The RAB Radio Show: March 18, 2011

No one wants to talk about them, because they generally don’t bring anything good. But the Yankees have run into a few injuries in the past few days. Mike and I talk about Boone Logan, Pedro Feliciano, Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, and Brett Gardner.

Podcast run time 23:04

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Graphic courtesy of Tyler Wilkinson.

2011 Season Preview: Miscellaneous Relievers

Heading into spring training it appeared that the Yankees had the bullpen all figured out. Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Pedro Feliciano, and one of the long man candidates potentially composed one of the best Opening Day bullpens the Yanks have had in years. But, as happens so often, some of them got hurt. While they all might be fine by Opening Day, they won’t remain that way all year. The Yankees will likely go through about a dozen relievers at various points. In today’s preview we’ll take a look at some of the ones near the top of the list.

Ryan Pope

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

A move to the bullpen last year did Pope good. Before that he was a middling starter who appeared to have little hope of cracking the big league rotation. A move to the rotation might have revived his career with the Yankees. It impressed them enough that they added him to the 40-man roster. That status alone could put him atop the list for a bullpen call-up. He’s probably not a future setup man or anything along those lines, but with some progress this year he could turn into a serviceable middle reliever.

Romulo Sanchez

The recent spate of bullpen injuries could benefit Sanchez, who previously appeared the odd man out. He’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the big league team they’ll have to place him on waivers. Since basically every team could use bullpen help, especially expected second division teams, it’s easy to envision someone taking a chance on him. The Yanks might avoid that situation if one of their relievers starts the season on the DL — and the team decides that Sanchez is a better overall option than Sergio Mitre.

I just wrote about Sanchez earlier this week, so for a more complete take check out that.

Sergio Mitre

The Yankees keep bringing back Mitre. Two years running they’ve non-tendered him, only to bring him back on a non-guaranteed contract. So apparently he likes it in New York, too. Unfortunately, he hasn’t proven much during his tenure with the team. In 2009 he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery, and last year he missed time with an oblique injury and otherwise wasn’t much used.

Since he has apparently gained the Yankees’ favor, I thought that he’d break camp as the long man. But as spring progresses we’ve seen indications that suggest otherwise. As we noted earlier this week, some scouts are convinced the Yanks will let Mitre go at the end of spring training. They do have a number of options for that last spot, and Mitre seems behind everyone in the competition. If he does make the team expect much of the same from 2010. That is, sparse usage in mop-up duty.

Mark Prior

The Yankees and Prior are on the same page, in that they both expect him to open the season at AAA to help him build up strength with an eye on a possible big league return. The most important aspect of Prior is that he’s none of the guys he has been in the past. That is, he’s not the phenom ace who led the Cubs to the 2003 ALCS. Nor is he the injury prone schlub who hasn’t pitched a big league game since 2006. He appears to be in decent health now, and his repertoire has necessarily changed.

If Prior stays healthy there’s a good chance he makes it back to the bigs in a relief role this year. It’s hard to say what he’ll do, because we don’t know what kind of pitcher he’ll become as he redevelops his game.

Steve Garrison

(David Goldman/AP)

Last September the Yankees claimed Garrison off waivers from the Padres, though it was too late for him to get into a minor league game. He’s not much of a prospect, but he is left-handed and on the 40-man, and therefore will get plenty of shots to crack the big league club, especially in relief. Mike wrote a profile of Garrison earlier this spring. An interesting note: if he starts the season at AA, he’ll be playing in front of his hometown crowd. He was born in Trenton, NJ.

Andrew Brackman

In the early days of camp Brackman seemingly impressed just as much as his fellow Bs. His groin injury cost him about a week, which is a big deal early in the spring. He pitched only 2.2 live innings before heading down to minor league camp, but that doesn’t necessarily say anything about his closeness to the bigs. At some point he could take some turns in the rotation, but later it’s also possible that he breaks into the majors as a reliever.

His current arsenal certainly profiles well out of the bullpen. He features a 93-95 mph fastball that he keeps low in the zone, and an above average curveball. Baseball America notes that he also added a “nascent slider that shows potential,” but he’ll probably need to develop his changeup, something he’s struggled with, if he’s going to find success in the rotation. Without that he might be ticketed for the bullpen in the long-term. He might be ticketed there in the short-term, too, though that might not come until later in the season.

It’s tantalizing to imagine him in the bullpen come August. That 93-95 mph fastball could reach the upper 90s, and his curve could prove a devastating knock-out pitch. While ideally he progresses throughout the season and enters the rotation at some point, Brackman the reliever could provide plenty of value on his own.

Bullpen Injury Updates: Mitre, Joba, Feliciano, Logan

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

We’re inching closer and closer to Opening Day, so minor injuries are starting to become a little bit more of a concern. Here’s the latest on what’s going on with the walking wounded out in the bullpen, courtesy of Marc Carig and Chad Jennings

  • Sergio Mitre is scheduled or three or four innings this afternoon, so it’s safe to say his oblique issue is a thing of the past.
  • Joba Chamberlain‘s strained oblique was well enough that he threw long-toss yesterday, and tomorrow he’s scheduled to throw a bullpen session. Assuming that goes well, he should get back into a game sometime next week.
  • Pedro Feliciano is dealing with a dead arm, but Joe Girardi downplayed the extent of the fatigue and just called it “extra rest.” The only reason this is a concern is because Feliciano is 34 years old and has made like 900 appearances in each of the last four years, but dead arms are pretty common this time of year.
  • Boone Logan went through a dead arm phase of his own recently, but now he’s dealing with back spasms. He did pitch in last night’s game, so the back stuff is pretty fresh. “As long as they’re just back spasms, it’s usually four or five days,”  said Girardi. “They’re no fun, I know that.”

Wouldn’t that be something; more than $9M tied up between three lefty relievers, and they all start the season on the disabled list? Yikes. Hopefully that won’t come to fruition.

Mailbag: Chapman, Figueroa, Lil’ Lefties

A pitching heavy mailbag this week, and none of the guys are currently on the Yankees’ 40-man roster. Go figure. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Emilio asks: In your article [a few weeks ago], you explain that the Yankees rank high up there in international signings. Yet, they didn’t sign Chapman. It is inconceivable that a franchise that values pitching and must consider a replacement for the great Mariano would let this powerful young pitcher go to the Reds. Much of the money that Cincinnati gave Chapman was deferred. Given your knowledge of these signings and what goes on within Yankee management, please explain why the Yankees didn’t go after Chapman. He would be on the major league roster right now. He is better than Feliciano and Logan.

Inconceivable? I hate the use of strong language with stuff like this, when we have no idea what happened behind the scenes. I mean really, is it that inconceivable that they might have watched him throw, didn’t fall in love with the 100+ mph heat because they saw an arm and body unable to handle the long-term stress and didn’t want to gamble upwards of $30M on it? Come on, it’s not that far-fetched.

Anyway, based on what we know, sure they should have gone after him, but not as a replacement for Mariano Rivera, who cares about that. Saying he’s better than Feliciano and Logan doesn’t really do anything for me either, if you’re looking to spend that much money on a LOOGY, you’re doing it wrong. You don’t waste an arm like that in the bullpen, they could have had Aroldis competing for a rotation spot right now. Brian Cashman denied the report of a $54M+ offer (unsurprisingly), but I also don’t believe him when he says they never made an offer.

There’s no point in dwelling on it now, they can’t go back in time to sign him.

MattG asks: How’s this for a better-than-Mitre­™ trade target? Nelson Figueroa. As a swingman that won’t hurt you in the bullpen or the rotation, Figueroa could be nice insurance, and should become available if Jordan Lyles breaks camp with the Astros.

(AP Photo/Ed Betz)

I have an irrational love for Figueroa, mostly because I had him for a while in The Show a few years back and he was awesome for me. Something about his delivery in the game made it extremely easy to be accurate with the pitching meter.

Anywho, Figueroa’s a pretty generic finesse right-hander, sitting 87-89 with the fastball and throwing five pitches – four-seamer (35.2%), cutter (13.3%), changeup (13.1%), slider (21.8%), and curveball (15.4%) – pretty regularly. He’s been surprisingly solid over the last three years (3.84 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 4.52 xFIP), though he’s thrown no more than 93 innings in any of those seasons. Figueroa’s not really a ground ball guy (41.3%) nor is he a fly ball guy (39.4%) or a strikeout guy (6.13 K/9). He’s a classic ‘tweener, a Four-A type that doesn’t do anything well but has survived this long because he’s just good enough. I’m not sure he’s better than any of the Yankees’ fourth and fifth starter candidates right now, and at 36 years old (soon to be 37), the guy is a grenade with the pin pulled.

Tom in Georgia asks: Who were the best “little” left handers to pitch for the Yankees? My picks (and I saw them all) are Bobby Schantz, who once pitched 279 innings for the Phillies at 5’6″ and 130 pounds, and was pretty damned good for the Yankees in the ’50s, Whitey Ford, 5’10”, 178 pounds, and Ron Guidry, 5’1″1, 161 pounds. In these days of 6’7″, 250 pounds+, would any scout ever even look at these guys, much less sign them, or would they just tell them to take up soccer?

This is where the B-Ref Play Index comes in handy. The ten best left-handers no taller than 6-foot-0 in Yankees history (by bWAR) are…

  1. Whitey Ford, 5-foot-10 (55.3 WAR)
  2. Ron Guidry, 5-foot-11 (44.4 WAR)
  3. Herb Pennock, 6-foot-0 (29.2 WAR)
  4. Eddie Lopat, 5-foot-10 (21.5 WAR)
  5. Fritz Peterson, 6-foot-0 (17.4 WAR)
  6. Al Downing, 5-foot-11 (13.5 WAR)
  7. Bobby Shantz, 5-foot-6 (5.9 WAR)
  8. Shane Rawley, 6-foot-0 (4.8 WAR)
  9. Ray Fontenot, 6-foot-0 (4.0WAR)
  10. Hank Thormahlen, 6-foot-0 (3.8 WAR)

Unsurprisingly, just one of these guys pitched for the Yankees after 1985, and that was nothing more than the twilight of Guidry’s career. As for the best 6-foot-and-under left-handed starters in baseball history…

  1. Warren Spahn, 6-foot-0 (93.4 WAR)
  2. Eddie Plank, 5-foot-11 (76.3 WAR)
  3. Tom Glavine, 6-foot-0 (67.0 WAR)
  4. Carl Hubbell, 6-foot-0 (64.4 WAR)
  5. Ford

Scouts like size for many reasons, most famously because it (theoretically) portends strong future durability and stamina. Whether or not that’s true is not for me to decide, but at least it sounds reasonable. Taller pitchers also make it tougher on the batter, since they throw the ball on more of a downhill plane. Short lefties aren’t as scrutinized as much just because there’s a premium on southpaws. If you’re a short righty like Ian Kennedy or Pedro Martinez, you better have some skills.

The Yankees have their own little lefty coming up the pipeline in Manny Banuelos, but history is not on his side. Just 56 left-handers have accumulated at least 20 career WAR while standing less than 6-feet tall (a decidedly arbitrary criteria), and only seven of them (Mike Hampton, John Franco, Teddy Higuera, Billy Wagner, Jamie Moyer, Johan Santana, and Glavine) started their careers after 1980. Randy Wolf should join them in a season or three, and Fernando Valenzuela missed the cutoff by a year. That’s not to say Banuelos can’t do it, because he’s obviously very good and every pitcher is their own individual person with their own individual career paths, but it just goes to show that it’s not easy.

Once more unto the Millwood breach

For the Yankees as they prepare for the 2011 season, Kevin Millwood is akin to that thing on the bottom of your shoe that you just can’t get off. He’s not on the Yanks; he’s not very good; and yet the rumors just won’t go away. Now, according to recent reports, the Yanks are still kicking the tires on this one.

After the Yanks watched him throw yesterday, Millwood remains on the club’s radar. In fact, according to Jon Heyman, the Yanks have offered him a contract. The Sports Illustrated scribe reports:

The Yankees went to scout Kevin Millwood Wednesday at UC-Irvine and are offering a contract in the low seven figures while Millwood has been seeking about $4 million on a major league deal. While he’d be a help, the Yankees may not need him as much as they once did after Ivan Nova threw six no-hit innings in the 10-0 win over the Orioles. Freddy Garcia has pitched well in two of three outings, and he and Nova look likely to be the Yankees’ No. 4 and 5 starters.

That short paragraph contains quite a few assumptions and a few red flags. First, the idea that Freddy Garcia has a lock on the fifth starter spot is largely unfounded. Through the first few weeks of Spring Training, the Yankees have been far more impressed with Bartolo Colon than with Garcia, and if Girardi had to make a decision tomorrow, Colon would likely have a rotation edge. Second, the premise that the team may not need him is a matter of interpretation.

The problem with Millwood is that his value and impact are both tough to assess, and while he thinks he’s worth $4 million a season, the Yankees seem to disagree. From a traditional point of view, Millwood was terrible last year. He went 4-16 with an ERA over 5.00 in 190 innings. He gave up 33 more hits than innings pitched and 30 long balls while striking out 132 and sporting a 2:1 K:BB ratio. His WAR though came in at 1.3, and absent a significant decline, he’ll be worth the $4 million. Whether he can out-pitch Garcia or Colon is up for debate.

Yet, talent evaluators are lukewarm on Millwood. As Joe noted highlighted last month, no one is that impressed with Millwood. “Millwood is not a help,” one scout said in February. “He’s just a name people know.” In January, Joe offered even lesser praise: Kevin Millwood is better than Sergio Mitre. Nothing has changed.

For the Yankees, Millwood would simply be another piece for the depth charts and another placeholder. If someone goes down and Millwood is still out there, he would be potentially a better and more reliable choice than an unknown AAA kid. He won’t blow the world away, and he won’t throw quality innings. He will though throw innings. Maybe there’s something to be said for that right now, but if the Yanks are willing to offer Millwood seven figures, I have to wonder what that says of the faith they have in the current rotation options than anything else. It’s not a huge vote of confidence really.

Joe Torre to attend Old Timer’s Day

Via Bryan Hoch, former manager Joe Torre has accepted an invitation to attend the 2011 edition of Old Timer’s Day. He was at GMS Field for the first time since leaving the Yankees today, presumably taking care of some stuff given his new position as MLB’s VP of Baseball Operations. Torre returned to Yankee Stadium for the first time late last year, when the team unveiled the George Steinbrenner monument in Monument Park. After a somewhat ugly divorce, it appears the two sides are mending fences, and I’m glad to see it.