Phelps finishes AzFL strong

This isn’t directly related to the Yankees, but former farmhand Breland Brown got busted trying to scam his way into the Australian Baseball League this winter. The Yankees signed him last offseason, but released him during Spring Training. Pretty crazy.

Hard-throwing Grant Duff has re-signed with the Yankees after becoming a minor league free agent at the end of the season. He’s been battling arm injuries for a few years ago. Also, David Phelps was named the Arizona Fall League Pitcher of the Week last week.

AzFL Phoenix (5-0 loss to Surprise) Monday’s Game
Corban Joseph, 2B: 0 for 4, 2 K
Ronnie Mustelier, 3B: 1 for 3, 1 K
Rob Segedin, LF: 0 for 3, 1 K

AzFL Phoenix (12-8 win over Surprise) Tuesday’s Game
Rob Segedin, DH: 0 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K
Dan Burawa, RHP: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 17 of 25 pitches were strikes (68%) … he’s had a tough time out here, good to see him finish on a high note

DWL Licey (10-9 win over Toros)
Hector Noesi, RHP: 1.2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2-2 GB/FB – a dud after three straight stellar starts

AzFL Phoenix (12-7 win over Salt River) Wednesday’s Game
Rob Segedin, LF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP
Ronnie Mustelier, 3B: 2 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Corban Joseph, 2B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB – finished with a crappy .227/.287/.371 batting line
Chase Whitley, RHP: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 4-1 GB/FB – 11 of 19 pitches were strikes (57.9%)

AzFL Phoenix (2-2 tie with Peoria in seven innings) Thursday’s Game … that’s it for them, the season is over
Ronnie Mustelier, DH: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K – finished at .344/.354/.516
Rob Segedin, LF: 0 for 3, 1 K – hit .250/.367/.407, which kinda sucks in this league
David Phelps, RHP: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 5-3 GB/FB – 47 of 64 pitches were strikes (73.4%) … 20 strikeouts and just three walks in his final five starts (23.1 IP)

Open Thread: Name the 2011 Yankees

Spoiler: He’s one of the answers to the quiz. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Nothing terribly interesting has happened on this date in Yankees history, so instead I’ll leave you with this Sporcle quiz. All you have to do is name every player that played for the 2011 Yankees in ten minutes or less. Easy enough, right? Well, you’ll be surprised. I missed four players, but I thought only one of those four was obvious. Give a try, post your scores in the comments.

After you’ve done that, use this as your open thread. There is a football game tonight, the Jets are playing the Broncos in Denver at 8:20pm ET. The game will be on the NFL Network nationally and on WPIX 11 locally. The Islanders are also playing. Talk about whatever you like here, it’s all fair game.

The changing face of Major League Baseball

Baseball’s GM meetings wrapped up today, and at the end MLB announced a few things that we knew were coming down the pike. First, they approved the Astros’ sale to Jim Crane. That comes with a game-altering change: the Astros will move to the American League West division in 2013, thereby creating two 15-team leagues. Second, MLB announced the addition of one Wild Card team from each league, expanding the total playoff pool to 10 of 30 teams. Both of these announcements will have far-reaching effects on the future of the sport.

Balanced Leagues

Given baseball’s current arrangement, having unbalanced leagues makes sense. It might create an odd-looking arrangement, with the AL West housing four teams while the NL Central has six, but it makes life much easier. With 14 teams in the AL and 16 teams in the NL, baseball was able to continue its tradition of keeping the leagues separate, or at least mostly separate, until they finally meet in the World Series. But with 15 teams in each league, having an interleague game every day becomes necessary.

More frequent interleague creates a greater urgency for a uniform set of rules. It’s unfair to ask AL teams to regularly play without their DH, just as it’s unfair to ask an NL team to find a DH among its string of bench players. But at the same time, changing the DH rule in either league would come under much heavier fire than any of the recently announced changes. The DH rule, as Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra has said, is akin to religion. We all have our beliefs, and no amount of argument, no matter how vehement and logical, will sway the other side.

Thankfully, it appears that the rules need not change. The Daily News’ Mark Feinsand notes that the number of interleague games will not change. That means they will essentially take those two weeks of interleague in June, plus the stale rivalry weekend, and spread them throughout the season. That does appear to be the best compromise for the time being. It means both leagues can retain their DH identities, and it keeps minimal contact between the leagues during the season. If MLB did feel the need to balance the leagues, they at least got this part right.

Added Wild Card

While moving the Astros to the AL creates little controversy, minus the DH discussion, adding a Wild Card team to each league inspires heavy opinions from all angles. From the few details we know, each league will now have two Wild Card teams, and they will meet each other for a one-game playoff. That will determine who plays the No. 1 seed in the LDS (or the No. 2 seed, depending on the standard divisional issues). As with most changes, this has both upsides and downsides.

On the upside is an incentive to win the division. In years past we’ve heard loud criticism that some teams have been able to go into cruise control in September, because they had such a big lead on a playoff spot. The Yankees were in such a situation the last three seasons. They could afford to ease up in September, because even if they lost the division they still had a comfortable cushion in the Wild Card race. The new system forces them to keep a foot on the accelerator, lest they get forced into that all-or-nothing playoff game. The other, obvious, upside is that more teams get a chance to make the big dance.

Still, this seems like an odd way to approach adding a second Wild Card team. One-game playoffs in baseball exist out of necessity, for the rare instance where two teams finish with the same record and there is a playoff spot on the line. That is, Game 163 just creates a situation where one team must have a better regular season record than the other. The new system turns that into an actual playoff game. The participants needn’t have equal records; in fact, in most years they will not. Instead they’ll face each other for a single game, with the entire season on the line, no matter how much better one team played than the other during a whole 162-game season.

That, to me, marginalizes the marathon that is the April through September baseball season. It penalizes a team that played better in 162 games, just to squeeze in another playoff team. And it all occurs in a single game, where all sorts of randomness can damn an otherwise deserving team. You can say that the Wild Card in general creates the same effect, and I’d agree. But this new system makes the situation that much worse.

When the time comes, there will be few complaints about the system. There might be a cry of foul here and there, especially when a team with a superior record loses the Wild Card game. But it almost certainly won’t turn interest away from baseball. In fact, keeping the added team in the playoff hunt, and putting a greater emphasis on the division (to the chagrin of the 4th-best team) could create a higher level of interest. It doesn’t have a universal seal of approval from fans, but these are the new realities of Major League Baseball.

Mailbag: Best Part-Timers

An all-time part-timer. (Allen Kee/Getty Images)

Conor asks: After your post on Darrell Rasner, I started thinking about what the best all-time Yankees’ lineup would be when made up of guys who played less than 162 games or made less than 30 starts for them. Not that Rasner would be on that team, it just got me thinking. Hopefully I get to see what you guys come up with.

Questions like this are why the Baseball-Reference Play Index exists. I used the 162 games/30 starts maximum and sorted by WAR, just because it’s one nice easy number. If you click the links next to each position, they’ll take you to the full Play Index search results, since I know many of you are dying to see them. Some of these guys weren’t actually part-time players, but they all were short-lived Yankees. Here’s the lineup…

Catcher (link)

The leader here is Frank Fernandez, who appeared in 149 games for the Yankees from 1967-1969. He managed to rack up 4.1 WAR during that time, most of it during the 1969 season (2.2 WAR). Interestingly enough, Fernandez hit just .204 in exactly 500 plate appearances with New York, but he had a .372 OBP. He drew 102 walks and had just 80 hits in pinstripes. How about that? The Yankees traded Fernandez to Athletics after 1969, and he played only 136 more games in the show. Russell Martin ranks fourth on this list with 1.3 WAR in 125 games.

First Base (link)

I was hoping it would be Doug Mientkiewicz, but alas, it’s someone named Buddy Hassett. He played 132 games for the 1942 Yankees, mustering 1.2 WAR. That was the final season of his seven-year career, most of which was spent with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Bees. Hassett hit .284/.325/.364 in pinstripes. Mientkiewicz is second on the list at 0.8 WAR, followed by John Olerud (0.7 WAR).

Second Base (link)

I had a feeling this post would consist of a lot of guys I’d never heard of before, and so far we’re 3-for-3. The top second baseman is Jimmie Reese, who was worth 1.2 WAR in 142 games from 1930-1931. He hit .286/.331/.402 in 468 plate appearances during those two years, then was sent to St. Paul of the American Association after the season to complete an earlier deal. Reese resurfaced with the Cardinals later than summer, but it was his final season in baseball. Mariano Duncan is next in line at 1.0 WAR, and I’m guessing most of which comes from his signature phrase: “we play today, we win today, das it.”

Shortstop (link)

Yeah, another guy I haven’t heard of. This one is Willy Miranda, who racked up a whopping 0.8 WAR in 140 games from 1953-1954. He hit just .241/.295/.322 in 194 plate appearances after being purchased from the St. Louis Browns. Miranda was traded to the Orioles with nine (!!!) other players for Don Larsen, Bullet Bob Turley, and five others. Teams need to start making trades like that again. Tony Fernandez, the guy who got Wally Pipp’d by Derek Jeter, is third on the list (0.5 WAR).

Third Base (link)

Playoff performance doesn’t count here, but I have imagine Aaron Boone’s third base leading 1.0 WAR would be higher if we counted his homer in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. He’s the leader at the position by far (0.7 WAR ahead of the next few players), hitting a modest .254/.302/.418 in 208 plate appearances and 54 games. We’ll always have that homerun though.

Left Field (link)

We’re going all the way back to 1935 for the leader in left, Jesse Hill. Mr. Hill hit .293/.362/.390 in 444 plate appearances across 107 games that season, piling up 1.8 WAR. That was his rookie year, and after the season the Yankees traded him to the Washington Senators for a guy named Bump Hadley. That’s awfully close to Perd Hapley. A bunch of recent Yankees rank second (Rondell White), third (Xavier Nady), fourth (Andruw Jones), and fifth (Austin Kearns) on the list.

Center Field (link)

The Yankees officially changed their name from the New York Highlanders in 1913, and that’s how far back we have to go for our center fielder. A gentleman by the name of Harry Wolter accumulated 1.8 WAR in 127 games that season, hitting .254/.377/.339 in 521 plate appearances. We are cheating a bit here, because Wolter had been with the Highlanders since 1910. If we’re disqualifying him, then the leader is another Harry, Harry Rice. He was worth 1.6 WAR in 100 games in 1930. Kenny Lofton is tied for third on the list with 0.7 WAR.

Right Field (link)

The MVP of our team is the father of a seven-time MVP. Bobby Bonds played just one season in New York after being acquired from the Giants in exchange for Bobby Murcer, but during that one season he hit .270/.375/.512 and became the first 30-30 player in Yankees history. That performance was valued at 5.2 WAR in 1975, but he was traded again after the season, this time to the Angels for Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers. Someone named Tim Hendryx racked up 2.6 WAR in 153 games from 1915-1917, finishing a distant second to Bonds on our right field list.

Designated Hitter (link)

The DH pickin’s are pretty slim, but Big Daddy Cecil Fielder managed to crank out 0.7 WAR in 151 games and 653 plate appearances from 1996-1997. He hit 26 homers and put up a .260/.352/.440 batting line. Number two on this list? Some kid named Jesus Montero, who hit .328/.406/.590 and was worth 0.5 WAR in 18 games for the 2011 Yankees. If we include guys that played just half of their games at DH (rather than the 75% I had been using), then Jack Clark’s 1988 season is your leader at the position (3.1 WAR).

One player worth mentioning here is Glenallen Hill. He only played in 40 games for the Yankees, split between DH and left field and pinch-hitting, but he managed to accumulate 1.4 WAR in pinstripes. That’s what happens when you slug 16 homers in 143 plate appearances. That’s rooftop power, as they say.

Starting Pitchers (link)

The starting rotation is surprisingly strong, and led by a former Cy Young Award winner. Black Jack McDowell spent just one year in pinstripes (1995), but he made exactly 30 starts and was worth 4.0 WAR in 217.2 IP. I’ll always remember him for flipping the bird to the Yankee Stadium faithful though. The number two starter might not qualify for this list within the next seven months or so, it’s Freddy Garcia. Sweaty Freddy was worth 3.4 WAR in 26 starts this past season, and there’s still a chance he’ll be back for more in 2012.

McDowell and Garcia are pretty well separated from the rest of the pack, but the mix of guys behind them is quite interesting. We’ve got Larry Gura (2.7 WAR in 28 starts from 1974-1975), Pascual Perez (2.6 WAR in just 17 starts from 1990-1991), and then Don Gullett (30 starts in 1977) and John Candelaria (30 starts from 1988-1989) tied at 2.5 WAR. Bartolo Colon (2.4 WAR in 24 starts this season) and Jon Lieber (2.3 WAR in 23 starts in 2004) are right there as well. Rasner, the inspiration for this post, is 23rd on the list at 0.2 WAR in 29 starts. He’s just behind Denny Neagle (0.2 WAR in 15 starts) and just ahead of Carl Pavano (-0.1 WAR in 26 starts) and Babe Ruth (-0.3 WAR in four starts).

Relief Pitchers (link)

Since Conor didn’t give me any playing time criteria for the relievers, I used a cutoff of 60 appearances. That’s roughly a full season of work for a typical reliever. Our bullpen ace would be Fred Beene, who threw 158.2 IP across 54 appearances from 1972-1974. His 1.99 ERA was good for 2.4 WAR. Number two on the list is Al Aceves, who racked up 2.1 WAR in 59 appearances and 126 IP from 2008-2010. Our two left-handed relievers are Grant Jackson (1.6 WAR in just 21 games in 1976) and Dave LaRoche (1.4 WAR in 52 games from 1981-1983), father of Adam and Andy.

The rest of the bullpen is filled out by the likes of Doug Bird (1.8 WAR in 38 games from 1980-1981) and a bunch of recent Yankees. Kerry Wood managed to be worth 1.5 WAR in his 28 appearances last season, and the duo of Luis Ayala and Cory Wade were worth 1.4 WAR and 1.3 WAR this season, respectively. Our depth pieces are Jeff Robinson (1.3 WAR in 54 games in 1990) and Ray Scarborough (1.2 WAR in 32 games from 1952-1953). Pretty interesting mix of guys, though it’s not surprising many of them have played in a recent past given the continued evolution of the modern bullpen.

Kershaw takes home NL Cy Young Award

Dodgers wunderkind Clayton Kershaw took home the NL Cy Young Award today, receiving 27 of 32 first place votes. The 23-year-old southpaw won the pitching Triple Crown this season, leading the league in wins (21), ERA (2.28), and strikeouts (248). He’s the first Dodger to win the award since Eric Gagne in 2003, and the first Dodgers’ starting pitcher to win since Orel Hershiser in 1988. Roy Halladay finished second in the voting, Cliff Lee in third.

Former Yankee Ian Kennedy finished fourth in the voting, receiving one first place vote. Congrats to him. The full results are up on the BBWAA’s site. The AL MVP Award will be announced Monday at 2pm ET. Curtis Granderson and Robbie Cano figure to get a decent amount of votes.

Preparing for the Rule 5 Draft

It snuck up on me a bit this year, but tomorrow is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. The deadline is usually sometime in the afternoon, 4-5pm ET, but that’s not terribly important. Anyone left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft can be selected by another team, and if that player manages to stick on his new team’s big league roster all season in 2012, they officially become that team’s property. Not a ton of players will stick, but there’s always one or two a year.

Generally speaking, high school players drafted in 2007 (or earlier) and college players drafted in 2008 (or earlier) are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year. It’s always tough to figure out who is eligible among the international signees since we don’t really know exactly when they signed, but I believe it’s anyone that signed in 2006 (again, or earlier) this year. The Yankees got a jump on things by calling up both Austin Romine and George Kontos in September, both of whom would have been eligible had they not been added to the 40-man roster.

The Yankees currently have six open spots on their 40-man roster, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use all six to protect prospects. Some of those spots will be used for a new starting pitcher or some bench players or another reliever, players that will contribute to the Major League team in 2012. The only two players that will definitely be added to the 40-man by tomorrow are D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps, two starters with a healthy amount of Triple-A innings under their belt. Guys like that are Rule 5 Draft gold, they wouldn’t last more than the first five picks.

The rest of the crop is pretty sketchy. There’s David Adams (can’t stay healthy), Bradley Suttle (hasn’t done anything worthy of being added), and Dan Brewer (hurt last year, was the Triple-A fourth outfielder on Opening Day). I suspect all three will be left unprotected, it’s hard to see any of them sticking on a 25-man roster all year in 2012. Pat Venditte will be an interesting case, he’s got the results and the ambidextrous thing gets him noticed, but there are serious questions about how his very fringy stuff will translate to the show. If the Yankees don’t protect him, which I don’t think they will, then some team will almost assuredly grab him just to see what he’s got in Spring Training. The novelty is too great to pass up.

Among international free agent signees, I do believe that Zoilo Almonte is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter, and I do think the Yankees will add him to the 40-man. The Greg Golson/Justin Maxwell/Chris Dickerson trio is out-of-options, and there’s a non-zero chance the Yankees could lose all three before the end of Spring Training. If that happens, the outfield depth is suddenly Colin Curtis and Melky Mesa. Not good. Almonte, a switch-hitting corner outfielder, had a fine season split between High-A and Double-A this year (.276/.345/.459 with 18 steals and 15 homers).

That’s three players (Mitchell, Phelps, Almonte) I expect to be added to the 40-man roster before tomorrow’s deadline, thought there’s always the possibility of a surprise or two, like Reegie Corona a few years ago. What the hell was that about? Anyway, I don’t see any locks to be selected other than Venditte, there are no Lance Pendleton/middle relief types worth a Spring Training look.

The Anti-Cliff Lee

Nearly a full twelve months after the Yankees watched Cliff Lee spurn New York and depart from Texas for Broad Street in Philadelphia, they find themselves yet again eyeing a big name free agent starting pitcher. This year’s premium talent is lefty C.J. Wilson, and he’s reportedly seeking six years and $120m, a hefty sum for a pitcher with just two years of experience as a starter in the major leagues. Aside from the fact that he’s a lefty from the Rangers seeking big money, Wilson really is the polar opposite of Lee. In a lot of ways, C.J. Wilson is everything that Cliff Lee was not.

The easiest place to start is their performance. Cliff Lee is a savant when it comes to control, while Wilson is one of the most wild starters in baseball. In the last two years, only three people have walked more batters than C.J. Wilson’s total of 167 (Gio Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ryan Dempster). Not even A.J. Burnett has walked as many as Wilson over this span. By comparison, in the two years prior to hitting free agency, Lee walked a mere 61 batters, tied for the lowest amongst any pitcher with at least 200 innings pitched. Their career walk rates (Wilson 3.75 BB/9, Lee 2.15, but not higher than 2.00 since 2007) really drive the point home.

Wilson and Lee are also very different in their personalities and home lives. Based on what I could gather from watching the way Lee handled his negotiations and subsequent press conferences, he seems to be a very laid back guy. He’s from Arkansas, not just geographically but also in the sense that it’s his home. It’s where he’s from. Like a smart husband, Lee also placed a very high premium on the wishes of his wife and family when choosing a new team. The positive experience his wife and kids had in Philadelphia went a long way towards convincing him to stay. By comparison, Wilson is a hipster from California, to put it bluntly. He tweets with the best of them, he’s outspoken on political issues, and he’s gregarious. He’s also not married, a factor which he emphasized when talking about his pending free agency. Wilson’s a free bird, limited only by his suitors.

There’s also the interest factor. It’s hard to know how much Lee really likes New York and would have been happy playing here. Personally, I never got the sense that he was dying to spend his off-days in Central Park and go out to dinner in SoHo, but that’s just post hoc explanation. Like a lot of free agents in high demand, Lee made the Yankees, and several other teams, fly down to Arkansas to pitch him on a new deal. By comparison, Wilson seems to want to play in New York, or at least have the Yankees bid up his price. He even had his agent ask the Yankees if C.J. could come to New York and visit the Yankees to discuss a new contract. After the way the Lee negotiations went, it’s almost refreshing.

But here’s the rub, and here’s where their greatest dissimilarity stands out most prominently. As of this morning, the Yankees still hadn’t gotten back to Wilson’s agent to let him know if they want him to come meet with them. Unlike Cliff Lee, over whom the Yankees front office and fan base nearly salivated, no one in New York seems to want C.J., certainly not at any price. No one seems to be clamoring to open the vault in the Bronx for the Texas lefty. Perhaps this and all the other differences between Wilson and Lee will create a commonality between the two after all: hitting free agency only to end up in a new home other than New York.