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Mailbag: Matsui, Noesi, Montero, Banuelos

Just a heads up, we’re getting lots and lots of Joba Chamberlain-related questions into the inbox. So much so that I might do a Joba-specific mailbag on Monday, once the dust settles and we’re all thinking clearly. Plus I just didn’t have enough time to do one for today. So anyway, here is this week’s mailbag. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions, as always.

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

Daniel asks: Do you think Matsui has anything left as bench bat and part-time DH? By the trade deadline, the A’s should be even further back and might want to shed the remaining ~ $2M or so on his deal. With his current level of production, can’t imagine it’d take much more than a C level prospect no?

You have to remove the name when talking about guys like this, because Hideki Matsui‘s status as a True Yankee™ will certainly create biases and cloud judgment. Do the Yankees have a need for a left-handed hitting, part-time designated hitter/bench bat? Not, not really. They already have one in Jorge Posada. Here, look…

Posada in 2011: .203/.311/.366, .303 wOBA, 87 wRC+
Nameless Player: .215/.265/.337, .264 wOBA, 65 wRC+

Posada vs. RHP in 2011: .234/.331/.435, .342 wOBA, 114 wRC+
Nameless Player vs. RHP: .210/.267/.297, .249 wOBA, 55 wRC+

Posada with RISP in 2011: .171/.356/.257, .290 wOBA, 78 wRC+
Nameless Player with RISP: .209/.280/.302, .243 wOBA, 51 wRC+

The triple-slash and wOBA numbers are FYI more than anything, wRC+ is the most important number there because it’s park adjusted. There’s an obvious difference between Yankee Stadium and Whatever They’re Calling It These Days Coliseum. I don’t put much stock in performance with runners with scoring position, so that’s there for those that do more than anything.

In addition to just the overall offense, at least Posada is a switch-hitter, and there’s a tiny bit of value in that even though he’s been brutal (-16 wRC+ … -16!) against lefties this year. He can also play catcher in an emergency, which is more defensive value that Nameless Player provides. In reality, neither of these players should be on the Yankees’ roster, but one is and apparently it’s going to take a minor miracle to get him off it. Adding a second player like that doesn’t make sense to me, regardless of how little he makes or how easy it would be to acquire or what he did in the past.

Dan asks: I thought Hector Noesi was supposed to be a fastball-changeup guy? (“He backs [the fastball] up with quality changeup, his second best offering, and he also throws both a slider and a curveball.” From Mike’s prospect profile) So far in the majors he’s throwing a ton of sliders, and a decent amount of curveballs. Only 6 changeups in 71 pitches Tuesday night, and about 7% coming into the night. What’s the dealio?

Hey, I’m not the only one that said that. From Baseball America’s write-up of the Yankees’ top ten prospects before the season (subs. req’d)…

He pounds the zone with an 89-93 mph fastball, reaching as high as 96. His maintains his velocity deep into games, and his fastball has some run and tail. Noesi’s No. 2 pitch is a changeup with similar action, though he doesn’t quite command it like his fastball. His curveball and slider remain below-average offerings, but he flashes the ability to spin the ball.

Remember, we’re talking about a ridiculously small sample size. Noesi’s faced 58 batters and thrown 204 pitches in the big leagues, which is nothing. Here’s the breakdown of those 204 pitches: 107 fastballs, 61 sliders, 14 curves, and 14 changeups. That adds up to 196, and the missing eight pitches were part of intentional walks. He’s faced 29 righties and 29 righties, so it’s not a platoon thing (changeups are used primarily against batters of the opposite hand).

I honestly don’t know what the deal is, but I suspect it’s more of a fluke than anything given the number of batters faced and overall pitches we’re talking about. Pitchers typical go with their two best offerings in relief, maybe he felt the slider was a better swing-and-miss pitch at the time? Maybe Russell Martin (who’s caught all 204 of those pitches) just hasn’t called it enough and Noesi’s too rookie-ish to shake him off?

Ross asks: When will we get to see Montero in the Bronx? This Cervelli experiment has run its course. If we’re going to accept mediocre defense, we can at least have a bat in the lineup for when the bottom half of the order gets on base. Would there be any takers on the trade market for Cervelli?

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

I think we’ve reached the point where Jesus Montero could be called up literally any day now. If it happened today, I would not be surprised. It’s bad enough that Frankie Cervelli can’t throw anyone out (he’s gunned down 11 of the last 84 that have tried to steal off him, 13.1%), but now he’s gotten into the habit of throwing the ball into center field and giving runners an extra base. It’s not just some annoying problem anymore, it’s in the scouting report and teams are exploiting it.

Despite his general awfulness, I’m certain that Cervelli has some value on the trade market. He’s cheap and young, and the position itself is pretty much a wasteland these days. The Giants are looking for catching help following Buster Posey’s injury, the Pirates are as well with Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder on the shelf. I’m not saying there’s a trade match between the Yankees and either of those clubs, but there are teams out there looking for catching.

J.R. asks: I know that Banuelos has had control problems in the minors, but I’m wondering how he has done against lefties. With both an innings cap coming up (not sure what you would guess it is) and the need for a LOOGY, would it make sense to put him in the pen for August and September (maybe even October)? It wouldn’t really hurt his development and would give him major league experience.

I’m glad someone asked this because Banuelos is not exactly an ideal LOOGY candidate. Here’s the numbers, first…

vs. LHB in 2011: 14.1 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 7 BB, 15 K, 1.22 GB/FB
vs. RHB in 2011: 36.1 IP, 37 H, 17 R, 15 ER, 22 BB, 30 K, 1.27 GB/FB

vs. LHB in 2009-2010: 34.1 IP, 27 H, 12 BB, 30 K, 4.15 FIP, 5.04 xFIP
vs. RHB in 2009-2010: 139.33, 116 H, 40 BB, 151 K, 2.54 FIP, 3.99 xFIP

The 2009-2010 numbers are park adjusted, courtesy of the minor league splits database at Driveline Mechanics. The numbers from this year come right from his milb.com player page. First of all, this does a great job of showing you just how relatively inexperienced Banuelos is. He’s faced a total of 485 batters in the last 32 months. For some perspective, CC Sabathia has faced 424 batters this year alone.

Secondly, Banuelos has a reverse split. Not necessarily this year, but from 2009-2010 and as a whole from 2009 through today. Why? Because he’s a fastball-changeup pitcher (with a great changeup), and changeups (as I said earlier) are used primarily against batters of the opposite hand. Banuelos’ best pitch doesn’t help him at all against lefties; he’s got to use his fastball and curveball (easily his third best pitch) to get those guys out.

Just because a pitcher throws left-handed doesn’t mean he’s a LOOGY candidate. Banuelos projects as a starter long-term because he can neutralize right-handed batters with that changeup, but he’s still got to work on improving the rest of his repertoire and his command, especially this year. The Yankees have other LOOGY options in house, namely Randy Flores, and there are always guys like Jerry Blevins and David Purcey on waivers. Given the complete debacle of Joba Chamberlain’s development, I’d rather not see the team turn another high-end pitching prospect into a reliever for the big league club then try to turn him back into a starter long-term. I honestly have very little faith in it being done in a way that won’t hurt Banuelos’ long-term development/future.

Lessons learned from pitching prospects

Billy Beane put it best when he said, paraphrased, that you need three pitching prospects in order to get one major league starter. One will get hurt, one will backslide, and one will succeed. This is precisely why, in RAB’s halcyon days, we so strongly argued that the Yankees should keep Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain. If they traded the wrong one, they could end up with nothing to show for their top three prospects. Keeping all three, however, gave them a good chance at having a young, cost-controlled pitcher in the rotation, which allows the further benefit of spending money elsewhere.

With the Yankees’ big three, it didn’t quite work out the way Beane described it. There were successes, injuries, and backslides, but those results were scattered among the three. Both Chamberlain and Hughes have gotten hurt, and, to a degree, have backslid — though, before news of Joba’s season-ending elbow injury, it was more that he backslid and that Hughes got hurt. Ian Kennedy backslid in ways, got hurt, and then succeeded, albeit in an environment dramatically different than that of the Yankees. There are still chances for Hughes, and even Joba, to succeed, but it’s still pretty clear that these guys followed Beane’s axiom.

At this point, the development of these three is behind us. Kennedy is finding success elsewhere, and while Hughes and Joba could still succeed to degrees, I’m not sure it’s particularly likely at this point. This shouldn’t be surprising, since it is the nature of pitchers. There’s a reason for TINSTAPP — there is no such thing as a pitching prospect. There are only pitchers. They all develop at different paces, and they’re all susceptible to the same pitfalls. WIth so much attrition among pitchers, teams absolutely need a block of high-end prospects if they’re going to get even one from the group.

This is relevant to the Yankees now, just as it was four years ago. They have a new trio of top pitching prospects in Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman. Right away, it appears that they’re going to take a different tack with this new group than they did with the Big Three. Brian Cashman made that relatively clear yesterday, when he said there were no plans to bring them up as relievers to help patch a spotty bullpen. Chances are, they also won’t call upon them to help in the rotation, either. That is, unless they display a certain degree of readiness.

The situation the Yankees face now is somewhat similar to the 2007 season. They were a bit more pitching starved then, as was evident when they called up Chase Wright to take a few starts. Eventually, though, they went to Hughes, despite him having made just a couple of starts at AAA, and despite him having pitched a career high 146 innings in 2006, after just 86.1 in 2005. His injury appeared to be a freak one, but he was never quite the same after that. He had a few good appearances, including a season-saving one in relief during the ALDS, but in 2008 he completely lost it. There might not be a causal link here, but I’m sure that the experience has the Yankees preferring to err on the side of caution nonetheless — especially when you consider the other two.

Both Chamberlain and Kennedy came up in the 2007 season as well. Chamberlain was so completely dominant as a starter in A and AA ball that the Yankees thought he could help save their spotty bullpen. He was nearing his innings limit anyway, so rather than have him make a few more starts in the minors and pack it up in September, the Yankees decided to have him finish his workload in relief. Of course, we know that a starter’s workload is different from a reliever’s, and perhaps bringing him to his innings limit in high-leverage situations in the majors wasn’t the best idea. It did help them make the playoffs in 2007, though. It also excited a fanbase, inciting the starter-reliever debate that still hasn’t died. (And will be reignited as Joba rehabs from surgery.) Kennedy’s debut was less of a big deal, but his good, if lucky, September performances gave him a rotation spot out of the chute in 2008, an experience from which the Yankees have clearly learned.

This time around, the Yankees are going to let the prospects speak for themselves, rather than let team necessity dictate their development paths. I’m certain that if the Yankees brought Dellin Betances into Joba’s old role that he’d succeed. He throws gas and has shown a propensity to miss bats. He might have control troubles, but as David Robertson has shown, if you can strike guys out you can often mask those troubles. And yes, many starters have come up as relievers before breaking into the rotation. At the same time, we can’t just use a blanket statement like that to make and examine decisions. If a pitcher isn’t developmentally ready to start in the bigs, will relieving in the bigs help excel that development? Or will it just prepare him for life in the bullpen? These are all questions that have to be asked of individual pitchers, and cannot be determined by a rule of thumb.

The good news is that the Yankees have three top-flight pitchers in their minor league system who, if developed fully, can help the team for years to come. Of course, chances are that only one will help. The others will make the bigs, maybe, and maybe even show signs of greatness. But the chances are great that one will backslide, one will get hurt, and one will succeed. The only way to find out which is which, though, is to let them continue developing their games. It will hurt the 2011 team for sure. But it stands to help the future Yankees to a greater degree.

It Gets Worse: Red Sox Finish Off Sweep

As if the first two games of this series hadn’t been painful enough, the baseball gods and Mother Nature conspired to push back the start of Thursday’s series finale by more than three hours with some thunderstorms. That only delayed what felt inevitable; the Red Sox completing their second three game sweep of the Yankees in the Bronx of the season. It’s the first time they’ve done that since 1912. They weren’t even the Yankees back then, they were still the Highlanders. Heck, it was so long ago there were only 48 states in the union.

They really showed him.

Beat By The Bottom Of The Lineup

For the first six innings of this game, CC Sabathia was absolutely cruising. He allowed just two hits and two walks to the first 22 men he faced, needing just 82 pitches to record 18 outs against a great offense. He even hit David Ortiz with a pitch, which gave all the internet tough guys something to high five about. And then came the seventh inning.

It started off with David Ortiz, who slapped a single past Robinson Cano. Then Jed Lowrie shot a ball down the first base line only to have it a) take a weird bounce off the wall, and b) be misread by Nick Swisher, leading to a run scoring triple. That turned a 2-0 game into a 2-1 game with a man on third and no outs. Carl Crawford grounded out to third and failed to get the runner in, but Mike Cameron picked him up with a double in a 3-2 count to tie the game. Then the wheels really came off.

Jason Varitek singled. Jacoby Ellsbury singled (Cameron scored). Marco Scutaro lined out. Adrian Gonzalez singled (Varitek scored). David Robertson came in. Kevin Youkilis singled (Ellsbury scored). Ortiz doubled to cap the rally off (Gonzalez and Youkilis scored), so clearly the bean ball made him uncomfortable. Then finally Lowrie grounded out to end the seven run inning. The bottom of Boston’s lineup set up the big inning and the middle of the order completed it. Just brutal.

Leftovers

At least that part didn't suck.

I remember when the Yankees used to beat the ever-loving crap out of Josh Beckett every time they faced him. It was glorious. This year? Ten hits, five walks, and two runs in 21 IP. He’s stuck out 25 and beaten Sabathia all three times they’ve squared off. Aside from a hitting Derek Jeter and allowing a two run homer to Curtis Granderson to open up the game, he was pretty much flawless.

Not for nothing, but twice in the series did a Yankees’ batter fail to run out a ground ball down the line. Swisher did it the other night on a ball he thought was going to go foul and then Jorge Posada did the exact same thing in this game. Seriously, given the way those two have hit this year, they should be running out every damn ball no matter how foul they think it’ll be. Lack of hustle, failing to run out a routine ground ball is complete garbage. Show you care.

Jeff Marquez finally made his Yankees’ debut, seven years after they drafted him, three years after they traded him, and one day after they claimed him off waivers. Good for him, I guess.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has the other stuff.

Up Next

The first place (but fading!) Indians come to town for a wrap-around four-game weekend series starting Friday night. Don’t worry, I’m sure Ivan Nova will stop the bleeding. Fausto Carmona goes for the Tribe.

Warren goes the distance in SWB blowout win

Because we didn’t get enough of it this afternoon, time for some injury news…

Meanwhile, Joel Sherman says the Yankees are leaning towards promoting Kevin Whelan in the coming days, which is close to a no-brainer at this point. And finally, Brad Halsey was sent to High-A Tampa, taking the place of Ronny Marte. Watch, he’ll come up and be the LOOGY savior later this year.

Triple-A Scranton (10-1 win over Charlotte)
Austin Krum, CF: 0 for 4, 1 K, 1 HBP
Ramiro Pena, SS: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 BB – ten for his last 33 (.303) with six walks and three strikeouts
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 K – that’s homer number 20, second most in the minors
Brandon Laird, 3B & Jordan Parraz, DH: both 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B – Parraz drove in a run and walked
Greg Golson, RF: 2 for 3, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 3 RBI, 1 K
Dan Brewer, LF: 1 for 5, 1 RBI, 2 K
P.J. Pilittere, C: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Adam Warren, RHP: 9 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 13-5 GB/FB – 74 of 105 pitches were strikes (70.5%) … he was sitting 91-94 with the heat … holy smokes, what a performance … you don’t see many nine inning complete games in the minors, the last one I can remember was by Hector Noesi last June

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