If you read any Yanks blogs other than RAB, I’d guess that Yankeeist and TYU are among them. If you’re an astute reader, and I know you are, you might have noticed that those blogs no longer exist on our blogroll. That’s because they’ve merged. Head on over to The Yankee Analysts to read content from Larry, Moshe, and the rest of both blogs.
At long last, the Yankees have officially announced that they have signed outfielder Andruw Jones. The two sides originally agreed to terms about four weeks ago, but for whatever reason the signing was delayed. Jones was issued number 18 and had a locker in the clubhouse today, so it was only a matter of time.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees have designated right-hander Brian Schlitter for assignment. They claimed him off waivers from the Cubs last month, but they have more pitchers in camp on minor league contracts than they know what to do with. Schlitter was nothing more than an up-and-down guy, so he drew the short straw. I’m surprised that Reegie Corona lived to see yet another day.
With the Yanks’ radio deal with WCBS AM 880 expiring after the end of the 2011 season, rumors of a potential switch to another station along the dial are swirling. As Bob Raissman reported in the Daily News this weekend, the Yankee brass would like to cash in on the value of their radio rights, and other prominent media companies — including ESPN — are prepared to enter the bidding.
This isn’t the first time this winter that Raissman has broached the topic of the Yanks’ radio machinations. In November, he questioned the futures of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. If the Yankees switch frequencies, the new station managers may opt to bring in their own on-air talent. Sterling and Waldman, after all, elicit strong reactions — few positive — from Yankee fans, and fresh blood could drive up the ratings.
But before the personnel decisions are to be made, the Yanks must secure a good deal for themselves. They currently earn $13 million a year from WCBS, but as Raissman notes, the club would rather get Red Sox money — $18 million a year. In a bad market for radio, could the team cash in? If the right outlet enters a bidding war, they certainly could, but the fans might lose out.
Raissman notes that ESPN-1050 with its weak and confined signal could be a likely landing space. He writes:
ESPN-1050 will be a player for Yankees rights. It could play the role of the “desperate” outlet. Acquiring Yankee baseball would instantly fill a huge void for a station hustling for ratings, bringing it higher visibility from a vast audience that has no idea ESPN-1050 even exists. A 1050 partnership with the Yankees would instantly turn up the competitive heat on WFAN, home of the Mets, by increasing – probably significantly – 1050’s ratings.
There’s a major stumbling block for ESPN-1050 – its weak signal. Two Dixie Cups attached by a string is a powerhouse by comparison. Seriously though, Yankees brass probably doesn’t want its games airing on a station with – literally – no juice.
ESPN can alleviate the problem by purchasing a station with a strong signal. Industry sources say ESPN has shown interest in buying RXP 101.9, an FM station owned by Emmis Communications. Emmis was asking $125 million for the station, but the price has apparently dropped to $100 million. If ESPN does not acquire a station with a big-time signal, but comes in with the highest bid, would the Yankees decide to glom the money at the expense of being stuck on 1050?
The Cardinals tried a similar move in 2005, but it backfired. Fan complaints pushed them back to the KMOX powerhouse this year, and the Yanks were certainly watching that saga unfold. Meanwhile, Raissman notes that the Yanks could try to push the Mets off of WFAN or they could buy their own radio station spots by purchasing time on another network.
No matter how this ends, two off-field storylines here are worth watching. The first concerns Sterling and Waldman. Older fans seem to enjoy Sterling’s histrionics while younger fans would prefer a better broadcaster. Will the next radio broadcaster opt for traditional or change? Second, will the Yanks flip to a weaker signal? Fans in Connecticut and New Jersey simply cannot get ESPN 1050 over the air, and the Yanks would alienate a significant portion of the fan base if they do. Such a change could have far-reaching ramifications for the club looking to cash in on valuable broadcast rights.
It’s pitchers and catchers day, which means that we get to invent some news. A few items swirled around camp on the first day, including bits about CC Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain. We look at that and a few other items of note.
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Last year was really a tale of two seasons for Phil Hughes. He was brilliant early on, striking out close to a batter per inning (8.1 K/9) and earning a trip to the All-Star Game. Things started to come apart down the stretch, as his strikeout rate fell (6.6 K/9) and he suddenly become homer prone. Opponents had just a .295 wOBA (.138 ISO) off Hughes in the first half (which exactly matches Jeff Francoeur’s 2010 mark, for perspective) compared to a .330 wOBA (.181 ISO) in the second. Although most of our focus was on Phil’s changeup, perhaps we should have been paying attention to one of his other pitches.
For the most part, Hughes is a three-pitch guy. He throws a regular old four-seam fastball that sat right in the 92-94 mph range all season, a sneaky little cutter in the high 80’s, and a big breaking over-the-top curveball. That last one is the offering we’re going to focus on. The table on the right shows how often Hughes threw his curve, plus how often the batter swung at it and how often they swung and missed, broken down between the two halves of the season.
The first thing that (should have) jumped out at you was the whiff rate. Hitters swung and missed at Hughes’ curve 8.6% of the time in the first half, but that fell all the way down to 3.4% in the second half. That 5.2% drop is drastic, and it’s compounded by the fact that he started throwing the pitch a whole lot more often down the stretch. Turning to PitchFX, we can see that the vertical break of the curve was fairly consistent throughout the season, but the pitch was drifting all over the place horizontally…
Click the image for a larger view or better yet, look at this gif of the two graphs overlaid onto each other. It’s easier to compare them that way. The curve is the splotch of blue in the lower right quadrant.
The majority of Phil’s second half curves ended up about three or four pitches from the center of the plate to his glove side, which for all intents and purposes is right down the middle. In the first half it was more like five to seven inches off center, a pretty big difference. Hughes’ bender was was just far enough away from righties and too far inside on lefties for them to do any major damage in the first half, but they had a little easier time getting to it after the break.
Not only was Hughes’ curve finding the heart of the plate with more regularity in the second half, but he also lost about two miles an hour off the pitch. Hitters had that much more time to react to a pitch over the plate, a straight up bad combination. A power curve that generated swings and misses becamee a little more loopy down the stretch and simply wasn’t missing any bats. The decline of the curveball (theoretically) explains the decline in Hughes’ whiff rate, which in turn explains the decline in his overall strikeout rate.
There’s two things I should mention because they seem relevant enough. First of all, the All-Star break is right around when Hughes eclipsed his innings total from the previous year. He threw 105.1 total innings in 2009, and following his first start after the break in 2010, he was already at 106 IP. Could be a coincidence, could be meaningful (fatigue?). The other thing is that his release point changed, raising about six inches from the first half to the second. Here’s a gif comparing before and after. Again, it could mean something, it could mean nothing.
The changeup is undoubtedly going to be priority number one for the Yankees’ young hurler in 2011, but getting the curveball back to where it was in the first half will be key as well. Hopefully it’s nothing more than a fatigue issue and an offseason of rest does the trick. If it’s a mechanical issue, well those can be a pain in the ass.
Big ups to Texas Leaguers for PitchFX data and graphs.
Spring Training has officially begun. Pitchers and catchers reported to the team’s complex in Tampa today, and Joe Girardi held an opening “welcome to 2011″ press conference. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he didn’t really say anything groundbreaking, it was all pretty standard staff. But still, hooray for baseball.
With some help from the unparalleled beat writing crew, let’s recap the presser. Just about every link goes to Twitter, so in all seriousness you don’t have to click them. I’m just giving credit where it’s due …
- “I feel good about the guys we have in that clubhouse,” said Girardi, with regards to his questionable rotation. “They can get it done.” I wonder if he said that with a straight face. (Mark Feinsand)
- “[We’re] going to look at everyone in camp,” added the skipper, referring to the fourth and fifth starter’s spot. He called that it an “open competition.” (Erik Boland)
- Unsurprisingly, Girardi feels good about A.J. Burnett‘s ability to rebound from 2010. “I just have a feeling in my gut that he’s going to have a good year … I know how much A.J. cares.” That and $2.50 will get him on the subway. (Feinsand & Boland)
- In his second full year as a starter, Phil Hughes will be free of innings limitations. “It’s kind of nice,” said Girardi. I figured Hughes is good for about 200-210 innings last week. (Bryan Hoch & Boland)
- Girardi was very explicit about who will hit atop the order this year. “[We] signed [Jeter] to be our shortstop and our leadoff hitter.” Surprised? You shouldn’t be. (Ben Shpigel)
- Girardi danced around a question about CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause, simply saying that “right now he’s a New York Yankee.” (Hoch)
- Frankie Cervelli is not guaranteed the backup catcher’s job, supposedly. “That’s going to be a competition,” and Girardi acknowledged that kids like Jesus Montero and Austin Romine are “knocking on door.” Montero, sure, not so sure about Romine. (Boland)
- Brett Gardner played hurt in the second half last year (wrist), which we knew already. (Boland)
- “We wouldn’t come to Spring Training if we didn’t expect to win the division.” Amen, championships are not won in February. Yankees fans are far too familiar with that. (Hoch)
Here’s a few miscellaneous notes from throughout the morning…
- Rumors of Sabathia’s weight loss have been confirmed; just about every reporter in camp said he was noticeably slimmer. “I’m 290, so I’m actually what it says on the back of my card,” said the lefty, who officially dropped 25 lbs and will probably lose another five to ten in camp. “I stopped eating Cap’n Crunch every day … I used to eat that stuff by the box.” CC added that he hopes to play another eight or ten years. (Hoch, Hoch, Feinsand & Boland)
- Guest instructors this year include Yogi Berra, Tino Martinez, Lee Mazzilli, David Wells, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Ron Guidry. Boomer and Mazzilli are the first-timers. (Hoch & Marc Carig)
- Last, but certainly not least, we have new uniform numbers. Eric Chavez gets 12, Andruw Jones 18, Mark Prior 22, Ronnie Belliard 26, Rafael Soriano 29, Pedro Feliciano 31, Freddy Garcia 36, Bartolo Colon 40, and Russell Martin 55. Cervelli now rocks number 17. How dare they disrespect Chris Basak like that! (Feinsand & Hoch)
The first day of camp often functions as a frequently asked questions session. In years past we’ve heard reporters ask about the relationship between Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and other similarly banal issues. This year they wasted no time in finding CC Sabathia and asking him about the clause in his contract that allows him to opt out after this season.
This topic gained some prominence earlier this winter, while the Yankees were still in pursuit of Cliff Lee. At first Sabathia kept his statements ambiguous, saying that he’s “not going anywhere.” During a TV appearance at Madison Square Garden CC was a bit more concrete in his language. Interviewer Jill Marting opened by asking him why he decided not to opt out of his contract. CC accepted the premise of the question, saying that, “that was an easy decision.” Case closed, right? Of course not. It won’t be closed until after the season ends. That means the question remains open, and that reporters will question Sabathia about it.
This morning Sabathia held court. When asked about the opt out, he again walked the tightrope. According to Joel Sherman, Sabathia said that he wouldn’t exercise the opt-out, without actually saying the words. This is exactly what we’ve heard from him in the past. “I’m here,” he said repeatedly. But we know that: Reporters made it clear this morning when they noted the weight he lost this winter, around 25 pounds. What we’re all wondering is whether he’ll be here next year, and the year after. That question remained unanswered, and by Sabathia’s indications it will remain unanswered. He won’t speak about the issue for the rest of the season.
Yet he did speak to the New York Post after his press session. In that interview he came across as a many willing to explore his options. “Anything is possible,” he said. Later he said that he’s “not thinking about anything beyond Opening Day.” Those don’t sound like the words of a man committed to remaining in New York under the current terms of his contract. That isn’t to say that he’s going to leave or even that he’s going to opt out. It does mean that he’s going to wait on that decision and make it based on what’s best for him at the time.
There are indications that Sabathia will stick around beyond this season. He has established his family here, buying a house and making it his year-round residence. His kids go to school here, and apparently he has asked about high schools for his son, who is currently seven years old. But he could exercise his considerable leverage in order to work out a new deal with the Yankees after this season. Conceivably, he could go as high as Cliff Lee’s current contract. Sabahtia has a longer track record of success than Lee, and he’ll be a year younger than Lee when the latter reached free agency. After all, Sabathia did say that he wanted to pitch another eight to ten years.
I have confidence that Sabathia will remain a Yankee for the forseeable future. I can even see him retiring in pinstripes. But I do not think that he will play the 2012 through 2015 seasons under the original terms of his contract. The Yankees need him, and they have the resources to pay him. Thankfully, as with most hot stove issues, we can put this behind us until November. He won’t talk about it, so we can forget about it for the time being and enjoy his performances every five days. It’s just another sign that baseball is that much closer.