Mailbag: Red Sox, 2015, Dunn, Deadline, Hal

Remember to send your questions in via email or the Submit A Tip box, the more the merrier. Today’s topics: the third place Red Sox, the 2015 rotation, Adam Dunn, biggest needs at the trade deadline, another look at the post-George Steinbrenner Yankees, and better pitching statistics. Let’s get too it…

The Red Sox seem to be fading fast. Sure they’ll start getting some guys back from injury, but will it be too late? Should we start just assuming that the Yanks and Rays will make it out of the AL East? – Anonymous

This question was sent Sunday night, after the Mariners beat the Red Sox for the second straight day. Boston has since gone on to beat the wimpy Angels the last two nights, so their fade has slowed down. Either way, no, we can’t assume they’re out of it yet.

Winning the division is nice, but the first thing the Yanks have to secure is a playoff spot, and they’ll do that by clinching a better record than either the Red Sox or the Rays. Boston has started to get their key guys back from injury – Victor Martinez, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz – like you said, and are just waiting on Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia now. I’m sure Theo Epstein will do something to fix that bullpen, making them even more dangerous.

They’re seven games out in the division right now, which is a big deficit but not enough to count out a team of that caliber. Not when they still have 16 combined games left against the teams in front of them (ten against the Yanks). The Rays are definitely the Yankees’ biggest threat right now, but anyone who thinks the Red Sox are done in July is kidding themselves.

If you had to pick one guy pitching for the Yankees in minors right now who will be a key starter for the team in 2015, who? – Moshe

It’s too bad the Yanks didn’t sign Gerrit Cole back in 2008, because that would have made this a much easier question to answer. I’m going to go with Andrew Brackman simply because he’s the closest to the majors among the team’s high upside pitching prospects. The Yanks don’t seem to have much patience for young starting pitchers that project to become back-end starters, which puts guys like Ivan Nova, Zach McAllister, David Phelps, and Adam Warren at an instant disadvantage. I’m willing to bet three of those four are traded by Opening Day 2012.

Brackman’s main competition for me was Jose Ramirez, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances, but those guys are still quite a ways off. Ramirez is still in Low-A, and a level-a-year climb doesn’t get him to the big leagues until the second half of 2013 at the earliest. Betances still has to stay healthy for a full season just for development’s sake. The more time he misses, the less likely it is that he’ll reach his potential. Nine great starts this year doesn’t change that. Banuelos is still in still in A-ball and his size (listed at 5-foot-10, 155 lbs.) is going to work against him whether you accept it or not.

My dark horse candidate is Hector Noesi, who like Brackman is in Double-A, but unlike Brackman doesn’t have blow-you-away stuff. He’s got good stuff, sure, but his best trait is his command and willingness to attack the strike zone. He’s the kind of pitcher that could come up right away and succeed because he’s willing to challenge batters, strike zone jitters shouldn’t (but always could) be an issue.

Remember, being a key starter in 2015 means a guy has to take his lumps at the big league level in 2012 and 2013 and possibly even 2014. Look at Phil Hughes, he came up in 2007 but didn’t turn into a key starter until 2010, and he’s better than anyone I mentioned above. Brackman could potentially be in the majors by the second half of next season, but even if it takes him a little longer he still has a considerable head start and more talent over the other guys.

Do you think Adam Dunn to Yankees would be good addition? – David Robertson’s biggest fan

Hell and yes. I’ve even written about this exact topic already. The Nationals are going nowhere quick and haven’t even offered the guy a contract extension, so it would be pretty foolish of them to keep him around and take the draft picks after the season (or hope to re-sign him). Prospects now are worth a whole lot more than draft picks later.

There’s no reason that Dunn would be a bad pickup for the Yanks, unless they plan on playing him in centerfield. Imagine that guy in the New Stadium.

Biggest need at the trade deadline: 5th starter, reliever, or bench help? I say 5th starter. – Will

I’m leaning towards the bullpen. Andy Pettitte will be back soon enough and that’ll take care of the whole fifth starter thing. They certainly have plenty of in-house options to run through in the interim. If he wasn’t on his way back, then yeah, I think another starter would be the priority.

The relief corps needs a lot of help though. Joba Chamberlain can’t be counted on for anything right now, and you can’t expect Al Aceves to come back and a) be effective, or b) stay healthy. Anything out of him is gravy. Jon Albaladejo could help in the 6th and 7th innings, but right now Robertson is the team’s only reliable righthanded reliever (NMD). That just won’t cut it.

The bench stinks, but you can survive with a bad bench when you have the kinds of regulars the Yankees do. Bad middle relief is the kiss of death, though.

You answered a question about the short-term impact of the passing of The Boss, but I have a nagging concern about the long-term. It seemed that when Hal and Hank began getting involved in the family business that they were reluctant, and I suspected they might have been doing it to please their father. Now that he’s gone, is there a concern that the Steinbrenner family could sell the team? Or have Hal and Hank embraced the pinstripes the way George did? I still remember your 2010 April Fool’s Day joke, and I don’t want that nightmare to become reality. – Howie

Ben is our resident Business of Baseball guy, so I handed this question off to him. Here’s his response:

Beyond a few comments by Randy Levine indicating that the Steinbrenner family has no intention of selling the Yankees, the owners themselves have been awfully quiet about their intentions since George’s passing. That said, the feeling around baseball is that Hal Steinbrenner and his brother and sisters will continue to hold onto the club for the foreseeable future. Despite his initial reluctance to do so, Hal has taken a liking to running the Front Office, and he appears to command respect among his peers. He has George’s drive to win but a cooler head on his shoulder, and Hank has clearly taken a backseat to Hal. For the Yankees, that could only lead to good results on the field.

With that in mind, the Steinbrenners will look to expand their empire as much as they can. They seem more focused on the bottom line than the Yanks have been in previous years, and even with a payroll in excess of $200 million, there is a limit to the Yanks’ spending. So perhaps the team will look at investing in the English Premiere League as had been rumored. Perhaps the Yanks will continue their push into Asian markets. Perhaps the club will continue to monetize the YES Network and all that comes of it. Whatever the future holds, it ought to be a lucrative one.

To see how the Steinbrenners are going to manage the club, I would look to the upcoming CBA negotiations as well. The Yankees and their spending will again be targeted, and I’d expect Hal to push back and hard. If he does, you know the family has truly embraced the pinstripes. Plus, no matter what happens, there is no love lost between the Steinbrenners and the Dolans. So that nightmare — our April Fools joke — will not come to pass.

I had a question regarding pitching stats. namely innings pitched. I think we know that not all innings pitched are created equally. You could get through an inning with as few as one pitch (come in with men on and induce a triple play) or a Joba-esque 35-40 pitches to get 2 outs. Is there any push to move or develop stats based on number of pitches thrown instead of innings pitched? – Anonymous

Innings aren’t all created equal as you, so yes, it would be better to use a more stable denominator. Batters faced would be a great start, so strikeouts per 27 batters, or walks per 27 batters, stuff like that would be better than the usual K/9 and BB/9. Rich Lederer introduced the concept of K/100 many moons ago, which is strikeouts per 100 pitches. Striking a batter out on three pitches is better than striking someone out on five pitches, and that difference is expressed in K/100. It measures dominance and efficiency.

It hasn’t caught on yet, obviously, but it’s easy to understand why it makes sense. One day we’ll start seeing some more extensive per pitch data, and it will be glorious.

Rookie right-hander stymies Yankees

One of these days the Yankees will light up a pitcher whom they haven’t yet seen. But last night the Yankees continued to struggle, managing just three hits off rookie Josh Tomlin. They eventually scored a run, and then threatened in the ninth, but there was no fun in this game. None at all.

Biggest Pitches: Choo’s double (WPA) Gimenez’s walk (emotional)

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

A walk with the bases loaded, with the No. 9 hitter at the plate. Drives you nuts. CC Sabathia walked two, one intentionally, earlier in the inning, and he ran the count full against Chris Gimenez. After two fouls Sabathia went back to the changeup, but he missed low and Gimenez did not swing. Johnny Peralta trotted home to put the Indians up 4-0. Considering how the Yankees’ offense looked that seemed insurmountable.

WPA has Shin-Soo Choo’s double in the fourth as the biggest swing of the night. It was actually more than double the WPA swing of any other event. Neither team had scored to that point, and this was the first real threat. It put Asdrubal Cabrera, who had singled to lead off the inning, to third with none out. The Yankees appeared to avoid disaster when Austin Kearns broke his bat on a chopper to third. A-Rod made a strong throw and Cervelli applied the tag, but the ball popped loose when Cervelli’s mitt hit the dirt.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Overall Sabathia pitched decently. Only two of the four runs he allowed were earned, thanks to the Cervelli play and what appeared to be a poor call at second. Cano did miss the bag, but he was right there. Usually umps will give that to guys. It was poor luck that the ump decided to be stingy on that play. It took him 123 pitches to get through seven innings, but that means he was pitching well enough to complete seven.

Failure with RISP

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The Yankees picked up just five hits against Tomlin and three relievers, but still managed to bat seven times with a runner in scoring position. As the score indicates, they didn’t succeed when given the opportunity. The only run scored on a groundout. And even then it came off a reliever and not the rookie right-hander. For most of the game it felt like they were going to get shut out.

Again the offense struggled against a pitcher they hadn’t face previously. Then again, they also struggled against Jake Westbrook, who had a 4.74 ERA heading into the game. So maybe it’s not all their inability to hit fresh arms. Maybe the offense is just in a little funk.

Graph and box

No extras tonight. I’ll repeat: this game was no fun.

If you want more, there’s FanGraphs and the box score.

Montero returns to help SWB to a win

Baseball America posted a handy little chart of when each club’s player development contracts expire with their minor league affiliates. With the Triple-A Scranton PDC recently extended, the next one coming up is Low-A Charleston’s, which expires in 2012.

I’ve been informed by friend of the blog Andy in Sunny Daytona that Caleb Cotham had labrum surgery, and is predictably out for the year. For shame.

Triple-A Scranton (4-2 win over Norfolk) they faced one of the five best pitching prospects in baseball
Kevin Russo, LF: 1 for 4, 1 K – hasn’t been easy for him after basically a month of riding the bench in the bigs
Eric Bruntlett, 3B & Jorge Vazquez, DH: both 0 for 4, 1 K
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 1 for 4, 1 R
Chad Tracy, 1B: 2 for 3, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – sixth homer in 15 games with SWB
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 K – he also hit a ball to the warning track … back following a day off because of that bruised forearm
Chad Huffman, RF: 1 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB
Reegie Corona, 2B & Greg Golson, CF: both 1 for 3 – Corona drove in two & walked
Zach McAllister: 6 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 8-5 GB/FB – 64 of his 105 pitches were strikes (61%) … he allowed two more homers tonight, running his season total up to 16 … he allowed 17 homers total from 2006-2009
Eric Wordekemper: 1.1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 17 of 25 pitches were strikes (68%)
Royce Ring: 0 IP, 1 H, zeroes – four pitches, three strikes
Jon Albaladejo: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 2-0 GB/FB – 20 of his 32 pitches were strikes (62.5%)

[Read more…]

Game 99: Another rook

Sabathia won in his first return to Cleveland (Tony Dejak/AP)

Say hello to Josh Tomlin. He makes his major league debut for the Indians tonight, though it won’t come with much fanfare. While the Indians do have a crop of young pitching prospects, including Hector Rondon and Carlos Carrasco, Tomlin does not rank among them. He didn’t make Baseball America’s top 30 Indians prospects this year, nor did he even get a C grade from John Sickels. So there’s not a ton that we can immediately glean about him.

Thankfully Mike has old BA Prospect Handbooks on file, and he was able to find a bit on Tomlin, who was the Indians’ No. 28 prospect in 2009. Like most fringy guys he sits 89-91 with the fastball and uses a 12-6 curve as his best secondary pitch. He also has a changeup that, apparently, he’ll throw in any count. It has plenty of separation from his fastball, sitting 75-78. And then there’s a slider/cutter combo that I’m betting we won’t see much of tonight.

We’ve seen these guys beat the Yanks before, but I don’t think it’s an epidemic or anything. Tomlin lived on his low hit and walk rates in the minors, and we know guys like that struggle in the majors. Yeah, maybe he can hold AAA hitters to seven hits per nine, but he won’t maintain that in the majors. That doesn’t preclude him from getting lucky in his debut, but the Yanks should have more than enough to power though this one.

On the mound for the good guys, CC Sabathia goes for career win No. 150 against the team for which he recorded win No. 1. He’s been on a roll lately, and looks to continue it against a team that is a bit punchless on offense. It’s always nice to have your lefty on the mound against a team whose best weapons also bat lefty.

And finally, a happy birthday to A-Rod, who turns 35 today. His 600th would be pretty sweet this evening.

Lineup:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, DH
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, C Curtis Granderson, CF
7. Curtis Granderson, CF Juan Miranada, 1B
8. Juan Miranada, 1B Frankie Cervelli, C
9. Brett Gardner, LF

And on the mound, number fifty-two, CC Sabathia.

Update by Mike: Jorge Posada has been scratched with a sore left knee. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.

Sherman: Joba not in danger of being sent to the minors

When the bullpen door swung open in the 8th inning last night, it wasn’t Joba Chamberlain that came in to preserve the one run lead. Rather, it was David Robertson (and later on, Boone Logan). The move was a long time coming, as Joba had allowed runs in six of his last ten appearances and at least one baserunner in 14 of his last 15 appearances. The guy is as unreliable as they come right now.

While Joba has lost exclusive rights to 8th inning work, Joel Sherman says he is in no danger of being sent to the minors to figure things out. Allow me to excerpt his explanation:

What is not possible, at least for now, is sending Chamberlain to the minors for two major reasons: 1) The Yanks feel it would be a terrible message to bust somebody from main set-up man all the way to Scranton in one move, so they will try to fix him outside the eighth inning and 2) They do not believe Chamberlain is failing because of an attitude problem. Yankee officials actually consider Chamberlain a hard worker. In other words they are not looking at this how they viewed a situation with Melky Cabrera in 2008. That season the Yanks thought Cabrera had become lazy and that was a factor in his struggles, so they did demote him in mid-August to Triple-A.

Whenever Joba starts doing his tight rope act and gives up runs (or worse, the lead), our first reaction as fans is to want him shipped to the minors. It’s our natural, knee-jerk response. We claim to see him unable to repeat his delivery, as if we’ve been trained and have sufficient experience to spot such things, and want him to go the Roy Halladay route; all the way back to A-Ball and rebuild him from the ground up. As if that’s ever worked for someone besides Halladay.

Anyway, point is that the Yankees are doing what’s best not just for the team, but what’s best for Joba. They’re trying to fix him, and will now do so in lower leverage situations. There’s unquestionably a confidence issue here, he’s human, and after getting his ass handed to him basically all season it’s only natural that Joba would start to get down on himself. Going straight to the minors would probably only exacerbate that problem. The Yanks have until August 7th to send him to the minors unconditionally, and after that Joba will have to clear waivers to be demoted. That is almost never an issue, however.

For now, the Yanks will work hard to get Joba back on track in situations less crucial to the outcome of the game, and even then he’ll be on a short leash. If that doesn’t work, then the minors are the next step. They’re just not the first step.

CC and the Indians team that never was

(AP Photo: Paul Chiasson)

Tonight CC Sabathia will take the mound in Cleveland for only the second time in his career as an opposing pitcher. When he called Progressive/Jacobs Field home he treated it well, pitching 747 innings to a 3.84 ERA. The fans in Cleveland loved him, and it didn’t take long for Yankees fans to realize why. He’s a big dude with an even bigger smile, and it seems like he’s always the nicest guy in the room. His 95 mph fastball doesn’t hurt, either.

Sabathia didn’t run a typical course for a young pitcher. The 20th pick in the 1998 draft — behind pitchers Mark Mulder, Jeff Austin, Ryan Mills, J.M. Gold, Jeff Weaver, Kip Wells, Brad Lidge, and Seth Etherton — he signed in time to pitch 18 innings in rookie ball before calling it a season. In 1999 he missed two months with a bone bruise in his elbow, but he cam back in 2000 with a reassuring performance. After 56 innings in advanced-A ball Sabathia moved up to AA, where he was named an All-Star. He pitched in the Futures Game that year, as well as the Hall of Fame game in Cooerstown. As we’ve seen the Yankees do in the past, the Indians brought Sabathia around the big league club in September, though they never activated him. He’d have to wait until 2001 to get his shot.

Despit having just 232.2 innings of minor league work under his belt, the Indians broke camp with Sabathia in 2001, and he made his debut on April 8, pitching 5.2 innings and allowing three runs against the Orioles. It’s tough to expect much of a 20-year-old, even if he is the team’s top prospect, but Sabathia delivered in a number of ways. He led the league in hit rate (as in, lowest), which helped make up for his 4.7 walks per nine. He ended the year with a 4.39 ERA, which amounted to a 102 ERA+. It’s tough to imagine a 20-year-old with minimal minor league experience providing more.

One issue Cleveland knew it would face with Sabathia was affordability. By calling him up at age 20 they put him on pace to reach free agency heading into his age 26 season. The Indians had raised payroll from $76.5 million in 2000 to $93.3 million in 2001, but that budget increase was temporary. It was unlikely that the Indians would be able to afford Sabathia once he became a free agent, made all the worse because that time would come as he entered his prime. Still, they made all necessary attempts, which included signing him to a four-year, $9.5 million extension after 2001 season that covered his first two arbitration years and provided a $7 million option for his final season of team control.

CC pitched very well, especially considering he was age 21 through 23, during the first three years of that contract. It was good enough for him to sign another extension with Cleveland, this one buying out his first two years of free agency. It called for two years and $17.5 million, an enormous bargain in every way. The extension also included Cleveland picking up his 2006 option. So, all told, the Indians ended up paying $13.95 million for Sabathia’s three arbitration years, and then $17.5 million for his first two years of free agency.

It came as no surprise, then, that Sabathia wanted to get paid the next time around. He had played for cheap in Cleveland for five years (not counting his three reserve clause years because he had no control over that). It was time to get the dollars he deserved. His price tag jumped after his Cy Young award in 2007, and there was little chance he’d consider signing the four-year deal, worth between $68 and $72 million, that Cleveland had offered. Knowing they didn’t have a shot, they traded him to the Brewers mid-season, which turned out to be an excellent move. Instead of getting a first round pick when Sabathia signed with the Yankees, they would have gotten only a second-rounder because the Yanks also signed Mark Teixeira.

While it appears that Sabathia left Cleveland on decent terms, there does seem to be at least a little lingering resentment, at least from one beat reporter. Two weeks ago MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince unloaded on Sabathia. It came after comments CC made when asked about how the Indians broke up their 2007 team that came within a game of the World Series. “That wasn’t our fault,” Sabathia said. “They trade us. That’s on them.”

The issue, of course, is a bit more complicated than that. The Indians started off poorly in 2008 and were out of contention by the time Sabathia started pitching well. If he had started out the season well perhaps he and Cliff Lee could have made a difference, but it just didn’t work out. The Indians traded him because they had to — because there was no way they could afford to sign him again. It does seem pretty cut and dry. They didn’t have the necessary resources, so they had to make a move. That is on them. But that’s not an indictment. It’s just a reflection of the team’s financial situation.

I’d blockquote Castrovince, but there seems little point. His beef lies with CC’s, “That’s on them” sentiment. He claims that CC should have leveled with people when asked about the 2007 team. “This is a business, and it’s difficult for a team in a smaller market like Cleveland to afford to keep its core intact. That’s why it’s a shame we weren’t able to take advantage of the special opportunity we had in ’07. And as the ace of that pitching staff, I take the brunt of the blame,” was Castrovince’s suggested answer to the question. That would have been noble, but it was in no way necessary. And it misses the bigger point.

The Indians treated CC well, as Castrovince says (slipping in a fat joke, hardy har har), but he misses how many chances Sabathia gave the Indians. He knew he could have hit free agency at age 26 and would have gotten a mammoth contract, though perhaps not quite as large as the one the Yankees gave him. Still, that would have lined him up for yet another payday if he had signed, say, a five- or six-year deal. Yet he signed an extension with the Indians, at a rate grossly below the market standard, that covered two years of free agency. He gave the Indians a chance to build a team, and while they came close they fell short.

It was a good run for CC in Cleveland. The fans loved him, watching him grow from 20-year-old rookie to Cy Young award winner in seven years. He apparently liked it enough to give the team a discount. Yes, it’s a shame, for many reasons, that the 2007 squad couldn’t finish the job. That could have changed the course of Cleveland baseball. But it didn’t, so the Indians had to make some necessary moves. Sabathia had no obligation to once again sign below market. After sacrificing money for security for five years he decided to get paid. I find it hard to begrudge him that.

Stark: Yankees trying to trade Chan Ho Park

Via Jayson Stark, the Yankees are trying to unload the disappointing Chan Ho Park on some unsuspecting team desperate for relief help. CHoP has been on the chopping block (pun intended) for basically the entire season, but I suppose it’s possible that GM Brian Cashman has been getting a few trade inquiries, buying Park some time before what seems like an inevitable DFA. The Yankees aren’t going to get much in return, obviously, but a fringe prospect plus some salary relief is better than nothing.