Mailbag: Volstad, Stetter, Hannahan, Harang

This week’s mailbag is five questions long, four of them focusing on pitching. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.

(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Mark asks: Chris Volstad could be non-tendered. Still young, great pitcher’s body, may have hit ceiling though. Any interest?

The cat is pretty much out of the bag, the Marlins didn’t even bother to invite Volstad to the unveiling of their new uniforms. So yeah, one way or the other, he’s probably a goner this winter. You’re right about the great pitcher’s body, the kid is listed at 6-foot-8 and 230 lbs. on Florida’s official site. He’s still very young (just turned 25 in September), young enough that he still has some of that top prospect shine left.

Volstad has struggled in 584 big league innings (102 starts and one relief appearance), pitching to a 4.59 ERA with a 4.52 FIP. He’s a sinkerballer, getting a ground ball 50.4% of the time, and I think part of his problem has been the Marlins’ shaky infield defense over the last few years. A low-90’s sinker is his bread-and-butter, but he’ll also work with a changeup and slider, both in the mid-80’s. Volstad doesn’t miss many bats (5.83 K/9 and 7.0% swings-and-misses) and he’s just okay at preventing walks (3.14 BB/9).

I have a feeling Volstad will draw a lot of attention if/when he’s non-tendered, simply because he’s still so young and has three more years of team control remaining. He’s not great, but I think he could be serviceable in kind of a swingman/spot starter role, but another team will guarantee him a rotation spot and that’s where he’ll head. I like the idea, but it might not be practical.

Ed asks: What’s your opinion on Mitch Stetter as a possible second lefty for the Yanks? He just elected free agency after being outrighted by the Brewers. In his career, he held lefties to a .194/.310/.335 line. Consider 2010 & 2011 as his lost years, Stetter could be a “low risk-high reward” piece for the bullpen.

Before this post, all I knew about Stetter was that he had a funky delivery (seen here) and Jack Moore of Disciplines of Uecker hated him. The 30-year-old is a free agent as you said, and his big league numbers against left-handers are pretty good: a .297 wOBA against with 63 strikeouts and 23 walks in 202 plate appearances. He’s got similar numbers in the minors and like most lefty specialists, he’s atrocious against righties. Completely unusable.

Stetter’s problem is an utter lack of ground balls, we’re talking just 26.9% grounders against lefties. That’s quite extreme, and part of the reason why he can run into a little homer trouble. He’s also an extreme slider guy, I mean 80.2% of his career pitches in the big leagues were a low-80’s slide piece. His mid-80’s fastball is basically a show-me pitch. I’d sign almost anyone to a minor league contract, they’re zero-risk deals, but Stetter has little margin for error. Doesn’t mean he can’t get hot and pay dividends for a month or two though.

Nick asks: What happened to Tim Norton and should/will the AAA guys get Joba Chamberlain‘s spot until he comes back?

Norton had yet another shoulder problem, which is a shame because he flat out dominated last season (44 strikeouts and eight walks in 29 IP) and was on the verge of a call-up at the time of his injury. I have no idea if he’ll be back next year, either Opening Day or at another point.

I expect next season’s bullpen will look a lot like the one the Yankees ended this season with, meaning Mariano Rivera in the ninth with David Robertson, Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, and Cory Wade backing him up. The last two spots could go to someone like George Kontos or Hector Noesi, or maybe they sign someone. I would be surprised if it was David Phelps or Adam Warren, those guys have to be stretched out as starters in case they need to make spot starts. That really should be the case with Noesi as well.

"Wow Jack, have you been working out?" (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Marks asks: Jack Hannahan worth pursuing as Eric Chavez 2.0?

I know Joe’s a bit of a Hannahan fan, or at least he’s mentioned him as a potential bench option at various points over the last few seasons. The 31-year-old infielder does two things very well, and that’s play defense and draw walks. Regardless of what metric you choose, they all rate Hannahan as a stud at the hot corner, and his walks rates have consistently been over 10% throughout his career (10.8% career).

The problem is that he just can’t hit, we’re talking a .231 AVG and a .127 ISO in nearly 1,350 career plate appearances. He also doesn’t steal bases or offer much defensive versatility (just 13 career innings at the middle infield spots and 213 at first base). Hannahan, a left-handed batter, has consistently been a one-win player over the last four years despite sporadic playing time because he’s a high-end defender and will work just enough free passes to be better than useless at the plate. It sounds like the Indians are planning to keep him next season, but he’s a nice bench guy because he does at least one thing really well. Just don’t expect him to come off the bench and get that big pinch-hit.

Moot asks: What do you think about Aaron Harang being a Yankee? He pitched well at times with the Reds and they have a homer friendly park just like the Yanks.

Harang is another one of Joe’s guys, but I think he’s closing in on his expiration date. He did pitch in a hitter’s park in Cincinnati, and sure enough he gave up a ton of homers as a Red (1.2 HR/9). The homers were tolerable because Harang used to be a strikeout fiend and was stingy with the walks, but both his strikeout rate and walk rate have been heading in the wrong directions of late. Click the links for some graphs that really drive the point home.

All those big workloads earlier in his career (and under Dusty Baker) have cost Harang about two miles an hour off his fastball, and he’s mostly 89-90 with a low-80’s slider these days. He’s always been a big fly ball guy (career 38.2% grounders), hence all the homers allowed. In some ways, he’s a lot like Freddy Garcia, at least in terms of his peripheral stats. They just go about it in very different ways. Freddy knows he’s not what he once was, so he’s adapted and relies on trickery. Harang is still pitching the same way he did five years ago. I’d probably steer clear of him, but after Garcia this past season, who the hell knows.

In Bartolo and Freddy we trust?

All is quiet on the Yankee front these days, and it isn’t one of Brian Cashman‘s stealth-quiet periods that turns into a surprise signing of Mark Teixeira. Rather, the Yankees are waiting to see what comes to them. They’re rightly cool on C.J. Wilson but have to fill some starting pitching holes. What’s a $200 million team to do?

Last year, when the Yanks found themselves in a similar situation following Cliff Lee’s departure to Philadelphia and Andy Pettitte‘s retirement, Brian Cashman turned to the scrap heap. For a few million dollars, his coaching staff coaxed 51 starts and over 300 innings from Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. It was the biggest surprise of the Yankee season, and now, early yet in the Hot Stove League, the Yanks’ GM is, at least publicly, wondering if he can capture lightning in bottle again.

In comments yesterday to ESPN New York, both Cashman and his boss Hal Steinbrenner talked about bringing back Big Bart and Sweaty Freddy. “I have an interest in both Freddy and Bartolo,” Cashman said. “Those guys all did a good job for us, a really good job.” Echoed Steinbrenner, “Absolutely, that’s something we’d consider. It worked out pretty well last year.”

That it sure did, Hal. That it sure did.

In its coverage of these statements, ESPN New York turns this into some sort of money issue. The pair made around $2.6 million combined before incentives and both would like a raise. That’s not a problem. The Yanks have rotation holes to fill and money to spend. Garcia may be itching for a multi-year deal, and that is a potential hurdle. Yet there’s a larger question at play: Should the Yanks even be considering these two?

If we play the not-so-arbitrary endpoint game, it’s very easy to make a case against Bartolo Colon. Through his first 78.1 innings, he had a 3.10 ERA and a K rate topping 8 per 9 IP. He wasn’t walking many guys and was thriving mainly on a fastball. After suffering a hamstring injury and returning in early July, he had a 4.81 ERA over 86 innings and saw his walk rate climb while his strike outs dipped by over 1.5 per 9 innings.

As expected, his velocity fell off by year’s end, and he wasn’t nearly as efficient with his pitches. Colon will turn 39 in May, and no one is sure how much more his surgically repaired shoulder can take. At a low cost and with little riding on it, the Yanks could bring him back to camp, but if they’re counting on him for another 164 innings, I hope they have a good back-up plan.

Meanwhile, Garcia, who didn’t reach the 150-inning mark due to some mysterious cut on his finger, also struggled post-injury. In his first 20 games, he sported a 3.22 ERA and decent peripherals over 117.1 innings. Thanks to one disastrous outing vs. the Orioles and a bad start against the Angels, his post-injury numbers were ugly. He walked 11 while striking out 16 and giving up seven home runs in 29.1 innings. It’s tough though to put much stock in 29.1 innings.

For Garcia, the questions concern durability. He has thrown over 300 innings since the start of 2009 but he threw just 129 over the three prior years. He did a good job keeping the ball in the park this year, and that’s what fueled his success as his walk rate was higher in 2011 than in 2010. He turned 35 during the ALDS and giving him more than a season might be inviting trouble.

To me, Colon and Garcia represent the Yanks’ last resorts. What they did in 2011 made from some great stories and fun games. They defied age and expectations to help lead the Yanks to a championship title. To expect them to do it again may be putting blind faith into pitchers who don’t deserve, and the Yanks would be better served looking elsewhere for some upgrades.

Phelps finishes AzFL strong

This isn’t directly related to the Yankees, but former farmhand Breland Brown got busted trying to scam his way into the Australian Baseball League this winter. The Yankees signed him last offseason, but released him during Spring Training. Pretty crazy.

Hard-throwing Grant Duff has re-signed with the Yankees after becoming a minor league free agent at the end of the season. He’s been battling arm injuries for a few years ago. Also, David Phelps was named the Arizona Fall League Pitcher of the Week last week.

AzFL Phoenix (5-0 loss to Surprise) Monday’s Game
Corban Joseph, 2B: 0 for 4, 2 K
Ronnie Mustelier, 3B: 1 for 3, 1 K
Rob Segedin, LF: 0 for 3, 1 K

AzFL Phoenix (12-8 win over Surprise) Tuesday’s Game
Rob Segedin, DH: 0 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K
Dan Burawa, RHP: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 17 of 25 pitches were strikes (68%) … he’s had a tough time out here, good to see him finish on a high note

DWL Licey (10-9 win over Toros)
Hector Noesi, RHP: 1.2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2-2 GB/FB – a dud after three straight stellar starts

AzFL Phoenix (12-7 win over Salt River) Wednesday’s Game
Rob Segedin, LF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP
Ronnie Mustelier, 3B: 2 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Corban Joseph, 2B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB – finished with a crappy .227/.287/.371 batting line
Chase Whitley, RHP: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 4-1 GB/FB – 11 of 19 pitches were strikes (57.9%)

AzFL Phoenix (2-2 tie with Peoria in seven innings) Thursday’s Game … that’s it for them, the season is over
Ronnie Mustelier, DH: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K – finished at .344/.354/.516
Rob Segedin, LF: 0 for 3, 1 K – hit .250/.367/.407, which kinda sucks in this league
David Phelps, RHP: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 5-3 GB/FB – 47 of 64 pitches were strikes (73.4%) … 20 strikeouts and just three walks in his final five starts (23.1 IP)

Open Thread: Name the 2011 Yankees

Spoiler: He’s one of the answers to the quiz. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Nothing terribly interesting has happened on this date in Yankees history, so instead I’ll leave you with this Sporcle quiz. All you have to do is name every player that played for the 2011 Yankees in ten minutes or less. Easy enough, right? Well, you’ll be surprised. I missed four players, but I thought only one of those four was obvious. Give a try, post your scores in the comments.

After you’ve done that, use this as your open thread. There is a football game tonight, the Jets are playing the Broncos in Denver at 8:20pm ET. The game will be on the NFL Network nationally and on WPIX 11 locally. The Islanders are also playing. Talk about whatever you like here, it’s all fair game.

The changing face of Major League Baseball

Baseball’s GM meetings wrapped up today, and at the end MLB announced a few things that we knew were coming down the pike. First, they approved the Astros’ sale to Jim Crane. That comes with a game-altering change: the Astros will move to the American League West division in 2013, thereby creating two 15-team leagues. Second, MLB announced the addition of one Wild Card team from each league, expanding the total playoff pool to 10 of 30 teams. Both of these announcements will have far-reaching effects on the future of the sport.

Balanced Leagues

Given baseball’s current arrangement, having unbalanced leagues makes sense. It might create an odd-looking arrangement, with the AL West housing four teams while the NL Central has six, but it makes life much easier. With 14 teams in the AL and 16 teams in the NL, baseball was able to continue its tradition of keeping the leagues separate, or at least mostly separate, until they finally meet in the World Series. But with 15 teams in each league, having an interleague game every day becomes necessary.

More frequent interleague creates a greater urgency for a uniform set of rules. It’s unfair to ask AL teams to regularly play without their DH, just as it’s unfair to ask an NL team to find a DH among its string of bench players. But at the same time, changing the DH rule in either league would come under much heavier fire than any of the recently announced changes. The DH rule, as Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra has said, is akin to religion. We all have our beliefs, and no amount of argument, no matter how vehement and logical, will sway the other side.

Thankfully, it appears that the rules need not change. The Daily News’ Mark Feinsand notes that the number of interleague games will not change. That means they will essentially take those two weeks of interleague in June, plus the stale rivalry weekend, and spread them throughout the season. That does appear to be the best compromise for the time being. It means both leagues can retain their DH identities, and it keeps minimal contact between the leagues during the season. If MLB did feel the need to balance the leagues, they at least got this part right.

Added Wild Card

While moving the Astros to the AL creates little controversy, minus the DH discussion, adding a Wild Card team to each league inspires heavy opinions from all angles. From the few details we know, each league will now have two Wild Card teams, and they will meet each other for a one-game playoff. That will determine who plays the No. 1 seed in the LDS (or the No. 2 seed, depending on the standard divisional issues). As with most changes, this has both upsides and downsides.

On the upside is an incentive to win the division. In years past we’ve heard loud criticism that some teams have been able to go into cruise control in September, because they had such a big lead on a playoff spot. The Yankees were in such a situation the last three seasons. They could afford to ease up in September, because even if they lost the division they still had a comfortable cushion in the Wild Card race. The new system forces them to keep a foot on the accelerator, lest they get forced into that all-or-nothing playoff game. The other, obvious, upside is that more teams get a chance to make the big dance.

Still, this seems like an odd way to approach adding a second Wild Card team. One-game playoffs in baseball exist out of necessity, for the rare instance where two teams finish with the same record and there is a playoff spot on the line. That is, Game 163 just creates a situation where one team must have a better regular season record than the other. The new system turns that into an actual playoff game. The participants needn’t have equal records; in fact, in most years they will not. Instead they’ll face each other for a single game, with the entire season on the line, no matter how much better one team played than the other during a whole 162-game season.

That, to me, marginalizes the marathon that is the April through September baseball season. It penalizes a team that played better in 162 games, just to squeeze in another playoff team. And it all occurs in a single game, where all sorts of randomness can damn an otherwise deserving team. You can say that the Wild Card in general creates the same effect, and I’d agree. But this new system makes the situation that much worse.

When the time comes, there will be few complaints about the system. There might be a cry of foul here and there, especially when a team with a superior record loses the Wild Card game. But it almost certainly won’t turn interest away from baseball. In fact, keeping the added team in the playoff hunt, and putting a greater emphasis on the division (to the chagrin of the 4th-best team) could create a higher level of interest. It doesn’t have a universal seal of approval from fans, but these are the new realities of Major League Baseball.

Mailbag: Best Part-Timers

An all-time part-timer. (Allen Kee/Getty Images)

Conor asks: After your post on Darrell Rasner, I started thinking about what the best all-time Yankees’ lineup would be when made up of guys who played less than 162 games or made less than 30 starts for them. Not that Rasner would be on that team, it just got me thinking. Hopefully I get to see what you guys come up with.

Questions like this are why the Baseball-Reference Play Index exists. I used the 162 games/30 starts maximum and sorted by WAR, just because it’s one nice easy number. If you click the links next to each position, they’ll take you to the full Play Index search results, since I know many of you are dying to see them. Some of these guys weren’t actually part-time players, but they all were short-lived Yankees. Here’s the lineup…

Catcher (link)

The leader here is Frank Fernandez, who appeared in 149 games for the Yankees from 1967-1969. He managed to rack up 4.1 WAR during that time, most of it during the 1969 season (2.2 WAR). Interestingly enough, Fernandez hit just .204 in exactly 500 plate appearances with New York, but he had a .372 OBP. He drew 102 walks and had just 80 hits in pinstripes. How about that? The Yankees traded Fernandez to Athletics after 1969, and he played only 136 more games in the show. Russell Martin ranks fourth on this list with 1.3 WAR in 125 games.

First Base (link)

I was hoping it would be Doug Mientkiewicz, but alas, it’s someone named Buddy Hassett. He played 132 games for the 1942 Yankees, mustering 1.2 WAR. That was the final season of his seven-year career, most of which was spent with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Bees. Hassett hit .284/.325/.364 in pinstripes. Mientkiewicz is second on the list at 0.8 WAR, followed by John Olerud (0.7 WAR).

Second Base (link)

I had a feeling this post would consist of a lot of guys I’d never heard of before, and so far we’re 3-for-3. The top second baseman is Jimmie Reese, who was worth 1.2 WAR in 142 games from 1930-1931. He hit .286/.331/.402 in 468 plate appearances during those two years, then was sent to St. Paul of the American Association after the season to complete an earlier deal. Reese resurfaced with the Cardinals later than summer, but it was his final season in baseball. Mariano Duncan is next in line at 1.0 WAR, and I’m guessing most of which comes from his signature phrase: “we play today, we win today, das it.”

Shortstop (link)

Yeah, another guy I haven’t heard of. This one is Willy Miranda, who racked up a whopping 0.8 WAR in 140 games from 1953-1954. He hit just .241/.295/.322 in 194 plate appearances after being purchased from the St. Louis Browns. Miranda was traded to the Orioles with nine (!!!) other players for Don Larsen, Bullet Bob Turley, and five others. Teams need to start making trades like that again. Tony Fernandez, the guy who got Wally Pipp’d by Derek Jeter, is third on the list (0.5 WAR).

Third Base (link)

Playoff performance doesn’t count here, but I have imagine Aaron Boone’s third base leading 1.0 WAR would be higher if we counted his homer in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. He’s the leader at the position by far (0.7 WAR ahead of the next few players), hitting a modest .254/.302/.418 in 208 plate appearances and 54 games. We’ll always have that homerun though.

Left Field (link)

We’re going all the way back to 1935 for the leader in left, Jesse Hill. Mr. Hill hit .293/.362/.390 in 444 plate appearances across 107 games that season, piling up 1.8 WAR. That was his rookie year, and after the season the Yankees traded him to the Washington Senators for a guy named Bump Hadley. That’s awfully close to Perd Hapley. A bunch of recent Yankees rank second (Rondell White), third (Xavier Nady), fourth (Andruw Jones), and fifth (Austin Kearns) on the list.

Center Field (link)

The Yankees officially changed their name from the New York Highlanders in 1913, and that’s how far back we have to go for our center fielder. A gentleman by the name of Harry Wolter accumulated 1.8 WAR in 127 games that season, hitting .254/.377/.339 in 521 plate appearances. We are cheating a bit here, because Wolter had been with the Highlanders since 1910. If we’re disqualifying him, then the leader is another Harry, Harry Rice. He was worth 1.6 WAR in 100 games in 1930. Kenny Lofton is tied for third on the list with 0.7 WAR.

Right Field (link)

The MVP of our team is the father of a seven-time MVP. Bobby Bonds played just one season in New York after being acquired from the Giants in exchange for Bobby Murcer, but during that one season he hit .270/.375/.512 and became the first 30-30 player in Yankees history. That performance was valued at 5.2 WAR in 1975, but he was traded again after the season, this time to the Angels for Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers. Someone named Tim Hendryx racked up 2.6 WAR in 153 games from 1915-1917, finishing a distant second to Bonds on our right field list.

Designated Hitter (link)

The DH pickin’s are pretty slim, but Big Daddy Cecil Fielder managed to crank out 0.7 WAR in 151 games and 653 plate appearances from 1996-1997. He hit 26 homers and put up a .260/.352/.440 batting line. Number two on this list? Some kid named Jesus Montero, who hit .328/.406/.590 and was worth 0.5 WAR in 18 games for the 2011 Yankees. If we include guys that played just half of their games at DH (rather than the 75% I had been using), then Jack Clark’s 1988 season is your leader at the position (3.1 WAR).

One player worth mentioning here is Glenallen Hill. He only played in 40 games for the Yankees, split between DH and left field and pinch-hitting, but he managed to accumulate 1.4 WAR in pinstripes. That’s what happens when you slug 16 homers in 143 plate appearances. That’s rooftop power, as they say.

Starting Pitchers (link)

The starting rotation is surprisingly strong, and led by a former Cy Young Award winner. Black Jack McDowell spent just one year in pinstripes (1995), but he made exactly 30 starts and was worth 4.0 WAR in 217.2 IP. I’ll always remember him for flipping the bird to the Yankee Stadium faithful though. The number two starter might not qualify for this list within the next seven months or so, it’s Freddy Garcia. Sweaty Freddy was worth 3.4 WAR in 26 starts this past season, and there’s still a chance he’ll be back for more in 2012.

McDowell and Garcia are pretty well separated from the rest of the pack, but the mix of guys behind them is quite interesting. We’ve got Larry Gura (2.7 WAR in 28 starts from 1974-1975), Pascual Perez (2.6 WAR in just 17 starts from 1990-1991), and then Don Gullett (30 starts in 1977) and John Candelaria (30 starts from 1988-1989) tied at 2.5 WAR. Bartolo Colon (2.4 WAR in 24 starts this season) and Jon Lieber (2.3 WAR in 23 starts in 2004) are right there as well. Rasner, the inspiration for this post, is 23rd on the list at 0.2 WAR in 29 starts. He’s just behind Denny Neagle (0.2 WAR in 15 starts) and just ahead of Carl Pavano (-0.1 WAR in 26 starts) and Babe Ruth (-0.3 WAR in four starts).

Relief Pitchers (link)

Since Conor didn’t give me any playing time criteria for the relievers, I used a cutoff of 60 appearances. That’s roughly a full season of work for a typical reliever. Our bullpen ace would be Fred Beene, who threw 158.2 IP across 54 appearances from 1972-1974. His 1.99 ERA was good for 2.4 WAR. Number two on the list is Al Aceves, who racked up 2.1 WAR in 59 appearances and 126 IP from 2008-2010. Our two left-handed relievers are Grant Jackson (1.6 WAR in just 21 games in 1976) and Dave LaRoche (1.4 WAR in 52 games from 1981-1983), father of Adam and Andy.

The rest of the bullpen is filled out by the likes of Doug Bird (1.8 WAR in 38 games from 1980-1981) and a bunch of recent Yankees. Kerry Wood managed to be worth 1.5 WAR in his 28 appearances last season, and the duo of Luis Ayala and Cory Wade were worth 1.4 WAR and 1.3 WAR this season, respectively. Our depth pieces are Jeff Robinson (1.3 WAR in 54 games in 1990) and Ray Scarborough (1.2 WAR in 32 games from 1952-1953). Pretty interesting mix of guys, though it’s not surprising many of them have played in a recent past given the continued evolution of the modern bullpen.

Kershaw takes home NL Cy Young Award

Dodgers wunderkind Clayton Kershaw took home the NL Cy Young Award today, receiving 27 of 32 first place votes. The 23-year-old southpaw won the pitching Triple Crown this season, leading the league in wins (21), ERA (2.28), and strikeouts (248). He’s the first Dodger to win the award since Eric Gagne in 2003, and the first Dodgers’ starting pitcher to win since Orel Hershiser in 1988. Roy Halladay finished second in the voting, Cliff Lee in third.

Former Yankee Ian Kennedy finished fourth in the voting, receiving one first place vote. Congrats to him. The full results are up on the BBWAA’s site. The AL MVP Award will be announced Monday at 2pm ET. Curtis Granderson and Robbie Cano figure to get a decent amount of votes.