Five biggest hits of the 2010 season

Ah yes, the big hit. We know one when we see it because we can quite literally feel the impact it has on the game (at least sometimes, anyway), but other times it takes a little bit more research to realize just which ones had the most impact. That’s what WPA is for, a neat little stat that tells us how much a specific event (a hit, a ground out, a stolen base, whatever) increases or decreases the team’s chances of winning. Let’s go back and re-live the five biggest hits of the Yankees’ 2010 season, just for fun…

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

May 17th: Thames walks off again Jonathan Papelbon (video)
I think that in terms of emotional highs, this was the biggest hit of the 2010 season. It was the Red Sox, Papelbon, the Yankees had a big lead and blew it before having another lead in the later innings and blowing that one, and again, it was Papelbon. Plus I was there, so maybe that’s clouding my memory. Either way, this homer was awesome and I will continue to remember it as such. There’s not much that’s more enjoyable than celebrating a win while Papelbon slowly walking back to the clubhouse with his head down.  The WPA swing on the homer: 0.43.

May 17th: A-Rod sets things up for Thames (video)
You know what’s just as exciting as beating Papelbon? Watching Alex Rodriguez hit a homer off him to tie the game a few batters before Thames ends it. The Yankees were down two at the time, which is why this homer was slightly more important in terms of WPA. It brought the Yanks back from the jaws of defeat, Marcus just polished things off. A-Rod’s homer accounted for a WPA swing of 0.46.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

May 30th: Tex goes deep for the 250th time (video)
It’s pretty amazing how many big hits we forget. This is the game when Justin Masterson came to town with like, a 6.00 ERA, then proceeded to shut the Yankees down into the seventh inning. Down three-zip, Nick Swisher singled to lead off the seventh before moving up to second on a Juan Miranda ground out. Brett Gardner beat out an infield single to put runners at the corners, but then Frankie Cervelli struck out as a pinch-hitter replacement for Chad Moeller. Derek Jeter singled into two after Gardner stole second, ending Masterson’s night.

In came lefty reliever Tony Sipp, who promptly gave up a double to Curtis Granderson, putting men at second and third. Instead of intentionally walking Mark Teixeira to set up the potential inning ending double play, they made the foolish choice of pitching to him, and six pitches later the ball flew over the leftfield wall and the Yankees went from down three to up two within the span on three batters. It was Tex’s 250th career homer and checked in at 0.48 WPA, and I still barely remember it even after seeing the video.

Sept. 17th: A-Rod turns it around against Koji Uehara (video)
As Yankees fans, we’re privy to watching a lot of great players do a lot of great things, though I think we all still marvel at some of the things A-Rod can do on a baseball field. Remember, coming into this game the Yankees were losers in eight of their last ten and had failed to score more than three runs in seven of those games. Alex put three runs on the board in one swing.

The Yanks were down by two heading into the ninth, and Jorge Posada got the rally going with a monstrous 11 pitch at-bat against Uehara before reaching on a single. Thankfully Jeter struck out instead of grounding into a double play, and Grandy moved Posada to second on a single. The rally looked dead when Tex popped up into foul territory, and it looked even deader when A-Rod took a 1-2 pitch inside for a ball that appeared to be a strike but was ruled otherwise. Uehara went back to the same pitch and tried to put in the same spot, but Alex sat back on it and hit a colossal three-run homer that gave the Yanks their first ninth inning league in what felt like eons. The WPA of this sucker? How about 0.72.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Sept. 8th: Swish walks off against Uehara (video)
Poor Koji. Barely a week before A-Rod broke his spirits with his homer, Swisher did the honors at Yankee Stadium. The Yanks were coming off three straight losses and were down a run to the O’s when Uehara started the ninth inning. Captain unclutch Alex Rodriguez singled to lead off the frame and was immediately replaced by pinch runner Eduardo Nunez. Robbie Cano nearly won the game on his own, sending a ball to deep center that Adam Jones corralled for out number one.

Uehara had come into this game having allowed just four earned runs total in the previous two months, a sparkling 1.44 ERA. Batters were hitting just .202/.219/.309 during the time, so getting even that one single from A-Rod to lead off the frame was a minor miracle. The Baltimore closer fell behind Swisher 2-0, prompting the Yankee rightfield to sit on a fastball. Uehara obliged and Swish delivered. I remember thinking it was a double off the bat, but it just kept carrying and eventually landed in the visitor’s bullpen for a two-run, walk-off homer. The losing streak was over and the ten game homestand ended on a high note. The WPA of Swish’s shot was a season high 0.78. That’s ginormous.

* * *

Just for fun, here’s a few other memorable hits from throughout the season…

  • June 27th: Cano homers off George Sherrill after ninth inning comeback, 0.42 WPA. (video)
  • May 26th: Swish homers off Jon Rauch to break ninth inning tie, 0.41 WPA (video)
  • July 16th: Swish’s walk-off single again Lance Cormier in the first game after George Steinbrenner‘s death, .039 WPA (video)
  • July 4th: Thames’ broken bat walk-off single against the Blue Jays, 0.39 WPA (video)
  • July 31st: Cano homers off Rafael Soriano to break ninth inning tie, 0.37 WPA (video)
  • Sept. 14th: Jorge takes Dan Wheeler to deep center in extra innings, 0.33 WPA (video)
  • April 7th: Grandy homers off Papelbon in extras, 0.32 WPA (video)

Yankees maintaining interest in Freddy Garcia

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Aside from making Rafael Soriano the highest paid middle reliever in baseball history, it’s been a pretty uneventful offseason for the Yankees on the pitching front. That’s bad news, because they really needed to add at least one quality starter this offseason, and so far they’ve added zero. Jon Heyman says the Yankees are still considering Freddy Garcia, who is unlikely to solve many problems, if any. This comes after we heard the Yanks reviewed the righty’s medicals last month.

Garcia, now 34, managed to throw 157 innings for the White Sox last year. His ERA (4.64), FIP (4.77), and xFIP (4.59) were all close enough to each other that we can assume he didn’t benefit or suffer from any luck, and it was the first time he managed to eclipse even 60 innings pitched since 2006. His strikeout (5.10 K/9), walk (2.29 uIBB/9), and homerun (1.32 HR/9) rates in 2010 weren’t much better than Sergio Mitre‘s (4.83, 2.67, 1.17 respectively) at all. It’s just hard to find this even remotely appetizing after watching Jeff Francis sign for half the guaranteed money the Yanks will pay Pedro Feliciano this year.

Freddy Garcia? Really? There’s no harm in reviewing medicals, but it’s been a month and they’re still considering the guy. Do the Yankees really think they’d be better off with this guy starting every five days than Joba Chamberlain? I usually expect common sense to win out in the end, but the decision-makers seem hellbent on minimizing Joba’s value as much as possible. Pffft, Freddy Garcia. If you’re going to stoop that low, just throw Hector Noesi or David Phelps out there and hope for the best.

Open Thread: Clay Bellinger

More World Series rings than Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, and Honus Wagner. Combined. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

One the best and worst things about baseball is the way we romanticize the game. It’s amazing how we end up remember events as more important than they actually were or players as being better than they were. Clay Bellinger is a perfect example, I remember him being a pretty damn good bench piece during the dynasty years. But you know what? He stunk, hitting just .194/.258/.365 in parts of three seasons with the Yankees while playing pretty much every position besides pitcher and catcher. He was also pretty old (in baseball terms). The Giants drafted Bellinger in 1989 before letting him leave as a minor league free agent, and he even made a stop in the Orioles’ minor league system before joining the Yanks. He spent two years in Triple-A before making his big league debut, and by that time he was already 30. The Yankees released Bellinger nine years ago today, and you know what? I’m still going to remember his as being awesome for no other reason than because I can.

And here’s your open thread for the evening. The Devils, Isles, Knicks, and Nets all played today already, so you’re left with no local sports tonight. I’m sure you’ll figure something out. Enjoy.

Luis Vizcaino out 3-4 months with broken ankle

Via Enrique Rojas, righty reliever Luis Vizcaino will be out for the next three-to-four months after breaking his left ankle in winter ball. No, this isn’t a flashback post from 2007, the Yankees signed The Viz to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training last month. He was always a long shot to make the club and was not much more than Triple-A depth, but now he’s an even longer shot. Add in the Rafael Soriano signing, and well it doesn’t look too good for the The Viz at all. He hasn’t pitched in the big league since ’09 and hasn’t been effective since leaving the Yankees after that ’07 season.

Martin blames past struggles on “distractions”

Via Shi Davidi, new Yankee catcher Russell Martin blamed his subpar performances over the last two years on a lack of preparation brought about by off-the-field “distractions” that were “personal.” The 27-year-old backstop had a puny .307 wOBA over the last two seasons, but in the two seasons prior to that he had a much gooder .359 wOBA. Yes, much gooder.

I don’t know what personal issues Martin was dealing with and I don’t really care, I just hope everything’s cool now and it’s all in the past. He’s already a gigantic defensive upgrade behind the plate, but if he could chip in a wOBA in the .350’s or even the .340’s, holy cow would that be huge.

The RAB Radio Show: January 17, 2011

It appears as though the Yankees are on the verge of signing Andruw Jones, so he takes up most of today’s podcast. We’re talking about the need he fills and why he’s the best among the current free agents.

Podcast run time 20:05

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

The Opt-Out Clause

You're gonna have to shave that thing. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Late last week the Yankees agreed to a contract with a Rafael Soriano, and it’s not just a normal contract. It’s an absurdly player-friendly contract that’s almost too good to be true from the player’s perspective. The guy gets a guaranteed $11.5M in 2011, and then depending on how things play out over the next eleven or so months, he can either go seek a bigger contract elsewhere or take another $10M from the Yankees. If he does the latter, then twelve months after that he gets to decide if he wants to test the market or take another $13.5M of the Yankees money. It’s a fantastic contract for Soriano and I’m certain there are quite a few players around the league envious of him.

Therein lies the problem, the structure of the contract is just ridiculously unfavorable to the Yankees. Forget the money, that’s a drop in the bucket to them, it’s the structure of the contract and they way Soriano is now allowed to determine his role with the team for the next three years. Within minutes of the news breaking about the contract and the inclusion of these opt-outs, the general sense was that people were hoping that Soriano would pitch well in 2011 then opt out and go somewhere else. Hoping he opts out! If you have to hope a guy opts within a weekend of the deal being announced, that’s a pretty definitive sign that something is wrong.

There’s basically one way this deal will end up being a positive for the Yankees, if Soriano is fantastic in 2011 and he opts out to sign elsewhere. That’s it. Anything else happens, it’s a loss because everything is out of the team’s hands. They have zero say about whether Soriano will be a part of their club in either 2012 or 2013 (unless they can magically trade a reliever making eight figures at some point), and the only way they know for certain that he’ll still be around is if he gets hurt or just starts sucking like relievers can do for no apparent reason. But the other side of the coin is that if Soriano is dominant, he’s going to take off and look for a bigger contract elsewhere, maybe even just a bigger one from the Yankees. The team has no leverage, the risk on their end exists in the form of two years and $23.5M while the risk to Soriano is … what? Where’s the trade-off?

I’m just using Soriano as an example here, the same logic applies to CC Sabathia and his opt-out next offseason. Trust me, I’m a thousand percent aware that CC has said he won’t opt out (not necessarily using those words, mind you) pretty much since the day he signed his contract, but I don’t believe him. He’s not stupid, CC and his agent know that next winter’s free agent pitching crop is weak, so if he opts out he’ll have the Yankees by the balls. They can’t afford to lose him so the four years and $92M left on his contract will turn into a brand new five year, $120M contract like the Phillies gave Cliff Lee. Hell, when Sabathia hits the free agent market next winter, he’ll still be a full year younger than Lee was this winter. Five years and $120M is probably just a starting point.

The thing I hate most about these opt-outs is that they’re being passed off as “creative.” That was the word used for the Soriano deal, just like it was for Derek Jeter. Taking on all of the risk is not creative, it’s a horrible management of resources and will come back to bite the Yankees rather hard if they continue handing out contracts structured like this. It’s likely to happen with Sabathia in a year, and it’s likely to happen when a 39-year-old Jeter gets to decide if 40-year-old Jeter should earn no less than $8M regardless of how well he’s actually playing.

Look, there’s no denying that Soriano makes the 2011 Yankees considerably better. He’s a world-class pitcher and the bullpen is considerably stronger with him, I’m not going to argue that aspect of this contract because there is no argument. On the field, the dude is a beast and I look forward to watching him pitch and rooting for him to succeed. But the contract, good grief the contract. The Yankees took on all the risk with a microscopically small chance that it ends up working in there favor. It reeks of desperation and the opt-outs strike me as saying “we really don’t want to do this and we’re hoping that we can get out from under this deal as soon as possible, please please please don’t get hurt in 2011.” If you’re that concerned about a contract, just don’t do it.

Oh well, there’s nothing that can be done about it now, but giving out opt-out clauses like this just isn’t a smart way to build a team. The risk is too great and the reward is far too small, there’s no other way around it.