Open Thread: The My9 Curse

(Photo Credit: Flickr user prozaciswack via Creative Commons license)

Is it just me, or is every game broadcast on My9 somehow impacted by rain? And not just this year either, it seems like this has been happening since the dawn of time the YES Network. The Yankees and Reds are going to play two games tomorrow, New York’s first of at least three double headers this season. They also have two games scheduled for July 30th and August 27th, both against the Orioles to make up some April rain outs. The good news is that they have Thursday off, so the bullpen shouldn’t get too wrecked tomorrow.

Anyway, we’re left without baseball tonight, or at least baseball we care about. Here’s your open thread, which you can use to talk about the A’s and Mets (Outman vs. Gee), whatever game they show on MLB Network, the College World Series (South Carolina vs. Virginia, 7:30pm ET on ESPN, not an elimination game), or whatever your heart desires. You all know what to do, so have at it.

Tonight’s game has been rained out

Tonight’s Yankees-Reds game has been rained out. The two clubs will play a double header tomorrow, the first game at 12:35pm ET and the second at 7:10pm ET. Brian Gordon and Freddy Garcia will start the games, we’re just not sure what order. Joe Girardi also confirmed that both Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez will only start one game each. Well, this bites.

Update: Garcia gets the day game, Gordon the night cap.

Scouting The Trade Market: Ryan Dempster

(Photo Credit: Flickr user wisley via Creative Commons license)

The Yankees’ perpetual search for pitching takes us to Ryan Dempster today, who we got to see firsthand over the weekend. He wasn’t very good, walking six and allowing eight hits in just 5.1 IP on Saturday, and the three runs scored had more to do with the Yankees not getting the job done with men on base than Dempster bearing down and pitching his way out of jams. A recent report indicated that there’s “no likely scenario” in which the Cubs trade him, but we’ve heard that about so many players in recent years that it’s tough to take it seriously. Let’s break it down…

The Pros

  • Dempster has proven himself as a bonafide workhorse over the last few years, throwing at least 200 innings every year since 2008 (he’s on pace to do that again this year). Although he had a lot of elbow issues early in his career, his only trip to the disabled list in recent years was due to a broken toe he suffered climbing over the dugout fence in 2009. That qualifies as a fluke.
  • His fastball velocity has held up well over the years, still sitting in the low-90’s regularly. He’ll use both a two and four-seamer, though Dempster’s bread-and-butter is a mid-80’s slider that he throws 35.5% of the time. He’ll also throw his low-80’s changeup one out of every ten pitches. Since the start of the 2009 season, his slider has an 18.1% whiff rate, the changeup 20.2%. That’s pretty damn good.
  • Since returning to the rotation in 2008, Dempster’s been above eight strikeouts per nine innings in three of the last four years (it was 7.74 K/9 in the one exception year, which is still close to eight per nine). His ground ball rate has hovered between 47.1% and 48.1% every year since 2007. Hooray for consistency.
  • This is the last guaranteed year of his contract and he projects to be a Type-A free agent at the moment.

The Cons

  • Dempster does have a considerable platoon split since returning to the rotation. He’s held right-handed batters to a .240/.304/.375 batting line with 19.8% strikeouts and 7.3% unintentional walks since the start of 2008, but lefties have gotten to him for a .259/.339/.409 batting line with 24.0% strikeouts (very good) and 9.8% unintentional walks (not very good). His unintentional walk rate since 2008 is solid (3.18), but he’s been around 3.50 both this year and last. That’s nothing special.
  • He’s become increasingly more homer prone over the last several years and is well-below-average at 1.27 HR/9 this year. His 15.1% HR/FB ratio is a touch high compared to recent years, and it’s worth noting that eight of the 13 homers he’s allowed this year came in his first five starts. He’s allowed just five homers in eleven starts since.
  • I’m not sure how much (if any) stock to put in this, but Dempster is a career National Leaguer and has gotten hit around during Interleague play: 4.98 ERA, ~4.55 FIP in 202.1 career innings against the AL. We saw that on display last weekend and it’s not an insignificant amount of innings, but they’re spread out over 14 seasons (so an average of 14.5 IP per season, which is nothing). For what it’s worth, he has just one career playoff start to his credit, this one back in 2007.
  • Dempster has a $14M player option for 2012 in his contract, and player options are alwaysbad news because the team has zero control over what happens. Any team that acquires him has to assume he’ll pick it up. He’ll earn $13.5M this year (about $2.25M per month) and there are a series of escalators built in the contract that are based on award finishes, etc.

The Yankees reportedly have no interest in Dempster (or teammate Carlos Zambrano), but we know they were at least scouting the Cubs recently. Plus “no interest” has led to an introductory press conference a number of times over the last few seasons, so I have a hard time believing that report. The player option is a killer because he could come over, completely stink, then eat up $14M of payroll next year. That said, at least Dempster’s option is market value; you don’t have to try all that hard to envision him going out on the market after the season and getting that kind of money. If he comes over, pitches well and picks it up, hey that’s freaking awesome. But that’s just one possible scenario out of many.

As for similar players traded recently, all I can come up with are Ted Lilly (Cubs to Dodgers), Javy Vazquez (Braves to Yankees), and Jake Westbrook (Indians to Cardinals), though I think we can all agree that Dempster is a notch above those two. They also aren’t perfect comparisons because of the player option (plus Javy was not a midseason trade). Those three required packages of multiple young players/prospects, which is probably what it would take to acquire Dempster. Anyway, I’m not sure what to think here. There are obviously pluses and some definite red flags, but I think it’s safe to say he passes the “better than Freddy Garcia” test. But is the cost and risk worth it?

The quietly surging Robinson Cano

So sweet. (Photo Credit: Flickr user spablab via Creative Commons license)

Thirty days ago, Robinson Cano‘s triple slash line bottomed out at .273/.317/.488. He had just six unintentional walks to his credit in 186 plate appearances, and his 28 strikeouts put him on pace for 101 over a full season. It’s been four years since Cano last struck out more than 77 times in a season, and never once has he cracked the century mark. Hell, he’s never cracked the 90 strikeout mark. Although he was still performing at a rate better than the league average second baseman, it was still fair to consider Robbie’s season a disappointment given his lofty standards.

Thirty days ago coincides with the end of a stretch in which the Yankees won just eight of 19 games, including that ugly six game losing streak and seven games in which they scored three runs or fewer. The offense has a whole has ramped things up since then (.254/.335/.448 before, .274/.364/.458 since), and at the forefront of that turn around has been the resurgent Nick Swisher (.280/.430/.537 last thirty days), Jorge Posada (.310/.349/.397), and Brett Gardner (.338/.424/.500). All three got off to brutally slow starts, so their coming out parties were celebrated. No one paid much attention to Cano though, and his .330/.381/.573 performance over the last month seems to have gone completely under-the-radar.

The Robbie that has shown up over the last thirty days is the Robbie we watched last year, when he hit .319/.381/.534. His strikeout rate (13.6%) is right in line with where it was last season (12.3%), as is his unintentional walk rate (5.3% vs. 6.3%). Cano’s power numbers this year are actually better than they were last year (.214 ISO), both over the last thirty days (.243) and over the course of the entire 2011 season (.224). The weird part about that is that he’s actually hitting fewer balls in the air this season…

Hopefully I don’t have to tell you that fly balls tend to go for extra base hits a lot more often than ground balls, so maybe this means the power stroke is unsustainable. Cano’s BABIP (.302) is down compared to both last year (.326) and his career mark (.321), but it’s been on the way up during this recent hot streak. Unsurprisingly, so has his line drive rate. Overall, he’s raised his season batting line from .273/.317/.488 thirty days ago to .295/.341/.520 today.

Although Cano has picked up the pace over the last month, he still isn’t completely out of the woods. He’s still swinging at a career worst 40.1% of pitches out of the zone, though it’s worth noting that that’s down from 41.7% on May 19th, when I wrote this post. The 3.26 pitches he’s seen per plate appearance rank 160th out of 161 qualified batters (thanks, Yuni), but again that is up from 3.16 P/PA on May 19th and is at least approaching his career average (3.33). The strikeout rate has been slowly getting better, but he’s still on pace for a career high 96 whiffs. I don’t care too much about the strikeouts (plus 96 isn’t all that many anyway), I’m just concerned that he’s hacking at pitches he can’t do anything with. I know Robinson won’t ever be a 100 walk, .400 OBP+ guy, but some semblance of plate discipline would be nice.

It’s worth noting that throughout his career, Cano has typically been a slow starter, slow in that he has been less awesome in April and May and really awesome from June on. Here’s the splits if you don’t believe me. Last year was quite the opposite though, he started out on fire then cooled off. Perhaps that was just the outlier and he’s following his normal path this year, starting slowly before raising hell the rest of the way. I sure hope so, that would be sweet. Anyway, Robinson’s rebound from a start that can be described as slow only by his standards has gone almost completely unnoticed, but it’s a big part of the reason why the Yankees have gotten on a nice roll here and are willing games consistently. He’s not a kid anymore, Cano’s a veteran player and is being relied upon as a core member of the team, and right now he’s quietly producing like one.

Boone Logan’s Roster Spot

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

If you’ve been following the Yankees all season, then this should come as no surprise: Boone Logan has been awful. Last night’s appearance was pretty much a microcosm of his year; he faced one batter, threw one pitch, and hit the guy with it. Brutally ineffective, I’m talking unusably bad, so bad that I’m going to bullet point the badness…

  • Left-handed batters are hitting .300/.383/.425 off him in 47 plate appearances. His one job on this team is get lefties out, but he’s essentially turned them into something just short of Andre Ethier.
  • Logan has failed to retired a batter (one! singular!) in four of his last eight appearances, including last night.
  • He has five meltdowns and just four shutdowns. A meltdown is an appearance with -0.06 WPA or worse, a shutdown with +0.06 WPA or better. A 1.50 SD/MD ratio is like, the bare minimum for a medium leverage reliever. Sub-1.00 is horrific.
  • His fastball velocity is down noticeably and his slider has flattened out.

It’s pretty obvious at this point that the only things keeping Logan on the roster are his left-handedness and those 20 great innings down the stretch last season. Keep in mind that those 20 innings are basically his entire track record of success as a Major Leaguer, the other 163.2 IP have been pretty terrible. Because he’s out of options, the Yankees can’t simply send him to the minors to work things out. He’ll first have to clear waivers, and for a while we’ve all assumed that he wouldn’t just because he’s a lefty and throws hard. Is that really the case though?

Just looking around the league this year, a number of left-handed relievers have already been designated for assignment and most of them have cleared waivers. Jerry Blevins stands out for me. The Athletics designated him for assignment last month and then a few days later he was with their Triple-A affiliate because no one touched him on waivers. Blevins’ track record of success is a whole lot longer the Logan’s (he held lefties to a .227/.270/.292 batting line from 2007-2010, though he did a lot of up-and-down to Triple-A during that time), and here’s the real kicker: he’s making what amounts to the league minimum (just $420,000). Logan is making about three times that this year as an arbitration-eligible player, $1.2M to be exact. If Blevins cleared waivers with his track record and salary, wouldn’t it make sense that Logan would clear given his track record and salary? Sure, on paper it does.

The real question is this: should the Yankees be willing to risk it? Is Logan that irreplaceable? No, of course not. The other question is do they have someone better to replace him with? The obvious candidate is fellow lefty Randy Flores, who is doing an okay job against lefties in Triple-A (seven strikeouts, one walk in seven innings against them). If nothing else, he’s unlikely to be as bad as Logan has been so far. His opt-out clause is looming (though I don’t know the exact date) as well, so they can’t wait around forever. Another option is Kevin Whelan, though he’s a righty. I’m of the belief that a team should take its seven best arms regardless of pitching hand, so not having a lefty wouldn’t bother me one bit.

So I guess the moral of the story is that we’re starting to reach the breaking point with Logan. He hasn’t been effective at all and (even worse) there have been little to no signs of improvement thus far. Yes, he didn’t hit his stride until late last year, but last year he had the benefit of going to the minors to work on things, away from games that count. Left-handers that throw hard (and are reasonably young) are in demand, but I’m not 100% certain that someone will gamble on Logan given his salary. Remember, if he gets claimed off waivers, his entire salary and contract goes with him. The Yankees could designate him for assignment and hope he clears waivers and goes to Triple-A, or they could lose the bet and watch him go to another team. It’s risky, but you know what? Losing him really wouldn’t be a huge loss.

Injury Updates: Jeter, Chavez, Soriano, Colon

Updated (12:35 p.m.): Got some injury updates, courtesy of Ben Shpigel and George King

  • Derek Jeter is in Tampa and has started “functional exercises.” He’s scheduled to resume baseball activities later this week, and Joe Girardi told reporters that the team hopes to have him when he’s eligible to come off the disabled list next Wednesday. It’s unclear if he’ll play in a minor league rehab game (or two) before then.
  • Eric Chavez took batting practice on the field and also fielded some ground balls in Tampa yesterday. His running is still limited to a treadmill though. He’s not eligible to come off the disabled list until July 5th.
  • Rafael Soriano has reported to Tampa after spending “considerable time” with a physical therapist in New York. Last we heard, he hadn’t been cleared to begin a throwing program, but the hope was that he’d be able to this week. Just going to Tampa is a good sign, though he isn’t eligible to come off the disabled list until after the All-Star break.
  • Bartolo Colon has not yet been cleared to start a throwing program, Joe Girardi said to reporters yesterday. If Colon is to come back from his injured hamstring after the 15-day minimum, he will have to start throwing today or tomorrow. With this delay, he will likely miss some extra time. Scratch that. According to the AP (via Bryan Hoch, Colon started a throwing program today. He should be back near or at the minimum 15 days if his hamstring holds up OK.

The Yankees left on base problem

Listening to the game on the radio on Saturday, you’d think the Yankees have never cashed in a base runner. John and Suzyn harped on it constantly — we’ve seen this game before, they said about a dozen times — because the Yankees kept putting runners on base and then didn’t them around to score. It wasn’t so much that they were wrong, but that they were insufferable about it. But, of course, they were wrong, too.

Watching games every night, it has become a constant frustration to see the Yankees put men on base and then leave them there. It’s not as bad as it once was — for a stretch in May they seemingly didn’t bring around any runs. But even lately there have been many complaints about the Yankees ability to string together hits and bring home runners when they’re not hitting the ball out of the park.

The problem is that this isn’t a problem at all. It’s just an illusion created by the Yankees putting so many men on base in the first place. Their team .346 OBP ranks second in the AL, and is 24 points better than league average. That is, they put considerably more runners on base than other teams, so they’re working with a different baseline. There will necessarily be a lot of runners left on base, because there are so many runners on base in the first place.

To illustrate the Yankees’ actual success with runners on base, we can turn to their rate of converting runners into runs. Their 32 percent run scoring rate ranks second in the AL, behind only Boston. Most teams are within two points of the league average 30 percent, with Boston outlying at the top and Anaheim outlying at the bottom. They’re hitting .264 with runners in scoring position, which might not seem good, but which is fifth in the AL, and 10 points above league average. In other words, there might be room for improvement, but there’s not that much.

This is an instance where the stats can put into perspective something that gets obscured on a micro level. We watch every game, and while watching we feel great frustration when the Yankees fail to cash in base runners. But overall they’ve actually fared well in this aspect of the game. They’re putting more runners on than their peers, and they’re bringing them around to score at a greater rate. Sure, the home runs help, but that’s just one way of scoring runs. When taken together, the Yanks are still sitting pretty on offense.