In Boston, a move toward digital ticketing

I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the last time I had a real ticket for a Yankee game. It might have been toward the end of 2010 when a friend of mine scored a pair in a corporate giveaway, and before that, who knows? The tickets I get through StubHub are all of the digital variety, and the few I’ve ordered straight from the source come as PDF files as well.

These 21st Century e-tickets, though, bring with them a decidedly 20th Century problem: You need a printer. Usually, when I’m going to a game with some friends, we spend the afternoon figuring out who has access to a printer and who’s printing which ticket. These are some serious First World problems, I know, but it’s something technological innovation should have figured out by now.

Up in Boston, the Red Sox seemingly have but with some twists. For Upper Bleacher seats at Fenway, the Sox will now be offering digital tickets. Instead of scrambling to find a printer with ink cartridges, the Sox are going to allow entry via the swipe of the credit card that originally was used to purchase the tickets. No more printing — and no more selling these seats on the secondary market.

“Over the past 10 years, we have intentionally held the price of the Upper Bleacher seating category at $12 per seat in order to provide family-friendly pricing options for Red Sox fans,” Red Sox SVP/Ticketing Ron Bumgarner explained. “The downside of keeping these low price points is that these tickets sometimes end up on the secondary ticketing market at significantly marked up prices. By requiring the primary purchaser of the tickets to attend the game through this Digital Ticketing Initiative, our hope is to gradually eliminate those purchasing these specific tickets solely for the purpose of resale, and instead get these tickets into the hands of fans and families all over New England.”

On the one hand, this move adds a level of convenience to purchasing tickets. On the other, it may skirt scalping and resale laws by limiting what one who purchases a ticket is allowed to do with the ticket. They don’t, however, plan on offering these types of tickets for every game. Certainly, the Red Sox should be applauded for trying to keep seat prices at a reasonable level, and I would imagine more teams will follow suit if this effort is successful.

Ultimately, Major League Baseball should be eying a move toward digital ticketing that some airlines are using. Most people carry around Internet-enabled phones that can display scannable bar codes. With such technology in place, we’ll never need a ticket — printed or otherwise — again. We’re not there yet though.

Yankees sign Future NL Closerâ„¢ Manny Delcarmen

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have signed Future NL Closerâ„¢ and former Red Sox reliever Manny Delcarmen. It’s a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. We can only assume that if they trade him, it’ll be for a significant bat.

Delcarmen turns 30 in about two weeks, and he hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2010. He split last year in the Rangers’ and Mariners’ farm systems, pitching to a 5.59 ERA in 38.2 IP. He owns a 3.97 ERA and a 4.01 FIP in just about 300 big league innings, most coming with Boston. It’s nothing more than a depth move for Triple-A Scranton, and he’ll join former teammate Hideki Okajima in the minors while the Yankees employ good pitchers in MLB.

Open Thread: Roger Clemens

It was another tough day of computer problems here, but I think I got it all sorted out. Thankfully I didn’t have any hardware problems, but apparently part of my operating system was corrupt. No idea how that happened, but I sincerely hope it never happens again.

Anyway, the video above is from this past Saturday, and features a 49-year-old Roger Clemens throwing a perfect inning in the Texas alumni game. He struck out two and got a fly ball, and that split sure does look pretty nasty. Clemens goes on to talk about the Hall of Fame and how much it would mean to be inducted, but I didn’t really bother to listen. You’re more than welcome to, however. Once you’ve done that, use this as your open thread. None of the hockey or basketball locals are in action tonight, so you’re on your own for entertainment.

The 2012 Phil Hughes Watch: Reportedly Not Fat

Via Andrew Marchand, the Yankees have sent personnel to California to check in on Phil Hughes during his offseason workouts this winter, and reports say he looks “great.” Hughes is working out at the Athletes Performance Institute near his Southern California home this offseason, which he didn’t do last winter but did do the winter prior to that. The competition for the fifth starter’s spot is steep, but the gig is right there for the taking for Phil. Step one of winning the job is coming to camp prepared, and it sounds like he’s on the to doing just that.

Yankees interested in Cuban left-hander Gerardo Concepcion

Monday: Ben Badler of Baseball America (subs. req’d) provided a scouting report today. “Concepcion is a slender 6-foot-2 with long arms, sloped shoulders and an athletic, wiry build that could have some projection remaining,” says Badler, who lauds his feel for pitching. “At times his fastball ranges from 88-92 mph, though some scouts have said they’ve seen him dip to 86-90 mph at times … Some scouts like Concepcion’s mid-70s curveball, which shows good depth at times … Concepcion also throws a changeup (some scouts have called it a splitter), though like many young pitchers it’s still a work in progress. While some scouts view Concepcion’s upside as a No. 5 starter, others see a bit more.” So there you have it.

Saturday: I’m way late on this, but Enrique Rojas reports that the Yankees are one of several teams with interest in 18-year-old Cuban left-hander Gerardo Concepcion. He’s reportedly close to signing as well, but it’s unclear with who.

I can’t find an actual scouting report on the kid for the life of me, so I don’t know exactly what kind of prospect we’re dealing with. Concepcion established residency in Mexico earlier a few weeks ago but is now training in the Dominican Republic. Concepcion defected from Cuba while in the Netherlands for the World Port Tournament this past summer. I guess we’ll find out more about him soon enough.

Yanks “in serious talks” with UTIL Bill Hall

With their big winter moves in the books, the Yankees will now focus on filling out their roster. That leaves open the possibility of a trade; we know the Yankees prefer to trade for a DH rather than sign a free agent. Mostly, though, they’ll fill the roster by signing low-level free agents to minor league deals. It appears they could be close on the first such deal. This morning Ken Rosenthal reported that the Yankees are in “serious talks” with Bill Hall, who could fill a utility role for the team.

If the two sides do work out a deal, chances are high that it would be of the minor league variety. The Yankees currently have a full 40-man roster, and Hall isn’t the type of player for whom you sacrifice someone. With a number of 40-man spots opening up soon enough — 60-day DL stints for Joba and Feliciano, plus the potential returning of the two Rule 5 picks — a minor league deal could work out well for both sides. That also takes the pressure off the Yankees to carry Hall. Considering his recent past, he deserves no guarantees.

For two seasons Hall looked like a solid regular. He hit .280/.344/.525, a 119 wRC+, while playing a solid third base (in terms of defensive metrics). In those two years he led the Brewers in hitting numbers and WAR. Unfortunately, that was 2005 and 2006. In 2007 the Brewers moved Hall to the outfield so they could play Ryan Braun at third. Hall was a vocal opponent of the move, and his numbers reflected his attitude: .254/.315/.425. Yet as it turns out the decision to move him was wrongheaded. The Brewers moved Braun to the outfield in 2008 and started using Hall in a utility role. His numbers continued to decline from there.

Since his move from third base five years ago, Hall has produced exactly one above-average season at the plate. That came in 2010 for the Red Sox, where he hit .247/.316/.456 in 382 PA. He also filled many roles for them, playing all three outfield positions, including 48 innings in center field, second base, third base, and shortstop. He parlayed that into a one-year, $3 million deal with the Astros, which included a $4 million mutual option for 2012. But before even the halfway point the Astros had already released him due to his .224/.272/.340 line. The Giants then signed him, but after he hit .158/.220/.221 in 41 PA they, too, gave him the axe. He spent the remainder of the season in AAA.

At age 32, Hall could still have another useful season in him. He did show a decent amount of pop while with the Red Sox in 2010, and he actually hit for more power on the road than at home (so he wasn’t just a product of Fenway). In addition, the Yankees have long been interested in Hall’s services. They explored a trade for him in 2008, though at the time his contract made that a non-starter. Last winter the Yankees tried to sign him as well. Hall has worked with Kevin Long this winter, so presumably Brian Cashman is working with that input.

Signing, or not signing, Bill Hall will not make a huge difference this off-season. There is almost no chance of this being a major league deal, so it’s just like every other minor league deal. Every team brings a number of these players to camp every year. Having Hall makes sense, because he’s had some success in the recent past. It’s tough to ignore his 2011, but just a year before that he put up numbers befitting a good bench player. That’s all the Yanks can really ask out of a minor league signee.

Would signing Zack Greinke next winter really be that bad?

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty)

Throughout the 2011-2012 Hot Stove season we have frequently looked ahead to next offseason, with its presumed bumper crop of studly free agent pitchers, including (at the moment) Cole Hamels (age 29), Matt Cain (28), Zack Greinke (28), Francisco Liriano (29), Shaun Marcum (31), Brandon McCarthy (29), Anibal Sanchez (29), and Jonathan Sanchez (30). A handful of attractive names — James Shields (31), Gavin Floyd (30), Dan Haren (32) and Ervin Santana (30) — have club options, but said options are mostly reasonably priced and it seems unlikely that any of that quartet would be bought out.

Prior to the Big Trade, it was generally expected that the Yankees would be all over Hamels should he make it to free agency, and rightly so, as it’s not every offseason an elite left-hander makes it to the open market. The case for Hamels is a no-brainer: Since breaking into the league in 2006, Hamels is tied for the 13th-most valuable pitcher in all of baseball, producing a stellar 3.39 ERA/3.63 FIP/3.42 xFIP line over 1,161.1 innings with a beautiful 8.45 K/9 and 2.26 BB/9. The only left-handers ahead of him on that list are CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee.

So unless Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro somehow convinces Hamels to take a way-below market extension a la Jered Weaver — and it’s extremely difficult to envision this happening, as the numbers suggest Hamels could very well be in line for a $161 million CC Sabathia-type deal — or is able to convince Phillie ownership that they can indeed afford another $100 million-plus pitcher, next offseason’s pursuit of Hamels will likely rival both last winter’s Lee sweepstakes and the 2008-2009 Sabathia drama as one of the craziest ever. However, in the aftermath of the Montero-Pineda deal, an additional wrinkle has been thrown into the mix, namely whether the Yankees determine they can afford to add Hamels in light of all the talk of an austerity budget.

While I personally feel the Yankees would be nuts not to do whatever it takes to land Hamels, if they do decide the lefty is too pricey or doesn’t even end up becoming available, there’s another, arguably slightly better, younger (and perhaps most importantly, presumably slightly cheaper) option that seems an even surer bet to reach free agency next winter, and that’s former Cy-Young-award-winner Zack Greinke. While the lefty Hamels has commanded much of the attention, Greinke’s future availability seems to have gone somewhat overlooked, and so I thought I’d point out why he should be just as much of a Yankee target as Hamels, if not moreso.

For one, on that aforelinked list of most valuable pitchers since 2006, Greinke is above Hamels, checking in at 7th with a 3.41/3.14/3.39 pitcher triple slash in more than 200 fewer innings than Hamels along with a sterling 8.68 K/9 and equally drool-worthy 2.33 BB/9. Of those top 30 pitchers, the only hurlers with a higher K/9 are Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw and Jake Peavy, and the latter hasn’t been at that level since 2009. The only ones with superior FIPs are Lincecum, Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson.

This past season, Greinke — always a strikeout-heavy pitcher — upped his game to levels of even more ridiculousness, leading all of MLB with a career-high 10.54 K/9. His 2.98 FIP was 9th in the league, while his 2.56 xFIP was first. These are big boy numbers, and the only reason you likely didn’t hear more about Greinke’s huge year was because he started the season injured and was also betrayed by his defense, as his 3.83 ERA was fueled in part by the second-highest BABIP (.318) of his career that helped fuel the third-lowest strand rate (a below-league-average 69.8%) of his career.

The following chart helps underscore just how good Greinke has been since breaking into the league full-time in 2004 (as always, click to enlarge):

An increase in K/9 every season save one? That’ll do nicely. As he’s matured as a pitcher, Greinke also brought his GB% rate up from the mid-30%s to a career-high (and above-league-average) 47.3% in 2011. Given Greinke’s dramatic improvements on what had already been several very good pitching performances, I was also curious to take a look at his stuff:

Greinke has three legitimate weapons against righties in his four-seamer, slider and curveball, each of which generate above-average Whiff rates. Somewhat unexpectedly, Greinke’s heater has lost about 1.5mph since 2009, although this hasn’t seemed to hinder its effectiveness, as his Strike% and Whiff rate has improved in each successive year, while his In-Play% is on a three-year decline. It’s helpful to know that Greinke doesn’t need to be routinely dialing it up to 94mph to be successful with the heat, although it’ll be important to keep an eye on that velocity this coming season to see whether it takes another dip.

Greinke doesn’t really throw his change to righties, and per the PITCHf/x data he appears to have added a two-seamer in 2010, although again, given the myriad classification issues that frequently arise when analyzing this data, it’s possible there are some four-seamers being misclassified. Although the extremely low Whiff rates on the two-seamer would seem to indicate that this pitch is indeed a sinker. He went from throwing it nearly 30% of the time to batters on both sides of the plate in 2010, to under 10% of the time last season — I’m not sure what to attribute the decrease to, as the sinker appears to have helped him generate more grounders, but perhaps it’s as simple as Greinke wanting to further diversify his arsenal.

As you might expect, Greinke’s Whiff rates aren’t quite as robust against lefties, though they’re still plenty high. What he’s missing in four-seamer Whiff% he more than makes up for in Changeup Whiff%.

In sum, we have a pitcher who misses a ton of bats, has a knockout slider to complement his blazing fastball, and who also appears to have added a two-seamer/sinker to his repertoire to help spike his ground-ball rate. So essentially, Zack Greinke is a right-handed, younger version of CC Sabathia. I think we’d all happily sign up for that.

Of course, the elephant in the room is Greinke’s social anxiety disorder. I’m not a psychologist nor do I have any way of quantifying how his mental state might impact his performance, though it’s been speculated by many that Greinke may not have the intestinal fortitude to flourish under the microscope on the biggest stage in the world in the Bronx. Brian Cashman essentially echoed that sentiment during last offseason as the Yankees passed on acquiring Greinke via trade, despite the pitcher’s apparent protestations that he was indeed cut out for and eager to pitch in New York.

Even if the Yankees — and presumably, other teams — have concerns over Greinke’s head, the fact that the cost of acquiring him is just money and not prospects should help ease some of the worry. It also may help knock his price down. While the numbers indicate Greinke should probably be paid as though he were CC Sabathia, the questions about his make-up may hinder him from reaching that financial plateau. If Greinke can be had for, say, $108 million over six years ($18 million per is probably a conservative estimate) however, his market could end up depressed if GMs are afraid to pay him like an elite pitcher due to any lingering fears about SAD. Per FanGraphs’ much-derided $/WAR calculation he’s been worth an average of $25.6M per season since 2008), I don’t see any rational reason for the Yankees not to run with that deal all the way to the bank.