Yankees sign Josh Romanski

Via BA’s minor league transactions, the Yankees have signed lefthander Josh Romanski, who was released by the Brewers within the last few weeks. The 23-year-old was Milwaukee’s fourth round pick in 2008, but he missed the 2009 season with Tommy John surgery. He’s probably best known for spending three years as the number two starter behind Brian Matusz at The University of San Diego.

I’ve been a fan of Romanski’s for quite some time, and even wrote him up as a potential draft target back in ’08. I have no idea why the Brewers cut him after giving him a $247,000 signing bonus and footing the bill for his TJ rehab, but it’s the Yanks who benefit. It’s not every day that you can add a fourth round talent to your organization for basically nothing.

Open Thread: Cano follow-up

This morning I planned to write about the three Robinson Cano plate appearances from last night in which he drew a walk. I knew there would be a few interesting tidbits — for starters, that it’s not the first time in his career that he’s done it — but what I didn’t expect to find was a trend in his swings for the year. It appears that he’s been laying off pitches outside the zone when it’s delivered low and inside. This was not only something I saw last night, but, according to Cano’s charts from the year, something that has happened all season.

I wondered if this was something that has happened just this season, or if Cano has always been selective on pitches in this location. I don’t have the skills at this point to run a study like this, but two people I work with at FanGraphs, Jeff Zimmerman and Dave Allen, were kind enough to supply some research for me. These are all in the form of heat maps, which are self-explanatory. First up is Jeff, who supplied Cano’s swing data, both from 2007 through 2009, and then a separate chart for this season.

That’s 2007 through 2009. It appears that, at least against right-handers, Cano has done a good job of laying off the low and inside pitch. He fared a bit worse against lefties, as you can see that greenish brownish streak off the plate low and inside, where it is a bit more green against righties. How does that compare to 2010?

Cano has done a bit better against lefties this year on the low and inside pitch. In fact, it looks like he has a pretty good command of the strike zone at this point. He performs a bit worse against righties, especially when the pitch is more low than inside, but that’s something we’ve come to expect from Cano.

Finally, I wondered if Cano should be laying off the low inside pitch. This is where Dave Allen played a large role. He sent a chart, complete with FanGraphs background, showing Cano’s run values. Sure enough, he’s green low and in. Then again, he’s green in the middle of the plate, too, so I’m not sure how much that tells us. Still, it’s worth a look.

Again, thanks to Jeff and Dave for supplying these heat maps. I wish I could produce this type of stuff myself.

With that, this is your open thread for the evening. Talk about whatever right up until game time, when we’ll gear up for a game thread.

2010 Draft: Baseball America’s latest top 50 rankings

Baseball America posted their latest rankings of the top 50 draft prospects today (subs. req’d), and several players I’ve highlighted place right around the Yankees’ first choice, #32 overall. JuCo outfielder LeVon Washington comes in at #31, Indy league southpaw James Paxton is right behind him at #33, and California prep righty Peter Tago behind him at #35. Virginia Tech’s Austin Wates is down in the low-40’s. Their #32 player is Georgia high school outfielder Chevez Clarke, who is a phenomenal athlete and an elite defender, but he has almost no present power.

The draft is still six weeks away, but it would take a catastrophe for the Nationals to pass on Bryce Harper with the top pick. Beyond that, it appears the Pirates will grab Mississippi lefty Drew Pomeranz with the second pick, leaving the Orioles to pick one of about a dozen premium high school arms, included Jameson Taillon.

What to look for from Hughes tonight

Tonight, about 800 miles north of Oakland, the baseball fans in Seattle will celebrate Felix Day. This might be the most glorious holiday of them all, if only because it recurs every five days. Yet it’s so much more. It’s the day that they can forget about the team’s woes and enjoy a young, dominant pitcher ply his craft. Felix Day is even better when the team is playing well, as Seattle has for the past week or so.

While I acknowledge he’s no Felix, I plan to hold a similar celebration for Phil Hughes every fifth or so day this season. As I explained before his first start, Hughes is the first prospect I’ve followed from the draft to the majors. He has the tools to pitch at the top of a major league rotation, and after he found his bearings in the bullpen last season I think he can begin to fulfill those expectations this season. He did not disappoint in his first outing.

Still, he has some adjustments to make. In his first outing he came out firing fastballs at 93 and 94 mph, blowing away Angels hitters. As the game wore on, though, Hughes tired out a bit. By the end he was throwing his fastball at 91 and 92 mph. This is understandable. During his first two years in the minors the Yankees kept him on a pitch and innings count, often limiting him to five innings per start. They lifted that in 2007, the year he was promoted, but he still hasn’t worked deep into games regularly.

In 2007 Hughes opened the season at AAA, and then returned after quick rehab stints at A+ and AA. In eight AAA starts he threw 37.2 innings, around 4.2 innings per start. Then, the next year, after his injury and demotion, he pitched 29 AAA innings that covered six starts, or just a hair above the 4.2 innings he averaged teh previous year. At the major league level Hughes hasn’t exactly pitched deep into games, either. In 21 starts from 2007 to 2008 he pitched 106.2 innings, or about five innings per start. Last year, in seven starts before his move to the bullpen, he pitched just 34.2 innings, or a hair under five per start.

Given that it’s just is second start of the year, I don’t think we’ll see Hughes maintain his fastball speed much longer than he did in his first. That’s something he’ll have to build up over time. What I would like to see, though, is him making adjustments to compensate. When he reached a two-strike count in the later innings last Thursday he had a hard time finishing hitters. He’d go back to his normal repertoire, but instead of whiffing the Angels hitters fouled off pitch after pitch. Hughes also went back to nibbling and faced too many three-ball counts. He also walked too many hitters.

Instead of looking for greater fastball velocity in the fifth and, hopefully, sixth, what I hope to see from Hughes is a bit more pitching to contact. He clearly has a dominant fastball, and over time I hope he can maintain his velocity later in the game. For now, though, he might have to settle for pitching to contact. It means using his cutter, curveball, and, yes, changeup more often. I think that’s a better strategy, though, than continuing to pump fastballs that hitters can handle.

Happy Hughes Day, everyone.

To gouge or to capture? That is the question

As American businesses have grown accustomed to life under a bad economy, consumers have seen long-established pricing practices thrown by the wayside. The airline industry has been the one taking the lead here, and the most notable example came last week when Spirit Airlines announced they would be charging for carry-on luggage.

Spirit’s CEO subsequently explained their pricing rationale. Their base fares would be reduced by $45, and those who wanted to bring a piece of luggage on board would have to pay the unbundled $45 to do so. Potential customers were unhappy but only because this is a new — and sensible — way to price a commodity. By paying for component parts, we are paying for what we need and want to use. If only telecommunications and cable providers would follow such a path.

In baseball, economics are moving in new ways as well, and the Yankees have been among the prime motivating factors. The team has long been a hot ticket in New York, and road attendance has risen as well. Last year, the Yanks averaged over 34,000 fans per game on the road, tops in the AL and second overall to the Cubs. Teams such as Tampa and Kansas City that don’t draw well regularly see record crowds when the Yanks come to town.

As such, teams have wisely jacked up prices when the Yanks come to town. Tickets and concessions are priced for premium games, and it works because the market forces of supply and demand can dictate the prices. If a potential fan is willing to pay more on the secondary market for a chance to see a premium team play, the home team should be trying to capture that added revenue.

What happens though when teams start bundling tickets? That’s the question Craig Calcaterra raises today. He highlights two Consumerist posts — one on the Mets and one on the Dodgers — that expose a new practice. Instead of selling individual tickets to games involving the Yankees, these teams are requiring their fans to purchase Yankee tickets as part of a season- or package-ticket plan. For Yankees/Mets games, fans have to buy tickets in groups of five or more. For Dodgers/Yankees games, Los Angelinos have to purchase at least a seven-game mini plan. (The Orioles, I believe, instituted this practice last year when Yankee fans started overwhelming the Baltimore crowd.)

Loyal fans, of course, aren’t happen. Said the Mets fan who reported his tale to Consumerist to his ticket agent, “I’m going to be blunt with you. That is a horrible practice. The fact that I have to buy four extra tickets to get a guaranteed good seat ticket right now is horse shit. To be honest you have just turned me off from buying a ticket for the rest of the season.”

From an economics perspective, though, teams should have done this years ago. The demand for these premium games is great enough for the team to try to get fans interested in other non-sold out games as well. The teams want to capture more fans, and if they alienate a few fans along the way, well, then others will just take those seats instead. What makes people uncomfortable with it is that it’s a new practice. Had the ticket office been run as a sensible business from the start, teams would have been bundling years ago.

Calcaterra wants teams to “what the market would bear for the hot seats and sell them individually,” but he freely admits its an emotional reaction to what he views as sensible economics by clubs looking to milk money out of fan attraction. We might not like the blatant money grab, but that’s the way the capture market works.

Pondering a relief hook too quick

As it neared 1:45 a.m. earlier this morning and the Yanks and A’s continued to slog through their West Coast walk-fest, Joe Girardi brought in Damaso Marte to protect a four-run lead in the 9th. It wasn’t a save situation and wouldn’t be unless Marte imploded. At the time, the Yanks’ win expectancy stood at 98.2 percent, but that wasn’t good enough for the Yanks’ skipper.

Marte began the inning in an inauspicious fashion. Facing the right-handed Jake Fox, a career .245/.298/.443 hitter who had but one base on balls this season, Marte issued a five-pitch walk. The Yanks’ win expectancy dropped all the way to 95.8, and Joe Girardi bounded out of the dugout to summon Mariano Rivera. While the strains of “Enter Sandman” played in my head, Rivera jogged in to get three easy outs in a non-save situation. Game, set, match.

Yet, something about the way the game ended irked me. It wasn’t so much Marte’s unwillingness to throw strikes to a guy who can’t hit much as it was the quick hook. Girardi brought in a lefty to face a righty — not always the best of match-ups — and then pulled him with the game still in the pocket. Rivera had to both warm up and make his league-leading seventh appearance of the young season in a game the Yanks were going to win. Why bother with the quick hook? Why bother bringing in Marte in the first place?

For Girardi, though, this approach to the bullpen is nothing new. In fact, last week against the Angels, Girardi went through a similar sequence of events. He used Joba Chamberlain to get the last out in the 8th on Thursday, but then Joba ran into a spot of trouble in the 9th. After a walk and two outs, Erick Aybar hit a weak infield single, and the Angels had the tying run at the plate with two outs. Instead of letting Joba pitch to Bobby Abreu, Girardi brought in Rivera for a quick one-out save. Because Abreu is a lefty power bat, that move was more defensible, but it still seemed as though Joe overmanaged a bit.

In the early goings, my complaints over Mariano Rivera’s usage are but a nitpick. Rivera has appeared in a team-high seven games and has allowed two hits and a walk while striking out six. He needs to get some work in, and Girardi has made sure of it.

At the same time, I’d like to see Girardi trust his other relievers a bit more. Marte has appeared in six games and has recorded eight outs while facing just 12 batters. I don’t want to see him walk a weak-hitting pinch hitter to start the inning, but I wouldn’t mind giving him another batter or two.

Overall, though, Girardi has done a good job of managing the bullpen this year. His 33 calls to the pen – — all brought to you by AT&T — rank last in the AL and are a testament to the Yanks’ solid starting pitching (and one six-inning game). On average, Yanks’ relievers are raking up 3.1 outs per appearance, just a tad below the AL average of 3.2 and well within the early-season margin of error for that statistic. Hopefully, these positive trends will continue, but it wouldn’t kill Girarid to let his guys pitch out of a tough spot when the game isn’t really on the line.

Cano showing patience — on certain pitches

During the seventh inning of last night’s game it looked like Robinson Cano did not want to take a walk. He had already earned a free pass in the first inning, and to take another walk would give him as many in one game as he had earned in the entire season to that point. The at-bat lasted eight pitches, the final one a weak fastball that ran way too far inside. Not even Cano would take a hack. He took his base for the second time that night.

Cano, as he does so often, made the at-bat longer than it needed to be. Not one of the pitches from Edwar Ramirez ended up in the strike zone — least of all pitches six and seven, both changeups low and away, both fouled off. Both, also, had Cano taken them, would have put him on first base. Thankfully, Cano has a penchant for fouling off bad pitches, so he was able to extend the at-bat without any real damage. Here’s the Gameday view of his PA:

That wasn’t Cano’s first long at-bat of the night, either. In the first he worked the count on A’s starter Gio Gonzalez, taking that one to eight pitches as well. Gonzalez threw far more pitches in or near the zone than Edwar — and Robbie actually took one of them, a third pitch fastball for a strike after the first two pitches missed inside for balls. I’m actually surprised that Cano didn’t crush the sixth pitch, a fastball at the heart of the plate. He managed to only foul it away, though. He did the same on the next pitch before deciding that the at-bat’s final fastball, low and inside, wasn’t worth the hack.

By the ninth inning the Yankees had the game well in hand. Still, Cano came to the plate for one last appearance, this time against the side-arming Brad Ziegler. Like most side-armers, Ziegler fares far worse against lefties, a .868 OPS against. Against righties he fares much better, just a .569 OPS against. To this end, Ziegler worked carefully to Cano. As you can see in the Gameday plot below, only a few of the pitches came anywhere near the strike zone. It’s a shame that he swung at the fourth pitch, but other than that he displayed a pretty good batting eye in this plate appearances.

Looking at all three pitch plots, it appears that Robbie does not like the low inside pitch. It is the pitch he takes most frequently, even when it’s closer to the strike zone than other pitches in the at-bat at which he swung. This has been a trend all season for Cano. Check out the following plots, courtesy of Texas Leaguers. The first is a plot of the pitches Cano has swung at. The second is a plot of the pitches he’s taken.

Throw it low and inside, and Cano’s eye seems as good as anyone else’s. Throw it low or away, and he’s probably going to hack. This seems like a positive development. It might not last all season — Cano did hack at his share of low and inside pitches outside the strikezone last season — but so far it has been a definite positive for Cano.

Surprisingly, last night was not the first time Cano drew three walks in a game. It was actually the fourth. In 2007 he did it twice within a couple of weeks. The first came on July 24 against the Royals, and the second came on August 7 against the Blue Jays. He then did it in 2008, in August against the Rangers.