Open Thread: Drew Henson

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Man, I thought Drew Henson was going to be a superstar back in the day. Baseball America drooled over his athletic ability, ranking him as one of the 24 best prospects of the game in 2000, 2001, and 2002. And yet, the guy has one career big league hit to his credit in a whopping nine plate appearances. That was long before I realized that striking out in a third of your at-bats in Single-A was a bad sign. As an added bonus, Henson also busted in football, but his career earnings total something like $20M. That’s like, nine hundred and fifty grand per MLB hit and NFL pass attempt. Henson turns 31 today and was pretty much my first prospect crush, but that first bust always cuts the deepest.

Anywho, here is the open thread for the night. None of the hockey or basketball locals are playing, but there’s usually something good on TV on Sunday. You’ll survive. Talk about whatever you want here.

Food For Thought: Andruw Jones

It’s too bad the Yankees aren’t getting the 20-something version of Andruw Jones, huh? Of course, he and Reggie Jackson accumulated their WAR in very different ways. The fielding component of Jones’ WAR (+24.0) is the third highest of all time, trailing only Brooks Robinson (+29.4) and Mark Belanger (+24.1). Ozzie Smith is right behind him at +23.9. That’s some serious company. Reggie was all offense (just +7.5 defensive WAR), but a run scored is the same as a run saved in the end.

Jones should be a fine fourth outfielder in pinstripes, but a far cry from his days in Atlanta. That assumes the Yankees will actually, you know, get him under contract one of these days. He agreed to terms about three weeks ago now, and we’re still waiting on the physical and signature. There’s a chance the team is just waiting until Spring Training begins, so they could simple slide Damaso Marte on the 60-day DL rather than sacrifice someone of the 40-man roster. That’s pretty much all the official business left for the offseason, which happily ends tomorrow.

(related graphs)

Small Sample Smackdown: Shane Vs. Shelley

Shane Spencer displays the sweet swing of a future hall-of-famer - or a fourth outfielder. (AP Photo/John Dunn)

I fell hard for Shane Spencer in the summer of 1998. These were the days before B-ref and Fangraphs were standing by, 24-7, to challenge my snap judgments and gut my deluded visions of spunky fringe players one day morphing into perennial all-stars. Not that it would’ve mattered. In my eyes, Spencer represented the next wave of talent produced by a Yankees farm system that was starting to grow suspect. Like Jeter, Bernie, Pettitte, and Posada before him, Shane Spencer would blossom into a homegrown superstar, a five-tool phenom when finally given the opportunity.

Spencer indeed solidified his presence on the Yankee roster with a 5-for-5, 2-homer demolition against the Royals on August 7th. He would follow this rookie performance for the ages with a four-week exhibition of offensive dominance during which the small sample size gods played Trading Places with Spencer and budding superstar Magglio Ordonez, who slugged an eye-gouging .354 during the same span. In addition to slamming clutch home runs, Spencer performed admirably at all three outfield positions and gave the veteran Yankees a needed dose of versatility and athleticism in a push that culminated with a 24th World Series championship. In the end, he crushed 10 homers in 67 at-bats in 1998, posting an absurd 1.321 OPS.

Nevermind that Spencer was having his way with a pile of September call-ups, feasting on obscurities like Albie Lopez, Tim Byrdak, Matt Whisenant, and Mike Sirotka. Knowing this now, it’s little mystery why he didn’t skip a beat from his .967 OPS showing in Columbus prior to his call-up.

In reality, Spencer was organization fodder from the beginning, despite his month-long destruction of American League tomato cans. Drafted in the 28th round in 1990, he did put up some impressive power numbers in the minors, including a .967 OPS at Triple-A Columbus in 1998. But the Yankees organization must’ve seen something ominous about the hulking outfielder, whom the New York media predictably likened to Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, whatever other big, white, countrified sluggers they could invoke from yesteryear. For one thing, there was the fact that he couldn’t hit right-handed pitching: over seven major league seasons, Spencer slugged .392 against righties verses .497 when facing southpaws. And then there was his age. At 25 and after toiling in the bush leagues for a decade, Spencer had reached his prospect expiration date. In fact, he’d actually played on the same Class-A Greensboro Hornets squad with Mariano Rivera, Ramiro Mendoza, and Jeter. He wasn’t the next generation of Yankees prospects; he was the prospect who never was.

Ultimately, Spencer’s career probably split the difference between the Yankees organization’s ceiling for him, which was Triple-A lifer, and my own hysterical expectations. He turned out to be a useful major league platoon outfielder, playing solid defense, getting on base at a decent clip, and running into the occasional gap double (.326 wOBA). Other than a rapid decline that was accelerated by injuries and substance abuse, the biggest hindrance to Spencer’s game was the absence of one standout offensive tool. He was a nice player to have around. But corner outfielders need to rake. Unless they play for the Mets.

Like Spencer, Shelley Duncan exploded onto the scene with an all-out assault on American League pitching in 2007. Except unlike back in ’98, I was now nine years older and wiser and remained cautiously optimistic about the raw, rowdy giant’s long-term prognosis. Although he’d been a second round pick in 2001, it quickly became apparent why Shelley remained mired in the minors despite impressive power numbers, which included a .926 OPS in 387 plate appearances prior to his 2007 call-up: he was the quintessential all-or-nothing slugger. Although Duncan had crushed 148 homers in seven minor league seasons, he’d done so while amassing 606 strikeouts. And while he proved early on his ability to destroy an average major league fastball – while scaring the soul out of opposing infielders as he careened, crazy-eyed, toward them – Duncan was prone to flailing at breaking pitches in the dirt or fastballs at his numbers.

I was tempted to buy into the narrative of Duncan as a crazed Frank Howard whose dose of WWE moxie was precisely the ingredient that the methodical Yankees had lacked since their championship string of the late-90s. But I refused to bite. Still, it would be interesting to see the degree to which he adjusted when major league pitchers started finding the inevitable holes in his looping swing.

Duncan’s rush to glory also lasted about a month. Between July 20th and August 21st of ’07, prior to him being exposed as a poor-man’s Dave Kingman on speed, Shelley posted a Playstation-like 1.072 OPS and played solid corner outfield defense (0.4 UZR). In addition to unleashing his maniacal energy, Duncan also brought back the forearm bash from its late-80s cocoon. As a kid, I’d always been envious of the Canseco-McGwire mullet-fortified version. Now, two decades later, there was Shelley, plotting in the dugout, ready to pounce on the next wincing, flinching teammate trotting toward the plate. Judging from the expressions of players who were forced to placate the uber-rambunctious Duncan, the 2007 iteration of the Yankee forearm bash had literally nothing to do with anyone on the team beyond Shelley. As soon as he was gone, it was gone. But really, who was going to be the one to tell this 6’5” monster to cut it out?

Unlike Shane Spencer, who can always brag to his kin of helping the Yanks capture a World Series ring in his rookie campaign while simultaneously playing on one of the greatest dynasties ever assembled, Shelley Duncan’s 2007 season appears insignificant to the casual observer in retrospect.

Despite Shelley’s four-week window of dominance in ‘07, then-manager Joe Torre, perhaps sensing that Duncan’s early success had been an aberration, scaled back Shelley’s playing time for the balance of the season. While there were few decisions that Joe Torre made in 2007 that I didn’t find maddening, Shelley Duncan’s inconsistent usage was a battle I was willing to concede. In hindsight, Torre was probably right: As a hitter, Duncan had already been exposed, and in his final 12 games of the season, he hit just .200 with a .646 OPS. As a Yankee, Duncan’s early promise as a long-ball threat never fully materialized, and he ended up signing with Cleveland in 2010, where he put up a serviceable .722 OPS in 259 plate appearances while reaching base almost never (.317 OBP).

And now for the small-sample-size throw-down for the ages:

I think we have a winner, and it’s not close. While Shelley was superb, Shane was freakish.

Sample size notwithstanding, both Spencer and Duncan captured the excitement of Yankees fans and the attention of hero-mongering sportswriters. But even when accounting for significant regression, neither player’s output would prove reflective of their actual skill sets or prologue to their future production. Yankees fans know this now and probably even grudgingly realized it then. It’s funny, though: As pro sports become even more fraught with cynicism, the unheralded farm-filler call-up who makes a big initial splash has a way of turning us into quixotic dreamers.

The ones to come…PECOTA-style

Yesterday afternoon I put together a requiem for an offseason gone awry, analyzing the starting pitchers on whom the Yankees missed out on and analyzing their PECOTA projections for the 2011 season. The offseason is nearly complete now. 1 more sleep, 1 more sleep and it’s all over. In recognition of that, what follows is an examination of possible trade targets for the Yankees this summer. Some of these pitchers have been explicitly mentioned in trade rumors; others are merely speculatory subjects. All of them are intriguing trade options, and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system can help formulate expectations for the coming year.

Nasty. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Francisco Liriano

2010: 191.2 IP, 3.62 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 9.44 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, 3.47 K/BB, 53.6 GB%.

2011 PECOTA projection: 161.9 IP, 3.75 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 8.30 K/9, 3.30 BB/9, 2.53 K/BB, 46.40 GB%.

Francisco Liriano’s 2010 campaign was nothing short of dominant. It’s rare to see such a combination of strikeout-heavy stuff, excellent control and a scorched earth of groundballs. As Mike put it a few days ago, Liriano is one of the best 10 pitchers on the planet, and he showed it in 2010. PECOTA sees a lower ground-ball percentage for Liriano in 2010, below 50%, which represents the half way mark between his 2009 and 2010 campaigns. However, statistically speaking 2010 was most similar to Liriano’s 2006 season, before he was injured, and in 2006 Liriano registered a 55.3 GB%. This might suggest that when Liriano is “on” and has all his pitches working, he’ll be a groundball machine.

Oddly, Liriano had a remarkably high BABIP in 2010, .336, a figure that goes a long way towards explaining the nearly full run discrepancy between his ERA and his FIP. In 2011, PECOTA projects this number to fall slightly, to .315. As I noted yesterday though, the Twins swapped out JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson for Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Hudson has a record of solid defense, and Hardy is a defensive wizard, so it remains to be seen how the defensive downgrade in the middle of the infield will affect the ground-ball heavy Liriano.

Ultimately PECOTA projects Liriano to come back to earth a bit in 2011. It’s not a surprise; with regression-based projection systems it’s rare to see outlandishly good statistical lines. His projection is certainly nothing to be ashamed of though. The takeaway is that PECOTA expects Liriano to be very effective if he can stay healthy.

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Chris Carpenter

2010: 235 IP, 3.22 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 6.86 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 2.84 K/BB, 51.1 GB%

2011 PECOTA projection: 136.7 IP, 3.21 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 6.20 K/9, 2.40 BB/9, 2.61 K/BB, 50.8 GB%.

Carpenter essentially missed all of 2007 and 2008 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but has found his stride since returning. His 2010 IP total of 235 represents his second-highest mark in his career, and while he wasn’t as dominant in 2010 as he was in 2009 (2.78 FIP, 55.0 GB%) the season was still very good. PECOTA likes Carpenter’s odds to replicate his 2010 level of performance, but isn’t optimistic about his ability to make 35 starts. Injuries are difficult to predict, but it’s worth noting that Carpenter has had serious injury in the past and will be 36 years old by the time the trade deadline rolls around. Marcel is more optimistic than PECOTA, projecting him to throw 197 innings of 3.50 FIP ball.

Whether the Cardinals will make Chris Carpenter available is an open question. Given the unfolding drama of the Albert Pujols negotiations and the fierce competition they’ll face in the NL Central from the Reds and the Brewers, it could be a very tough summer for the team. It’s hard to imagine them punting on the year and moving Carpenter at the deadline, especially if they’re still trying to convince Pujols to stay, but weirder things have happened. If he’s healthy and available Carpenter would be a great fit behind CC Sabathia in the Yankee rotation.

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Gavin Floyd

2010: 187.1 IP, 4.08 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 7.25 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, 2.60 K/BB, 49.9 GB%

2011 PECOTA projection: 190.7 IP, 4.24 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 6.90 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, 2.25 K/BB, 45.6 GB%

This projection is a bit surprising. PECOTA isn’t bearish on Floyd’s ability to stay healthy, it’s bearish on his ability to be as good as he’s been in the past. The projection is more similar to Floyd’s 2008 line of 206 IP, 4.77 FIP, 6.32 K/9, 3.05 BB/9 and 42.1 GB%. Floyd has been better in both years since, rattling off FIPs of 3.77 and 3.46, strikeout rates of 7.60 and 7.25, and walk rates of 2.75 and 2.79. Yet the projection system doesn’t seem confident in his ability to maintain a nearly 50% groundball rate. Given his lower career averages this is understandable, but whether his increased groundball rate in 2010 was a fluke or the product of pitcher maturation or an alteration in pitch selection or location is something that warrants more study.

The Marcel projection system is slightly more bullish on Floyd, seeing 173 innings of 3.80 FIP ball with a strikeout rate of 7.18 and a walk rate of 2.86. Given that Floyd is entering what should be his prime as a pitcher, I would tend to side with Marcel here. The CAIRO system splits the difference between the two, seeing 183 IP of 4.07 FIP ball with a 6.98 K/9, a walk rate  of 2.80 and a a 47.1 GB%.

(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Aaron Harang

2010: 111.2 IP, 5.32 ERA, 4.60 FIP, 6.61 K/9, 3.06 BB/9, 2.16 K/BB, 36.8 GB%

2011 PECOTA projection: 189 innings, 4.34 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 7.40 K/9, 2.40 BB/9, 2.79 K/BB, 39.6 GB%

Aaron Harang is the same age as Cliff Lee, but feels like he’s been in the league for far longer. Harang’s story is somewhat sad. From 2005 to 2007, he was one of the better pitchers in the National League. 11 starts into the 2008 season though Dusty Baker asked Harang to pitch 4 innings in relief in an extra-innings affair against the Padres. He was on only three-days rest, and still made his next start four days later. But something was wrong, and Harang saw a rapid decline in performance. People have long speculated that the cause of this decline was the relief appearance, and yesterday Harang finally admitted it. Via Hardball Talk:

Including his next start four days later, Harang threw a total of 239 pitches over the course of eight days. The damage was done.

“What it did,” said Harang, “is fatigue me beyond the point of recovery. I started to change my arm angle to compensate for the fatigue and that’s when my forearm started to bother me.”

Harang tried to pitch through the injury initially, but eventually spent over a month on the disabled list later that summer. He has an ugly 5.00 ERA over 379 2/3 innings since the relief appearance in question. While he feels healthy now, he’s still trying to get his mechanics back in order.

It’s possible that Harang’s struggles have been overstated. Despite a horrific win-loss record and ERA in 2008 and 2009, he still managed to keep his K/BB ratio above 2.5 and even posted a 4.14 FIP in 2009. Regardless, Harang is no longer at risk of getting manhandled by Dusty Baker, having signed a 1 year, $4M contract with a $5M mutual option for 2012 with the San Diego Padres. Like Jed Hoyer and the Padres’ front office, PECOTA is a buyer. The system doesn’t see him fully regaining his past form, but it’s certainly not far off. After consecutive seasons of having a BABIP over .330, PECOTA projects it to drop to .311; it also sees him regaining his strikeout stuff and exhibiting good control. If he can regain his past mechanics and stay healthy, PETCO could be a great landing spot for this fly ball pitcher. He’s no Liriano, but he’s cheap and could prove to be a surprisingly big name at the trade deadline this summer.

Honorable Mentions

Johan Santana

Discussed in great detail here and here, Santana has a fantastic projection from PECOTA. Unfortunately PECOTA doesn’t know about his shoulder injury. This one’s on hold.

2010: 199 IP, 2.98 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 6.51 K/9, 2.49 BB/9, 2.62 K/BB, 34.5 GB%

2011 PECOTA projection: 210.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 7.20 K/9, 2.60 BB/9, 2.81 K/BB, 41.3 GB%.

Hiroki Kuroda

2010: 196.1 IP, 3.39 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 7.29 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, 3.31 K/BB, 51.1 GB%.

2011 PECOTA projection: 171.3 IP, 3.47 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 6.10 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, 2.72 K/BB, 50.1 GB%.

Analyzed here yesterday, Kuroda would be a fantastic trade target for the Yankees should the Dodgers decide to make him available this summer. Unlike Santana, he’s relatively cheap, the commitment is short and he gets tons of groundballs.

The best part about having an incomplete rotation is that it keeps things interesting. This spring fans will get to see the battle for the fourth and fifth starter position play out between veterans like Garcia and Colon and youngsters like Warren and Nova. Hopefully one or two can emerge as a viable option, allowing the Yankees to be patient this year and let the trade market develop. There may be good candidates on the market after all.

Open Thread: Erick Almonte

(AP Photo/Aaron Harris)

Opening Day 2003 is a memorable game for all the wrong reasons. That’s the game when Derek Jeter dislocated his left shoulder by sliding into third base and Ken Huckaby’s catching gear just two-and-a-half innings into the new season. The Cap’n spent 42 days on the disabled list, and his replacement at shortstop was a player that Baseball America considered the team’s 24th best prospect: Erick Almonte. He made a great first impression, going 2-for-5 with a homer in his first big league start two days later. It all went downhill from there though, Almonte mustered just a .260/.321/.350 batting line (.303 wOBA) in 111 plate appearances in Jeter’s stead, and he hasn’t appeared in the majors since that season. The Yankees signed Almonte as a 19-year-old free agent out of the Dominican Republic fifteen years ago today, and although his tenure in pinstripes was forgettable, he’ll always be the guy the Yankees turned to when Jeter hit the shelf. That’s gotta count for something, right?

Anyways, here’s your open thread for the evening. The Knicks are playing the Nets, though it is Saturday night. I recommend going out because the work week will begin before you know it.

Learning to Embrace A.J.-ness

Burnett cracks a smile as he plots to only dominate the Yankees in 2008. (AP Photo/Frank Gunn)

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates talks of our natural inability to see things for what they truly are. Objects and concepts that we think we see and know (Jeff Kent, for instance) are actually copies of the ideal article (Jeff Kent-ness), which, for the most part, exists beyond our earthly comprehension. (For a painfully drawn out illustration of this, or if you’re simply having trouble falling asleep, please read Plato’s “Myth of the Cave.”) It’s only by having an extensive dialogue with others, says Socrates, that we can ever begin to approach the essence or –ness of something, thus enabling us to move beyond the illusions and “shadows” of our material world.

Which, naturally, brings us to A.J. Burnett.

Because when it comes to A.J., all we see are the shadows – spectacular, seductive shadows: The cocky, ferocious swagger; the no-hitter in his first full season; the 96 MPH heater and hammer curve; the 3.8 WAR in ’02 and 231 Ks in ’08; the World Series gem; and the repeated bullying of his future employer, culminating in a 8 IP, 13K dismantling at Rogers Center in 2008. That he can physically impose his will over opposing hitters like few others brings to mind images of Randy Johnson, Clemens, Pedro, and Ryan, which reinforces the illusion. This only adds to our confusion as to why he isn’t, you know, better.

Other than a stellar 8.2 K/9, Burnett’s 12-year career stat line is a nudge above pedestrian: 3.93 FIP, 1.32 WHIP, 107 ERA+, 21.5 WAR. We’re talking Charles Nagy-Ismael Valdez-Jarrod Washburn territory. This is really not such a horrible thing, of course, unless your curve has been tabbed as “unhittable,” or you’ve been called “the nastiest pitcher in baseball” by Derek Jeter.

Compounding matters, A.J. is given to unsightly implosions on the mound. These episodes typically begin with a seemingly benign wild pitch or hit batsman and culminate with an upper-deck grand slam by a .720 OPS-ing utility infielder and Sergio Mitre’s garbage-time trunk rotations in the bullpen.

Sometimes weeks pass in which Burnett, still mired in one of these patented sadness spirals, more closely resembles a frazzled, overmatched triple-A journeyman than the dominant enforcer he’s shown glimpses of being throughout his career: the shutdown ace that scouts gushed over, the cocky fireballer fans expect to show up for good any moment now. But these spells aren’t a recent development and are as much a part of A.J.’s overall body of work as his eye-popping moments of excellence. Baseball Prospectus nagged readers of this in 2009, immediately following his signing with the Yankees.

That the only three 200-inning seasons of Burnett’s career have been followed by either free agency of Tommy John surgery would seem to be a bad omen for the Yankees after giving him a five-year, $82.5 million contract. The Yankees were wowed by Burnett’s dominating them in five starts last year…but if you take those starts away, his 2008 ERA swells to a decidedly unimpressive 4.57, his WHIP gets up to 1.43, and his strikeout/walk ration shrinks to 2.4.

I remain skeptical about what B.P. was trying to imply here: That A.J. mails it in, save for contract years? That he lacks the focus and will necessary to remain consistently great against less storied franchises? That the Yankees were completely deluded in assessing his overall talent level?

Either way, B.P. was merely parroting the time-honored narrative that paints A.J. as a petulant hothouse flower who only performs to expectations in contract years. As the story goes, his failures as a starting pitcher are mainly due to deficiencies of will, mental toughness, and character rather than mechanical flaws or physical limitations. Because, as we all know, bad people are no good at sports.

Addressing the assumption that Burnett melts under pressure is the first order of business. A.J.’s career leverage numbers, shown in the table below, reinforce the notion that perception is often the enemy of reality.

For the Gold-Digger Corollary of these claims, I took a glance at four big-market clubs for whom A.J. may have been “auditioning” in 2008. I realize how un-dude it is of me to arbitrarily select a group of teams that A.J. might have had an interest in at the time, but it can’t possibly be any more unscientific than implying that Burnett stinks because he’s a lazy sack of insanity. So here’s what I found:

I realize the sample sizes here are microscopic. If anything, they reveal that A.J. may have indeed been galvanized to pitch against the big money teams in 2008, especially if one considers Burnett’s total body of work against the Red Sox (4.79 ERA, 1.435 WHIP). Whether or not the improvement in ’08 was due to a conscious contract push, the adrenaline rush of playing in front of crowds big enough to mute out the sound of his own breathing, or the added focus needed to navigate some very good offensive squads would be practically impossible to know for sure.

I vote for the latter.

While it’s specious to conclude that A.J. was lights-out against the Bombers in ’08 only because he was auditioning for a massive contract, it’s equally rash to completely discount the added intensity and self-discipline that pitching against a 900-run juggernaut like the Yankees might evoke. Time and again, we’ve witnessed soft-tossing journeymen or emergency call-ups summoning the ghost of Walter Johnson when facing the Yanks’ offensive machine – only to regress back to their former selves after posting double-digit strikeouts in eight maddening innings of one-run ball.

There could be a hundred different reasons for this phenomenon (which is actually more seldom than it seems). But like most of these one-hit-wonders, the inability to maintain long-term consistency – whether due to a lack of focus, faulty mechanics, excessive anxiety, or nagging injuries – is a fundamental component of A.J.’s essence, more so than all the striking cobras, flaming daggers and barbed wire armbands in the world.

Except what sets A.J. apart from the legions of mercurial journeymen is precisely what deludes scouts, fans, and pundits into hysterical visions of Tom Seaver 2.0: misplaced expectations. Conventional wisdom simply refuses to shut up about his raw stuff being among the best in the game while failing to acknowledge that baseball is littered with sexy fastball failures. The simple fact is that Burnett’s repertoire consists two pitches bundled in a package of a flawed delivery and erratic command.

And yet somehow we feel duped, refusing to acknowledge that beyond the egregious contract and awe-inducing gun readings, A.J. Burnett was never equipped to be much more than a mid-rotation starter, which is still a truly valuable commodity. But Plato would say we’re fixated on the deception of the “shadows,” unable to see – and, more importantly, accept – the true essence of A.J.

(AP Photo/Frank Gunn)

The ones that got away…PECOTA-style

The final stage of grieving is acceptance. With pitchers and catchers a mere two sleeps away, it’s time to look back on the starting pitchers who eluded the grasp of Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees and look forward to what 2011 holds for them. With the aid of Baseball Prospectus’ “deadly accurate” PECOTA projection system we can attempt to formulate an expectation for the players that will be donning the duds of other inferior teams in 2011. The list includes five names. The Yankees have been tied to all of them in varying degrees of interest: explicit interest, media-driven interest, and the wishful thinking of fans, or “should have”-interest. We’ll start with the most painful one of all.

That's an ugly tie, Cliff. (AP Photo)

Cliff Lee, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies

2010: 212.1 IP, 3.18 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 7.84 K/9, 0.76 BB/9, 10.28 K/BB, 41.9 GB%.

2011 PECOTA projection: 211 IP, 3.17 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 6.80 K/9, 1.60 BB/9, 4.18 K/BB, 44.2 GB%.

As is no surprise, the crown jewel of the offseason and the one for whom I have no end of hatred in my heart now grades out quite favorably by PECOTA’s standards. The high innings pitched total must be reassuring to Philly fans who have any degree of concern over his past back and oblique injury and his general advancement in age (he turns 33 this summer): 211 innings pitched is the 8th highest projected total in the PECOTA system for starting pitchers. PECOTA is seeing a regression in his strike out rate closer to his career average of 6.93 despite the fact that he’s moving to the National League. It’s also seeing an increase in his walk rate, hardly a surprise given how low it was in 2010. Despite the fact that his projected walk rate of 1.60 BB/9  is nearly a full batter higher per nine innings, this mark would have been fourth-best in baseball in 2010. Regression in his strikeout and walk rates means that his historic K/BB ratio should come back to earth a bit in 2011; again though a 4.18 K/BB would have ranked third-best in baseball. It’s unlikely that Lee can replicate his virtually unprecedented strikeout to walk ratio in 2011, but he still projects to be one of the best pitchers in the game. I hate you, Cliff.

Underrated. (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

2010: 196.1 IP, 3.39 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 7.29 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, 3.31 K/BB, 51.1 GB%.

2011 PECOTA projection: 171.3 IP, 3.47 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 6.10 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, 2.72 K/BB, 50.1 GB%.

Including Kuroda in this group of pitchers is slightly misleading. He signed with Los Angeles during the exclusive negotiating window after the World Series; teams like the Yankees never had a real shot at inking him. Regardless, Kuroda is also projected to put together a very good 2011 season. PECOTA expects a decrease in his strikeout rate from his 2010 mark, but projects an identical walk rate and nearly identical ground-ball percentage.

Last summer in a piece entitled “Bring me Kuroda!” at The Yankee U I argued that the struggles of Burnett and Vazquez should lead the Yankees to try to acquire Kuroda for the stretch run and the playoffs. He possess decent strikeout stuff, but also keeps the ball on the ground like few other pitchers. The Yankees passed on him at the time, and weren’t able to show any interest this offseason. It wouldn’t be wise to expect Kuroda to replicate a sub-3.50 FIP in the AL East. However, Kuroda is one of the more unknown and underrated pitchers in baseball. His 4.0 fWAR in 2010 represents value equivalent to bigger and flashier names like Mat Latos, Tommy Hanson, Ricky Romero and even Matt Cain. It’s water under the bridge now that Kuroda signed with Los Angeles for 1 year and $12.5M, but he’s a name to watch this season, especially if the Dodgers fall out of contention this summer.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)

Shaun Marcum, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

2010: 195 IP, 3.64 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 7.60 K/9, 1.98 BB/9, 3.84 K/BB, 38.4 GB%.

2011 PECOTA projection: 134.7 IP, 3.88 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 7.60 K/9, 2.60 BB/9, 2.90 K/BB, 42.3 GB%.

Going into the 2010 season it was hard to ancitipate what Shaun Marcum would bring to the the table for the rebuilding Blue Jays. Marcum missed the end of the 2008 season and most of the 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but was nevertheless named the Opening Day starter after the team dealt ace Roy Halladay to the Phillies. Marcum responded with a valiant effort on the year, giving the Jays nearly 200 innings of 3.74 FIP ball, and the Jays thanked him for his efforts by promptly sending him to Milwaukee for Brett Lawrie.

PECOTA isn’t particularly optimistic about Marcum in 2011. Performance-wise it expects him to maintain his strikeout stuff but lose some of the control he exhibited in 2010. More notably though it doesn’t see him logging more than 135 innings. For what it’s worth, Marcel projects a similar line for Marcum: 158 innings of 3.94 FIP ball with a 7.35 K/9 and a 2.45 BB/9. The Brewers have gone all in for 2011, acquiring Zack Greinke and Marcum to complement budding ace Yovani Gallardo in an attempt to win now. Prince Fielder is scheduled to hit free agency after this season, and Greinke is only under contract for one year after that. Whether the Brewers are able to outperform the Reds and the Cardinals and return to the playoffs will hinge partly on whether Marcum can outperform these low IP projections and stay healthy this season.

Maybe next year, Carl. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Carl Pavano, RHP, Minnesota Twins

2010: 221 IP, 3.75 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 4.76 K/9, 1.51 BB/9, 3.16 K/BB, 51.2 GB%.

2011 PECOTA projection: 102.7 IP, 4.22 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 5.20 K/9, 1.90 BB/9, 2.68 K/BB, 47.1 GB%.

As painful as it is to include Pavano’s name in a list like this, the fact remains that the Yankees pursued him this offseason, going so far as to discuss a sign-and-trade with the Diamondbacks for the right-hander. Pavano profiles somewhat similarly to Kuroda by featuring a low walk rate and inducing tons of ground balls. Pavano still had a very good 2010 campaign, and the Twins brought him back on a two year deal worth roughly $16M.

PECOTA isn’t optimistic about Pavano’s ability to stay healthy. Join the club, PECOTA. Join the club. It also sees Pavano registering a relatively higher strikeout rate and ground-ball rate in 2011. There are limits to what projection systems can see, though, and this is a good example. Fangraphs’ Dave Allen profiled Pavano a few weeks ago, noting that the increase in Pavano’s ground-ball rate was probably related to the increase in ground balls that Pavano was getting on his slider, going from 37.5 GB%  to nearly 60% on the pitch. This is based on Pavano locating his slider further low and away, and if he continues to pitch in this manner he may remain a heavy groundball and light strikeout pitcher in 2011. However, he may not receive the level of infield defense to which he’s become accustomed, given the departures of JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson. It’s possible that some of those groundballs will find their way through the infield with greater frequency in 2011.

The only known photo of Greinke talking to the media. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Zack Greinke, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

2010: 220 IP, 4.17 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 7.40 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, 46.0 GB%.

2011 PECOTA projection: 179 IP, 3.52 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 8.30 K/9, 2.40 BB/9, 44.0 GB%.

It isn’t surprising that Zack Greinke wasn’t able to replicate his insane 2009 level of performance in 2010, but he still managed to pitch very well. In 2011 PECOTA is essentially splitting the difference between his 2009 and 2010 campaigns. He’s projected to strike out more than 2010, but also walk more than he did in both 2009 and 2010. It also sees his slight increase in ground-balls largely holding in 2011. If the Brewers are able to get this level of performance alongside Yovani Gallardo they ought to contend for the NL Central this year.

The Yankees considered trading for Greinke this offseason, and even went so far as to discuss trade proposals with the Royals. The Royals asked the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Eduardo Nunez, and informed the Yankees that Greinke was willing to waive his no-trade clause to come to New York. The Yankees declined. Oddly, the reason wasn’t the asking price in prospects. As Craig Calcaterra and others reported, the Yankees didn’t believe that Greinke was a good fit for New York. If the Brewers are able to reach the playoffs in 2011, it will be very interesting to see how Greinke performs under pressure.

What’s done is done. The Yankees tried their best to bolster their rotation this offseason, but for a plethora of reasons were unable to land their desired targets. Hope springs eternal, though, and tomorrow we’ll take a look at some potential trade targets and their PECOTA projections.