Spring Training Game Thread: Let’s play two

The Yankees already won one game today, beating the Tigers at home in Tampa by some score that doesn’t matter. What is important is that CC Sabathia was the man on the mound, throwing his breaking balls for strikes and his fastballs by hitters. He tired once he approached his limit of 75-80 pitches, but that’s to be expected. Mariano Rivera threw ten pitches in a flawless inning, and Alex Rodriguez hit a ball that cleared the George M. Steinbrenner Field sign in left-center, making Jesus Montero‘s blast off the M look rather pedestrian.

As for tonight’s game, the half of the team that didn’t play this afternoon will take on the Rays on the road. Trade bait Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre will give it another guy as they try to stake their claim to the fifth starter’s job. Exciting stuff.

Here’s the lineup…

Gardner, CF
Granderson, LF
Swisher, DH
Posada, C
Winn, RF
Miranda, 1B
Pena, 2B
Laird, 3B
Nunez, SS

Scheduled Pitchers: Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin, Jason Hirsh, Amaury Sanit, and Zach Segovia.

Also scheduled to play: Reegie Corona, Colin Curtis, Reid Gorecki, Edwar Gonzalez, Jesus Montero, and Austin Romine.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, and MLB Network lifted the blackout in the Yanks’ market, so the game is viewable by all. Enjoy.

Photo Credit: Mike Carlson, AP

Sanchez, Pope sent down

Via Bryan Hoch, we learn this afternoon that the Yankees have made two more cuts from the Big League camp. Ryan Pope — 3 G, 3 IP, 1 H, 3 K — has been reassigned to the minor league camp, and Romulo Sanchez — 4 G, 3.2 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 K — has been optioned to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Despite less than stellar Spring Training numbers, the Yankees will probably give Sanchez some Major League innings at some point this season if and when the bullpen needs some help. Slowly, slowly, the roster is getting whittled down.

What’s in a projection system?

You might have noticed throughout our 2010 season preview series that we’ve been combining various projection systems at the end of each article. Each system handles projections differently, so we wanted to get an average, just to see if we can weed out some more bias. Yet the same caveat still applies to the averaged projection: it’s just a projection. It’s not saying that this is how Player A will hit in 2010. It’s saying that, based on the methodology, this is the best idea we have of the player’s potential production.

As John Sterling often says, you just can’t predict baseball. There are so many moving parts, so many variables, so many unknowns that predictions simply cannot take them all into account. You can compensate for the unknown, but you can’t factor it into predictions and projections. Thankfully, projection systems aren’t trying to predict anything. Instead, they’re taking the available data and putting it through a process which outputs its best idea of a player’s future performance. But, because of all the factors it cannot consider, these projections are often inaccurate.

Then why have them? Because it’s better than assuming a player will repeat his numbers from the previous season. Few players put up the same numbers year after year. Production fluctuates. Players get unlucky and players go on hot streaks. A pitcher can throw a perfect game and then allow five runs in his next start. Projection systems try to smooth this out, taking all available data and processing it in order to give us an idea of a player’s next-year production.

Projection systems have their biases, too. PECOTA, for example, hammers older players. That does make a degree of sense, because production tends to decline as a player ages. Not every player, though, declines along the same path. So when PECOTA projects a rough year from Jorge Posada, it’s just using the data available as it relates to the player, a 38-year-old catcher. That doesn’t mean Jorge will necessarily decline along the same lines.

All this is to back up Rob Neyer‘s disbelief in the projections for a few Yankees’ veterans. There’s an article, written by a notorious pot-stirrer, that basically says, “here are the PECOTA numbers, the Yankees could be in trouble.” It’s pretty benign, really. PECOTA projections have been out since late January, so we’ve all had a change to look over them (or at least those of us with a BP subscription). We know that other projection systems aren’t bullish on the veteran Yankees. Yet I’m with Neyer when he says

I don’t know enough about the guts of PECOTA to rail against it. Instead I’ll just say that I don’t believe that Jeter is going to steal 10 bases this season, and that I don’t believe Mariano Rivera will save only 22 games. I will say, too, that if your system says those things, it’s probably worth checking under the hood just in case one of the belts is running a little loose.

In other words, projection systems use general principles to project individual players. While there’s certainly merit in the exercise, it sometimes can’t nail down the outliers. That might be what’s at play here.

Report: Yanks likely to trade Gaudin or Mitre

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are “almost certain” to trade either Chad Gaudin or Sergio Mitre before Opening Day given the team’s depth at the back of the rotation. He mentions that the Diamondbacks – who have Ian Kennedy penciled in as their number three starter at the moment – are looking for rotation help, but I’ll add the Mets and Dodgers to the mix as well. Both Gaudin and Mitre and out of options, so they would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors, which won’t happen. Trading them is clearly the way to go.

At a $2.95M salary for 2010, Gaudin makes more than three times as much as Mitre. He’ll also be a free agent after the season, while Mitre still has another season of arbitration eligibility coming to him. Mitre has been better this spring and is opening some eyes, but I’d look to deal him over Gaudin without thinking twice. There’s nothing in his track record to suggest he’s a better pitcher, while Gaudin has proven to be a league average AL pitcher (101 ERA+ in 463.2 IP in the AL) with a strikeout rate that has improved three straight years to the point of nearly one per inning. Neither player is going to fetch much in a trade, a Grade-C prospect at best, so I’d certainly keep the guy that would be more useful to the Yankees this season.

Spring Training Game Thread: CC to Mo

On two occasions last season, CC Sabathia handed the ball directly off to Mariano Rivera for a Yankee win, and he did it one more time in the postseason. He’ll do so again today, but under much different circumstances. Sabathia will be making his fourth start of the spring, and he’ll be relieved by Mo, who will be making his second appearance. You’ll see teams bring their closers into the early innings of exhibition games to make sure they face big leaguers and not Double-A fodder.

A few old friends will be coming to town today, as Austin Jackson is leading off for the Tigers and a Phil Coke’s mullet is scheduled to come out of the pen. Lefty prospect Andy Oliver is also scheduled to pitch for Detroit; I wrote about him for the 2009 draft, and he’s the guy who got the NCAA’s panties in a bundle by having the common sense to use an agent to negotiate a seven-figure contract on his behalf. The nerve.

Here’s the lineup…

Jeter, SS
Johnson, DH
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Thames, LF
Hoffmann, CF
Cervelli, C
Golson, RF

Scheduled Pitchers: CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Jon Albaladejo, Ryan Pope, Eric Wordekemper, and Royce Ring.

Also scheduled to play: Eduardo Nunez, P.J. Pilittere, Mike Rivera, Kevin Russo, Jorge Vasquez, Jon Weber, and David Winfree.

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET, and can be seen on YES. In case you didn’t already know, the Yankees play another split squad game tonight, and that one will be on TV as well thanks to MLB Network lifting the blackout. We’ll have another game thread later on.

After the jump, today’s game chat. Come join in.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

[Read more…]

2010 Season Preview: Whose future is now?

It seems like just yesterday, but it was actually way back in early 2007 that Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain were nothing more than a pair of exciting, yet unproven pitching prospects sitting in the Yankees’ farm system. Fast forward to today, and the unproven part of the equation still holds true to some extent, yet both players have lived what feels like a baseball lifetime since they last appeared on any prospect list.

Despite being just 23- and 24-years-old, respectively, Hughes and Joba have each experienced a roller coaster of success and failure in just a little over two years of big league service time. Hughes dealt with both injury and ineffectiveness as a starter before hitting his stride out of the bullpen last year, while Joba enjoyed success out of the bullpen before finding out that life isn’t easy as a starter in the AL East. It wasn’t always pretty, but the duo combined to provide the team with 243.1 innings of 4.14 ERA quality pitching on it’s way to the 2009 World Championship.

But that was then and this is now. The reality of life going into the 2010 season is that there is just one rotation spot for these two players. The one that doesn’t get that spot faces an uncertain fate. More than likely he’ll end up back in the bullpen working in some unknown capacity, but an assignment to Triple-A is not out of the question. Even though the Yankees are in a perpetual win-now mode, their decision will have an impact beyond 2010 because of where each player is in the development process.

Joba started last season as the number five starter, but he was quickly bumped up to number four status when Chien-Ming Wang‘s shoulder betrayed him. Working with reduced velocity, he entered the month of August with a shiny 3.58 ERA but a not great 4.33 FIP, though he struggled the rest of the way – not coincidentally, once the Joba Rules took effect – and finished the season with a 4.75 ERA that damn near matched his 4.82 FIP. It was certainly not what the Yankee faithful expected out of Joba, but I think we need to keep in mind just how unique his situation is. Just five other pitchers his age have managed to throw 150 innings in a single season in the AL East during the wildcard era, and just two of those five were able to post a better than league average ERA (Scott Kazmir in 2007, Jesse Litsch in 2008).

The bad news is that four of those five pitchers would make at least one trip to the disabled the very next season, and collectively their ERA would go from 4.40 ERA (4.28 FIP) to 4.74 (4.79 FIP). The lone survivor of the group is Edwin Jackson, who went from a 5.76 ERA (4.90 FIP) in 161 IP as a 23-year-old in 2007 to a 4.42 ERA (4.88 FIP) in 183.1 IP as a 24-year-old in 2008. Even though his ERA dropped nearly a run and a half, his core peripheral stats remained the same, suggesting that he didn’t improve much as a pitcher, if at all. If he does end up serving as the fifth starter in 2010, history is not on Joba’s side when it comes to a breakout.

Let’s see what the projection systems say…

Well, these don’t really do us much good. CHONE projects Joba to work strictly in relief next season, while CAIRO and ZiPS see him splitting time between the rotation and bullpen. If we completely remove the CHONE projection, we get a 4.15 ERA (3.99 FIP) and 1.42 WHIP in 156.1 IP as a (mostly) starter. These things are really unpredictable for young players with limited track records, so this don’t shed much light on anything.

Really, the most important thing to know about Joba heading into the 2010 season is that he’s finally stretched out and the Joba Rules are no more. Between the regular season and playoffs last year, he piled up 163.2 innings, putting him on track for 190-200 next year. If the Yankees send Joba back to the bullpen for the entire season, all that hard work over the last two years will have been for naught.

As for Hughes, he’s in an even weirder place than Joba. After making six good starts and one complete stinker last season, he moved to the bullpen and literally became the best setup man in the business. He held opponents to a .172-.228-.228 batting line out of the bullpen, posting a gaudy 1.40 ERA (1.94 FIP). All told, Hughes threw 111.2 innings last season (majors, minors, playoffs), his most since a career high 146 IP in 2006. There’s really very little precedent for a pitcher as young as Hughes having that kind of success in the bullpen over that long of a period of time, except for maybe former Halos’ closer Francisco Rodriguez, who last started a game in A-ball.

Time to turn to the projections…

Well these don’t really do much for us, but we knew that would be the case going in given Hughes’ unsettled track record. CHONE is the only system to go out on a limb and project him exclusively as a starter, while the other systems go the part-time starter/part-time reliever route. The Yanks have maintained that they envision him in the rotation long-term, so we’re in very muddy water here. If Hughes spent all of 2010 in the rotation, he would likely be looking at cap of 150 innings or so, putting him on track for his first unabridged season in 2011. I think we all know that Hughes can be a successful reliever if he returned to the bullpen in 2010, though maybe not as dominant as he was last year. As a starter, we really have no idea what to expect.

So the Yankees have a pretty big decision to make. They are stuck in the enviable position of having two high-ceiling players on the right side of 25 for one rotation spot. Of course, the Yanks could always call an audible and decide the best team going forward features both Hughes and Joba in the bullpen, but that would be a major upset. Both players are expected to be core pieces of the rotation going forward with the fallback option of becoming quality late-game relievers.  The 2010 season is just the next step in developing both Hughes and Joba into cornerstones pitchers.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

The last RAB fantasy Baseball League (I mean it this time)

Update (11:08am): 6:30pm on Friday is a stupid time, my bad. I’ll run the sign up post Monday night, with details to come that morning.

11:00am: Okay, we put together a seventh league. I’ll post the sign up info at 6:30pm ET today, so check back then if you haven’t gotten into one of our other leagues.