Exciting news, Yankee fans: It’s once again possible to take a boat to Yankee Stadium. If the 4 train is too crowded for you, just hop on the Water Taxi — brought to you by Delta Airlines — at Pier 11 near Wall St., 90 minutes before game time. According to the Water Taxi’s website, these boat rides take an hour, and those on the boat can buy cocktails, beer and food while floating up the East River. It’s first come, first serve, and the boats are limited to just 147 passengers. Unfortunately, the Water Taxi isn’t offering rides back to Wall St. after the game, but for Will Leitch, that doesn’t matter. He’s very excited to travel to his baseball games this summer on a boat.
In 2007 and in 2008, Robinson Cano got off to a slow start. After nearly winning the batting title with a late surge in 2006, Cano stumbled a bit in August, posting a .270/.320/.337 April. Things got worse in May, and he hit rock bottom on May 16 when he was hitting .234/.276/.312. He took off after that, though, and in his final 522 PA he hit .326/.374/.536, which more resemble the Cano we had gotten to know in 2006.
In 2008 his start was even worse. He hit under .200 for almost the entire month of April, finishing the month at .151/.211/.236. While he hit rock bottom on May 3 that year, his recovery didn’t go as well as in 2007. His .300/.327/.452 line from May 4 through the end of the season wasn’t terrible, but it was far below what we had come to expect from Cano. It got so bad that Joe Girardi ended up benching him in September.
The narrative, then, entering the 2009 season was that Robbie had to get off to a hot start in order to fend off his critics. As we saw, he responded. Through 20 games he hit .381/.418/.619, and while he didn’t keep that up for the rest of the season he still kept up a respectable line of .311/.341/.505 from Game 21 through Game 162. His final line, .320/.352/.520, represented his best production since that superb 2006 season.
In 2010, we’ve seen more of the same. Cano’s hot start is a big reason why the Yankees have gotten off to such a hot start. In the first 20 games he’s hitting .390/.430/.701, which closely resembles his 2009 start. The good news, though, is that he has shown improvement in every category. His BA is clearly higher. In his first 20 games last year he walked 6.6 percent of the time and had a .238 ISO. This year he has walked 7 percent of the time and has a .312 ISO.
There’s just no way Cano will keep up this production throughout 2010. Yet even if he drops off a bit he’ll finish strong this season. It’s tough to ignore such a massive increase in power. It comes at the cost of strikeouts — Cano’s 13 percent strikeout rate is his highest since 2007 — but he’s also shown a bit more willingness to take some pitches and even draw a walk. I’m being cautious, given Cano’s similar start last year, but it seems like this year could be his best yet.
I’m not sure if you’ve stumbled across it yet, but SBN Nation launched a new draft-centric site not too long ago called MLB Bonus Baby. They recently posted a first round mock draft (their fifth, actually), and have the Yankees taking Texas A&M righty Barret Loux, who I admittedly don’t know very much about. He’s a big boy at 6-foot-5, 220 lbs, and MLB.com’s draft report says he’s 91-94 with good command and a changeup that serves as his best pitch. As you can see from the video, that little hesitation gives his delivery hella deception (/Carig‘d). Not for nothing, Loux signs like the ideal Damon Oppenheimer pick; college pitcher with command, size, and stuff.
Anyway, don’t take the mock draft to heart, it’s far too early to know who’s going where. However, it does serve as a nice snapshot look at how players are being valued at the moment, and where their stock sits. Check it out.
The Yankees’ bullpen has cost them a few games over the last week or so, which really isn’t anything new in April. However, this year we were privy to an added bonus, some revisionist history pieces written about a trade the Yankees and Nationals consummated way back in December of 2007. That’s because over the last ten months or so, former Yankee Tyler Clippard has emerged as a bullpen force for the Nationals while the player he was traded for – Jon Albaladejo – toils away in Triple-A after being unable to make a positive impression in his many call-ups over the last two-plus seasons.
As I’m sure you remember, Clippard was a darling on the interwebs because of his gaudy minor league stats, and make no mistake, they were superb. He struck out 501 batters in 450.2 innings from 2004-2006, finishing among the top five in strikeouts per nine innings in all of minor league baseball each season. If you’ve followed me long enough, then you know that I was never a big T-Clip fan because the scouting report never matched the results, and I took a lot of heat for it. He relied on deception too much for my liking (look at this freaking delivery), and the stuff was merely good, not holy crap good. I acknowledged on more than one occasion that he was probably a back-end starter or reliever in the long run, and not for a team like the Yankees, which is pretty much what he is.
While Albaladejo was busy not missing bats during his many chances with the big league team (including two Opening Day roster assignments), Clippard struggled as a starter in Triple-A before the Nats made the decision to move him to the bullpen full time before last season. Without a doubt, Clippard has been tremendous for the Nationals since resurfacing as a reliever last June. He’s struck out 87 in 77 innings with just 43 hits allowed since, good for a rock solid 3.98 FIP. The ERA looks even better at 2.22, and he’s emerged as the team’s 8th inning setup man in recent weeks. However, there’s a little bit of luck fueling that performance.
Just as he was in the minors, Clippard is an extreme fly ball pitcher, getting nearly two outs in the air for every one he records on the ground (0.53 GB/FB ratio), and because of this he’s pretty homer prone, again just like he was in the minors. In those 77 innings since being called up, he’s given up nine long balls, or one for every 8.2 innings pitched or so. Furthermore, his batting average on balls in play during that time is … wait for it … an unsustainably low .204. Point two oh four! Clippard’s expected BABIP (xBABIP) based on the types of batted balls he gives up (line drives, fly balls, etc) over the same time is a still low .283, but it’s much more in the realm of normalcy. Essentially, he has allowed one fewer hit than expected out of every 11 balls put into play, so we’re talking about 16 hits that should have been charged to Clippard over those 77 innings that somehow ended up being turned into outs.
In addition to the BABIP luck, the percentage of runners that Clippard has stranded is a ridiculous 88.01%. The league average is right around 70-72%. If that were to ever regress back to the mean, his ERA would climb something like a run, a run and a quarter. Stranding runners is not a repeatable skill, though it is somewhat influenced by groundball rates because of the double play potential. However, we’ve already noted that Clippard is an extreme fly ball pitcher, so this does not compute.
Does this mean the Yankees are better off with Albaladejo than they would be with Clippard? No, of course not. They’d like to have him back just like the Mets would like to have Heath Bell back and the Brewers would like to have Nelson Cruz back. There’s no denying that Brian Cashman would like a do-over on that one, but let’s not act like the Yanks let a young John Smoltz get away here. Relievers are very volatile, and signs point to Clippard’s success having a lot more to do with straight up good great luck than true talent.
I’ve seen more than one person say recently that the Yankees screwed up by making the trade, but that’s incredibly easy to say nearly three years after the fact. They traded a surplus prospect with a less than stellar track record at Triple-A and above for a young reliever with a slightly better track record at the higher levels. The Yanks needed help for their beleaguered bullpen, the Nats needed anyone that offered some kind of promise. It really was a swap of spare parts, and Washington got the better of it. To claim the Yankees should have seen Clippard having such immense (luck fueled) success is weaksauce.
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As an aside, take a quick gander at this sample of core peripheral stats dating back to last season…
Pitcher A is Clippard. Pitcher B is a reliever in the Yanks’ bullpen. His name rhymes with Ravid Dobertson. Considering the environment (league and division) each set was compiled in, who would you rather have?
Among backup catchers, Francisco Cervelli has been among the best in the league in this young season. He’s gotten on base in more than half of his plate appearances, and it seems like everything he hits finds the outfield grass. It also seems like he gets the hits at just the right time. His eight hits have driven in six runs, even more impressive because he has just one extra base hit on the season.
Cervelli will get at least one unexpected start in place of Jorge Posada, who will rest after getting hit in the knee with a fastball last night. Considering how well Cervelli has been hitting — he went 2 for 4 last night — this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While Posada’s superiority is clear, the Yanks will get a chance to squeeze more production out of Cervelli while he’s hot. It’s not going to last all season.
April BABIPs bring May regressions. We’ll see that positively affect slumping hitters like Mark Teixeira and Nick Johnson — both of whom picked up hits last night — but we’ll also see it negatively affect streaking hitters. Cervelli will not keep up his .471 BABIP, and so we’ll see his numbers drop a bit. What’s even more ridiculous is his BA on ground balls. The AL as a whole is hitting .208 on ground balls, but Cervelli is hitting .400. The league mark will come up, and Cervelli’s will come down, but for now Cervelli’s ground balls have eyes.
Cervelli’s walk and strikeout rates are also likely unsustainable. He has struck out just once this season, mostly because he has avoided pitches outside the strike zone. When he has swung at pitches outside the zone he has made contact every time, another unsustainable rate. It helps, then, that he’s seen more pitches in the zone this year than he has in the past. He’s been a bit more discerning, though, swinging at fewer of them overall.
What we don’t know is how Cervelli will adjust. We know he won’t hit this well all season, but where he ends up remains a mystery. We do know that he has hits and walks in the bank. He has walked three times already this season, so he’s already above his 2009 total. To reach his 2009 total in batting average he’d have to go 20 for his next 76, .263, something we know he can do. Even if he does that without drawing even one more walk, he’d still have a higher OBP than last season.
Any positive offensive contribution Cervelli makes is a bonus. It’s gravy. Icing on the cake. House money. However you want to describe his offensive production, it’s not why he got the backup catcher job. He’s outstanding defensively and has already established, at least among Yankees fans, a reputation for working well with pitchers. That is his primary task, and as long as he performs that well all he needs to do is hit better than Wil Nieves. Given what we saw last year and what we’ve seen so far this year, I think that’s a safe assumption.