Open Thread: March 9th Camp Notes

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

The latest from Tampa…

  • The Yankees are playing the Pirates tonight, but the game isn’t on television anywhere. Rafael Soriano is scheduled to pitch, and Eduardo Nunez will come off the bench to play the outfield. That’s interesting. (Erik Boland & Chad Jennings)
  • Mariano Rivera threw live batting practice for the first time today, and could make his Grapefruit League debut on Friday. (George King)
  • “There’s nothing hot,” said Brian Cashman about the pitching market. “I’ve got nothing going on. Zero.” Both Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon can opt out of their contracts if they don’t make the team out of Spring Training, though Colon has expressed an interest in being the longman if he doesn’t crack the rotation. No word on whether or not Garcia is willing to do the same. (all Marc Carig)
  • The Yankees brain trust and the beat writers played their annual game of paintball, so Chad Jennings held us over with a look inside the GMS Field clubhouse. Sounds rather big. The team officials topped the beat writers 4-1. You’re letting us down, fellas. (Yankees PR Dept. & Mark Feinsand)

Here’s the open thread for the evening. MLB Network has the Orioles-Red Sox game (live) while SNY is carrying a replay of today’s Mets-Astros game. The Rangers, Knicks, and Nets are all in action at different times as well. Enjoy.

What to do when you can’t sell your mansion

Mark Teixeira hasn’t played for the Rangers since the middle of the 2007 season, but he still owns a pro athlete-sized house in the Dallas area simply because he can’t sell the place. The house was listed at $5.75M but has since dropped to $4M, but Tex still can’t find a taker. We’re in a recession, you know. In the meantime, he’s renting the place out to New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton for $15,000 a month. I know nothing of multi-million dollar mansions, but that strikes me as a bargain considering what one bedrooms go for in the city these days.

Here’s some pictures of the place, which will surely make you regret the decision to throw right-handed as a child. (h/t rebexarama)

Link Dump: Betances Edition

Aside from the whole fifth starter competition, the storyline of the spring has been the Yankees’ young arms. You can’t find anyone that doesn’t love Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances has wowed everyone with a high-octane fastball and a knee-buckling curveball. Danny Wild of caught up with the right-hander, asking him about his elbow surgery, whether he prefers starting or relieving, his upbringing, the whole nine.

Meanwhile, Aris Sakellaridis spoke to two of Dellin’s brothers, who recapped their meetings with Yankees adviser Ray Negron and chairman Hal Steinbrenner. As you can imagine, reaching the big leagues is a dream that Betances shares with his entire New York born and raised family. Make sure you check both pieces out, some great stuff in there.

The RAB Radio Show: March 9, 2011

There was a bit of a hoopla last night into this morning regarding the Yankees and Aroldis Chapman. Word was that the Yankees made him an offer significantly larger than the one, but Brian Cashman debunked that. Still, you have to wonder what the situation would have been if Chapman had signed. Mike and I dive into the topic.

The Yankees plan to play Eduardo Nunez in left field tonight during the later innings. What does this say about his chances to make the team?

Podcast run time 27:44

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

A-Rod’s place among all-time third basemen

(Kathy Willens/AP)

Last week, while eulogizing Duke Snider, Joe Posnanski broke down the Hall of Fame by position. His main point centered on the lack of center fielders elected, but in the process he noted that there are just as few third baseman in the Hall. That might seem odd at first, but a glance at the career bWAR leader board for third baseman makes it a bit clearer. There just don’t seem to be many overly encouraging third basemen on the list.

Or are there? Yesterday Beyond the Boxscore’s Adam Darowski looked at Hall of Fame third basemen in a different way. Instead of using straight WAR he used what he terms weighted WAR. That is, it places a greater emphasis on seasons in which the player produced 3 or more WAR, and even greater emphasis still on seasons with 6 or more WAR. He suggests that , based on this view, a number of other third basemen deserve enshrinement. That led me to wonder where Alex Rodriguez stood among them.

Figuring out A-Rod‘s case is a clean job, since he moved to third base in 2004 and hasn’t moved around since. During his shortstop years he produced 61 bWAR, which ranks 11th all-time among players with at least 75 percent of their games at shortstop. And that’s just the first nine years of his career. In the following seven seasons he has produced 40.9 WAR at third base, which puts him 18th, just behind Adrian Beltre. I asked Darowski about his wWAR, and said it was 67.4, which, if we look at his chart, places him on this list. A 1.6 WAR season, says Darowski, will put him within his wWAR cutoff. A 5.1 WAR season will put him ahead of Robin Ventura in wWAR.

If numbers with aggressive acronyms don’t do it for you, here’s another accomplishment A-Rod is nearing. If he hits 32 home runs this season he will have 300 since he moved to third base. There are only 10 third basemen in history with 300 or more home runs. None of them, of course, has 300 home runs as a shortstop. In fact, the only player in major league history with more than 300 home runs, with 80 percent of his games coming at the position, is Miguel Tejada, who has 300 exactly. A-Rod had 345 before 2003.

(After I finished this, Adam wrote up shortstops using wWAR. His 182.3 career wWAR destroys all non-Schmidt third basemen and non-Wagner shortstops.)

For some people we’re prone to exaggeration. Chuck Norris is a bearded Superman. Matt Wieters is the Hulk with a baseball bat. That need not be the case with Alex Rodriguez. The facts are mind-blowing on their own.

2011 Season Preview: Phil Hughes

As we count down the days and weeks leading up to the season, we’re going to preview the 2011 Yankees by looking at each of their core players and many, many more. A new preview will go up every day, Monday through Friday, from now until Opening Day.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think there was anything more exciting to watch in 2010 than Phil Hughes coming into his own as a big league starter. He made every start without incident (except when they skipped him), made the All-Star Team, and tossed up an absolute gem in his first career playoff start against the Twins in the ALDS. There’s not much more anyone could have asked from the kid in his first full season as the member of a Major League rotation.

Heading into 2011, Hughes is no longer the young, interesting guy in the fifth starter’s spot. He’s being counted on as one of the team’s top three starters, and could very easily start the second game of the season behind CC Sabathia. There were plenty of positives as well as a handful of negatives to be taken away from last season, which is why pinning down what Hughes will do in 2011 is so tough.

Best Case

It’s very, very easy to dream on a young pitcher like Hughes. He was so dominant early in the season, with a sub-3.00 FIP in his first eleven starts and an ERA to match, that you can’t help but fantasize about him doing that over a full season. Hitters couldn’t catch up to his fastball or lay off the breaking ball in the dirt, and the cutter moved just late enough to induce weak contact or swings and misses. It was glorious.

Well, the best case scenario has Hughes repeating that level of performance over a full season. How would he go about doing that? By mastering a changeup, first of all, which would be akin to Jorge Posada suddenly turning into a Gold Glove caliber catcher. That pitch is what Phil needs to better combat left-handers, who tagged him for a .323 wOBA in 2010 and .343 over his entire career. Being able to consistently retire lefties will also help control the homerun issues that surfaced last in the season; 17 of the 25 homers Hughes allowed came off the bat of a lefty.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Developing a changeup and limiting the damage caused by left-handers would certainly be a step in the right direction for Phil, but we’re looking at the best case scenario here. For that to be realized, Hughes would also have to get back to being the ground ball machine he was in the minors, when he boasted a stellar 54.9% grounder rate. Strikeouts and grounders are a wonderful way to live life, and would vault the Yankees’ young right-hander into the game’s upper echelon of starting pitchers.

The last thing that needs to be addressed is durability. Hughes held up pretty well over the largest workload of his career last season, throwing 192 total innings between the regular season and playoffs. The Yankees say he’ll be without limits last year, so 200+ is no longer some nice round number to target down the road, it’s an expectation. If Hughes can boost his strikeout rate to eight per nine while keeping his walk rate around three per nine with a 50% ground ball rate, we’re talking about a right-handed Sabathia, a five win pitcher at the minimum and a seven win monster at the peak.

Worst Case

Young pitchers can be a risky proposition, especially when you stick them in the AL East. Hughes passed the test in 2010, but there were definite red flags down the stretch. He became very homer prone in the second half, allowing 17 long balls in his final 88.1 IP (1.73 HR/9). His strikeout rate dropped while his walk rate climbed as the season went progressed, and Phil’s two starts against the Rangers in the ALCS left a lot to be desired.

The worst case for both Hughes and the Yankees would be if those trends proved to be indicative of the right-hander’s true talent level instead of simply being a late season slump. In fact, the peripheral stats could continue to decline to the point where we’re looking at a pitcher struggling to get strike three or keep the ball in the park. The 2010 version of Javy Vazquez does a damn good job of approximating what Hughes’ worst case scenario would be this summer.

Beyond performance, there’s also the whole injury issue, which applies to any pitcher regardless of age, size, and track record. Hughes threw 80.1 more innings in 2010 than he did in 2009, and 46 more than his previous career high set half-a-decade ago. A jump like that can be dangerous, and one of the last things the team can afford this year is to lose one of their top three starters for an extended period of time.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

What’s Likely To Happen

The range of expectations for Hughes is pretty large this season. He could take his game to another level and emerge as one of baseball’s elite starters, or he could be replacement level cannon fodder. I don’t think many of us would be surprised if either happened.

Hughes has already said he’s aware that he hurt himself by not throwing his changeup enough last year, particularly early on, so I expect him to be a little more aggressive with the pitch out of the gate. That doesn’t mean he’s going to come out and starting throwing 25 a game, just enough to keep hitters off balance and honest. Phil doesn’t need it to be a bonafide put away pitch, just a show-me fourth offering that gives hitters something else to think about is plenty.

As Joe detailed a few months ago, most of the homerun issues stemmed from an ugly, eight-start stretch in the middle in the season. The Blue Jays were also especially unkind to Hughes, accounting for more than a quarter of his homers allowed despite being just 13.2% of his batters faced. He’s a fly ball guy (36.1% in 2010, 35.8% career), so homers are inevitable in Yankee Stadium, but giving up one homer for every ten fly balls like he did last year probably won’t happen again; that’s a rate just one-third of the game’s starters experienced.

One last thing I want to mention is that Hughes is still only 24 years old. That seems to get skipped over quite a bit. Believe it or not, talented pitchers that young have this weird, unexpected tendency to actually, you know, get better with experience. It’s strange, but trust me, it’s happened once or twice in the past. Hughes could improve his performance this season just because he has a better idea of what he’ll face as a starting pitcher over the course of a 162-game season.

If the Yankees get 175 IP out of Hughes with an FIP in the low-4.00’s like they did last year, it would be a win overall because he’ll be a productive starter. It’s reasonable to expect some improvement, though it might not be a major step forward. It could be incremental, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Cashman denies $54M+ offer to Chapman

Update by Joe (3/9/11 10:44 a.m.): According to Buster Olney, Brian Cashman denies having made an offer to Chapman. “We never made an offer… Never.” So there’s that.

Original Post (3/8/11 10:01 p.m.): From the head explodes department, Melissa Segura reports that the Yankees offered Cuban flamethrower Aroldis Chapman a contract “valued at more than $54 million” before he signed with the Reds last January. Holy crap. The info comes courtesy of a Florida law suit filed against Chapman’s representatives, the Hendricks Brothers and employee Carlos Thompson Rodney Fernandez. Chapman eventually signed a six-year deal worth just over $30M with Cincinnati.

The Yankees wined and dined the southpaw during the 2009 ALCS, though we heard they were out of the running a few days before he signed his contract. If true, well, we certainly can’t say the Yankees didn’t try. I have a feeling there’s (a lot) more to this story though.