Fan Confidence Poll: February 14th, 2011

Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card, lost in ALCS

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.


When the new house almost had a roof

A few days ago, someone I know pointed me to The site was first established in 1998, and I’m sure I’ve run across at some point or another while aimlessly browsing the Internet. This time though I dug into the unrealized concepts page and found a treasure trove of material. Included on that page were models of a new Yankee Stadium with a retractable roof, and so let’s hop in the Wayback Machine.

A model of Yankee Stadium with the roof closed. (Photo via Stadium Page)

This is a tale that can begin in the late 1980s, the early 1990s or the dawn of the current century. Since the new stadium boom embraced baseball, George Steinbrenner had lusted after a new park. He saw the revenues and sellout crowds in Baltimore and Cleveland and wanted a piece of the action. After all, this was a time before the Yankee Dynasty, before A-Rod, before sellout crowds every night. The 1993 Yankees, in fact, averaged just 29,800 fans per game in a stadium without luxury boxes that could seat nearly 57,000.

As the Yanks won, Steinbrenner’s calls grew louder. He wanted to tap into the unrealized potential that a stadium with its new amenities, fine dining and corporate suites would bring into the Yanks’ coffers. Even after winning four of five World Series, the Yanks’ average attendance in 2000 was just under 38,000 fans per game, and Steinbrenner was quite content to blame it on the stadium.

The Boss knew as well that he had a sympathetic ear in City Hall. Rudolph Giuiliani was an unabashed baseball fan, and he took seriously the Yanks’ idle threats to move to New Jersey. In the mid-1990s, he promised a solution to the city’s baseball teams’ stadium woes, and in 1998, for instance, George Steinbrenner was eyeing the West Side as a new home for the Yankees. HOK had proposed the Hudson Yards area as a perfect site for a $1.06 billion with a retractable roof, and the Boss loved it.

The stadium model shown here with the roof open. (Photo via Stadium Page)

As the late 1990s dragged on, city agencies though started pushing back against Giuliani’s plan. He wanted to give major subsidies to both the Mets and the Yankees for the new stadiums, and the Citizens Budget Committee pushed back hard in 1999. Much to the chagrin of the mayor, they proposed a cap on the city giveaways. Much to the detriment of late-2000s New York City, the CBC would be last major governmental opposition to city subsidies for the two baseball stadium.

By early 2001, Giuliani had yet to come through on his stadium vows, and with his two-term stay in Gracie Mansion nearing an end, he had to act fast. In April, he recognized that his successor wouldn’t be so generous with their grants and vowed to find the dollars before the year ended. ”I think it is good for the city if we get them wrapped up now,” he said, “because I do have a different view than at least some of the people who would like to succeed me.”

In July, stadium rumors reached a crescendo as rumors of a July 4th announcement swelled. As then-Times columnist Murray Chass noted, many in the New York sports world expected the city and Yankees to announce a new stadium, complete with a retractable roof, in the Macombs Dam Park. It did not come to pass.

As the summer wore on, the mayor kept up the pace. A September 9 article made it clear that Rudy was staking part of his legacy on the new stadiums. One opponent spoke out against what he feared would be “a midnight deal that is inherently against the public interest.” Two days later, history intervened, and the stadium issue would escape much public scrutiny until the waning hours of Giuliani’s term.

An overhead shot of the open roof. (Photo via Stadium Page)

On December 29, 2001, armed with models complete with retractable roofs, Guiliani, the Yankees and Mets neared stadium deals. For a combined cost to the city of $1.6 billion, the two clubs would build their stadiums where their new homes currently sit today. Each team would receive $800 million in tax-free municipal bonds, and the city would keep various stadium revenues. When the deal became official, Steinbrenner seemed annoyed that he — and not the city — would have to pay for the stadium costs, and the price tag — with roof — was set at $800 million.

These deals rapidly unraveled. Mayor Michael Bloomberg worked to torpedo the deals in 2002 because they were too team-friendly, and he eventually worked out a new arrangement in which the Yanks would front more — but definitely not all — of the costs associated with the construction. Gone from the plans that emerged in 2004 and 2005 was the roof. The Yanks decided to save the $200 million and build an open-air park instead.

When I see the renderings from early 2001 and the plans that emerged, I’m struck by how similar they are. Perhaps I shouldn’t be though. HOK designed the stadium with a roof, and HOK designed the current stadium without a roof. For the most part, they simply took the roof off of their earlier models and changed the outfield configuration. The plan to reimagine and recreate the original look and feel of old Yankee Stadium had been a part of the replacement plans since Steinbrenner got the new stadium itch.

Should we rue the lack of a roof? I know in 2009 a lot of fans were bemoaning the price tag. For one point whatever billion dollars, couldn’t they stick a roof on that thing? But of course, the Yanks saved some money keeping the park roof-free, and they saved the atmosphere of the game. When it comes to baseball outside, I’m a traditionalist. I’ve seen games in a dome, and it’s surreal to watch baseball on a carpet with a roof over your head. Even with the roof open, it hovers over the stands and the field. Furthermore, the space needed for the roof would likely have stretched further into the Bronx parkland. I’m happy to take games in the new stadium without that hulking contraption overhead. The Yankees were too once the city made them pony up the dollars.

Open Thread: Drew Henson

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Man, I thought Drew Henson was going to be a superstar back in the day. Baseball America drooled over his athletic ability, ranking him as one of the 24 best prospects of the game in 2000, 2001, and 2002. And yet, the guy has one career big league hit to his credit in a whopping nine plate appearances. That was long before I realized that striking out in a third of your at-bats in Single-A was a bad sign. As an added bonus, Henson also busted in football, but his career earnings total something like $20M. That’s like, nine hundred and fifty grand per MLB hit and NFL pass attempt. Henson turns 31 today and was pretty much my first prospect crush, but that first bust always cuts the deepest.

Anywho, here is the open thread for the night. None of the hockey or basketball locals are playing, but there’s usually something good on TV on Sunday. You’ll survive. Talk about whatever you want here.

Food For Thought: Andruw Jones

It’s too bad the Yankees aren’t getting the 20-something version of Andruw Jones, huh? Of course, he and Reggie Jackson accumulated their WAR in very different ways. The fielding component of Jones’ WAR (+24.0) is the third highest of all time, trailing only Brooks Robinson (+29.4) and Mark Belanger (+24.1). Ozzie Smith is right behind him at +23.9. That’s some serious company. Reggie was all offense (just +7.5 defensive WAR), but a run scored is the same as a run saved in the end.

Jones should be a fine fourth outfielder in pinstripes, but a far cry from his days in Atlanta. That assumes the Yankees will actually, you know, get him under contract one of these days. He agreed to terms about three weeks ago now, and we’re still waiting on the physical and signature. There’s a chance the team is just waiting until Spring Training begins, so they could simple slide Damaso Marte on the 60-day DL rather than sacrifice someone of the 40-man roster. That’s pretty much all the official business left for the offseason, which happily ends tomorrow.

(related graphs)

Small Sample Smackdown: Shane Vs. Shelley

Shane Spencer displays the sweet swing of a future hall-of-famer - or a fourth outfielder. (AP Photo/John Dunn)

I fell hard for Shane Spencer in the summer of 1998. These were the days before B-ref and Fangraphs were standing by, 24-7, to challenge my snap judgments and gut my deluded visions of spunky fringe players one day morphing into perennial all-stars. Not that it would’ve mattered. In my eyes, Spencer represented the next wave of talent produced by a Yankees farm system that was starting to grow suspect. Like Jeter, Bernie, Pettitte, and Posada before him, Shane Spencer would blossom into a homegrown superstar, a five-tool phenom when finally given the opportunity.

Spencer indeed solidified his presence on the Yankee roster with a 5-for-5, 2-homer demolition against the Royals on August 7th. He would follow this rookie performance for the ages with a four-week exhibition of offensive dominance during which the small sample size gods played Trading Places with Spencer and budding superstar Magglio Ordonez, who slugged an eye-gouging .354 during the same span. In addition to slamming clutch home runs, Spencer performed admirably at all three outfield positions and gave the veteran Yankees a needed dose of versatility and athleticism in a push that culminated with a 24th World Series championship. In the end, he crushed 10 homers in 67 at-bats in 1998, posting an absurd 1.321 OPS.

Nevermind that Spencer was having his way with a pile of September call-ups, feasting on obscurities like Albie Lopez, Tim Byrdak, Matt Whisenant, and Mike Sirotka. Knowing this now, it’s little mystery why he didn’t skip a beat from his .967 OPS showing in Columbus prior to his call-up.

In reality, Spencer was organization fodder from the beginning, despite his month-long destruction of American League tomato cans. Drafted in the 28th round in 1990, he did put up some impressive power numbers in the minors, including a .967 OPS at Triple-A Columbus in 1998. But the Yankees organization must’ve seen something ominous about the hulking outfielder, whom the New York media predictably likened to Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, whatever other big, white, countrified sluggers they could invoke from yesteryear. For one thing, there was the fact that he couldn’t hit right-handed pitching: over seven major league seasons, Spencer slugged .392 against righties verses .497 when facing southpaws. And then there was his age. At 25 and after toiling in the bush leagues for a decade, Spencer had reached his prospect expiration date. In fact, he’d actually played on the same Class-A Greensboro Hornets squad with Mariano Rivera, Ramiro Mendoza, and Jeter. He wasn’t the next generation of Yankees prospects; he was the prospect who never was.

Ultimately, Spencer’s career probably split the difference between the Yankees organization’s ceiling for him, which was Triple-A lifer, and my own hysterical expectations. He turned out to be a useful major league platoon outfielder, playing solid defense, getting on base at a decent clip, and running into the occasional gap double (.326 wOBA). Other than a rapid decline that was accelerated by injuries and substance abuse, the biggest hindrance to Spencer’s game was the absence of one standout offensive tool. He was a nice player to have around. But corner outfielders need to rake. Unless they play for the Mets.

Like Spencer, Shelley Duncan exploded onto the scene with an all-out assault on American League pitching in 2007. Except unlike back in ’98, I was now nine years older and wiser and remained cautiously optimistic about the raw, rowdy giant’s long-term prognosis. Although he’d been a second round pick in 2001, it quickly became apparent why Shelley remained mired in the minors despite impressive power numbers, which included a .926 OPS in 387 plate appearances prior to his 2007 call-up: he was the quintessential all-or-nothing slugger. Although Duncan had crushed 148 homers in seven minor league seasons, he’d done so while amassing 606 strikeouts. And while he proved early on his ability to destroy an average major league fastball – while scaring the soul out of opposing infielders as he careened, crazy-eyed, toward them – Duncan was prone to flailing at breaking pitches in the dirt or fastballs at his numbers.

I was tempted to buy into the narrative of Duncan as a crazed Frank Howard whose dose of WWE moxie was precisely the ingredient that the methodical Yankees had lacked since their championship string of the late-90s. But I refused to bite. Still, it would be interesting to see the degree to which he adjusted when major league pitchers started finding the inevitable holes in his looping swing.

Duncan’s rush to glory also lasted about a month. Between July 20th and August 21st of ’07, prior to him being exposed as a poor-man’s Dave Kingman on speed, Shelley posted a Playstation-like 1.072 OPS and played solid corner outfield defense (0.4 UZR). In addition to unleashing his maniacal energy, Duncan also brought back the forearm bash from its late-80s cocoon. As a kid, I’d always been envious of the Canseco-McGwire mullet-fortified version. Now, two decades later, there was Shelley, plotting in the dugout, ready to pounce on the next wincing, flinching teammate trotting toward the plate. Judging from the expressions of players who were forced to placate the uber-rambunctious Duncan, the 2007 iteration of the Yankee forearm bash had literally nothing to do with anyone on the team beyond Shelley. As soon as he was gone, it was gone. But really, who was going to be the one to tell this 6’5” monster to cut it out?

Unlike Shane Spencer, who can always brag to his kin of helping the Yanks capture a World Series ring in his rookie campaign while simultaneously playing on one of the greatest dynasties ever assembled, Shelley Duncan’s 2007 season appears insignificant to the casual observer in retrospect.

Despite Shelley’s four-week window of dominance in ‘07, then-manager Joe Torre, perhaps sensing that Duncan’s early success had been an aberration, scaled back Shelley’s playing time for the balance of the season. While there were few decisions that Joe Torre made in 2007 that I didn’t find maddening, Shelley Duncan’s inconsistent usage was a battle I was willing to concede. In hindsight, Torre was probably right: As a hitter, Duncan had already been exposed, and in his final 12 games of the season, he hit just .200 with a .646 OPS. As a Yankee, Duncan’s early promise as a long-ball threat never fully materialized, and he ended up signing with Cleveland in 2010, where he put up a serviceable .722 OPS in 259 plate appearances while reaching base almost never (.317 OBP).

And now for the small-sample-size throw-down for the ages:

I think we have a winner, and it’s not close. While Shelley was superb, Shane was freakish.

Sample size notwithstanding, both Spencer and Duncan captured the excitement of Yankees fans and the attention of hero-mongering sportswriters. But even when accounting for significant regression, neither player’s output would prove reflective of their actual skill sets or prologue to their future production. Yankees fans know this now and probably even grudgingly realized it then. It’s funny, though: As pro sports become even more fraught with cynicism, the unheralded farm-filler call-up who makes a big initial splash has a way of turning us into quixotic dreamers.

The ones to come…PECOTA-style

Yesterday afternoon I put together a requiem for an offseason gone awry, analyzing the starting pitchers on whom the Yankees missed out on and analyzing their PECOTA projections for the 2011 season. The offseason is nearly complete now. 1 more sleep, 1 more sleep and it’s all over. In recognition of that, what follows is an examination of possible trade targets for the Yankees this summer. Some of these pitchers have been explicitly mentioned in trade rumors; others are merely speculatory subjects. All of them are intriguing trade options, and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system can help formulate expectations for the coming year.

Nasty. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Francisco Liriano

2010: 191.2 IP, 3.62 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 9.44 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, 3.47 K/BB, 53.6 GB%.

2011 PECOTA projection: 161.9 IP, 3.75 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 8.30 K/9, 3.30 BB/9, 2.53 K/BB, 46.40 GB%.

Francisco Liriano’s 2010 campaign was nothing short of dominant. It’s rare to see such a combination of strikeout-heavy stuff, excellent control and a scorched earth of groundballs. As Mike put it a few days ago, Liriano is one of the best 10 pitchers on the planet, and he showed it in 2010. PECOTA sees a lower ground-ball percentage for Liriano in 2010, below 50%, which represents the half way mark between his 2009 and 2010 campaigns. However, statistically speaking 2010 was most similar to Liriano’s 2006 season, before he was injured, and in 2006 Liriano registered a 55.3 GB%. This might suggest that when Liriano is “on” and has all his pitches working, he’ll be a groundball machine.

Oddly, Liriano had a remarkably high BABIP in 2010, .336, a figure that goes a long way towards explaining the nearly full run discrepancy between his ERA and his FIP. In 2011, PECOTA projects this number to fall slightly, to .315. As I noted yesterday though, the Twins swapped out JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson for Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Hudson has a record of solid defense, and Hardy is a defensive wizard, so it remains to be seen how the defensive downgrade in the middle of the infield will affect the ground-ball heavy Liriano.

Ultimately PECOTA projects Liriano to come back to earth a bit in 2011. It’s not a surprise; with regression-based projection systems it’s rare to see outlandishly good statistical lines. His projection is certainly nothing to be ashamed of though. The takeaway is that PECOTA expects Liriano to be very effective if he can stay healthy.

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Chris Carpenter

2010: 235 IP, 3.22 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 6.86 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 2.84 K/BB, 51.1 GB%

2011 PECOTA projection: 136.7 IP, 3.21 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 6.20 K/9, 2.40 BB/9, 2.61 K/BB, 50.8 GB%.

Carpenter essentially missed all of 2007 and 2008 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but has found his stride since returning. His 2010 IP total of 235 represents his second-highest mark in his career, and while he wasn’t as dominant in 2010 as he was in 2009 (2.78 FIP, 55.0 GB%) the season was still very good. PECOTA likes Carpenter’s odds to replicate his 2010 level of performance, but isn’t optimistic about his ability to make 35 starts. Injuries are difficult to predict, but it’s worth noting that Carpenter has had serious injury in the past and will be 36 years old by the time the trade deadline rolls around. Marcel is more optimistic than PECOTA, projecting him to throw 197 innings of 3.50 FIP ball.

Whether the Cardinals will make Chris Carpenter available is an open question. Given the unfolding drama of the Albert Pujols negotiations and the fierce competition they’ll face in the NL Central from the Reds and the Brewers, it could be a very tough summer for the team. It’s hard to imagine them punting on the year and moving Carpenter at the deadline, especially if they’re still trying to convince Pujols to stay, but weirder things have happened. If he’s healthy and available Carpenter would be a great fit behind CC Sabathia in the Yankee rotation.

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Gavin Floyd

2010: 187.1 IP, 4.08 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 7.25 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, 2.60 K/BB, 49.9 GB%

2011 PECOTA projection: 190.7 IP, 4.24 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 6.90 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, 2.25 K/BB, 45.6 GB%

This projection is a bit surprising. PECOTA isn’t bearish on Floyd’s ability to stay healthy, it’s bearish on his ability to be as good as he’s been in the past. The projection is more similar to Floyd’s 2008 line of 206 IP, 4.77 FIP, 6.32 K/9, 3.05 BB/9 and 42.1 GB%. Floyd has been better in both years since, rattling off FIPs of 3.77 and 3.46, strikeout rates of 7.60 and 7.25, and walk rates of 2.75 and 2.79. Yet the projection system doesn’t seem confident in his ability to maintain a nearly 50% groundball rate. Given his lower career averages this is understandable, but whether his increased groundball rate in 2010 was a fluke or the product of pitcher maturation or an alteration in pitch selection or location is something that warrants more study.

The Marcel projection system is slightly more bullish on Floyd, seeing 173 innings of 3.80 FIP ball with a strikeout rate of 7.18 and a walk rate of 2.86. Given that Floyd is entering what should be his prime as a pitcher, I would tend to side with Marcel here. The CAIRO system splits the difference between the two, seeing 183 IP of 4.07 FIP ball with a 6.98 K/9, a walk rate  of 2.80 and a a 47.1 GB%.

(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Aaron Harang

2010: 111.2 IP, 5.32 ERA, 4.60 FIP, 6.61 K/9, 3.06 BB/9, 2.16 K/BB, 36.8 GB%

2011 PECOTA projection: 189 innings, 4.34 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 7.40 K/9, 2.40 BB/9, 2.79 K/BB, 39.6 GB%

Aaron Harang is the same age as Cliff Lee, but feels like he’s been in the league for far longer. Harang’s story is somewhat sad. From 2005 to 2007, he was one of the better pitchers in the National League. 11 starts into the 2008 season though Dusty Baker asked Harang to pitch 4 innings in relief in an extra-innings affair against the Padres. He was on only three-days rest, and still made his next start four days later. But something was wrong, and Harang saw a rapid decline in performance. People have long speculated that the cause of this decline was the relief appearance, and yesterday Harang finally admitted it. Via Hardball Talk:

Including his next start four days later, Harang threw a total of 239 pitches over the course of eight days. The damage was done.

“What it did,” said Harang, “is fatigue me beyond the point of recovery. I started to change my arm angle to compensate for the fatigue and that’s when my forearm started to bother me.”

Harang tried to pitch through the injury initially, but eventually spent over a month on the disabled list later that summer. He has an ugly 5.00 ERA over 379 2/3 innings since the relief appearance in question. While he feels healthy now, he’s still trying to get his mechanics back in order.

It’s possible that Harang’s struggles have been overstated. Despite a horrific win-loss record and ERA in 2008 and 2009, he still managed to keep his K/BB ratio above 2.5 and even posted a 4.14 FIP in 2009. Regardless, Harang is no longer at risk of getting manhandled by Dusty Baker, having signed a 1 year, $4M contract with a $5M mutual option for 2012 with the San Diego Padres. Like Jed Hoyer and the Padres’ front office, PECOTA is a buyer. The system doesn’t see him fully regaining his past form, but it’s certainly not far off. After consecutive seasons of having a BABIP over .330, PECOTA projects it to drop to .311; it also sees him regaining his strikeout stuff and exhibiting good control. If he can regain his past mechanics and stay healthy, PETCO could be a great landing spot for this fly ball pitcher. He’s no Liriano, but he’s cheap and could prove to be a surprisingly big name at the trade deadline this summer.

Honorable Mentions

Johan Santana

Discussed in great detail here and here, Santana has a fantastic projection from PECOTA. Unfortunately PECOTA doesn’t know about his shoulder injury. This one’s on hold.

2010: 199 IP, 2.98 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 6.51 K/9, 2.49 BB/9, 2.62 K/BB, 34.5 GB%

2011 PECOTA projection: 210.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 7.20 K/9, 2.60 BB/9, 2.81 K/BB, 41.3 GB%.

Hiroki Kuroda

2010: 196.1 IP, 3.39 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 7.29 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, 3.31 K/BB, 51.1 GB%.

2011 PECOTA projection: 171.3 IP, 3.47 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 6.10 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, 2.72 K/BB, 50.1 GB%.

Analyzed here yesterday, Kuroda would be a fantastic trade target for the Yankees should the Dodgers decide to make him available this summer. Unlike Santana, he’s relatively cheap, the commitment is short and he gets tons of groundballs.

The best part about having an incomplete rotation is that it keeps things interesting. This spring fans will get to see the battle for the fourth and fifth starter position play out between veterans like Garcia and Colon and youngsters like Warren and Nova. Hopefully one or two can emerge as a viable option, allowing the Yankees to be patient this year and let the trade market develop. There may be good candidates on the market after all.

Open Thread: Erick Almonte

(AP Photo/Aaron Harris)

Opening Day 2003 is a memorable game for all the wrong reasons. That’s the game when Derek Jeter dislocated his left shoulder by sliding into third base and Ken Huckaby’s catching gear just two-and-a-half innings into the new season. The Cap’n spent 42 days on the disabled list, and his replacement at shortstop was a player that Baseball America considered the team’s 24th best prospect: Erick Almonte. He made a great first impression, going 2-for-5 with a homer in his first big league start two days later. It all went downhill from there though, Almonte mustered just a .260/.321/.350 batting line (.303 wOBA) in 111 plate appearances in Jeter’s stead, and he hasn’t appeared in the majors since that season. The Yankees signed Almonte as a 19-year-old free agent out of the Dominican Republic fifteen years ago today, and although his tenure in pinstripes was forgettable, he’ll always be the guy the Yankees turned to when Jeter hit the shelf. That’s gotta count for something, right?

Anyways, here’s your open thread for the evening. The Knicks are playing the Nets, though it is Saturday night. I recommend going out because the work week will begin before you know it.