Mailbag: First Pitch Swinging, OF Arms, DotF

After a one week hiatus, I’m back with a new mailbag. This week we’re going to talk about first pitch swinging, outfield arms, some DotF weirdness, prospects in the super-low minors, and my favorite announcers. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.

Alex asks: I have a few questions about first pitch swinging: Who swings at first pitches the most on the Yankees? And, as a team what are the situations where the team as a whole is the most likely to swing at the first pitch? While watching the game against the Orioles, Teixeira swung at the first pitch in a two out, no one on situation which seems to play into the pitcher’s goal of having a quick inning. Very frustrating.

First pitch swinging can be very frustrating, but it’s not always a bad strategy. A lot of time with the bases loaded or with men in scoring position, spots where the pitcher is in serious trouble, the first pitch is often the best to hit because the guy on the mound wants to make sure he gets strike one. That leads to a lot of first pitch fastballs in the zone, which are good hittin’. Those are good time to guess, and great things happen when you guess right.

Anyway, I have no idea how to find the situations in which the team (or even individual players) are most likely to swing at the first pitch, but what I can tell you is how often each player puts the first pitch of an at-bat in play. That’s pretty much the best I can do since I’m not PitchFX savvy enough to dig through the data and pick it out swings regardless of outcome. Here’s what I’ve got for first pitch balls in play…

The data is for this year only, and I looked at players with more than 100 plate appearances. So sorry to all the bench guys. No one should be surprised that Robinson Cano tops the list or that Derek Jeter ranks pretty high, and frankly it looks like what I imagine a chart of first pitch swinging percentages would look like (based on just observation). As a group, the nine regulars put the first pitch in play 11.5% of the time, which is slightly higher than the MLB (11.2%) and AL (11.0%) averages. The Yankees also have a 118 OPS+ on the first pitch, so they’re doing more damage that the league average on the first pitch as well. Swinging at the first pitch is most frustrating after the pitcher walks the previous batter, that’s when it really bothers me.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user tom sulivan via Creative Commons license)

Shai asks: Is Granderson considered to have a good arm? From my untrained eye it seems he doesn’t and he actually pushes the ball rather than throwing it. From the 3 OF Swisher seems to have the best mechanics (Gardner’s % not withstanding) What do you think?

Yeah, all of the Yankees’ outfield arms pretty much suck (for various reasons). Gardner has a tendency to throw ten-hoppers to the plate and Swisher is prone to airmailing stuff, and Grandy just isn’t all that great at it. Throwing arm is the least important defensive tool for center and left fielders, so it’s not a killer there, but it’s very important in right. The numbers don’t really agree though. Since the start of the 2009 season, Gardner has saved 6.4 runs with his arm, ninth most among the 62 qualified outfielders (and right behind the cannon armed Shin-Soo Choo). Granderson is at 1.4 runs saved (23rd), and Swish is way down at -7.8 runs saved (59th). Two of the three have actually been pretty good.

As for the actual throwing mechanics, Swisher looks like he has the best, but I’m not the best person to ask about these things. Frankly I don’t care how it looks as long as it works, and it’s clearly not for Nick.

John asks: In the down on the farm stats you always include GB-FB ratio. However, many times the outs don’t match up. For instance, Nik Turley [the other day] has a game where he struck out 4 and had a 5-2 GB-FB ratio over 6 innings. What happened to those other 7 outs? Even if he got 5 DPs with his 5 ground balls, there are 2 outs missing, right?

There’s a number of reasons why. Could be a double play like you mentioned, could also be baserunners getting thrown out trying to steal/getting picked off. The biggest culprit is line outs though, which MiLB.com doesn’t keep track of in the box score. I’d have to go through the play-by-play recap and count them up manually, and there’s no chance of me doing that on an every day basis. Sorry.

Nate asks: Which DSL Yankees players have received big bonuses?

The Dominican Summer League season started last weekend, and you can see the rosters for the Yankees’ two affiliates here and here. I recommend looking at the stat pages (here and here) though, just to see who has actually played this year. Some guys on the roster are actually in Extended Spring Training and on their way to GCL later this month. Here’s the bonus info I have, which is obviously far from complete (signing year in parenthesis)…

  • Wilmer Romero, OF – $656,500 (2010)
  • Christopher Tamarez, SS – $650,000 (2010)
  • Eladio Moronta, OF – $570,000 (2009)
  • Eduardo Rivera, RHP – $475,000 (2010)
  • Juan Matos, RHP -$400,000 (2010)
  • Mikeson Oliberto, OF – $12,000 (2010)

Fred asks: Besides Vin Scully, who is your favorite play-by-play announcer in baseball?

Scully is easily the best, and I also love Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow, who call the Giants’ games. I’m sure some people will disagree, but I also enjoy Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson of the Rays. They’re pretty entertaining, and Anderson’s a young enough guy that his references aren’t completely outdated. Dick Enberg with the Padres is also fantastic. Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez have their moments on SNY; it’s fun when Keith starts rambling on like he forgets he’s on television or something. And, of course, David Cone is pretty awesome on YES. So is Ken Singleton and Al Leiter.

Scouting the Trade Market: Francisco Rodriguez

As the revolving door of the Yankee bullpen swung open on Friday night, it was hard to believe the rogue’s gallery of relievers who came out to stop the Mariners had been among the best in the game this year. Hector Noesi, Boone Logan, Luis Ayala — seventh best in the AL only when sorted by last name — all made their appearances and kept the Mariners scoreless. Only Mariano, the future Hall of Famer, faltered, and he along with Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson are the arms in which we trust.

So somehow, after 54 games and with $17.75 million worth of relievers on the disabled list, the Yankees have a great bullpen. The pen’s 2.88 ERA is tops in the AL, and their strike out and walk rates are both among the top four in the league. On the flip side, their relievers have thrown 159.1, and as Mike explored, their troika of top relievers is racking up the pitches thrown. The club will have to bolster its bullpen either within or without.

Enter Francisco Rodriguez: Yankee fans have never taken to K-Rod. He came out of nowhere to help down the Bombers in the 2002 ALDS, and he served as foil in the 2005 playoffs as well. As the Mets’ closer, he has had a tumultuous time in New York. He was, of course, on the mound celebrating as Luis Castillo dropped that pop-up, and he was arrested for assault last year in an altercation that caused a season-ending injury. He also one of the Mets’ prime trade chips.

This year, very quietly, K-Rod is putting together a stellar season. With his save in the Mets’ comeback on Thursday, he has now appeared in 27 games — and finished 21 of them — while posting a 2.00 ERA in 27 innings. He has allowed a hit per inning and 13 walks but has yet to surrender a home run and has alluringly struck out 27.

Now, the Mets are in a predicament with Rodriguez. He is making $11.5 million this year and holds a performance-based option for 2012 that’s worth a whopping $17.5 million. If he closes out 55 games this year and his two-year total of games finished tops 100, the option vests automatically. If not, then he is owed only $3.5 million, and that’s why trading him must be part of the Mets’ plan. They can’t afford to pay and shouldn’t be paying a closer $17.5 million, but he’s on pace for well over 60 games finished this year.

So how about the Yankees? At some point, you might say, the Yankees have to stop acquiring overpaid, one-inning relievers. It hasn’t worked out for them since the days of Steve Karsay, and yet, the Yankees are still doling out contracts to guys left and right only to see them wind up on the disabled list. Rodriguez, though, would be just a rental, and if the Yankees are willing to take on most of his remaining salary along with the $3.5 million buy out they will owe him when, as a non-closer, he doesn’t get to his games finished milestone, the price tag should be relatively cheap. Pick a second-tier prospect and adjust accordingly for cash contributions.

Of course, as we’ve noted over the last few weeks, the Yankees and Mets do not trade with each other too frequently. They last sent Mike Stanton to Queens for Felix Heredia in 2004 and before that, tried to plug Armando Benitez into the Bronx for a handful of disastrous games. For the Mets, trading their closer to the Yankees would be one of many potential white flags, and if they get no return outside of financial relief while the Yanks add K-Rod as a third set-up option, the Shea Faithful won’t be too pleased.

For the Yankees, though, K-Rod is another potential target. He just might be the most available reliever out there, and unless the club truly expects Soriano, Marte or Feliciano to return at full strength any time this season, he should be a potential trade target.

Ugly night on the mound at all levels

Now that we’re into June, it’s worth mentioning that the Short Season Staten Island and Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees start their seasons on June 17th and 20th, respectively. Extended Spring Training ends next week, then everyone heads to their new affiliate if they’re not released. There will also be a ton of 2011 draftees on both the SI and GCL rosters as well.

Oh, and it turns out that Carlos Silva does not have an opt-out clause on his contract (confirmed by Brian Cashman). That’s surprising and pretty good news, though Ivan Nova should still be looking over his shoulder.

Triple-A Scranton (13-2 loss to Indianapolis)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 3B, 2 K – 14 for his last 37 (.378)
Ramiro Pena, SS, Dan Brewer, LF & Luis Nunez, 2B: all 0 for 4 - Pena drew a walk and scored … Brewer and Nunez each whiffed
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 HBP
Jorge Vazquez, 3B: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K – 16 K in his last 32 at-bats
Brandon Laird, 1B & Austin Krum, CF: both 2 for 4 – Laird drove in a run … Krum stole a bag
Jordan Parraz, RF: 1 for 4, 1 K
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 1 IP, 0 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 1-1 GB/FB - just 17 of 39 pitches were strikes (43.6%) … sigh
Ryan Pope, RHP: 2.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HB, 1-4 GB/FB – 31 of 56 pitches were strikes (55.4%) … did Brackman no favors by allowing all three inherited runners to score
George Kontos, RHP: 2.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 0-1 GB/FB – 31 of 48 pitches were strikes (64.6%)
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 2-1 GB/FB – eight of 11 pitches were strikes (72.7%) … 8 K in 23 IP (3.13 K/9)
Kanekoa Texeira, RHP: 1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 24 of 42 pitches were strikes (57.1%) … ten hits and eight runs in 2.1 IP back

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Pinstriped Links: 6/2/11

We’re trying out a new feature around these parts today. Every day — or every few days — I’m going to bullet point a few stories related to baseball and the Yankees that are floating around the Internet. These are stories we either didn’t have time to write up for a full post or thought were worth a mention but not the full treatment. We’re happy to take submissions via the box at right, e-mail or through our Twitter account, and props to anyone who comes up with a catchier title than “Pinstriped Links.” On with the stories:

  • MLB sources said they were investigating after Yuri Sucart, A-Rod‘s infamous cousin, was spotted hanging around the Yankees… [Daily News]
  • …but the Commissioner’s Office absolved the Yanks’ third baseman of any wrong-doing. [ESPN NY]
  • If Curtis Granderson is voted onto the 2011 All Star team, his 2013 option will increase from $13 million to $14 million. [Cot's via @ClintHolzner]
  • Nearly 23 months since last throwing a pitch in the Major Leagues, Chien Ming Wang is almost ready for a rehab assignment. [Nats Insider]
  • Ralph Gardner Jr. offers up some high praise for John Sterling and Suzy Waldman. [Wall Street Journal]
  • Joba, meanwhile, has confided in his stuffed animals that he wants to be a starting pitcher.

Open Thread: Even Stomper loves RAB

Even the Oakland A’s mascot loves us. That’s a picture of RAB’s own Hannah Ehrlich (left) and friend of the blog Amanda Rykoff (right) with Stomper, the A’s mascot. Notice that Hannah is wearing our sweet Evolution design, available on shirts and a bunch of other stuff at the RAB Shop. I just thought it was pretty cool that someone actually bought something from us, that’s all. Make sure you check out the rest of Amanda’s photos from the three game series on her Flickr page, some of which you’ve seen here over the last few days.

Anyways, here is your open thread for the night. Light schedule for baseball, but MLB Network will carry a game. The teams depend on where you live. Game Two of the NBA Finals will be on at 9pm ET (ABC), and that’s pretty much it. You know what to do, so have at it.