Joel Piniero would fit nicely at Yankee Stadium

(Mark J. Terrill/AP)

On yesterday’s RAB Radio Show Mike and I discussed the Angels as they relate to the Yankees. It was just a year ago when the two teams faced off in the ALCS, but since then the Angels have taken a bit of a hit. They finished 80-82 last year, and now, after failing to sign any impact bats this off-season, they find themselves as also-rans in the AL West, where the Rangers and the A’s looking like the top contenders. While that likely won’t prompt the Angels to make a move now, it could make some of their players available during the season. One guy Mike and I discussed yesterday was Joel Pineiro.

At some point in the mid-00s Pineiro became an afterthought. A 12th round draft pick in 1997, Pineiro never really produced spectacular numbers in the minors. It wasn’t until 2000 that he really made a splash, when he produced a 2.80 ERA in 61 Pacific Coast League innings. That earned him the No. 80 spot on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects. He continued to pitch well by PCL standards in 2001, eventually earning a call-up to the bigs. After absolutely dominating — a 2.03 ERA in 75.1 innings — he was in the show to stay.

After two excellent seasons, Pineiro dropped off. In 2004 he pitched poorly before missing the final two months with an elbow injury. A shoulder strain caused him to miss the beginning of the 2005 season, and when he came back he was pretty terrible. In 2006 it was more of the same, and Pineiro actually shifted to the bullpen at one point. There were talks around the deadline of the Yankees swapping Shawn Chacon for Pineiro, but that didn’t pan out. After the season the Red Sox signed him to be the closer, and we all know how that worked out. They traded him to the Cardinals, which is where the real story begins.

Pineiro had always been a decent ground ball pitcher. From 2002 through 2004 he was in the top third of the league in ground ball rate. That gave him hope with Cardinals’ pitching coach Dave Duncan. In 2008 the experiment didn’t go so well, as Pineiro posted a 5.15 ERA and 4.71 FIP in 148.2 innings. But the next year everything seemed to click. His ground ball rate jumped from the mid- to high-40s all the way to 60.5 percent. That caused his home run rate to dip. Combined with a pristine walk rate, 1.14 per nine, he put together a very good season: 3.49 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.68 xFIP. It was lucky, too, because he was headed for free agency.

There was a faction of fans, I’m not sure how large, who wanted the Yankees to sign Pineiro last off-season. The team needed a fourth starter, and even if we boosted Pineiro’s 2009 ERA to reflect the realities of the American League, he still would have been one of the best fourth starters in the league. I took the case against him. This was a guy who had exactly one good season in the last six. There wasn’t even a season where his peripherals made his results look better. It screamed of fluke. How would he fare without Duncan’s tutelage?

As it turns out, Pineiro would have greatly helped the Yankees in 2009, even if he had suffered the same oblique injury that limited him to 23 starts. Again he kept his ERA below 4.00, 3.84, and had a FIP and xFIP to match. He kept the ball on the ground, 54.9 percent, and had a walk rate that ranked eighth in the majors among pitchers with at least 150 IP. That’s not to say the Yankees made a mistake by trading for Vazquez rather than signing Pineiro; the warning signs were considerable. But now that he has experienced a second straight year of success, and by using the same arsenal, I think he’d make for a decent trade candidate.

The main factor for Pineiro is the ground balls. While Yankee Stadium might not be an overall hitters’ haven, it is favorable to left-handed batters, particularly when it comes to home runs. Right-handed pitchers can have problems, then, as Phil Hughes realized in 2010. But the ability to keep the ball on the ground can help mitigate that issue. The Yankees might not have the best infield defense, but then again they had pretty terrible infield defense when Chien-Ming Wang pitched, and he did pretty well for himself. Pineiro’s ground ball tendencies make him a good fit for the rotation.

The Angels won’t let him go cheaply, of course. Pineiro is attractive not only because he has just one year left on his contract, but also because he will earn just $8 million in that one year. Another quality season will likely earn him Type A status, so the Angels aren’t just going to give him away. Since they’re so far below their normal payroll level as it is, they have no incentive to sell off anything now. That could mean a high asking price, which is why the Yankees should consider Pineiro with an eye towards the deadline. He won’t be a cheap acquisition then, but he’ll be cheaper than now.

Of course, Pineiro isn’t the best pitchers with whom the Angels could part. There’s Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, plus the always promising Ervin Santana. But I think that considering their situations — they’re under contract for the next few seasons — Pineiro will be the easiest to pry from the Angels if they fall out of the race. In fact, given his contract and his impending free agency, he might be one of the more attractive mid-season trade targets. The Yanks would probably love to add him now and get a full season, but that just doesn’t appear likely. Instead, Pineiro is a guy we should keep an eye on in the first half. He could very well be wearing pinstripes by July.

Prospect Profile: Hector Noesi

(Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Hector Noesi | RHP

The Yankees signed Noesi out of his hometown of Esperanza in the Dominican Republic when he was a 17-year-old way back in 2004. He was signed by then scout and the team’s current supervisor of Dominican scouting Victor Mata, who has also signed players like Gary Sanchez, Ivan Nova, Jose Ramirez, Eduardo Nunez, and the Melkys (Cabrera and Mesa) through the years. I can’t find any info on Noesi’s signing bonus, so we’re out of luck there.

Pro Career
Noesi didn’t start his professional career in the United States until the 2006 season, when he threw just seven impressive innings (11 K, 1 BB, 0.49 FIP) with the team’s rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate. A 50-game suspension for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program delayed the start of his 2007, but once he served his time he was assigned to Low-A Charleston. Noesi made five starts with the River Dogs (20 IP, 4.60 FIP) before going down with an elbow injury. He had Tommy John surgery soon thereafter, which kept him out until the second half of the 2008 season. Noesi threw 48.2 (essentially rehab) innings with the GCL team and the short season Staten Island Yankees after coming back from surgery, posting a 3.55 FIP.

Four full years after originally signing, Noesi was finally healthy and able to begin his career in earnest in 2009. The Yankees sent him back to Charleston to start the year, where he made eleven starts and seven relief appearances (75.2 IP, 2.09 FIP) before earning a midseason promotion to High-A Tampa. Noesi made nine starts in Tampa to close out the season, pitching to a 2.57 FIP in 41.1 IP. He had effectively pitched himself back onto the prospect map after the long injury layoff, and was rewarded with a 40-man roster spot after the season to avoid exposure to the Rule 5 Draft.

Noesi opened the 2010 season back with Tampa, but he wasn’t there long. He made just eight starts (43 IP, 2.20 FIP) before getting bumped up to Double-A Trenton, where he made 16 starts and one relief appearance (98.2 IP, 2.99 FIP). Noesi pitched so well that he earned a spot in the Futures Game, where he allowed a single to current big leaguer Logan Morrison in his scoreless inning of work. Another promotion came his way in August, and he finished off his season by making three starts with Triple-A Scranton (18.2 IP, 3.20 FIP). Overall, Noesi’s 2010 campaign featured a 2.80 FIP in 160.1 IP. Over the last two years, he’s pitched to a 2.57 FIP.

Scouting Report
Long and lanky at 6-foot-2 and 175 lbs., Noesi stands out for his command and a delivery that is both simple and fluid, two things that are not mutual exclusive. Although control is typically the last thing to come back following elbow surgery, Noesi has unintentionally walked just 51 batters in 326 innings since returning from TJ (1.41 uIBB/9), a testament to how well he can command the baseball. He has also been perfectly healthy since the elbow surgery, leading the farm system in innings pitched in 2010 and holding his velocity deep into games.

Noesi’s best pitch is lively fastball with a little boring action in on righties, routinely sitting at 90-93 mph and touching as high as 96 the last few years. He backs that up with quality changeup, his second best offering, and he also throws both a slider and a curveball. Neither of the two breaking balls is even an average big league pitch right now, and Noesi doesn’t command any of his offspeed pitches as well as he does his fastball. He helps himself by fielding his position and holding runners well.

Here’s some video of Noesi from this past June, and there’s plenty more on Mike Ashmore’s YouTube channel.

2011 Outlook
The Yankees do have some questions at the back of their big league rotation, so Noesi will be part of a group of upper level arms that will get a very long look in Spring Training. More than likely he’ll be assigned to Triple-A Scranton to start the season with a callup possible at pretty much any time. He’s almost guaranteed to make his major league debut at some point during the 2011 season, and it could come as either a starter or reliever.

My Take
Noesi’s grown on me over the last two years, and I’m pretty sure it’s obvious as to why. The performance is outstanding and he’s now knocking on the door of the big leagues, a combination you want to see in a prospect of any caliber. The ability to command a fastball with some giddy-up is far too uncommon, and Noesi has that part of the game down to a science. His ceiling will be limited to a back of the rotation starter until one of his breaking balls steps forward and becomes a go-to pitch, but he still has plenty of time to work on that. If nothing else, Noesi will be serious competition for Nova and Sergio Mitre in Spring Training, and he’ll be one of the first called up whenever an arm is needed in some capacity. On the other hand, he’s a prime piece of trade bait as a cheap, workhorse type starter.

Pedro Feliciano, relief workhorse

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

When the Yankees officially signed Pedro Feliciano to a two-year deal two days ago, they added the game’s preeminent relief workhorse to their bullpen. Not only did the 34-year-old southpaw lead the league with 92 appearances last season, the most since Salomon Torres appeared in 94 games in 2006 and the second most in the last 31 years, but he also led the league with 88 appearances in 2009 and 86 appearances in 2008. Feliciano has appeared in 28 more games than any other pitcher in the last three seasons, 42 games more than anyone else if you go back to 2007, when he appeared in “just” 74 contests.

That high workload can be scary, especially when you factor in all the times he warmed up but didn’t enter the game, but Feliciano is the definition of a lefty specialist. His career high in innings pitched is 64 set four years ago, and he’s never faced more than 280 batters in a season. In Tuesday morning’s blog post (Insider req’d), Buster Olney mentioned a) the Yankees intend to keep an eye on Feliciano’s workload, and b) he actually pitches better on short rest. Allow me to excerpt…

The Yankees intend to moderate his workload – the left-hander has pitched in a whopping 344 games over the last four seasons — and hope this will make him more consistent.

But the funny thing is that his splits from 2010 on how rest impacts his performance are counter-intuitive  an upside pyramid from what you’d expect.

– OPS when pitching on zero days of rest: .583
– One day of rest: .641
– Two days: .820
– Three-five days: 1.036
– Six days-plus: 1.550

OPS is a nice quick and dirty number, but we know that OBP is more important than SLG, so it’s not the best metric. I want to see how Feliciano has performed on various days of rest in terms of wOBA and as well as strikeout rate, so let’s do that. In order to avoid a small sample, I used data from 2008 through 2010…

The league data is for relievers only, so starters aren’t skewing the numbers at all. Also, it’s better to have a lower wOBA+ and a higher PA/K+ in this case since we’re talking about the opposing batter’s performance and Feliciano’s strikeout rate, respectively. Also, we might as well just throw out the data for games pitched on three or more days rest, the sample is just too small. If we want to lump it all in with the two days of rest data and call it two or more days of rest, we get a 113 wOBA+ and a 101 PA/K+ in 78 appearances. Not all that hot.

So as it turns out, Feliciano is better when he’s used quite heavily, considerably better in fact. He holds opponents to about 90% of the league average offensively on a day or less of rest, though his strikeout rate remains at or above average regardless of how many days he’s had off. Without going into wOBA+ and all that, it does appear that he’s tired down the stretch in the past, presumably as that heavy workload starts to catch up to him during the summer. That’s why it’ll be important for Joe Girardi & Co. to monitor Feliciano’s workload throughout the season, because you want him to be healthy and effective down the stretch. September and October is when you can run him into the ground and use him five days a week, when there’s a little more at stake.

A lot of times we’ll hear television announcers say that so-and-so wants the ball everyday and needs to pitch a lot to be effective, but I’ve always kinda brushed that off as another way of romanticizing the game. We all want to think it’s full of these big tough guys that will pitch until their arms fall off and what not, but we all know that’s just not how it works. Feliciano appears to be a rare breed though, the kind of guy that thrives when he’s used often. He won’t throw many total innings and shouldn’t face any right-handers, but it’ll be nice to have some (theoretical) predictability from a lefty reliever for once.

Yankees interested in Jeremy Bonderman?

Bonderman throws his first major league pitch. He doesn't look like the type of guy who'd make you throw a chair through a wall. (Paul Warner/AP)

Expect to see a lot of this the rest of the off-season, or at least until the back end of the Yankees’ rotation does not include the names Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre. Not long ago Fox Sports’s Jon Morosi reported that the Yankees “have shown interest” in Jeremy Bonderman. To what degree they’re interested is not clear, but I think we can turn to an oft-repeated line from Brian Cashman to get an idea.

“It’s something we do with every free agent.”

Two weeks ago Mike examined Bonderman and found little to like. While it appeared that his career was on the right track in 2006, when the Tigers went to the World Series, he’s been quite the disappointment ever since. It’s hard to believe he was just 23 that year. You can check Mike’s post for the gory details, but suffice it to say that injury played a major role in his downfall. After missing time in 2007 with blister problems followed by an elbow issue, he pitched just 81.2 innings combined in 2008 and 2009.

Bonderman did have a few good stretches in an overall disappointing 2010. From April 21 through June 1 he had a 2.70 ERA in 46.2 innings, which included a 35 to 12 K/BB ratio. Mixed in there was a seven-inning, two-run performance against the Yankees. Those starts, unfortunately, were bookended by two of his worst: a four-inning, 10-run debacle against the Mariners and a 5.2-inning, seven-run job against the Royals. He also continued to induce ground balls at a decent rate, a skill that is always welcome from a righty at Yankee Stadium.

As Mike said, “It would be foolish to count on Bonderman recovering the magic from 2004 through 2006.” But if he can build on what he did in 2010, he can be a decent back end option. With just a little improvement he’ll past the basic test — is he better than Segio Mitre? — with flying colors. It’s going to take quite the incentive-laden deal for me to get behind this one, but considering what the Yankees have on hand and what’s on the market, they could do a lot worse than a low-risk deal on Bonderman.

Kevin Long planning to work with Jeter before camp

Via Pete Caldera, hitting coach Kevin Long is planning to work with Derek Jeter before Spring Training officially gets underway. K-Long’s done some great things in recent years, but I’m not sure if even he knows the cure for “36-year-old shortstop.” Meanwhile, Long mentioned that the team is not married to a batting order for 2011, saying that the team will instead “toy with it.” I like it.

Open Thread: Jake Westbrook & Ted Lilly

Photo Credits: Suzanne Plunkett (Westbrook) & John Froschauer (Lilly), AP

Whenever you make a trade for multiple minor league pitchers, you usually hope that at least one pans out. When two turn into bonafide big league starters, you’ve struck gold. That’s what happened in December of 1999, when the Yankees traded Hideki Irabu to the Expos for then-minor leaguers Jake Westbrook and Ted Lilly. Westbrook’s pinstriped career lasted all of six months and 6.2 innings (13.50 ERA); he was traded to the Indians that June for David Justice. Lilly stuck around a little longer, throwing a total of 205.1 IP (4.65 ERA) across parts of three seasons for the Yanks before being traded to Oakland in a three-team swap that brought (ugh) Jeff Weaver to New York. All told, these two have accounted for 2,991.1 IP with 37.9 bWAR in their careers (most of that is Lilly), and were involved in what are arguably Brian Cashman‘s two best trades and his single worst.

Anyway, there’s your nostalgic moment for the night. Here’s the open thread. The Devils and Knicks are both in action, plus the Sugar Bowl is on (Ohio St. vs. Arkansas). Talk about whatever your heart desires, so go have at it.

Weekend Writer Update: We’ve made our selections and will announce the three new weekend people in tomorrow night’s open thread. Yes, we ending up “hiring” three.

Swisher to receive 2011 Thurman Munson Award

Who wants pie? (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Nick Swisher will be honored next month at the 31st annual Thurman Munson Awards dinner. The Yankee right fielder will receive a Munson Award in recognition for his on-field contributions to the team and his off-field charity work.

The dinner, hosted by AHRC-New York City Foundation, an organization that raises money for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, will take place on Feb. 1, and Diana Munson, the late Yankee captain’s wife, praised Swisher.

“I love the way he plays, I love his enthusiasm,” said Diana Munson of Swisher. “Most importantly, he respects the history of baseball and the Yankees. On Old Timers Day, he was out there getting autographs and taking pictures. He’s not embarrassed by his love of the game, and respects the players. Plus, he’s cute.”

Swisher is coming off a season in which he hit .288/.359/.511 with 29 home runs and 89 RBI, and he has become a fan favorite out in right field. Off the field, he leads the Nick Swisher Foundation and its Swish’s Wishes program which helps lift the spirits of children suffering through life-threatening illnesses. He has also served as a co-Ambassador to the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s Lee Denim Day in their efforts to raise money for breast cancer research. The Munson Award is a well-deserved one for a Yankee who is very giving of his time and energy.