Open Thread: Building Narratives

I’m sure most of you a) read xkcd, and/or b) have already seen that today, but I figured I’d post it here for those of you that haven’t. There’s really nothing to add, it’s the history of sports analysis in a one pane comic.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Yankees and Mariners start their game a little after 10pm ET, at which point we’ll have a regular game thread. This is to just hold you over. The Mets are playing the Phillies (Capuano vs. Oswalt), and MLB Network will also carry a game. The teams depend on where you live though. The Lightning and Bruins will play Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals as well (8pm ET on Versus), winner moves on to face the Canucks in the Stanley Cup Finals. Nothing better than a Game Seven, I say. Talk about anything here as you wait for the game.

Minors Notes: Anderson, Sanchez, Injuries, More

Got a bunch of minor league notes today, so let’s round them all up in one post. Everything comes from Mike Ashmore or Chad Jennings

  • Right-hander Brian Anderson has been released. He had been on the Double-A Trenton disabled list with a biceps issue, though his performance when he did pitch was pretty good: nine strikeouts and just one walk in 7.1 IP.
  • Mark Newman again said that Gary Sanchez is out with a “stiff lower back,” though he’s playing in Extended Spring Training. He is on the Low-A Charleston disabled list at the moment, and he’ll return there when healthy.
  • Both Slade Heathcott (.376 wOBA) and J.R. Murphy (.385) will “probably” move up to High-A Tampa this summer. That’s a yes, though I was wondering if Heathcott’s brawl would slow down his schedule somewhat.
  • Mark Prior is not throwing off a mound and is dealing with some kind of oblique/hip issue. Alan Horne (remember him?) is throwing in ExST, as is Brad Halsey. Graham Stoneburner, Jeremy Bleich, and Steve Garrison aren’t close to returning yet.
  • David Adams is still having leg issues. It might be related to last year’s broken ankle, but the leg started bothering him after his one game played this year.
  • When asked about who’s impressed in ExST, Newman responded with personal fave Bryan Mitchell. “He’s got electric stuff,” said Newman. “He’s got the stuff to be the next Banuelos, Betances. The high-end guy. That’s Mitchell.”
  • Carlos Silva can opt out of his minor league deal in mid-June, so he could probably make another two or three or maybe even four starts for Triple-A Scranton before the Yankees have to make a decision about whether or not to call him up.

2011 Draft: Blake Swihart

The draft is just ten days away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some players individually rather than lump a few together in one post.

(Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn, ESPN)

Blake Swihart | C

After helping Rio Rancho High School to the New Mexico state championship as a sophomore, Swihart transferred to the nearby and brand-new Cleveland High School, where he supposedly has a 4.0 GPA. His showcase performances with Team USA, the Area Code Games, and the AFLAC All-American Game are the stuff of legend, as he’s routinely wowed onlookers over the last few summers. He is committed to Texas.

Scouting Report
Swihart is a rare breed. He’s a true switch-hitter with the potential to have power and be above-average from both sides of the plate. He spent the spring focusing on his development by alternating sides of the plate from at-bat to at-bat regardless of the pitcher’s handedness. The 6-foot-0, 170 lb. Swihart is a very good athlete that spent most of his high school career bouncing around the infield before moving behind the plate in earnest just last year. His arm is strong and his footwork is good, but he’s raw defensively and just needs more experience. If catching doesn’t work out for whatever reason, third base and right field are legitimate fallback options. Here’s some video.

In yesterday’s chat, Keith Law said that Swihart “keeps telling teams he has no interest in signing this year,” which is probably just a way of manufacturing leverage as one of the draft’s best high school prospects. KLaw and Baseball America rated him as the 17th and 19th best draft prospect in their latest rankings, respectively. Swihart has significant upside but still has a lot of work to do, and some team will surely offer him life changing money to see that he does that work under professional instruction and not some college coaching staff. The Yankees would have to hope that those bonus demands scare some teams into looking elsewhere if they hope to land Swihart with the 51st overall pick.

Mailbag: Swisher, Posey, Pitching, Veras

I figured I’d grab the reins from Mike this week and answer a few reader questions.

Mark asks: Given Swisher’s morbid .170 avg and .578 OPS against righties through yesterday, how much longer before we start talking about a platoon of Swisher and Dickerson in RF? Swish’s .302 avg & .714 OPS against lefties combined with Dickerson’s .273 avg & .697 OPS against righties sure looks better than Swish’s combined stats!

Given Swisher’s performances during his first two years as a Yankee (.270/.365/.505), I have to believe that they’ll give him more time, perhaps until the All-Star Break, to turn things around. If this is just a prolonged slump, then the Yanks will reap the benefits when he comes out of it — much more so than they would from a Dickerson/Swisher platoon.

If Swisher continues to struggle, we could certainly see more of Dickerson. In 461 career PA he is .273/.362/.419 against right-handed pitching. That’s more ideal for center field platoon, but it’s better than what Swisher is currently producing. Again, I think he’ll break out of this and have a fine second half. But if he’s not hitting when the second half starts, I’m sure we’ll see more Dickerson with perhaps an eye on a trade.

Nick asks: Hey I was wondering what your thoughts on this Buster Posey injury are? I mean them calling for a rule change and whining about it is a joke. It was a clean play. I liken it to Jeter getting hurt in 2003, it was a clean heads up play. What do you want runners to stop before home plate if the catcher has the ball? What a farce.

Your definition of clean play is different than others’. It was clean, in that no umpire would do anything about it. It’s an accepted play and has been for decades upon decades. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right, though. Baseball is decidedly not a contact sport, and Cousins went into Posey in the same way a safety would go into a wide receiver (except, of course, the wide receiver would be standing).

That said, no, I don’t think there should be a rule change. Do I think that runners should try to find a clear path to the plate, rather than just gunning for the catcher, wherever he may be in relation to the plate? Yes. Do I think that catchers should get the hell out of the way until they get the ball ? Yes. Do I think that catchers shouldn’t go to their knees when receiving a throw? Again, yes. That sounds more like a training issue than a rules issue to me.

To the last question, “do you want runners to stop before home plate,” obviously that’s a red herring. If there were to be a no collisions rule, catchers would be barred from blocking the plate.

In essence, I think that properly training players will go further than a rules change. If it’s a runner barreling down the line at a guy covered in the equipment, and holding the ball, I can see why a collision works. But the Posey play had more to do with him being on the ground without the ball. Of course, training only goes so far when you’re in the heat of the moment.

Jeff asks: With the way that Russell Martin is playing and now that Buster Posey is out for the season do the Yankees match up with the Giants for a Jesus Montero trade for one of Sanchez/Bumgarner/Cain? Would you be open to trading Montero for one of their young pitchers? The Giant’s can catch Montero this year and then shift him to first base next year.

The Giants certainly aren’t shifting him to first base next year, since 1) they have Aubrey Huff under contract for another year, and 2) their top prospect, Brandon Belt, is a first baseman. Without a DH spot, and with their top two young players covering first and catcher, the Giants have no real use for Montero. It’s a nice idea to consider, especially since the Yanks need pitching and the Giants have plenty of it. But this is an unfortunate instance where the Yanks just don’t have much to give in return.

Joe asks: Jose Veras is in Japan? How is he doing??

Jose Veras actually caught on with the Pirates, and he’s pitching fairly well. He has thrown 20.2 innings in 22 appearances, striking out 30 to just nine walks (one intentional). His 2.61 ERA is all nice and sparkly. Of course, we’ve seen this from Veras before. In 2008 he had some stellar stretches. From June 5 through July 9, a span of 17.1 innings, he allowed just one run, striking out 18 while walking eight. Then he allowed just four runs in 16.1 innings from July 12 through August 24. That is to say, we know he’s capable of this. I’m just keeping my mouth shut so that Pirates fans can appreciate him while he lasts.

David Cone interview in New York Magazine

Everyone loves David Cone, at least I think everyone does. I’ve made it very well known that he’s my favorite YES announcer because of his affection for advanced stats, his candid stories, and because he occasionally talks before he thinks. He’s great. Cone sat down for an interview with Joe DeLessio of New York Magazine, and it truly is a must read. He discusses those advanced stats and his favorite sites, but also the Jorge Posada situation, the end of his own career, his involvement with the Stars and Stripes cap program, and much more. It gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so check it out.

Series Preview: Seattle Mariners

Behold, the Eric wedge mustache. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

The first of two west coast trips in 2011 starts in Seattle, which is universally considered one of the best road cities with a fantastic ballpark. I’ve never been there but I’ve heard it from plenty of people, so I’ll take their word for it. The Yankees won three of four in Safeco Field last season, losing only to the eventual Cy Young Award winner.

What Have The Mariners Done Lately

The Mariners come into this game having won eight of their last ten, though six of those wins came against the punchless Twins and Padres. They allowed just 17 runs in those ten games, and seven of them came in an extra innings win this past Monday. The latest hot stretch has Seattle’s season record at 24-25 with a -7 run differential.

Mariners On Offense

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Last year, the Mariners featured the worst offense in the DH era, scoring only 513 runs in 162 games. They’re better than that this year, pushing 176 runs across the plate in 49 games, putting them on pace for 581 runs this season. Their best hitter this year, by far, has been Justin Smoak, the guy Jack Zduriencik wanted instead of Jesus Montero in the Cliff Lee trade. The switch-hitting first baseman leads the team in homers (six), OBP (.365), SLG (.461), ISO (.197), and wOBA (.363), and he recently graduated to the team’s full-time number three hitter.

The rest of the lineup just isn’t any good. Ichiro! sports a .281/.338/.320 line in his age 37 season, and chances are he’s declining instead of just slumping. Jack Cust still draws enough walks to post a good OBP (.364), but his power is gone (.091), he doesn’t hit for average (.231), and he strikes out at ton (35.7% of his at-bats). Chone Figgins has been the worst (qualified) hitter in baseball this season thanks to a .227 wOBA, though he’ll still steal on the rare occasions when he does get on base. Adam Kennedy (.332 wOBA) has been a nice surprise, but Miguel Olivo (.275 wOBA), Jack Wilson (.259 wOBA), Brendan Ryan (.296 wOBA), and Michael Saunders (.223 wOBA) have been predictably terrible. Franklin Gutierrez returned from a prolonged stomach issue not too long ago and has really to really settle in. The left field platoon of career minor leaguer Mike Wilson and prospect Carlos Peguero has yet to impress following Milton Bradley’s release.

Overall, it’s decidedly below-average offense with the second worst team wOBA (.286) and fourth worst OBP (.302) in all of baseball. Smoak is their one serious threat, but with all due respect, he’s not a Jose Bautista/Miguel Cabrera/Josh Hamilton kind of threat. There’s no reason to give him anything to hit in a big spot given his eight lineup-mates.

Mariners On The Mound

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Friday, RHP Michael Pineda: They can’t hit, but they can certainly pitch. The 22-year-old Pineda is third in all of baseball (!!!) with a 2.25 FIP (only Roy Halladay and Matt Garza have been better) thanks to his 9.41 K/9 and 2.16 BB/9. The rookie right-hander is a big time fly ball pitcher though (just 34.7% grounders), and lefties give him a harder time than righties because he doesn’t have a changeup. Well, that’s a lie, he has one, but he only uses it 1.2% of the time. Pineda throws three different mid-90’s fastballs, though he uses the four-seamer (50.6% of the time) far more often than the two-seamer (10.8%) or changeup (5.6%). When he gets ahead, he’ll go to town with a mid-80’s slider in search of the strikeout. Being a fly ball pitcher plays into the Yankees’ hands and they can hit the fastball, but Pineda’s is so good that it might not matter.

Saturday, RHP Felix Hernandez: We all know about King Felix, who is probably the best right-handed pitcher in the world aside from Halladay. He’s actually been better this year than last (2.32 FIP vs. 3.04) even if he had a 4.33 ERA after four starts (he’s whittled that down to 3.01 in his seven starts since). The guy’s stuff is so good it’s scary. Felix throws two low-to-mid 90’s fastballs (four and two-seamer), a mid-80’s slider, a low-80’s curveball, and an upper-80’s changeup that is his favorite toy. Hernandez will throw anything in any count, so we just have to hope he has an off night, which is extremely unlikely.

Sunday, LHP Jason Vargas: The least known of the three, Vargas has gone from Marlins’ and Mets’ castoff to a rock solid starter. His 3.86 ERA is right in line with his 3.69 FIP, though he’s not a big strikeout (6.14 K/9) or ground ball (39.1%) guy. Vargas is a legit six pitch pitcher, throwing an upper-80’s two-seamer (30.1% of the time), low-80’s changeup (30.0%),  mid-to-upper 80’s four-seamer (15.6%), mid-80’s cutter (11.2%), mid-70’s curveball (7.4%), and mid-80’s slider (5.7%). That unpredictability is why he succeeds with unspectacular stuff. Vargas has been very hit or miss this year, he’s allowed either five-plus runs or two or fewer runs in nine of his ten starts, so there really hasn’t been a middle ground.

No more glasses? (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Bullpen: As a whole, the Mariners’ relief corps is an unimpressive yet effective group. They don’t strike many batters out (6.09 K/9) or do a great job of limiting walks (3.60 BB/9), instead relying on a stout 50.4% ground ball rate to get outs. Closer and Michael Kay favorite Brandon League sports a 3.06 FIP and has fired off four scoreless appearances after allowing ten runs in three innings across four outings earlier this month. Eighth inning guy Jamey Wright (yes, that Jamey Wright) is striking out more than six men per nine while getting a ground ball on more than six out of every ten balls in play. Go figure.

Middle man David Pauley has a shiny 2.27 FIP, but that will change once his 0.00% HR/FB rate returns to Earth (48.6% grounders). Lefty Aaron Laffey isn’t a traditional specialist, instead working multiple innings to the tune of a 3.69 FIP. Jeff Gray was just claimed off waivers, and the final man in Seattle’s six pitcher bullpen is Yankees’ punching bag Chris Ray. Ah, we sure have some good memories of Chris Ray pitching against the Yankees, don’t we?

Recommended Mariners Reading: U.S.S. Mariner and Lookout Landing