A quick note on Curtis Granderson and plate discipline

The Yankees are a power and patience offense, so it’s not a surprise that they lead baseball with a 9.9% walk rate and are second with a .178 ISO (one point behind the Red Sox). Their best player all season has been Curtis Granderson, who personifies that power and patience approach. His .299 ISO is third best in baseball, trailing only Jose Bautista (.358) and Lance Berkman (.305), plus his 11.8% walk rate is a top 30 mark and continues to climb. Only Nick Swisher (15.0%) and Russell Martin (12.1%) have better rates on the Yankees.

That walk rate is not an outlier for Granderson, who walked 10.0% of his plate appearances last year and in 10.5% of his plate appearances from 2008-2010. What is sort of surprising is the number of pitches he’s seeing; Curtis leads the majors by averaging 4.48 pitches seen per plate appearance. Bobby Abreu (4.42), Carlos Santana (4.41), and Adam Dunn (4.41) are next in line. He had averaged 4.11 P/PA from 2008-2010. Furthermore, Jack Curry noted the other day that Granderson had fouled off 135 two-strike pitches to stay alive this year, second in the AL to the unstrikeoutable Dustin Pedroia (150). It’s not all about the long ball with Grandy, who’s been putting together quality at-bats all season. That’s great to see.

Scouting The Trade Market: James Shields

If you can’t beat him, trade for him, amirite? Rays right-hander James Shields has dominated the Yankees twice within the last two weeks (one earned run in 15.2 IP), but that’s not the real reason we’re talking about him here. Tampa is gradually dropping out of the race and the generally belief is that Shields’ days with the team are numbered as he gets more expensive and their next top pitching prospect (Matt Moore) gets closer to the show. The Reds are one team with interest, and earlier this week Buster Olney (Insider req’d) noted that no one explores options more thoroughly than Tampa. If they move him, it’ll be because they’re improving the team, not just saving money.

So with all that in mind, let’s break Shields’ game down and see what kind of fit he is for the Yankees, if he’s one at all…

The Pros

  • Shields is in the middle of the best season of his career. His 2.53 ERA is backed up by a 3.14 FIP and a 2.98 xFIP, and he’s got career highs in strikeout rate (8.69 K/9), swing and miss rate (11.6%), and homerun rate (0.86 HR/9). His 45.6% ground ball rate is his second best ever, and although his 2.30 BB/9 is his worse walk rate since his rookie year, it’s still pretty damn good.
  • Although his world class changeup gets most of the attention, Shields legitimately throws six different pitches. That low-80’s changeup works off three different fastballs: a low-90’s four-seamer, a low-90’s two-seamer, and a high-80’s cutter. He doesn’t use the last two often (6.8% and 4.9% of the time this season), but he does use them. Shields is throwing his high-70’s curveball more than ever this year (22.0%), which is part of the reason why he’s had so much success. A slider is his other offering.
  • That repertoire is the reason why Shields has virtually no platoon split for his career, though he has a slight one in 2011. It’s not significant enough to worry about. Because that’s not good enough, he also has arguably the best right-handed pickoff move in baseball. He leads the league with ten pickoffs, and runners have stolen zero bases off him in three attempts this season. During his career, runners have stolen just 38 bases in 62 attempts (61.3%).
  • Only eight pitchers have thrown at least 200 IP every season since 2007, and Shields is one of them. He’s on pace to do it yet again this year. You don’t throw that many innings without being healthy, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Shields has never been on the disabled list. He’s obviously a career AL East pitcher and has been very successful in baseball’s most unforgiving division, so the transition should be minimal. Shields has pitched in the playoffs and in the World Series, so that’s another plus.
  • The contract is as friendly as it gets. Shields will be paid a total of $4.25M this season (about $708k per month), then there are club options for 2012 ($7M with a $2M buyout), 2013 ($9M with a $1.5M buyout), and 2014 ($12M with a $1M buyout). Escalators tied to innings pitches, starters, and finishes in the Cy Young Award voting could put another $6M in his pocket. Either way, that’s an absolute steal.

The Cons

  • As great as he’s been this season, we can’t completely ignore Shields’ atrocious 2010 campaign. His 5.18 ERA didn’t match his 4.24 FIP, but Shields led the league in hits allowed (246, or 10.9 H/9), earned runs allowed (117), and homeruns allowed (34). Opponents hit .294/.338/.490 off him overall and .313/.356/.534 off him away from pitcher friendly Tropicana Field.
  • The roads woes are not an isolated incident either. Shields has been a 4.67 ERA (~4.45 FIP) pitcher away from home over the course of his career, when batters have tagged him for a .276/.323/.467 batting line.
  • I don’t put much stock in this stuff, but Shields hasn’t pitched well against the Red Sox in his career, a 4.95 ERA and ~4.05 FIP in 18 career starts. His numbers at Fenway Park are even worse: a 7.71 ERA with a ~4.90 FIP in eight career starts. In fairness, he did throw a complete game shutout against the Red Sox earlier this year, the video you see above. As for the current version of Yankee Stadium, he owns a 3.71 ERA (~4.40 FIP) in four career starts there.
  • Shields is incredibly homer prone. That 0.86 HR/9 this year might be a career best, but it’s still not all that great. He allowed one homer for every six innings pitched last season and 1.1 HR/9 from 2007-2009. His career HR/FB% is 11.6%, which is quite high. It’s not uncommon for changeup pitchers to be homer prone, every once in a while they’ll leave one up, and a high changeup is just a batting practice fastball.
  • He’s been healthy in the big leagues, but it’s worth nothing that Shields did miss the entire 2002 minor league season because of shoulder surgery. Once it’s in a guy’s past, he’s never really clear of danger.

The elephant in the room here is the intra-division issue. Brian Cashman and Rays GM Andrew Friedman have made exactly one trade with each other, a 2006 swap that involved Nick Green coming to New York and cash going to Tampa. Talks between the two clubs about Matt Garza never really got off the ground this winter because “strong impressions were that it would be something that would cost us more because we are in the division, kind of like Roy Halladay,” according to Cashman. “There was also reluctance from them to trading within the division.” That whole intra-division thing would be a major, major obstacle.

In terms of talent and expected production, Shields is about as good as it’ll get. He’s not in the Halladay/Cliff Lee/Felix Hernandez/uber-pitcher category, but he’s proven over several years to be a well-above-average hurler in the tougher league, and this year he’s been ace-like. He’s still very much in the prime of his career at age 29, so there’s no reason to expect a significant age-related drop-off anytime soon. And that contract, goodness is that contract favorable. Any team that trades for him would be getting more than three of his peak years for a total of $29.5M or so, assuming all the options are picked up. That’s a steal, fire-your-agent kind of robbery.

The Rays are extremely well run and have a knack for getting both quality and quantity in trades. They turned Jason Bartlett (Jason Bartlett!) into three big league relievers and a useful prospect. We saw the Garza haul, which cost the Cubs their two top prospects (Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee), two other near-MLB ready prospects (Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer, both of whom have played in the bigs this year), and a serviceable bench player (Sam Fuld). You’d have to mark up from there if you want to envision a package for Shields because he’s better now than Garza was last year and he has a much more favorable contract than his former teammate. Think two top prospects, three other near MLB ready guys, and maybe more. I don’t believe a trade of this magnitude would happen between the two teams, but the Yankees would have to strongly consider it if Tampa shows the willingness to move him to one of their biggest rivals.

Update: Buster Olney says the Yankees called the Rays about Shields, but were told that he’s not available.

The RAB Radio Show: July 22, 2011

This week we shift focus, kind of, to the players the Yankees have to offer in a trade. But we still talk about possible targets, obviously.

  • Is there anyone on the current roster we’d trade?
  • What we would require if trading Betances and Banuelos.
  • A long segment on Jesus Montero, including his availability and his continuing presence in AAA.
  • Trading lesser prospects for less intriguing arms.

Podcast run time 39:57

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

RAB Live Chat

Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

(From Flickr user ztil301 via Creative Commons.)

After playing a pair of four-game series against division rivals, the Yankees head back home to take on some of the lesser teams in baseball. In the next 10 games they’ll play Oakland, Seattle, and Baltimore, taking them right into August. First up is Oakland, against whom the Yankees are 19-3 in the last three seasons.

What the A’s Have Done Lately

Surprisingly enough, Oakland has played pretty well since the All-Star break. They came out swinging against the Angels, taking three of four, before splitting a pair with the Tigers. They averaged five runs per game in that stretch, which is just slightly better than their 3.52 runs per game this season. It’s actually far more surprising that they beat up on Anaheim, since Anaheim has one of the best, if not the best pitching staff in the league.

A’s on Offense

(From Flickr user Dinur via Creative Commons.)

Despite the recent outburst, the A’s still have one of the league’s worst offenses. As mentioned, they’ve scored just 3.52 runs per game, which is 13th in the AL, with only Seattle trailing. It’s also about 0.8 runs per game below the league average. Of course, they play in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the league, so it’s expected that their hitters are a certain degree worse than they would be if they played elsewhere. Yet even when we adjust for their park in Batting Runs Above Average, they’re still at -59.4, which is — you guessed it — 29th in the majors, with only Seattle trailing. (Though they trail by 30 runs.)

It’s no surprise that Josh Willingham’s name has come up often in trade talks. He’s been Oakland’s best hitter this year, putting up 4.3 runs above average. While that number is park-adjusted, I’m not quite sure it adequately compensates a player for a park as poor as the Oakland Coliseum. He’s hitting .240/.315/.427 right now, which is below his career numbers in every regard. Coco Crisp has been the other veteran who has provided positive run value. His .265/.315/.385 line might not look like much, but compared to his teammates it’s golden.

(From Flickr user Dinur via Creative Commons.)

Two youngsters have stepped up for Oakland this season and have provided positive run values despite having fewer PA then other starters. Jemile Weeks has stormed onto the scene, hitting .308/.342/.406 in his first 153 big league plate appearances. He’s never really hit for power, even in the minors, but he did have a good walk rate down there, which could help him maintain his value as his BABIP regresses a bit.

Earlier this season the A’s acquired Scott Sizemore from the Tigers for a song, and he’s actually produced positive value as an Athletic. In 125 PA he’s hit .261/.328/.414, which, again, would translate to much better numbers elsewhere. He’s part of the A’s MO, which is to acquire decent on-base guys who have no semblance of power. I get it, in a way. Their stadium suppresses power, so you might as well try to build clubs in different ways. Not that it has worked, really.

The rest of the A’s hitters are having years ranging from pretty bad to completely crappy. They have gotten rid of two of their worst offensive detractors, Mark Ellis, traded to the Rockies, and Daric Barton, optioned to the minors. While the A’s have replaced Ellis with Weeks, they haven’t gotten much out of Barton’s replacement, Chris Carter. He has tons of potential to hit with power, but he’s managed just four extra bases in 110 career PA, all of them coming last year.

A’s on the Mound

While the A’s have the second worst offense in the league, their pitching staff has allowed the third fewest runs in the league. Again, this is greatly an effect of their ballpark, and a trip to the Stadium could be a humbling experience. They’re without one of their best, Brett Anderson, who recently underwent Tommy John Surgery. But the Yanks will still run into two of their very good young starters.

(From Flickr user Dinur via Creative Commons.)

Friday: RHP Trevor Cahill. His year hasn’t gone as well as his first few starts might have indicated, but Cahill is on his way to another fine year in the majors. It’s pretty impressive for a 23-year-old who broke in at age 21. His strikeouts are up, but so are his walks. It leads to a slightly worse ERA and slightly better peripherals than last year, which is good on the whole. But for this year it can still come back to haunt him. It certainly did earlier in the year against the Yankees, when he walked five and gave up four runs. Last year he faced the Yanks twice and gave up 15 runs in 10 innings. He’s been very good lately, giving up three or fewer runs in four of his last five stars, including one 7.2-inning, 2-run start against the scorching Texas Rangers.

Saturday: RHP Rich Harden. It will be around 100 degrees in an afternoon affair, so of course Harden is going against A.J. Burnett. Harden has made just three starts this year, and while he has avoided the walk, issuing just four in 18 innings, he has also allowed four homers in that span. He can still strike ‘em out, but it appears he’s lost most of his arsenal, which doesn’t play well against a dynamic lineup such as the Yankees. Which, of course, means he’ll below through them and we’ll be in for a short afternoon. Which means, in turn, that both he and Burnett will walks six and an equal number of people at the Stadium will spontaneously combust. In all seriousness, it’s hard to get a read on Harden. He’s been so injured lately that no one really knows what’s going to come next.

Sunday: LHP Gio Gonzalez. It’s been quite a year for Gonzalez, whose ERA is is a full run lower than it was last year. His peripherals are a measure better, too, because he’s striking out more hitters. But he’s still walking batters, giving up homers, and getting ground balls at similar rates, which are the only aspects that hold him back. Still, it’s hard to argue with a 2.33 ERA. He’s had a few clunkers along the way, including a four-inning, seven-run performance against the Rangers in early July (though only three runs were earned). He’s allowed four or more runs just five times in 19 starts this season, though one of those was to the Yankees back in June. In four of his last five starts he’s gone at least seven innings and has allowed zero or one run.

Bullpen: The A’s have had some turnover in their bullpen, but overall it’s a quality unit, with an AL-leading 2.93 ERA. They also have the second-lowest bullpen FIP in the AL at 3.28. (Guess who’s in first?) The only drawback is that they’ve had 38 meltdowns, which ranges closer to the middle of the pack. Brad Ziegler leads the way with a 1.80 ERA andd 2.42 FIP, while Andrew Bailey has been awesome in his limited time (2.00 ERA, 2.35 FIP). Grand Balfour, Craig Breslow, and Joey Devine have also done a good job keeping other teams at bay in the later innings.

Recommended A’s Reading: Friend of RAB Jason Wojciechowski’s Beaneball.