Beat L.A.

There are a lot of different reasons why a baseball club decides to trade a player in the middle of the season. It many cases it’s because the player’s contract expires at the end of the year and the team expects him to depart via free agency, so they decide to try to get some value for him. This usually happens with clubs who have fallen out of contention. Another reason is financial: if the team is unable to afford the player’s salary, or needs to free up cash. This summer it’s possible that we’ll witness a confluence of these two factors in Los Angeles.

After failing to buy the Red Sox, Frank and Jamie McCourt completed a largely debt-based purchase of the Dodgers in 2004. Since then their fiscal style has been, shall we say, less than austere, and it all came to light when Frank and Jamie split up. It’s been a particularly messy and public divorce, one made worse by a shoddy prenup, and the team has fallen on tough times. At the end of April Major League Baseball seized control of the Dodgers’ finances. The team has over $400M in debt and has seen a drop in season tickets this year. Worse, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday of this week that the Dodgers lack the finances necessary to meet payroll through the end of this month. The $30M loan that McCourt received from Fox earlier this month, a loan which seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Commissioner Bud Selig, only provided funding for April’s two payrolls and the first payroll in May. This is what’s known as a cash crunch. Right now, the Dodgers are having trouble paying the bills.

The baseball season is still young. The trading deadline is a little less than three months away. Yet this mess of a situation in Los Angeles might mean that the Dodgers become more likely to trade some of their more expensive players this summer. One intriguing name is Hiroki Kuroda. He’s signed only through the end of this year and for a relatively hefty salary of $12M. Despite my best efforts (I heart Hiroki), he remains one of the more underrated pitchers in the game. Since 2010 his K/BB ratio is 3.31, similar to Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez and Tommy Hanson. He has a 3.44 FIP and a 3.43 ERA. He’s gotten goten ground balls at a 50.5% clip, nearly identical to Chris Carpenter. Carpenter is a decent comp for Kuroda over the past two years, except Kuroda has walked fewer batters. Kuroda has no doubt benefited from facing weak NL West lineups and from pitching in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark, but his skillset is strong and he’d represent a great midseason rotation addition for a lot of contending teams.

As evidenced by the divorce proceedings and interactions with the MLB Commissioner’s office, McCourt isn’t one to shy away from a fight or go away quietly. Say what you want about him, and Dodgers fans can say plenty, but he clearly has a backbone and he’s proud of the fact that he owns a baseball club. For this reason he may be less likely to punt on the season and trade away his expensive pieces, especially if Major League Baseball is providing any sort of financial backstop for the club. Yet the math could become a bit different if McCourt is still experiencing a cash crunch in a few months and if the Dodgers have fallen out of contention in the NL West. They currently boast a 15-19 record, 4.5 games behind the division-leading Rockies. Maybe a disappointing season from the Dodgers will encourage McCourt to decide to  free up some cash in the short-term to help his long-term goal of retaining control of the franchise. Shoot, perhaps he’d be willing to pull the trigger on a salary dump now. The Dodgers aren’t short on pitching, but they are short on cash.

There’s something a bit macabre about this whole affair. The divorce is ugly, and it’s sad to see a great franchise like the Los Angeles Dodgers be put in this situation because of the personal affairs of ownership. I’ve always liked the Dodgers, and I’ve always felt nostalgic when I see their stadium and the palm trees and the classic white uniforms. It’s a little uncomfortable to feel like a vulture circling overhead waiting for the wildebeest to finally give up the ghost and collapse into the desert sand. But this isn’t a community softball league, and the Yankees may need to pick up a a pitcher this summer. I feel bad for Dodgers fans, but here’s to hoping that Cashman can pounce with quickness if an opportunity arises.

Yankees mount five-run comeback, lose anyway

At least they didn't screw up the rundown this time. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Almost, almost. It looked like it would be a blowout early on, but the Yankees fought back valiantly to tie things up before losing the battle of the bullpens. I’m not sure how often that will happen, but two hits in six innings against Brett Tomko, Arthur Rhodes, Darren Oliver, and Neftali Feliz is facepalm worthy. Recap time? Recap time.

  • Bartolo Colon just didn’t have it, though the velocity was there. That’s a good sign, it was just his command that betrayed him. He allowed five runs and nine hits in 4.1 IP, though almost all the damage was done in a four-run second inning. After three straight strong starts, Colon’s allowed a stinker. Three out of four ain’t bad at all.
  • The Yankees charged back from that five-zip hole mostly in the third inning, when the biggest hit was Robinson Cano clearing the bases with a triple that was aided by Julio Borbon whiffing on a dive in center. Derek Holland walked five in a ten batter span, contributing to the rally.
  • Derek Jeter actually had an extra base hit, and it was unquestionably his hardest and farthest hit ball of the season. It bounced off the wall in straight away left field. He also singled and made the final out of the game. Nick Swisher homered, both Curtis Granderson and Jorge Posada walked twice, Mark Teixeira singled twice, and Russell Martin made six outs in four plate appearances thanks to double plays.
  • Boone Logan has been pretty terrible against left-handed batters this year, and two of the three he faced picked up hits. The third ripped a line drive to right that Swish ran down on his horse. Of the 25 lefties Logan’s faced this year, 11 have reached base. That’s awful. Get well soon, Pedro.
  • Texas scored the go-ahead run on what Cyborg Tommy Hanson would call a NINNYBUNT, then they tacked on an insurance run on a Michael Young single back up the middle. I don’t get it, he was 3-for-3 to that point and has been killing the Yankees all year. Why do they insist on pitching to the other team’s best hitters in potentially dangerous spots with a base open? Oh well, at least it wasn’t the game-winning hit. Here’s the box score and video, and here’s the WPA graph.

Rubber game Sunday afternoon at 2pm ET. CC Sabathia will square off against Dave Bush. Alexi Ogando was supposed to start, but he’s been scratched with a blister issue. Dave Bush is certifiably terrible, but we know how that usually goes for the Yankees…

Marshall, Place get Tampa off the schneid

Triple-A Scranton (7-3 loss to Pawtucket)
Dan Brewer, RF: 2 for 6, 1 2B, 2 K
Chris Dickerson, DH: 0 for 3, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 SB – seven walks in his last six games
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 5, 1 RBI, 2 K – four for his last 27 (.148) with ten whiffs
Justin Maxwell, CF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K – that’s homer number ten
Brandon Laird, 3B: 0 for 5, 1 E (fielding) – still below the Mendoza line
Jordan Parraz, LF: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 BB
Luis Nunez, 2B: 1 for 4, 2 R, 1 SB
Gus Molina, C: 3 for 4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB – yay Gus!
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 K
Jesus Montero, PH: 1 for 1 – didn’t start because of the whole day game after a night game thing
Adam Warren, RHP: 4 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 7-1 GB/FB – 50 of 86 pitches were strikes (58.1%) … at least he out-pitched his former college teammate
Amaury Sanit, RHP: 3 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 4-1 GB/FB – 33 of 46 pitches were strikes (71.7%)
Ryan Pope, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – ten of his 15 pitches were strikes
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – seven of his dozen pitches were strikes (58.3%)

[Read more…]

Game 31: Start a streak

Do your thing, Bart. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Last night’s win was great, but let’s get greedy. Bring the pain, Bartolo.

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Andruw Jones, LF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C

Bartolo Colon, SP

Stupid Saturday night games. This one starts a little after 8pm ET and can be seen on both YES and the MLB Network. Enjoy.

Analyzing Derek Jeter’s swing

These Saturday night games are a bitch, but here’s something to help you pass the time. Chris O’Leary, who’s written more about baseball mechanics than I care to recap, broke down Derek Jeter’s swing and shows us what’s going wrong with the Cap’n. “Jeter strikes me as your classic incredibly gifted athlete who, as he gets older, is no longer able to get away with a highly unusual, and fundamentally flawed, swing,” says O’Leary. Make sure you check it out, there’s tons of gifs to show you exactly what’s going on. Very interesting stuff.

A.J.’s approach to lefties

On Friday over at The Process Report R.J. Anderson published a piece noting that the entire Rays rotation is pitching more backward. By this he meant that the staff was throwing more offspeed pitches early in the count than they had in the past. Anderson concluded that this was likely the result of a strategic decision by the Baseball Operations department. The Rays have the luxury of little turnover in the rotation (lost Garza, added Hellickson), so there’s good year to year comparative data there, but in New York the situation is slightly different. Andy Pettitte is out to pasture, Phil Hughes is injured, and Javier Vazquez is currently chucking his 87 mph nothingball for the Florida Marlins. The Yankees currently boast only two members of the 2010 Opening Day squad in the current pitching rotation: CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. By and large, Sabathia is doing what he’s always been doing, but there’s been a subtle change in AJ’s approach this year. It’s for the better.

The biggest anecdotal difference this year for A.J. Burnett is the increased quality of his offspeed offerings. Last year his curveball was flat and ineffective, and this year it’s shown signs of returning to form. Last year he rarely threw a changeup, but this year he’s been breaking it out way more often, albeit less as of late. Greater confidence in his offspeed stuff has enabled him to pitch more backwards this season, especially against left-handed batters. Here’s the breakdown for his pitch data against lefties in 0-0 counts in the past two years:

Like the Rays staff, Burnett is throwing fewer fastballs on 0-0 counts. It’s still his primary go-to pitch on the first pitch of the at-bat, but so far he’s thrown it 17% fewer than last year. Instead, he’s throwing his curveball and his changeup, upping the former by about 6% and the latter by about 11%. In fact, he’s thrown his changeup as a first pitch in 2011 only 4 times fewer than he did in 2010. Clearly he’s showing a greater willingness to deploy the pitch early on.

This usage pattern demonstrates a greater confidence in the quality of the pitches. He’s throwing his changeup for a strike about 58% of the time in 2011, up about 25% from his 2010 mark. This could be sample size noise but it does appear anecdotally that he has better command of the pitch than he did last year. Interestingly, he’s thrown the curveball for a strike on 0-0 only 37% of the time so far this year, down from 44%.

Despite the fact that he throws from the right side, A.J. Burnett has always been tougher on left-handed batters than right-handed batters. He boasts a career average FIP of 3.61 against lefties, with a 8.97 K/9 and 3.77 BB/9. Against righties he’s averaged a FIP of 4.02 with a K/9 of 7.99 and a BB/9 of 3.02. Last year everything fell apart, including his trademark toughness on lefties. A.J. struck out only 6.53 per nine and walking 4.2 batters per nine innings. This year he’s gotten the train back on the track. He’s been slightly less tough on righties (5.61 K/9 and 4.27 FIP), but he’s back to his old ways against lefties, posting an 8.50 K/9 and 3.50 FIP. This is no doubt related to the quality of his offspeed pitches. As he’s able to command one or more offspeed offerings and throw them for strikes early in the count he will keep hitters off balance and put them away via the strikeout. Given the considerable risk in the Yankees rotation, this improvement is a very welcome development.