when it comes to Bartolo Colon, who has already thrown more innings this year than he has in any season since 2005. I don’t worry too much about him physically breaking down (I figure if a 38-year-old breaks down, it probably was inevitable), I worry more about fatigue down the stretch. The Yankees would be in big trouble if Colon shows up in September barely able to crack 90 because he’s running out of gas. Some extra rest over the next two months would help a bit. A.J. Burnett (on pace for ~205 IP) and Freddy Garcia (~185) are fine in terms of innings, no much of a concern there. I’d be more worried about Garcia’s projected ~30 IP jump from last season if he wasn’t a velocityless junk-baller.

There’s also the element of having more time to evaluate Hughes. It becomes less lessĀ  a question if he bombs tonight, but if he pitches well or even just holds his own, the Yankees really would be doing themselves a disservice by not giving him some more starts. I suppose they could accomplish the same thing by using him in long relief, but that’s irregular work and won’t help control the workloads of everyone else in the rotation. By keeping him in the starting rotation, everyone benefits, especially the guys expected to be in the potential postseason rotation.

The Downside

Unless the Yankees suddenly decide they can live with a six-man bullpen, a six-man rotation will hamper their roster construction because they’ll have to carry 13 pitchers. I’m almost certain they could get away with just six relievers, but I have no reason to believe they’d try it. A 13-man pitching staff means just three bench players, and at the moment those three are Frankie Cervelli, Andruw Jones, and Eduardo Nunez/Eric Chavez. That’s fine for a short period of time, but Alex Rodriguez will be back soon and the Yankees are going to need a roster spot for him. They’re obviously not going to cut Chavez or Jones, and sending Nunez to Triple-A means they won’t have a true middle infielder on the bench. There’s not much flexibility there.

I guess the other potential negative would be giving the core starters too much rest, if such a thing exists. Between the five days off between starts and various off days, it could throw those guys off their rhythm. Starting pitchers are creatures of habit, they tend to have very set routines between starts and six-man rotation would be screwing around with that routine.

* * *

Rosters expand 30 days from now, and two off days this month make the schedule a little easier to navigate. They could stick with the six-man rotation for now and get by with the three-man bench until A-Rod comes back. He’s going to start baseball activities on Thursday, so you have to figure he’s at least two weeks away from rejoining the team because of a minor league rehab stint and all that. We’ll be in the middle of the month by the time he comes back, so then the Yankees could shift to a six-man bullpen for two weeks before rosters expand. There is an off day in there to make life easier, but there’s also a doubleheader as well. It’s doable, especially if they’re liberal with the call-ups and send-downs should they need an fresh arm.

Depending on who you ask, the Yankees have either a 96.6% or 97.9% chance of making the playoffs this season. They’re a game back of Boston for first place in the AL East, but the important thing is that they’re seven games (eight in the loss column) ahead of the Angels for the wildcard. That’s a pretty big margin for error, so it’s not like they desperately need every win. They can afford to manipulate their rotation a bit just to rest the top guys heading into September and (hopefully) October, and I think there are some very real benefits to employing a six-man rotation for the next few weeks. Enough of a benefit that it outweighs the downside.

Burnett and Posada explain trade waivers

There’s a chance that you woke up this morning and saw this headline in the Post: “Yankees Burnett, Posada on trade waivers.” For the uninitiated, this might have induced a spit take. We normally associate waivers with releasing a player. Are the Yankees really going to cut bait on two underperforming veterans?

Absolutely not. In August teams place many of, if not most of, the players on their 40-man roster on waivers. It’s part of the process that allows them enact trades for the rest of the month. It does call for a quick explanation, as a primer for those who haven’t heard of trade waivers, and as a reminder for everyone else.

On Sunday at 4 p.m. the period where major league teams could freely exchange players expired. This is typically referred to as the trade deadline, but it’s really the non-waivers trade deadline. Teams can still swap players in August, but they need to pass through an additional obstacle. That is, a GM can trade any player in August as long as he clears waivers, which necessarily means placing him on waivers. And so we’ll see stories in the coming weeks about X and Y players being placed on waivers. Make little of these.

Let’s use Burnett as an example. Let’s say that Cubs GM Jim Hendry truly has lost his mind, and he puts in a claim on Burnett. The Yankees then have three options. They can work out a trade with the Cubs, they can simply dump the remainder of Burnett’s contract on the Cubs, or they can pull him back. Tempting as it might be to foist Burnett’s contract on some unsuspecting GM, I imagine the Yankees would revoke the waivers on Burnett and keep him on the team. They can place him on waivers again, in an attempt to pass him through, but you can only pull back a player once. If he gets claimed a second time, he’s property of the claiming team.

The entire point of trade waivers is to see who passes through unclaimed. Once a player clears, his team can trade him anywhere else. Chances are the better players in the league, especially ones with reasonable contracts, get claimed and therefore are blocked from any deals. For instance, if the Yankees put Brett Gardner on waivers he’d certainly get claimed. The Yankees would then pull him back, and that would be the end of any trade possibilities involving him. Chances are, the Yankees won’t even both placing Gardner on waivers. But you can be damn sure they’ll use the waiver process for all of their high-priced veterans. In fact, according to the Post, they’ve also placed Rafael Soriano, in addition to Posada and Burnett, on waivers.

Teams can also swap players not on the 40-man roster, which certainly creates opportunities. So while the Yankees cannot trade Dellin Betances, since he’s on the 40-man roster and hasn’t a prayer of clearing waivers, they could conceivably trade Adam Warren or Jesus Montero this month if it meant upgrading the major league roster. Of course, they’d have to find a player on a major league roster who has already cleared.

Any team can place a waiver claim, but when awarding the claim it goes to the team with the lowest win percentage in the same league. That is, if the Red Sox and the Astros put in a claim on Burnett, the Red Sox are awarded the claim, because they’re in the American League. But if the Astros and the Phillies put in a claim, the Astros are awarded, because they have the lower win percentage. (Same goes for, say, the A’s and the Red Sox.) This process leads to many trailing teams placing claims in order to block contenders from swinging a deal. This can be used both to block significant pieces and to block trade chips. For example, in 2009 the Yankees placed a claim on the Red Sox Chris Carter, because that muddled the deal that sent Billy Wagner to Boston.

The report of Burnett, Posada, and Soriano being placed on waivers is probably not the last of its type you’ll see this month. In itself, it is meaningless. It does become a bit more reasonable if they clear, but even then there is little to no chance that the Yankees would deal any of these players. In fact, there’s almost no chance they trade anyone on their major league roster, so we can effectively ignore trade waivers from them. What’s meaningful is seeing what players on non-contenders clear waivers. Those are the ones that could possibly help down the stretch run.

CC battles through eight in win over ChiSox

This game was dangerously close for far too long. The Yankees jumped out to quick 2-0 lead then tacked on another run, but the White Sox scored two and seemed to have a runner or two in scoring position with less than two outs all game long. But hey, a win’s a win…

  • CC Sabathia really, and I mean really had to grind this one out. He didn’t have his good slider and didn’t have much command of his changeup, which is why he allowed ten hits to one of the weaker offenses in baseball. Alexei Ramirez touched him up for a two-run homer in fourth, but double plays helped him escape the second, third, and fifth innings. Adam Dunn, who went from awesome to embarrassingly bad in one winter, struck out to end rallies in the sixth and eighth. Sabathia only threw 104 pitches but they were 104 tough pitches, it’s pretty impressive he completed eight full innings.
  • The Yankees had a run just seven pitches into the game. Brett Gardner started the game off with an infield single (stop sliding into first, kthxbye) and came around to score on Curtis Granderson‘s single. Grandy scored two batters later when Robinson Cano singled him, then scored two innings later on Cano’s double play. It looked like the Yanks were on their way to another blowout win, but Jake Peavy settled down and allowed just three of the final 16 men he faced to reach base.
  • Granderson and Mark Teixeira were the only batters in the lineup with multiple hits, though Gardner (single), Cano (single), Eric Chavez (single), Jorge Posada (single), Andruw Jones (pinch-walk), and Eduardo Nunez (walk) all reached once. Nick Swisher and Frankie Cervelli combined for a particularly ugly 0-for-7 with two whiffs each. Just one of the final 14 men they sent to the plate reached base, and that was Andruw’s pinch-walk.
  • How awful does Dunn look? As if the 0-for-4 with three strikeouts wasn’t bad enough, he also misplayed a ball in the first and let another one that he should have handled get past him. He has three hits against left-handed pitchers this year (three!!!), the same number as the lefty hacking Clayton Kershaw. The boos were quite loud, and I can’t imagine he’s anything but miserable. As for Peavy, his stuff clearly isn’t what it was in San Diego. I watched him quite a bit with the Padres, and the life just isn’t there anymore. His fastball used to run all over the place in the mid-90’s, now it just kinda wiggles in their right at 90. For shame. He did a fine job in this game though, obviously.
  • Mariano Rivera slammed the door in the ninth with nine pitches, all strikes. Here’s the box score, here’s the nerd stats, here’s the standings.

Game two of this four-game set will be played Tuesday evening, when Phil Hughes could be pitching for his job against John Danks. Full-blown recaps will return then, it’s been a hectic few days.