Spring Training Game Thread: Twins vs. Yankees, in progress

We were a little delayed in getting up the game thread this afternoon as Joe, Mike and I were enjoying lunch and didn’t realize YES had picked up today’s game. So we’ll join this ALDS rematch between the Yanks and Twins now in progress.

Phil Hughes, the fifth starter, is facing the Twins, and he had a rocky first inning. He allowed a pair of runs on two hits and a walk but still struck out two. While batting, Denard Span took out his mother with a foul ball, but she seemed to be okay. I don’t have the pitchers scheduled to follow Phil, but Hughes is set for a good long outing. This is his final tune-up of the spring, but the Yanks have not yet announced when he will start in April.

Jeter SS
Thames DH
Posada C
Rodriguez 3B
Swisher RF
Granderson CF
Gardner LF
Pena 2B
Miranda 1B

Hughes P

2010 Season Preview: Settling into the new digs

When we wrapped up the 2009 season, I gave the new Yankee Stadium a mostly positive review. The team, after all, had just captured a World Series trophy in its first year in the new home and had enjoyed a significant home field advantage. They drew 3.7 million fans and won 64 home games while losing just 25 over the course of the regular season and the playoffs. The stadium itself can be the team’s 26th man on the roster.

The 2009 team’s offensive splits belie the stadium advantage. At home, the lineup hit .284/.368/.490 with 136 home runs. On the road, the team hit .283/.355/.466 with 108 home runs. At least as the ball flies over the fence, the new stadium helped the Yankees.

But despite the tropes of a hitter’s paradise, the new stadium depressed extra-base hits. The Yankees hit far more doubles on the road, and triples at the new park were few and far between. When the dust settled, the new stadium played as a pitcher’s park. So now, as Yankee Stadium gets ready for year number two, what can we expect?

On the field, we’ll be able to tally more data on the trends of the park. We can say, as I did, that after one season, pitchers who aren’t extreme fly-ballers should enjoy pitching at the stadium, but the year two data could be completely different. We can say that left-handed batters with a nice power stroke will hit a lot of home runs into those alluringly short right field seats, and we’d probably be right. Yet, as the Yankees have loaded up a lineup heavy on lefties, a second year of data will hopefully help the team make that case.

Meanwhile, a key claim from earlier last year will be put to the test as well. As home runs were flying out of Yankee Stadium and meteorologists were positing wind patterns, some commentators started to blame the old stadium for the home run-happy jet streams. As the old stadium meets the wrecking ball and will be but rubble by late June, the team will see if the winds do indeed change. Color me skeptical.

But the stadium’s impact goes beyond the way it plays for the team. It is also the home for the fans, and although I yearn for the countless seasons I spent at the House that Ruth Built, I’ll spend the bulk of my life attending games at the House that George Built. What needs to go right then for the Yankees to enjoy another year of crowds above three million, constant sell-outs and a content fan base?

What the Yankees should do is again make the ballpark more fan-friendly. The team should allow young fans the chance to watch batting practice from as close to the field as possible. The team should do away with that moat that separates the Legends Suites from the rest of the park at least until an hour before the game starts. The team should relax its security guards and make fans feel welcome instead of threatened if they happen to step into the wrong section or look at someone halfway cross-eyed. The team should also sell more of those standing-room only seats. I watched Game 2 of the ALDS from SRO in the Main Level, and I will remember it forever. Fans stopped by to chat, and we were ecstatic as A-Rod‘s and later Mark Teixeira‘s home runs brought the Yanks a victory.

And yet, we hear tales of the Yankees making the park a little less accessible. They seem to be offering standing room tickets at all levels only for a select bunch of premium games. They’re going to allow fans in for batting practice two hours before first pitch this year instead of three as they did last year. There goes the opportunity to watch most of the Yankees take BP. As NYY Stadium Insider notes, this move aligns the Yankees with the rest of the league, and staffing concerns may warrant it. But it simply limits access.

Of course, those are but minor gripes. Unlike the Mets, the Yankees didn’t have to fix glaring omissions of history at their ballpark, and the team had a relatively smooth first year at the new stadium. I expect to 2010 to offer more of the same and more wins at home. I didn’t warm up to the new park until late in the season, and I still have a tough time accepting it as the permanent home of the New York Yankees. But it is, after all, tough to argue with the World Series. Can the stadium deliver two in two years?

How highly rated were the Yankees as prospects?

Every year Baseball America releases its Top 100 Prospects. You can check out this year’s list here. They’ve done this for years and years, dating all the way back to 1990. It’s a reality of baseball that some top prospects will bust, while other players will become stars while barely grazing a prospect list. It made me wonder where the current Yankees ranked on BA’s prospect list. Thankfully, Baseball Reference now lists a player’s peak rankings on its minor league player pages, so we can see how highly the BA crew thought of the team as they grew up.

Alex Rodriguez: No. 1 in 1995

Before he took his first professional swing, BA rated A-Rod the No. 6 prospect in baseball. A year later, after he dominated three minor league levels, they moved him to No. 1. He actually made his debut in 1994, again during his first professional season. No Yankee has more Major League service time than A-Rod.

Mark Teixeira: No. 1 in 2003

After checking in as the No. 10 prospect before the 2002 season, Teixeira climbed all the way to No. 1 in 2003. He broke camp with the Rangers that year and began his journey to stardom.

Joba Chamberlain: No. 3 in 2008

Behind just Jay Bruce and Evan Longoria, Joba was the top pitching prospect a year after he convinced everyone he was a natural born reliever. I think that if Baseball America had ranked him as a reliever Clay Buchholz would have been No. 3 that year.

Derek Jeter: No 4 in 1995

After drafting him with the sixth overall pick in 1992, the Yankees signed Jeter in time for him to accumulate 237 PA that year. He debuted on BA’s Top 100 as the No. 46 prospect, and then climbed to No. 16 the following year. He peaked in 1995 at No. 4, dropping to No. 6 before his breakout 1996 season.

Phil Hughes: No. 4 in 2007

Just before the birth of RAB, Baseball America named Phil Hughes the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball. The 2007 Yankees had plenty of pitching problems, including a hamstring injury that kept Chien-Ming Wang on the DL all of April. Chase Wright got smacked around, so when the Yankees needed a starter in late April they called on Hughes. That is still his best season as a starter.

Nick Johnson: No. 5 in 2000

After two years of absolutely mashing the ball in the minors, Johnson climbed all the way to the No. 5 overall prospect in 2000. He missed that entire season, though, which dropped him to No. 10 in 2001. He fell another three spots in 2002, to No. 13. He was the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect from 1999 through 2001, dropping to No. 2 in 2002, behind Drew Henson.

CC Sabathia: No. 7 in 2001

The 20th pick in the 1998 draft, Sabathia pitched well enough in 1999 to make BA’s Top 100, debuting at No. 57. After again pitching well in 2000 he jumped to No. 7 — and to the majors. He pitched 180.1 innings that year, taking away his rookie status. He was Cleveland’s No. 1 prospect in 2000 and 2001.

Chan Ho Park: No. 14 in 1994

A year after the Dodgers signed him as an amateur free agent in 1994 Baseball America rated him the No. 14 overall prospect. He walked a few too many hitters at AA, but produced results. Still, that moved him to the No. 41 prospect overall in 1995. After a season in which he posted a 4.91 ERA at AAA Baseball America ranked him the No. 18 prospect in 1996. Strangely, he didn’t make the Dodgers’ 1994 Top 10 list. That honor belonged to Darren Dreifort.

A.J. Burnett: No. 20 in 2000

An eighth round pick by the Mets in 1995, Burnett never cracked even the team Top 10. Before he could break out the Mets traded him to Florida in the Al Leiter deal. That very season he killed A ball for the Marlins, striking out 14.1 batters per nine innings. That earned him the No. 21 spot on BA’s Top 100 in 1999. He moved up one spot after a rough 1999 season in AA, but then went up to the Marlins and exhausted his rookie status that season. He was Florida’s No. 1 prospect in 1999 and 2000.

Nick Swisher: No. 24 in 2005

Swisher was, now famously, picked in the first round of the 2002 draft by an overly excited Billy Beane. He didn’t make the Top 100 heading into the 2003 season, and didn’t even make a list before the 2004 season despite working his way up to AA in 2003. He was Oakland’s No. 6 prospect that year, and he was No. 1 in 2005.

Andy Pettitte: No. 49 in 1995

A No. 49 overall ranking isn’t bad for a 22nd-round draft pick. He certainly earned the distinction, though. Over 608 minor league innings Pettitte posted a 2.46 ERA and earned a call-up in late April 1995. He was the Yankees’ No. 3 prospect that year after ranking No. 7 in 1994.

Curtis Granderson: No. 57 in 2005

The Tigers grabbed Granderson in the third round in 2002 and signed him pretty quickly. He dominated in his 240 PA, posting a .344/.417/.495 line at low-A ball. He took the system a level a year after that, posting good numbers at A+ before destroying AA in 2004. That earned him the No. 57 spot on BA’s list before the 2005 season, when he was also the Tigers’ No. 1 prospect.

Javy Vazquez: No. 83 in 1998

He had to repeat the Sally league in 1996 after posting a 5.08 ERA in 1995, but Vazquez cruised through the minors from there. He broke camp with the Expos in 1998, the year he was named the No. 83 overall prospect in baseball. The only place I can find the team rankings is at The Baseball Cube, but they do not have the 1998 prospect list for the Expos/Nationals.

Robinson Cano: N/A

Cano was considered one of the Yankees’ top prospects by 2004, though it wasn’t enough to earn him a spot on the Top 100, even after a relatively impressive 2004 season. BA rated him the Yankees’ No. 2 prospect headed into 2005, behind Eric Duncan.

Jorge Posada: N/A

No, Jorge Posada never made a BA Top 100 list. He peaked in 1995 as the No. 7 prospect in the Yankees’ system. That’s not uncommon for a 24th-round pick who OBP’d just above .300 in his third professional season.

Marcus Thames: N/A

Again, it’s unsurprising that Thames missed the BA Top 100 list. He was a 30th round pick who came out of nowhere to post a .321/.410/.598 line in 2001. That earned him the No. 7 spot on the Yankees’ 2002 prospect list, but not Top 100.

Al Aceves: N/A

But he was the Yankees’ No. 7 prospect in 2009 after impressing in 2008.

Brett Gardner: N/A

Gardner, a 2005 third round pick, never made a Top 100. His speed tantalized scouts, but his bat did not. He diligently worked his way through the Yankees’ system, though, reaching AAA by 2007. He was ranked the Yankees’ No. 8 prospect heading into the 2008 season, when he exhausted his rookie eligibility.

Randy Winn: N/A

Winn was never a top prospect, and his minor league numbers make it clear why that’s the case. A third round pick in 1995 by the Marlins, he was the team’s No. 8 prospect the following season, but after a disappointing 1996 season he fell off. By the time he started to hit in the minors he had already exhausted his rookie eligibility.

Mariano Rivera: N/A

He had a 2.35 ERA in his minor league career, but this 1990 amateur signee never made a Top 100. He was No. 9 on the Yankees’ prospect list in 1993 and then again in 1995. He was a starter throughout the minors, making 14 relief appearances in 1991 and then never again. Not even in a 2002 rehab appearance. He pitched two innings to start a game in rookie ball an that was it.

Damaso Marte: N/A

Nor did he ever make a team Top 10, as far as I can tell.

David Robertson: N/A

The 2006 17th-round pick made his pro debut in 2007, stifling the competition in the Sally and Florida State leagues. After tackling AA and AAA in 2008 he made his major league debut, but he really made strides in 2009. He could play a prominent role in the bullpen in 2010.

Ramiro Pena: N/A

Not only that, but he also never appeared in a Yankees’ Top 10. Hell, he didn’t even make John Sickels’s Top 21 in 2009.

Francisco Cervelli: N/A

Same deal as Pena. No Top 10 Yanks, not even Sickels’s Top 21 in 2009.

Sergio Mitre: N/A

The Cubs drafted Mitre in the seventh round of the 2001 draft and watched him pitch pretty well through the minors. Not well enough to ever make the Cubs’ Top 10 prospects, but well.

Looking at A-Rod’s spray charts from 2009

At this time last year the Yankees had a big problem on their hands. Their third baseman and best hitter had just undergone surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. He’d miss at least a month, and after that would need time to work back into playing mode. His spring training was essentially his rehab process, which deprived him of at-bats against live pitching. Still, a recovering A-Rod is better than a healthy Cody Ransom, so the Yankees were glad to have him back.

By the numbers, the injury seemed to only affect A-Rod’s batting average upon his return. From May 8 through the All-Star break he hit .256/.411/.548. His power was clearly there, as his .292 ISO shows. Still, there had to be concern about that low batting average. A-Rod was a career .306 hitter heading into last year and had hit .302 in 2008. While he did compensate with an OBP and ISO that outpaced his career marks, A-Rod’s value comes from his all-around abilities. Taking away the hit for average tool would not be good news.

Here’s his spray chart from May 8 through the All-Star break:

The distribution seems relatively even, though it looks like everything he hit to right field went for an out. This might signal a pull tendency from A-Rod, but you can see in this chart that pitchers definitely pitched him inside, presumably testing that hip. There’s also a typical cluster down and away. Perhaps A-Rod was just chasing that down and away stuff, leading to poorly hit balls to right, thus explaining the trend we see on the spray chart.

Before going to A-Rod’s post-break spray chart, let’s see how he fared in his mostly healthy 2008 season:

That appears to be awfully similar to the pre-break 2009 chart. Pitchers’ tendencies to pitch him inside also remained consistent. This is where Hit F/X will come in handy. Instead of having a simple breakdown of where balls in play landed, we’ll see how hard each ball was hit, and at what trajectory. That might explain why A-Rod’s batting average dipped markedly while his spray chart looked pretty much the same.

Now for the post-break spray chart:

And, again, we don’t see too much difference here, either. The field looks more filled-in because A-Rod got more post-break at bats. It also seems like he dunked in a few more hits to shallow center. Yet despite the similarities in his pre- and post-break charts he hit .310/.394/.518 in the second half. His power fell off as his average rose and OBP dropped. Again, it seems like there were other factors, such as trajectory and velocity, that played into A-Rod’s performance, rather than where he hit the ball.

Just to get a better look, here’s A-Rod’s 2009 chart:

Look at the 2008 and 2009 charts next to each other if you can. I wonder how much of the difference comes from playing in a different home park with different power alleys. That’s certainly something to consider in this case.

Bronx Banter Breakdown on the Yanks’ offense

Last week, Alex Belth of Bronx Banter asked me to join him and Cliff Corcoran on his SportsNet NY web-only video series Bronx Banter Breakdown. In the first installment posted yesterday, we talked about pitching. In the second installment, available today, we talked about the Yanks’ offense and what we expect out of a team that is primed to score a lot of runs this year. Check it out below.

Anyone need a place in New York?

Er, I kinda don’t want to do this, but it’s better than Craigslist. One of our roommates just moved out on short notice, so we’re looking for someone to take the spot. Place is in Astoria, rent is cheap, and we’re going month-to-month (no lease). If you know anyone looking, my email address is on the right. Again, I’m not 100% comfortable posting this, but I’d rather go down this path than CL. Please, refrain from mother’s basement jokes in the comments.

Listen: Mike on The Sports Show Live

I’m going to be on The Sports Show Live tonight to do a little Yankees-Red Sox debate with Randy from Over The Monster. Click the first link to listen in, and get the phone number to call in if you want. Don’t miss it!