Open Thread: But can he hit a curveball?

Photo Credit: Amy Sancetta, AP

So LeBron James is going to announce his long awaited decision tonight. All indications are that he’s going to join the Miami Heat, who have pulled a Yankees and signed everyone this offseason. I’ll be perfectly honest, I’m not much of a basketball fan at all, but if LeBron came to the Knicks, I probably would have watched some games this year. Definitely at the start of the season, at least. But now I still don’t have any interest in the sport, who wants to watch a league with all the best players on one team? That’s not sport, that’s not competition, it’s a video game set to rookie difficulty with force trades on.

Yes, that probably sounds hypocritical coming from a Yanks fan, but baseball and basketball are such different sports. Three great players can win you a title in basketball, but an All Star baseball team can absolutely get beat by one or two hot pitchers in a short playoff series. Anyway, LeBron’s making his announcement at 9pm ET on ESPN, so talk about that or whatever else you want here.

Nick Swisher wins Final Vote

Via Jack Curry, Nick Swisher narrowly beat out Kevin Youkilis for the final roster spot on the AL All Star Team. Curry says it was the closest vote ever, so go and pat yourselves on the back for all votes you cast. Congrats to Swish, great to see the Yankees well represented.

Men on base stand no chance against Andy

Photo credit: Kevork Djansezian/AP

Part of Andy Pettitte‘s first half success has been his defense’s ability to turn balls in play into outs. He surely has something to do with that himself — he sets ’em up, the defense knocks ’em down — though we’re not really sure to what degree he controls the results of balls in play. His .268 mark is currently the lowest of his career, though he did have a .270 BABIP for all of 2005. Yet that’s not where all of Andy’s success lies.

A low BABIP means Pettitte is doing a good job keeping runners off base. But once they do reach base they still don’t stand a great chance of scoring. On the year Pettitte has allowed 115 men to roam the bases. That counts hits, walks, reach on errors, and hit by pitches, but subtracts home runs. Of those 115 baserunners, only 26 have come around to score (37 runs allowed minus 11 home runs). That’s good for a 77.4 percent strand rate (I ran this a bit differently than FanGraphs does their strand rate, which has Pettitte at a 79.7 percent strand rate).

How is he doing this? Usually pitchers can achieve high strand rates by striking out runners with men on base, but Pettitte actually fares worse in strikeouts with men on base than he does with the bases empty. He also walks more batters with men on base. The answer is that hitters fare even worse on balls in play with men on base than they do with the bases empty. Hitters currently have a puny .184 BABIP with men on base against Pettitte, and have grounded into double plays in 17 percent of their opportunities.

Some of this has to be luck, but part of it, I’d like to think, involves some veteran savvy on Pettitte’s part. He knows he doesn’t have the stuff to overpower hitters, so he bears down and gets the guys he has to. The question, of course, is of whether he can continue this favorable trend for the rest of the season.

For what it’s worth, Pettitte doesn’t notice a difference. In an excellent story by FanHouse’s Jeff Fletcher, Pettitte is quoted as saying, “I feel like I’m pitching exactly the same.” We’ll take it.

RAB on The Shore Sports Report

Just a reminder, my weekly appearance on The Shore Sports Report with Mike Krenek and Joe Giglio is coming up at 4:05pm ET today. You can listen in on either FOX Sports 1030 AM or WOBM 1160 AM, and I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to stream it online via one of those links as well.

Last chance to Send Swish!

Just one hour left, folks! The voting for the AL All Star Team’s final roster spot ends at 4pm ET, so make sure you hit the ballot and vote a few hundred times for the very deserving Nick Swisher (.389 wOBA, 2.5 WAR).

Today’s Crazy Idea: Javy for Werth

Photo Credit: Matt Slocum, AP

The trade deadline really brings out the dumb in people. Stupid trade rumors come with the territory, and we’re certainly no exception. So you’re going to have to forgive me for a second while I throw something out there. Ready for this one? Javy Vazquez for Jayson Werth. Seriously, hear me out before you delete your RAB bookmark.

Buster Olney says that the Phillies are talking to a bunch of teams about possible matches for Werth, and are looking for what he calls “a proven starting pitcher who could be a No. 2 or No. 3 type of guy” in return. Well, Javy fits that bill. You can argue that he’s more of a number four based on his dreadful April, but I’m not going to waste my time with that. The guy’s got a 3.05 ERA (3.94 FIP) in his last ten starts, and the Yankees would have won more than six of those games if they bothered to score more than two runs in three of the four losses.

But there’s a fit here because each team has something the other team needs. The Phils need a starter, and the Yanks could use an extra bat. Furthermore, both players are free agents after the season and are projected to be Type-A free agents, so each team will still get their two extra picks in the epiphany draft of 2011. The money doesn’t match up perfectly – Javy is owed $5.54M the rest of the way, Werth $3.41M – but that’s something that could easily be worked out (I think).

What would the Yankees be getting in Werth? Basically a righthanded hitting version of Nick Swisher, that’s what. Werth’s triple-slash line sits at .279/.365/.518 (.378 wOBA), which is perfectly in line with his performance over the last two seasons. There’s no fluke, it’s an established level of performance. Werth has also shown that the friendly confines of Citizen’s Banks Park aren’t the cause for his success, he’s wOBA’d .389 and .374 on the road in the past two years. His three year UZR in right sits at +17.5, and he can even play center in a pinch, not that the Yankees would need him too. Want steals? You got them too. Werth has swiped 44 bags in 49 tries over the last three years (89.8%). The guy does pretty much everything.

The Yankees could use him in a four man outfield/designated hitter rotation with Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson and Swisher, adding some considerable length to their lineup while assuming avoiding the risk of taking on a huge contract. Well, that last part isn’t entirely true, because you’re giving up a quality innings eater, which is risky by default. The team would have to feel comfortable with someone like Sergio Mitre or Ivan Nova or maybe even Dustin Moseley taking the ball every fifth day, which might not sound so appealing given the team’s shaky bullpen. They do have options however, so the answer to that final rotation just might be there.

Remember, Ruben Amaro Jr. hasn’t exactly distinguished himself as an astute general manager. He gave three year contracts to 30-something’s Raul Ibanez and Placido Polanco, two year deals to Ross Gload, Danys frickin’ Baez, and 46-year-old Jamie Moyer, traded Cliff Lee for peanuts only to have interest in reacquiring him six months later, gave Ryan Howard that completely unnecessary extension, plus a whole bunch of other questionable moves. Amaro seems to be very much stuck in the early-00’s way of doing things; big names, big contracts, poorly thought out trades. A Werth-Javy swap is unlikely, but not completely insane. I think. Of course, Werth would have to lose the Baseball Jesus look if a trade did happen, which would be a shame.

In all seriousness, the Yanks can use the extra bat, and they do have four other quality starters in the rotation to rely on. They’d be robbing Peter to pay Paul, which is always sketchy when you’re talking about starting pitching. So what do you think, good idea? Bad idea?

Mailbag: Vazquez, Rule 5 Draft, Gaudin, Cash

We received some positive feedback following last week’s mailbag, so it’s definitely looking like something worth doing. You can send your questions to us at any time via the Submit A Tip box under The Montero Watch in the sidebar, or by just emailing them in to us. This week’s topics: Javy Vazquez and arbitration, the Rule 5 Draft, Chad frickin’ Gaudin, and figuring out what the hell “cash considerations” are…

Do you think that the Yankees will offer Javy Vazquez arbitration after the season? They’ve shied away from the practice in recent years, but you risk getting a good pitcher at a reasonable salary on a one-year deal for two high picks, right? Especially if they lose picks for a Lee or Crawford this offseason. – Dominik

I’ve been thinking about this more and more as the season goes on. My stock answer has been “no,” simply because they haven’t offered anyone arbitration over the last two years, and I had no reason to believe that they would change that approach now. Now I’m not so sure.

There is a difference between Vazquez and guys like Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon, the notable players that weren’t offered arbitration over the last few years. Those guys were really overpaid (Abreu made $16M his last year with the Yanks, Damon $13M) and stunningly bad on defense, and in Abreu’s case, he was clearly in decline offensively. Their defense negated a ton of their offensive value. Pitchers are different because a) there’s only one aspect of the game to evaluate, and b) quality arms are so damn valuable.

Of course we can’t ignore the red flags. Javy’s velocity is absolutely down this season, likely due to all those miles on his arm, and his strikeouts are down while the walks are up. His FIP (5.02), xFIP (4.62), and tRA (4.97) are the highest they’ve been in more than half-a-decade.  Believe it or not, Vazquez has benefited from some BABIP luck this year (.255), which you can’t count on going forward. That said, he’s still a very capable MLB starter that can easily hold down the fourth spot in any team’s rotation, which is what the Yanks would expect him to do. If he were to accept arbitration, he’s looking a $13-14M, which is certainly overpaying. It is just a one year deal though, and the Yanks can afford the luxury. Remember, there’s no pitching version of Nick Swisher to buy low on to fill that rotation spot.

At this point, yes, I do expect the Yanks to offer Vazquez arbitration. It’s been made clear that the team considered the two 2011 draft picks as part of the deal, and Vazquez comfortably projects to be a Type-A free agent. As you know, they have to offer him arbitration to receive those picks. Next year’s draft class is absurdly deep; a team could realistically walk away with a player that would be a top ten talent in a “normal” year despite picking in the 20-30 range. If there’s ever a draft to have an extra pick, that’s it. The Yanks also can’t lose those picks if they sign Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford or whoever.

Given the uncertainty of Andy Pettitte, plus the possibility of Lee signing an extension after inevitably being traded, offering Vazquez arbitration is a risk worth taking. Then again, I said the same exact thing about other players over the last two years, only to watch the Yanks not offer arbitration to anyone.

Which minor leaguers are eligible for the Rule 5 draft after the season? Of these, who do you think the Yankees will protect?  I’m interested to see what they do with Dellin. – Big B

College players drafted in 2007 and high school players drafted in 2006 are eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year, so that includes Zach McAllister, Dellin Betances, Ryan Pope, Bradley Suttle, Austin Krum, Justin Snyder, and Brandon Laird. Some holdovers from last year include George Kontos, Lance Pendleton, and Josh Schmidt. It’s tough to figure out exactly when players signed off the international market, so I usually just skip them when discussing the Rule 5 draft.

So how many 40-man roster spots are opening up after the season? I count nine: Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, Chan Ho Park, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Javy Vazquez, Derek Jeter, Marcus Thames, and Nick Johnson. Both Juan Miranda and Jon Albaladejo will be out of options next season, so they could be gone as well. Wilkin DeLaRosa and Dustin Moseley are imminently DFA’able, so I would count on them being gone as well. Mo and Jeter are obviously coming back, so let’s call it 11 total spots opening up after the season.

You have to figure that at least two of those spots are going to starting pitchers, two or three more are going to relievers, and two or three more are going to position players. So for all intents and purposes, let’s assume the team will have four 40-man spots to use for protecting prospects from the Rule 5 Draft.

McAllister and Laird are no-brainers, they have to be protected otherwise they will be lost. Their success at Double-A all but guarantees that. Suttle, Krum, Snyder, Pendleton, and Schmidt aren’t high priority guys, so they can go unprotected. Those last two spots come down to Betances, Pope, and Kontos.

Betances has been absolutely fantastic this year since coming back from elbow surgery (34 IP, 13 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 6 BB, 39 K), and non-contending teams will take a big arm like that and see if he can’t stick in the bigs all year. Pope has been fantastic since shifting to the bullpen (27.2 IP, 3.09 FIP, 30-6 K/BB ratio, .223 AVG against) and is a viable relief option for next season. If nothing else, he’s a guy that will always be on call in Triple-A. Kontos is coming off elbow surgery like Betances, though he’s had some success at the higher level.

I think Pope gets protected just because you can’t let such a close to the big leagues reliever go for nothing. The Yanks will need the inventory. If the Yanks don’t believe Betances can make it through the entire 2011 season on some team’s 25-man roster, they won’t protect him. They did the same thing with Ivan Nova. They could gamble on him going to camp with some team only to have him be offered back at some point. Of course Betances is a much different prospect because he has such enormous upside, so they may not be willing to risk it. Me? I’d protect him. Too risky to lose a guy the team invested so much time and money ($1M signing bonus plus all the costs associated with his rehab and surgery). Kontos is the cost of doing business, I was never a huge fan anyway.

Why is Chad Gaudin so bad this year? He was somewhat “decent” last year, and was supposed to be in the mix for the 5th starter job in ST. I don’t think we expected him to win any Cy Youngs, but mediocrity should not have been too much to ask. – Anonymous

I’m kinda surprised that Gaudin has been so dreadful. I never expected him to be awesome, but I figured he could replicate the 4.68 xFIP he posted with the Yanks last year. Instead, we’ve got a 5.60 xFIP after Gaudin put up a 3.94 xFIP in Oakland. And think, the righty has had some serious BABIP (.244) and strand rate (83.3%) luck with the Yanks.

The obvious problem is all the homeruns. Gaudin has served up nine long balls in 33.2 IP this year after giving up just 14 in 147.1 IP last year. His fly ball rate has climbed close to 10% from last year and sits at 44.6% in 2010, and his HR/FB rate is through the roof at 20%. For comparison’s sake, the league average is around 10.6% and he was at 9% last year. It’s a combination of bad luck and bad pitching. Yes, he should give up more homeruns because he’s giving up more fly balls, but not that many more homers.

Gaudin’s slider is letting him down this year (4.57 runs below average per 100 thrown after several years of being above average by a run or more), so perhaps he’s hiding an injury. Or maybe he just stinks.

MAILBAG! When a player gets traded for “cash considerations” what, exactly, does that mean? Is there a list of guidelines defining what is and is not, can and cannot be deemed cash considerations? Is there a deadline on when the cash has to be delivered? I’m thinking that it means they need to work out a deal and can’t haggle the money but are close enough where they say eff it we’ll figure it out. I am hoping, however, that there is some sort of structure to it. – Justin

I have no idea, but Keith Law does, so I asked him. His response: “Undisclosed [amount] but fixed at the time of the deal. It’s really just a straight sale, usually for ten or twenty grand.”

Simple enough. I assume it’s delivered immediately, or at a time specified when the deal is made.