Food for thought: Cano’s on-base skills

One way to define an outlier is one observation that deviates in a notable manner from the other observations in a sample. Here’s a graph of Robinson Cano‘s on-base percentage throughout his career graphed alongside league average on-base percentage. See if you can spot the outlier(s):

The league average sits right below .350 in this sample. For Cano, the outliers here appear to be 2008, a year in which he posted a typically low walk rate and an abnormally low BABIP, and last year, a year in which he doubled his career walk rate and posted a relatively normal BABIP by his standards. To cut down on the effect BABIP can have on on-base percentage, here’s a graph over time of his walk rate. Again, see if you can spot the outlier(s):

This one’s even easier to pick out: the outlier is 2010. Unfortunately, the purple line here is league average walk rate and the green line is Cano’s walk rate. As mentioned above, Cano doubled his walk rate last year en route to a .319/.381/.534 line. At the time it looked like a big step forward for a young developing player entering his prime. This year it’s right back where it always has been, below 5%.

Many times it’s common to hear fans or announcers get frustrated with pitchers who can’t throw strikes and struggle with command. “Just throw strikes” is a common refrain, as if control and command were mere switches one simply flips on or off depending on concentration. For some this may be the case, for others it’s a question of ability. Certain pitchers, for whatever reason, aren’t good (by MLB standards) at directing the ball where they want it to go.

It’s similar with batters, and with Robinson Cano. Pitch recognition and plate discipline are things that one can get better at, true. Kevin Long seemed to attempt to infuse Cano with plate discipline earlier in the year by instructing him to stop swinging at the first pitch, advice which Cano disregarded. This is a frustrating state of affairs, but perhaps some of the frustration can be ameliorated by simply accepting that Robinson Cano isn’t very good at showing discipline at the plate.

Cano is 28 years old and he’ll turn 29 this October. A 5% walk rate is the norm for Cano at this point in his career; the 8.2% mark in 2010 appears to be the outlier. Barring him developing new skills, it appears that Cano’s on-base percentage will fluctuate between .330 and .380 as his BABIP fluctuates. It sure would be nice if he would develop some patience to complement his incredible power; it likely make him the best second baseman in the game. Yet it doesn’t seem likely to happen and that’s a shame, because it does represent a hole in his game. But hey, there are worse things in the world than having Robinson Cano as your second baseman, walk rate and all.

Rounding Up The Trade Rumors

(Photo Credit: Flickr user terren in Virginia via Creative Commons license)

A bunch of small, rumor-style reports surfaced this weekend about the Yankees and some pitchers they may or may not target in midseason trades, so let’s round them up chronologically …

Top Advisors Scouted The Cubs

Bruce Levine reported on Friday that the Yankees had some scouts watch Carlos Zambrano last weekend, and it wasn’t just a routine check-up. Levine said it was some of Brian Cashman‘s top advisors, and a number of them unsurprisingly prefer Ryan Dempster. Zambrano is willing to waive his no-trade clause, by the way.

Preference: Lefties And Rentals

George King reported yesterday that in a perfect world, the Yankees would like to acquire a left-handed starter that is not under contract beyond this season. That’s a limited (and unappealing) demographic since the only southpaws scheduled to become free agents after the season are Bruce Chen, Zach Duke, Jeff Francis, Paul Maholm, and C.J. Wilson. I can’t imagine Texas would be willing to trade their ace while in contention, and the others … yuck. Mark Buehrle has a clause in his contract that automatically locks in a $15M salary for next season if traded, so we can’t consider him a rental has a full no-trade clause but fits the bill as well.

I do suppose, however, that we could include players in their arbitration-eligible years (since they could be non-tendered, the same thing as a rental), in which case guys like Francisco Liriano, Clayton Kershaw, John Danks, Jonathan Sanchez, and Joe Saunders come into play. That’s better, but how many are realistically available? I can see Liriano, Saunders, and maybe Danks. Maybe. How sold are you on Liriano’s turn around?

Oh, Wait … Yankees Have “Zero Interest” In Zambrano

Wally Matthews reported late yesterday that despite the recent scouting trip, the Yankees have “no interest” in Zambrano. Perhaps they were turned off by his 6 IP, 9 H, 5 R stinker against the Brewers last week or his 6.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 7 BB gem against the Phillies nine days ago. This latest report makes me happy because I wasn’t a Zambrano fan even before his velocity dropped (again) or his ground ball rate declined (again).

I don’t know where a high-end pitcher is supposed to come from, but it’s pretty obvious the Yankees need someone like that. They can’t assume Bartolo Colon will come back from the disabled list throwing grenades like he was before, and with one more injury we could be looking at Ivan Nova, Brian Gordon, and David Phelps in the rotation all at the same time. Now that is scary.

Yankees win tie game 4-3 over Cubs

Russ just wanted to make sure Pena knew who won the collision.

Joe Buck got so excited when Reed Johnson hit that solo homer off Mariano Rivera to lead off the ninth that he declared the game tied. Of course the homer made it just a one-run game, and Rivera went on to navigate the rest of the inning to secure the win. It wasn’t easy nor pretty, but they all count the same. Let’s quickly recap…

  • If my Play Index skills are as sharp as I think they are, the Yankees are the first team since 1997 and just the 15th in history to score four or fewer runs in a nine inning game in which they had at least ten hits and ten walks. They left the bases loaded in the first, a man on second in the second, men on second and third in the third, men on first and second in the fifth, a man on first in the seventh, and the bases loaded in the eighth. Yuck.
  • Play of the game was easily Brett Gardner‘s double play in the sixth (video). The Cubbies had the bases loaded with one out, and Geovany Soto lined a pitch into left. Gardner caught it on the run and uncorked a perfect throw home to get Carlos Pena. The throw beat him by five or six feet, and Russell Martin held on after the collision for the inning ending out (gif!). At .252 WPA, it was far and away the biggest play of the game.
  • Everyone in the starting lineup reached base at least twice except for Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett. Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Martin each reached base three times. Nick Swisher and Grandy sacrifice flies were bookended by Eduardo Nunez and Robinson Cano run-scoring doubles, which accounted for the four runs.
  • Burnett had his best curveball in quite some time in this game, certainly his best of the season. Batters swung and missed at nine of his 44 curves (20.5%) and three others went for called strike threes. His one mistake was a meatball fastball to Pena, which he hit for a game-tying two-run homer. Burnett struck out eight of the 24 men he faced in 5.1 IP. Aside from Johnson’s homer and the Soto single that following, the Yankees’ bullpen was flawless. The only batter to reach base against Cory Wade, Hector Noesi, and David Robertson did so on an error. Based on the extremely small sample size of this one game, Wade’s the new fireman and Noesi’s the new seventh inning guy. I like it.
  • Speaking of errors, how bad has the defense been? Nunez flubbed a routine double play grounder and then Cano dropped a routine relay throw from A-Rod in that hectic sixth inning. That doesn’t include two bad throws by Nunez that Tex managed to turn into outs (one by tagging the runner, the other with a great scoop) because he’s awesome. I don’t expect the Yankees to be a brilliant defensive club, but the routine plays have to made, period.
  • Four outs on the bases, topping their season high of three last week (and at least one other time as well). Granderson got thrown out trying to steal second, A-Rod got his Jorge Posada on (tried to stretch a single into a double, was out by a mile), Gardner got picked off first, and Swisher got thrown out at the plate. Seriously, get these guys a baserunning coach. If they have one already, get someone better.
  • Here’s the box score and here’s the WPA graph. This game was an ordeal.

The rubber game of the series will be played Sunday night on ESPN, which means an 8pm ET start. CC Sabathia gets the ball against Randy Wells.

Reminder: We’re going to be running some maintainence from midnight to 6am tonight, so the site may be slow or down completely at times. Thanks for your patience.

Smith, Brackman combine for one-hitter

In case you missed it this morning, the Yankees have officially signed top pick Dante Bichette Jr. and confirmed that he will play with the Rookie Level GCL Yankees when their season starts on Monday. He did have a hit in an exhibition game today, hopefully it went about 500 feet. Also, here’s some video of Bryan Mitchell from last night (one, two, three).

Triple-A Scranton (4-0 win over Columbus)
Austin Krum, LF & Jesus Montero, DH: both 1 for 4, 1 R – Krum whiffed twice
Greg Golson, CF, Brandon Laird, 3B & Gus Molina, C: both 1 for 3 – Golson doubled and drove in a run … Laird struck out
Kevin Russo, 2B & Jorge Vazquez, 1B: both 0 for 4, 2 K – JoVa has struck out 22 times in his last 36 plate appearances (61.1%)
Jordan Parraz, RF: 2 for 3, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI
Luis Nunez, SS: 0 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 K
Greg Smith, LHP: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 5-6 GB/FB – 57 of 84 pitches were strikes (67.9%) … wow, what a start, he retired 17 of the last 18 men he faced … he’s the first non-Kei Igawa lefty to start a game for SWB since Zach Kroenke in 2009
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 18 of 32 pitches were strikes (56.3%) … walked the first batter on four pitches, then he sat down six straight

[Read more…]

Open Thread: The Scrapzone

I got sucked into these Hardball Made Easy videos last night after talking with some others about how Matt Kemp got the nickname “The Bison.” I dunno, don’t ask. My personal favorite is this one on blocking the plate, only because you can use The Flatbush outside of baseball as well. Taking one for the team is pretty important as well.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing the Angels again (Pelfrey vs. Haren), and MLB Network will air a game as well (teams depend on where you live). You’ve also got Taylor Jungmann (Texas, 12th overall pick this year) vs. Karsten Whitson (Florida, 9th overall last year) Florida in the College World Series on ESPN. That’s pretty awesome. It’s Saturday night though, I say go out and live a little.

Site Note: We’re going to be running some maintainence from midnight through 6am, so the site may be slow or even down for periods of time.

Game 69: Ex-Marlins

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Jay?? via Creative Commons license)

A.J. Burnett squared off with former Florida Marlins’ teammate Brad Penny in the second game of the season, and today he’ll give it a go against Ryan Dempster. The two were teammates from Burnett’s debut in 1999 until Dempster was traded to the Reds in 2002, and in that final season together they were the Opening Day (Dempster) and number two starters (Burnett). A.J. got the best of Penny back in April, so it would be nice if he could top another former teammate this afternoon. Here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Russell Martin, C
Eduardo Nunez, SS
A.J. Burnett, SP

It’s a FOX game, so first pitch is scheduled for a little after 4pm ET. Yuck. Enjoy the game, not necessarily the broadcast.

Saying the Right Thing, Part 1

You should have swung at that, Grandy. See guys? He sucks.

Now that we’re a good ways into the season, the excitement of baseball has faded away into the grind that is rooting for the team that you love. It’s hard to watch guys play a sport where, for hitters, they will only be successful 30% of the time and for pitchers, they’ll usually give up a couple of runs and get in and out of trouble. After the second or so week of the season, this ceases to be entertaining and it’s time to start complaining about everything.

Now, a successful team like the Yankees always has a lot going wrong with it. The pitching might be bad, the bullpen might be bad, the hitting might be bad, and to top it off, the front office might be running the entire organization (most notably player development) into the ground. What’s more important than making sure you’re pointing out to everyone how bad the team is when you’re pointing out what. There are times when pointing out the flaws within the team makes you a good fan and times when it just makes you seem obnoxious and whiny. Timing, as they say, is everything. In this two-part series, I’ll cover what to complain about when you don’t know what to choose amidst the catastrophe that is a 39-29 record with a +89 run differential and a 3.56 team ERA.

The Lineup

The greatest thing about the lineup is that it changes a couple of times a week, and there’s almost always something wrong with it, even on good days. Complaining about the lineup works on any game day, and since lineups come out early, you can get a good head start on the whining. Anyone but Gardner leading off? It should obviously be Brett Gardner. Gardner leading off? Obviously he’s going to get caught stealing. Derek Jeter leading off is a great fallback but is obviously not applicable when he’s injured. Lineups also are also the first place you’ll see where the A-list players are getting a day off, and this is totally not okay. The only options should be a) Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Russell Martin never get a day off and never get injured or b) they are replaced with players who are as good as them. Anything else is worth talking about how bad the lineup is today. I’ll cover the B-listers in more detail below.

B-List Players

Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena, Chris Dickerson, Andruw Jones, and Francisco Cervelli essentially make up the Yankees bench and get their fair share of starts. The problem is, none of these players are as good as who they’re replacing. If any of these players are in the starting lineup, sound the alarm, alert your friends, and start whining. If there’s more than one of them? Well, you could could complain for days and everyone would just keep on agreeing with you. It’s simply not acceptable that these very young (or in Jones’ case, slightly older) players perform at a lesser level than their A-list counterparts, many of which have collected awards for their offense and/or defense. Ramiro Pena, why are you not as good as Alex Rodriguez? Sheesh, he totally sucks. Eduardo Nunez, why do you not possess the skill and grace of Robinson Cano or the fielding, uh, prowess, of Derek Jeter? Come on guys. Seriously? And the last one….

Francisco Cervelli

The man gets a category all of his own. He can’t hit, he can’t catch, he can’t throw, he’s too enthusiastic, he’s annoying, he’s overplayed. Did I miss anything? Frankie is the ultimate great fallback punching bag for when everything seems to be going right. Even when he goes 2-for-3, he still makes two errors in the field, like he’s allowing the fans to have a place to focus all their rage. I think it’s really quite noble of him, to be honest. I don’t understand why we’re not blaming him for Montero playing every day in AAA and Martin’s back spasms, to be honest. I mean, we’re already getting on him for being in the lineup. So what’s one or two more things that he has absolutely no control over? He was probably getting everyone to lose to Doug Davis from the bench, even. At least he’s a better dresser than most of the Yankees.

Slumps

Both the fans and the players know that every player is expected to perform at his career numbers or better at all times. If there’s even the slightest hint of a slump – say, ten PAs or so – it’s time to start making people aware how bad this player is. And the worse the slump gets, the more vocal you can to become. Screaming your head off about Jorge Posada in late May? Totally acceptable. However, you have to be careful to quit complaining the moment they break out of the slump. Jorge Posada is now great. It might be a good time to start complaining about Russell Martin (before he can heat up) or Nick Swisher’s left side, where he is still struggling. Andruw Jones, despite his relatively few appearances, is also a great target for this complaining, though it’s only good to do this when he’s actually striking out playing.

Not Hitting Against Crappy Pitchers

Phil Humber. Carlos Carrasco. Doug Davis. Last year, it was Bryan Bullington and Josh Tomlin. I feel like I speak for everyone when I say it’s annoying that the whole lineup all decides at once to stop hitting against a particular pitcher, especially when it’s a bad one. These kind of decisions are made with absolutely no respect to the fans. Seriously, guys, if you’re not going to hit, can you at least decide not to hit against someone who is throwing well this year (like Alexi Ogando?). You had a perfect opportunity to go down without a peep and instead you whacked everything and decided to do nothing against Doug Davis. It’s obvious that the Yankees decide what games to hit in and what games to be put down in, and complaining about that choice is perfect when those quiet games are being played.

Not Hitting

When you have a lineup that contains names like Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano, you should score a billion runs every day. Never mind that getting on base 30% of the time is considered successful. That is stupid. Everyone should always get hits and runs. All the time. This is another great fallback complaint when Cervelli isn’t playing, because someone will probably go 0-for-4. If you’re lucky, there will be a few 0-fers that make for easy targets due to mass strikeouts or weak ground balls.

Tune in tomorrow for part two, featuring pitching and and the front office. I know you can barely hold your breath in excitement. One additional note: Ryan Dempster isn’t really that bad, so no complaining about not hitting against him. Complaining about not hitting in general is, of course, totally acceptable.