The Obligatory Juan Rivera Post

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since Juan Rivera made his big league debut with the Yankees, when he earned a September call-up in 2001. Baseball America considered him one of the game’s top 100 best prospects before the 2002 and 2003 seasons, and Rivera hit a respectable .262/.302/.427 with eight homers and one golf cart-related injury in 280 plate appearances for the Yankees before being traded to the Expos as part of the Javy Vazquez package.

Rivera bounced from the Expos to the Angels to the Blue Jays in the eight years since the trade, hitting .278/.329/.445 (105 OPS+) during that time. The Blue Jays designated the now 33-year-old for assignment over the weekend, so let’s look to see if he could potentially fill a need for the Yankees…

The Pros

  • Rivera’s value comes almost entirely from his ability to hit left-handed pitching. He tagged southpaws for a .327/.400/.509 batting line in just 65 plate appearances for Toronto this year, but from 2008-2010 he hit .282/.334/.515 in over 400 plate appearances against lefties.
  • Rivera has some serious contact skills, swinging and missing just 7.4% of the time in his career with a 12.9% strikeout rate. Even his 2011 marks of 8.4% and 16.6%, respectively, are better than league average despite been career worsts (min. 200 PA). He’s walked more than he’s struck out against lefties this year (eight to six), and from 2008-2010 it’s 30 walks to 34 strikeouts. Anything remotely close to 1:1 is spectacular.
  • All of the advanced metrics (UZR, DRS, Total Zone) consider his defense to be about average (but no better) in the outfield corners. That’s a win when you consider what his role would be. He’s also dabbled at first base throughout the years.

The Cons

  • Rivera should be considered nothing more than a platoon player. He’s hit just .219/.276/.318 against righties this year (210 PA) and .246/304/.403 last year (293 PA). Last season’s performance isn’t terrible, but he’s clearly at his best when facing pitchers of the opposite hand.
  • He’s not a patient hitter, walking in just 6.7% of his career plate appearances and seeing only 3.51 pitches per plate appearances. It’s worth noting that his 8.0% walk rate this year is a career best.
  • Rivera does not project as a Type-A or B free agent at the moment, and he’s far enough from the cutoff that he probably can’t play his way into compensation pick territory in the second half.

With a $5.25M salary this season, it’s pretty safe to say that Rivera will clear waivers. The Blue Jays figure to find a decent number of teams interested in acquiring him via trade if they’re willing to get some of that money, though in recent years we’ve seen GM Alex Anthopoulos be pretty hesitant to trade within the division. Perhaps that wouldn’t be such a big issue for a spare part like Rivera.

Andruw Jones is hitting .234/.310/.453 in 71 plate appearances against lefties this year, and his numbers over the last few seasons (.219/.352/.428 vs. LHP from 2008-2010) suggest that Rivera is the better platoon option at the plate. Andruw’s not the defender he once was, but he’s probably still better than Rivera, even if it’s just marginally. His $2M salary is not going away, but I think there are legitimate reasons to eat the rest of that salary and bring Rivera aboard if he winds up in the open market. I wouldn’t give up anything of value to acquire him in a trade, nor would I absorb that salary on waivers, but as a free agent for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum? Then go for it. I’ll be surprised if he makes it that far though.

Yanks fall to Indians in Jeter’s return

Ball game.

Hope you had a great Fourth of July, and to everyone outside of the U.S. … I hope you had a wonderful Monday. Let’s recap…

  • That foul ball by Lonnie Chisenhall in the seventh absolutely has to be caught, but it wasn’t. It’s the outfielder’s ball because he’s coming in on it, but for whatever reason (lack of communication?) it bounced between Alex Rodriguez and Brett Gardner. That should have been the third out.
  • I also don’t think A.J. Burnett should have faced Austin Kearns that inning because a) he hit two balls to the warning track earlier in the game and was obviously seeing the ball well out of his hand, and b) Burnett hung some curves to the previous batter and got away with them. He looked like he was tired as his pitch count climbed north of 110. You know what though? Chisenhall, Shelley Duncan, and Kearns came into the game with .300, .270, and .287 OBP’s, respectively. Just one of those guys needed to make an out, but instead four runs scored.
  • Other than that inning, Burnett was actually pretty good. Just two walks and two hits through the first six innings with five strikeouts. It looked like one of those classic games when A.J. pitched well and the offense wouldn’t bother to score.
  • Josh Tomlin managed to take a no-hitter into the seventh (!!!), but Mark Teixeira broke it up with a single back up the middle. Robinson Cano followed that up with an infield hit, and Nick Swisher drove in both of them with an opposite field gapper. Curtis Granderson hit his 23rd homer in the eighth, a solo shot.
  • Derek Jeter reached on an error in his first game back and hit one ball out of the infield in four at-bats, pretty much par for the course.
  • Cory Wade gave up his first run(s) with the Yankee, an opposite field two-run homer to Carlos Santana that gave the Indians some insurance runs in the eighth. Wasn’t even a bad pitch, a curveball on the outer half that Santana muscled out.
  • Here’s the box score and the depressing WPA graph.

CC Sabathia will try to stop the two-game losing streak when he takes the mound in his old stomping grounds on Tuesday night. Carlos Carrasco will go for the Tribe. That’s a normal 7:05pm ET start, and RAB Tickets can get you there on the cheap.

Staten Island’s win streak comes to an end

Jorge Vazquez was activated off the disabled list, he had apparently been dealing with some left shoulder soreness. Jesus Montero was a late scratch tonight because of tightness in his lower back/side. Also, Fernando Hernandez was released, which is entirely unsurprising.

Triple-A Scranton (5-3 win over Lehigh Valley)
Greg Golson, CF: 3 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 K – 12 for his last 37 (.324)
Mike Lamb, 3B: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI – taken out in the ninth for defense
Jordan Parraz, RF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Terry Tiffee, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 1 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 HBP
Brandon Laird, LF-3B: 2 for 4 – got shifted around late in the game
Gus Molina, C: 0 for 4, 1 K
Luis Nunez, 2B: 2 for 4, 1 R
Doug Bernier, SS: 4 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B – seven for his last ten with three doubles … gets to keep the job a little longer with Ramiro Pena not coming down
Shaeffer Hall, LHP: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 7-6 GB/FB – 54 of 81 pitches were strikes (66.7%)
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 11 of 20 pitches were caught
Logan Kensing, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 11 of 18 pitches were strikes (61.1%)

[Read more…]

Game 83: Derek’s Back

Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

A.J. Burnett. SP

The game starts at 6:35pm ET and can be seen on YES locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy, and have a happy and safe Fourth of July.

Roster News: Chris Dickerson has been optioned to Triple-A Scranton to make room on the roster for Jeter. I guess Eduardo Nunez‘s hamstring is still acting up and want to keep Ramiro Pena around as a spare infielder.

(h/t to Anthony for the link to the video)

Cano will participate in Homerun Derby

Via Mark Feinsand, Robinson Cano has accepted an invitation to participate in the Homerun Derby next week. AL captain David Ortiz asked him to join after Mark Teixeira declined the invitation to spend the break with his family. Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Bautista will also take their hacks. Cano was originally named to the Derby last year, but withdrew because of a minor back injury that may or may not have been real.

Mariano Rivera’s Road Woes

Mariano Rivera blew his fourth save of the season yesterday, nearly as many as he blew last year (five) and more than he blew in 2008 and 2009 combined (three). All four blown saves have come on the road and three of the four have been one-run leads, the other a two-run lead. Unsurprisingly, Rivera’s home/road splits are pretty drastic this season…

Of course stats like ERA and opponent’s AVG/OBP/SLG don’t tell the whole story. Those are output stats, they just tell us about the results and not what led to them. The process is what is really important, and Rivera’s underlying performance shows us there’s nothing to be concerned about…

The sample size is essentially the same in terms of batters faced, and Mo’s strikeout and walk numbers on the road are for all intents and purposes identical to his career numbers (8.21 K/9 and 1.80 uIBB/9). His ground ball rate is right in line with his rate since 2002 (53.4%), when the data started being recorded. The only significant difference between his home and road performance this year is the number of balls that are dropping in for hits, an astronomically high 43.9% away from Yankee Stadium. That’s almost 18% higher than his career average.

Furthermore, let’s look a little deeper at those four blown saves. Other than the first one against the Blue Jays on April 19th (a legit blown save that featured a double into the gap and some hard-hit singles), they were all of the death by a thousand cuts variety. The ninth inning on April 24th went walk, strikeout, strikeout, bloop single, ground ball past a diving Mark Teixeira into the corner for a double. The tying run scored but the second runner was thrown at the plate by several steps. One hard hit ball, and it was beat into the ground.

The May 18th blown save went ground ball out, single up the middle, single on a ground ball through the right side, sacrifice fly to tie, pop-out to end the inning. And then there was yesterday, which went strikeout, ground ball out, walk, single off the handle of the bat, single on a ground ball through the right side, ground ball through the shortstop’s legs, runner out at the plate. If Mo was giving up rockets all over the field and balls over the fence, I’d be concerned. Right now it’s just a case of sample size and dumb luck with ground balls having eyes more than anything.

It’s worth noting that Rivera’s trademark cutter is completely unchanged this year. The velocity is the same as it’s been over the last few seasons, comfortably in the low-90’s, and the pitch is still getting three-plus inches of horizontal break and just north of five inches of vertical “drop.” Batters are swinging and missing at Mo’s cutter 7.8% of the time this season after whiffing at it 8.0% of the time over the last two years. There are no red flags here, so don’t bother worrying.