The perils of being a prospect in New York

Michael Pineda might not be a prospect, but that doesn’t stop people from treating him like one. In a way that’s unfair, since he did pitch a full major league season in 2011, and put up good numbers in the campaign. But in another way it is fair, since he still has plenty to prove. Any pitcher at his age and experience does. Of course, having something to prove in Seattle is quite different than having something to prove in New York. The media, unsurprisingly, is already on top of Pineda.

This morning a couple if infamous New York media scribes published articles on Pineda. Unsurprisingly, they focused on the negative. It’s not that these cases are without merit; again, Pineda is a work in progress. The problem is that they homed in on the negative while ignoring the adjacent positives.

On Pineda’s weight

Michael Pineda is a big dude. He stands at six feet and seven inches tall (or six-foot-eight, depending on who’s publishing the information). At that size, it’s hard to determine a normal weight. There are so many variables in body composition that it’s tough to determine if he’s carrying too much fat, or if he’s just a bulky dude. Still, playing weight is a hot-button issue in the media. Pineda did not help his case by showing up to camp at 280 pounds and saying that he’d like to be at 270. To the media, that translates to being 10 pounds overweight.

It’s hard to determine Pineda’s ideal weight. Maybe it really is 280. Maybe it’s 270, which is what he says he weighed at the end of 2011. Maybe it’s even lower than that. To criticize him for being 280 when he says he wants to be 270, then, is a bit much. This isn’t like you or me being 10 pounds overweight. This is a six-foot-seven athlete coming in 10 pounds heavier than he was at the end of last season. It’s less than 4 percent of his overall bodyweight. To conclude from these 10 pounds that he has exercise or nutrition problems is a blind and poor judgment.

Might he have these problems? Absolutely. But the 10 pound weight gain is not necessarily a signal of that. He’s still just 23, and still has to learn how to operate inside an enormous frame. It’s not easy. Even so, Pineda has already addressed the issue. As Jack Curry reported after Pineda’s performance today: “Pineda said he has lost 7 or 8 pounds. Wants to lose a few more.” So there you go. He’s been in camp for three weeks and has already dropped more than half of his goal weight. This should not be an issue.

On Pineda’s changeup

Immediately after the Yankees acquired Pineda, they addressed his repertoire. Brian Cashman said that if Pineda doesn’t develop a changeup and become an ace, he’ll have made a mistake in trading Jesus Montero for him. It seems that Pineda’s name can’t come up now without a reference to his changeup.

There is no doubt that eventually developing a changeup is important. That probably won’t come this year. The changeup can be a difficult pitch to master. It took CC Sabathia years and years before he successfully implemented one. There is a chance that Pineda could follow a similar development path. He could still get by with the fastball and slider while working the changeup in more regularly. But this is not an issue that will be decided this year.

Still, from all accounts Pineda has put a lot of work into his changeup this spring. That’s something he can afford, thanks to his already electric fastball and slider offerings.

On the Montero comparisons

Another constant when writing about Pineda: mentioning that the Yankees took a big risk in trading Montero for him. This is undoubtedly true. Montero is a hugely hyped prospect who could hit in the middle of the order. Yet the NY media didn’t quite see it that way previously. While Montero was with the team he came under fire for attitude issues. Writers constantly questioned his defensive ability. He was treated, in other words, as a prospect.

But now that the Yankees traded him he’s apparently the second coming of Babe Ruth. It’s quite unsettling to see the turnaround on him. Would the writers have been this lavish in their praise if Montero were still with the Yankees? (Somehow I doubt it.)

There is no denying that Michael Pineda has a lot of work to do. He does need to develop a changeup eventually. He does need to maintain a healthy weight. Unfortunately for us, these are not one-time issues. They both take time. He’ll have to work constantly to keep himself in shape, and he’ll have to work even harder on getting a feel for his changeup. There is no quick fix. Does this mean that we’ll hear about the changeup and the weight with every poor start? Probably. Just keep that in mind, though, when you run across an article or column critical of him. While the criticism is probably valid in some ways, there are equally positive points right next door.

Marc Carig’s Q&A with Jim Hendry

The Yankees hired former Cubs GM Jim Hendry as a special assignment scout in January, and yesterday Marc Carig caught up with him for a little Q&A session. Hendry spoke about the pressure of being the Cubs GM and joining the Yankees, plus a ton of other things. Pretty interesting to see someone from the inside talk about the World Series drought on Chicago’s north side. Check out, interesting stuff.

ST Game Thread: Pineda’s First Impression

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

For the first three months of the offseason, we wondered how and when the Yankees were going to upgrade their rotation. In one fell swoop on Friday the 13th, they added a hard-throwing youngster and a wily ol’ veteran to shore things up. Michael Pineda is that hard-throwing youngster, and all eyes will be on him today as he makes his Spring Training debut for the Yankees. Considering that Jesus Montero went the other way in the trade, the attention and scrutiny will only be greater. Here’s the starting nine…

LF Brett Gardner
CF Curtis Granderson
RF Nick Swisher
DH Raul Ibanez
1B Eric Chavez
C Russell Martin
SS Eduardo Nunez
3B Bill Hall
2B Jayson Nix

RHP Michael Pineda

Available Pitchers: RHP David Robertson is scheduled to follow Pineda. RHP Dan Burawa, LHP Cesar Cabral, LHP Juan Cedeno, RHP Brett Marshall, RHP Adam Miller, LHP Michael O’Connor, RHP Ryan Pope, RHP Graham Stoneburner also made the trip, but it’s unclear who will actually pitch and who just tagged along for the ride.

Available Position Players: C Gus Molina, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Corban Joseph, SS Ramiro Pena, 3B Brandon Laird, LF Zoilo Almonte, CF Melky Mesa, RF Colin Curtis, and DH Justin Maxwell will replace the starters. C/1B Jose Gil, C J.R. Murphy, C Gary Sanchez, IF David Adams, and IF Doug Bernier also made the trip.

The game will start at 1:05pm ET and can be seen on both MLB Network and The blackout has been lifted in the Tri-State Area. In honor of Pineda’s first start, we’ve got a special game chat today. I can’t promise I’ll stick around for all nine innings, but I will give live pitch-by-pitch for at least Pineda. Fun starts after the jump…

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2012 Season Preview: Regression Risks

(Nick Laham/Getty)

Anytime a team wins 97 games, a lot has to go right. Some young players need to take steps forward and do more than expected, some established players have to have career years, and some other players must surprise and come out of nowhere with solid performances. It takes a total team effort to win that many games, from the nine-figure number one starter to the last guy on the bench clinging to his roster spot by the skin of his teeth.

The Yankees had a number of players provide better than expected production last year, none moreso than Bartolo Colon. He returned to MLB after the year-long hiatus and a half-decade of injury trouble to throw 164.1 innings of better than average pitching in the AL East at age 38. It was the definition of a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, not all of those surprise performances are sustainable. Some of those guys might take a step backwards in 2012.

Freddy Garcia
The Yankees got lucky with Sweaty Freddy last year, at least in the sense that he held up all season without his surgically repaired shoulder giving out. He was a pretty extreme fly ball guy (just 36.4% grounders) who didn’t give up many homers (0.98 HR/9 and 8.2 HR/FB%) because he has a serious knack for weak contract. Hitters pop-up his slop at a pretty high rate — 11.9% infield fly ball rate with a 10.7% career rate — which helps keep the ball in the park.

Garcia is a major outlier in terms of his pitching style, and he doesn’t really fit under the umbrella of modern pitcher analysis. Mark Buehrle is the same way. The concern with Freddy going forward is the decreased usage of his changeup (19.9% in 2011 after 34.1% in 2010), which allowed left-handed batters to hit him harder (116 sOPS+) than they did the year before (108). If he’s unable to hold down right-handers again (101 sOPS+ in 2011 after 130 in 2010), he could be in for a whole world of hurt. Garcia could stand to use the changeup a little more next season to keep lefties at bay.

(REUTERS/Pichi Chuang)

Curtis Granderson
Granderson is a very unique case. His performance improved overnight back in August 2010 (almost literally), but we have tangible evidence explaining his newfound success. Grandy overhauled his stance and swing mechanics – specifically switching to a two-handed follow through for better bat control — with hitting coach Kevin Long’s help, allowing him to tap into his natural power and improve his performance against southpaws. We’ve seen 945 plate appearances of MVP caliber performance (including playoffs) since the overhaul, hardly a small sample.

It’s easy to write off Granderson’s power spike as a product of New Yankee Stadium, but that’s not the case. Since the overhaul he’s hit 30 homers with a .322 ISO at home and 25 homers with a .266 ISO on the road. The performance is better at home, but that’s still serious power on the road. The newfound pop jumped Granderson’s HR/FB ratio up over 20% (20.5% to be exact) for the first time in his career, which is rarefied air. Only eight hitters have sustained a 20%+ HR/FB ratio over the last five years (min. 2,000 PA), and they’re basically the eight best pure power hitters in baseball (Ryan Howard, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Pena types). Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, Joey Votto, and Miguel Cabrera do not make the cut.

Grandy ‘s power output isn’t something many hitters are able to repeat these days. Only six players have put together back-to-back 35+ homer seasons over the last five years, and only two of the six have been over the age of 30. That doesn’t mean Curtis won’t do it again, he certainly has a lot going for him (like Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch), but it’s not crazy to think he’ll be unable to repeat his 40+ homer effort again in 2012.

Ivan Nova
You can’t say enough good things about what Nova did for the Yankees last season, particularly upon his return from Triple-A. He improved his slider and started missing some bats, which will be important for him going forward. As with every young pitcher, Nova’s game could step a back next season just because he’s still figuring things out, but there is a very specific reason why it’s possible his performance will suffer in 2012. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say his performance is likely to suffer, not just possible.

The easy answer here is that his ERA (3.70) was lower than his FIP (4.01) and he’s doomed to regress, but that’s not necessarily the case. The concern is Nova’s performance with men on base, specifically with regards to the long ball. He faced 293 batters with men on base last year, and he allowed exactly zero homers. Not one. All 13 homers he allowed last summer were solo shots. His ground ball (54.1%) and strikeout (5.47 K/9 and 15.7 K%) rates were slightly higher with men on than with the bases empty (51.7 GB%, 5.22 K/9, and 12.7 K%), but not enough to explain the whole zero homers thing.

Avoiding homers is absolutely a skill, but avoiding homers specifically with no one on base is not. Pitchers tend to lose some effectiveness when pitching from the stretch — .318 wOBA against with men on but .313 with the bases empty — and Nova is no exception. Playing half his games in hitter friendly Yankee Stadium means he’ll inevitably allow some homers with men on base. Those multi-run dingers will do a number on the ol’ ERA, which is why his performance is likely to take a step back in 2012. At some point, someone will take him deep with ducks on the pond.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

David Robertson
Robertson was out of this world good last season, using a new cutter to generate ground balls (46.3%) in addition to his usual high strikeout ways (13.50 K/9 and 36.8 K%). He allowed just one homer all season (a solo shot to J.J. Hardy in late-August), stranded a whopping 89.8% of the baserunners he allowed, and struck out 14 of the 19 men he faced with the bases loaded. The Houdini nickname certainly isn’t misplaced.

With Robertson, there isn’t one specific thing you can point to that would lead you to believe his performance will take a step back next year. Maybe it’s his 2.3% HR/FB rate, that’s probably the most obvious. Really, it’s just a matter of him being so insanely good that he can’t maintain the pace. Only 19 qualified relievers have managed a sub-2.00 FIP season over the last ten years, and exactly two of them did it more than once: Eric Gagne (2002 & 2003) and Hong-Chih Kuo (2008 & 2010). Mariano Rivera is not one of the 19. At 4.73 BB/9, Robertson has the highest walk rate of the group, and not by a small margin. Last year’s Kenley Jansen is the only guy within one walk per nine of him. D-Rob’s really really good, but my gosh, it would be something if he was that good again.

Cory Wade
The Yankees got 39.2 strong innings out of Wade last season, grabbing him off the scrap heap when injuries started to thin out the relief corps. He limits walks (1.82 BB/9 and 5.1 BB%) and strikes out just enough guys (6.81 K/9 and 19.1 K%) to remain effective despite big time fly ball (just 38.7% grounders) and homerun (1.13 HR/9) tendencies. Like Nova though, Wade enjoyed a ton of success with men on base last season. Perhaps a little too much.

Only 8.8% of the men to who reached base against Wade came around to score a year ago, well below the league average rate (27.5%). You’d expect a fly ball guy to have a lower than normal BABIP, but a .222 BABIP with men on base is lower than even the most optimistic of expectations. Once Wade gets some more opportunities to pitch with men on base — he faced just 64 batters with men on in 2011 — his performance will come back to Earth and he’ll allow a few more runs, especially as someone prone to the long ball. Another near-2.00 ERA across a full year’s worth of appearances would be a total shocker. Thankfully, Wade has a minor league option left and the Yankees have a number of bullpen alternatives at their disposal.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 5th, 2012

Record Last Week: 2-0 (15 RS, 9 RA)
Spring Training Record: 2-0 (15 RS, 9 RA)
Opponents This Week: @ Phillies (Mon. on MLBN), @ Pirates (Tues.), vs. Rays (Weds. on YES/MLBN), @ Blue Jays (Thurs.), vs. Braves (Fri. on YES/MLBN), @ Braves (Sat.) vs. Twins (one game, Mon.), vs. Rays (four games, Tues. to Thurs., two on Weds.), vs. Red Sox (three games, Fri. to Sun.), @ Twins (Sun. on MLBN, split squad), vs. Twins (Sun. on YES, split squad)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Open Thread: 3/4 Camp Notes

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Yankees beat the Phillies again today, this time by the score of 7-4. Alex Rodriguez was the star of the day, going 3-for-3 with a homer to right-center off Roy Halladay (video) on the first pitch he saw. He also singled to left and doubled into the left field corner. D.J. Mitchell had a nice day on the mound with two scoreless innings, and Clay Rapada retired all three lefties he faced in his perfect inning (two strikeouts). If jersey numbers mean anything, he has a decent chance of making the team with #39. Mike O’Connor is wearing #63, Cesar Cabral #76. Here’s the box score, and here’s all the other news from Tampa…

  • Both Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano will throw live batting practice tomorrow. It’s the first time Mo will face hitters and second time for Soriano. [Chad Jennings]
  • Hiroki Kuroda threw a simulated game this morning in preparation for Wednesday’s start. Ivan Nova, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and David Phelps will all throw their normal side sessions tomorrow after appearing in yesterday’s game. Brad Meyers will throw off a mound of the first time as well; he hurt his shoulder lifting weights this offseason and is behind everyone else. [Jennings]
  • Mark Teixeira fouled a ball off his foot earlier this week and has been getting treatment. “No worries, no tests,” said Brian Cashman. Tex did play today and even made a nice jumping grab, so the foot can’t be that bad. [George King]

Here is your open thread for the night. The Nets are playing tonight, plus the Twins and Red Sox are on MLB Network. Talk about whatever you like here, enjoy.

On A-Rod’s new workout program with Dr. Clark

Kobe Bryant urged Alex Rodriguez to undergo an experimental procedure on his knee a few months ago, and now another NBA star is giving him training advice. Joel Sherman wrote about A-Rod‘s relationship with Dr. Mike Clark, who started working together after Grant Hill put the two in touch.

Clark, who is CEO of the National Academy of Sports Medicine and formerly the Phoenix Suns’ physical trainer, has a system of treating the body globally rather than focusing on specific parts. With Alex, his workouts have focused on his right big toe, left ankle, right knee, and right hip, which were causing imbalances in his swing and have led to injuries elsewhere in his body. Think of it like a pitcher with a leg issue who puts more stress on his arm. A-Rod is working with a member of Clark’s staff daily this spring after first adjusting his workouts earlier in the offseason. It’s a pretty interesting read, so check it out. It gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation.