Changes to Stadium include more bike parking

A view of the bike racks inside the garage across the street from Yankee Stadium. (Photo via Starts and Fits)

As many of you know, my other blog is all about transit in New York City, and every now and then, the world of transit and the Yankee Universe collide. As the Yanks gear up for their second season in the new ballpark and more of the infrastructure associated with the new stadium opens, the team has introduced another way to get to the stadium: Take a bike.

Last summer, the Yanks drew headlines for the lack of bike options around the stadium. While the subway and Metro-North provide ready access to the stadium and it’s easier to find parking and a nightmare to drive, the nearest bike rack to Yankee Stadium was four blocks away.

Now, as Aaron, a Bronx resident, details at his site Starts and Fits, the areas around the stadium come with bike parking. The covered garage across 161st St. from the new stadium now contains space for 160 bikes, and a rack at the Metro-North stop provides parking for another 16. While these offerings pale in comparison with valet bike parking for San Francisco Giants’ games, this development is a step in the right direction for the Yanks and the Bronx.

This, of course, begs the question: Would people bike to Yankee games? The stadium is a quick jaunt across the river from Manhattan, and the on-going work to build a greenway along the East River would make bike commuting to the area less hazardous than one would assume.

Like most teams, Yanks have a number of injury risks

Throughout the spring, Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus has run through his team health reports. Today he hits the Yankees (sub. required). There aren’t many surprises in the article, as I suppose is the case for fans of each team. We’re intimately familiar with the team, and that includes each player’s injury history. The reports seem better resources for teams of which you’re not a fan. But, in any case, we’ll have a look at what Carroll says about the Yankees.

Carroll notes that the Yankees have lost a lot of money to injured players over the past few years, but that’s to be expected. They spend more on players, so when those players get hurt they will lose more to their DL stints. Last year they were again among the league leaders in dollars lost to DL time, mainly because Alex Rodriguez missed a month, but also because Xavier Nady and Chien-Ming Wang missed almost the entire season. What would interest me is a breakdown of time lost to the DL as a percentage of overall payroll. That might make the Yankees look a bit better.

Even with the total dollars lost, the Yankees have done a good job keeping their best players on the field. A-Rod, minus some fatigue in June, remained healthy following his surgery. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, two of the team’s elder statesmen, avoided injury in 2009. Jorge Posada spent a couple weeks on the DL, though not related to his surgically repaired shoulder. That held up just fine. Also, other than Marte in the bullpen and Wang in the rotation, the pitching staff held up remarkably well. So, again, it appears that the Yankees lost more money to the DL than most teams last season because they just spent more on players.

Surprisingly, Carroll lists Joba Chamberlain as the Yankees’ big risk. Not Nick Johnson, not Posada, not even A.J Burnett. His explanation is that the Yankees devised the Joba Rules because they thought he wouldn’t have stayed healthy otherwise. I suppose, though, that the same could be said for any 23-year-old pitcher who maxed out at just over 100 innings previously in his career. That doesn’t take away from Joba’s risk this season, though.

In terms of the red-yellow-green rankings, there aren’t many head scratchers. Mariano Rivera in the red is strange, but Carroll explains the rating and further says that it likely won’t much matter. Nick Swisher rates a yellow even though he hasn’t hit the DL since 2005. He hasn’t missed more than two days with an injury, at least according to Baseball Injury Tool since 2007. Still, the strangest ranking is Phil Hughes as a red. It’s not that Hughes doesn’t present an injury risk — he did, after all, miss significant time in both 2007 and 2008. However, Carroll’s reasoning seemingly falls victim to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy:

Hughes is in much the same boat as Chamberlain, but the difference is that Hughes has broken down under a starter’s workload even when not terribly taxed. As a reliever, he really seemed to find himself. For all the talk about Chamberlain being pushed to the pen, I have no idea why anyone would take Hughes out. As a starter, he’s very red. As a pure reliever, he’d be a very low yellow.

No, he didn’t break down as a reliever last year. Yes, he got hurt as a starter previously in his career. That doesn’t create causation, though. Young pitchers get hurt. It happens. Hughes also came up to the majors as a 20-year-old and might not have been physically ready for that type of workload. I can understand why he’s a risk, but again, I don’t think the reasoning is particularly sound.

Overall, the outlook for the Yankees in 2010 appears fair. The older players present injury risk, but other than Posada it doesn’t appear they’re more risky than any other group of veterans. Also, as Carroll notes, the Yanks do have some options if they lose certain players to the DL. Anything can happen with injuries, as we’ve seen over the past few years, but right now, on March 23, the Yankees are doing well. We have at least that to be thankful for.

Pleading the fifth

Phil Hughes, left, and Joba Chamberlain in spring action two weeks ago. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

On Thursday — or maybe Friday — says Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, all will be revealed. By the end of the week, the Yankees will have chosen their fifth starter. They will have ended the Great Spring Training Debate, and for now, at least, even though the team doesn’t need a fifth starter until April 24 in Anaheim, the Bombers will have a full rotation.

So who will it be? That, of course, has been the question since the World Series ended, and the buzz is certainly growing louder with every passing pitch around Phil Hughes. On Twitter and in columns, around the Internet and around the Yankees, Hughes is the word, and if Phil Hughes wins this battle, where, we might wonder, does that leave Joba Chamberlain?

For much of Spring Training, eyes have been riveted on the fifth starter race, and it is a problem the Yanks would love to have on an annual basis. Which young stud deserves a spot in the rotation? Is it the hard-throwing 24-year-old or the harder-throwing 25-year-old? Is it the guy with parts of two seasons of Major League starting under his belt or the guy who emerged as a calm and confident force in the bullpen in 2009?

The Yanks have played this out over the course of Spring Training as a seemingly fair fight, but at times, we might think the spot was Hughes’ to lose. The Yanks, despite inflicting it upon themselves with zany Rules, grew tired of Joba last year. They grew tired of repetitive 10-pitch at-bats, constant decisions to shake off his catcher, a seeming unwillingness to attack the strike zone. Even though the team had put Joba through three years of rules and limits, starts and relief appearances, the team seemed to feel as though Joba were to blame for the yo-yo approach to pitching development.

Yesterday, the fifth starter battle reached a crescendo. Joba Chamberlain took on the Yankees in an intra-squad game while Phil Hughes faced the Phillies later in the day. Joba was good — probably as sharp as he had been all year — but Hughes, despite allowing three wind-aided home runs, was better. He threw 4.1 innings, struck out six and walked no one. His change-up kept hitters off balance, and the Yanks love both his development and his 5:1 K:BB ratio this spring.

In excellent piece at the official site, Bryan Hoch goes in depth into the minds of Joba and Phil. The two talk about fighting it out for a spot and staying focused for a month while building up strength. What Hoch doesn’t discuss is the role of the loser in this fight. What will the Yanks do with Joba if he isn’t bound for the rotation?

The answer, I think, is simple, but I fear the tough or wrong outcome. The Yankees made a point of stressing that the Joba Rules are no more in 2010, but he has to pitch. He can’t just throw one inning every other game and expect to reach 200 innings any time soon. He has to throw regularly and deploy all of his pitches. He has to be ready to be the team’s sixth starter if another pitcher goes down. He has to stay on a routine, and to that end, Joba should be ticketed to AAA if he isn’t the fifth starter. (And whether he should be that anyway is a topic we could debate forever.)

If the Yanks take the easy way out, if they stick Joba into the pen, they’ll be doing no one any favors. They will be taking a pitcher who should probably be starting this year and stunting his development three years later. Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself because we’re still waiting for Thursday (or maybe Friday). But when it comes, when that announcement arrives, we’ll have something old to debate as something new all over again.

2010 Season Preview: Set up for success

Building a bullpen is a far from an exact science. After enjoying the left-right tandem of Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson in front of Mariano Rivera during the late-90’s, the Yankees stumbled through the overpaid (Steve Karsay, Kyle Farnsworth), the overworked (Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Scott Proctor, Luis Vizcaino), and the overmatched (Tanyon Sturtze, Juan Acevedo) before going back to the drawing board. They left the overpriced retreads in the past, and instead began hoarding interchangeable (and cheap) relievers with good stuff. Now in it’s third year, the bullpen plan has yielded some long-term pieces, and allowed the team to bring in establish veterans to fill in the gaps rather than carry the torch.

Joe Girardi will have his choice of relievers to use in the late innings this season, perhaps led by the soon to be 25-year-old David Robertson. Part of the epiphany draft of 2006 that has already produced five big leaguers, three pieces of trade bait, and one other player on the team’s 40-man roster, Robertson came into his own once he was called up from Triple-A Scranton for good last May. After getting his feet wet by striking out four batters and allowing just one hit in his first four innings following his callup, Robertson struck out 15 of the next 34 batters he faced, and by the end of August he was sporting a 13.28 K/9 and an ERA around 3.50 (3.28 FIP).

Because of the depth in the bullpen, Robertson was routinely used in the 6th and 7th inning of close games and to finish off contests when the team had a bit more of a cushion. He led the American League with a 12.98 K/9 (min. 40 IP), and only twelve AL relievers bested his 3.05 FIP. Although he appeared in only five games during the postseason, Robertson escaped a bases loaded, no out situation against the Twins in Game Two of the ALDS, and won Game Two of the ALCS with an inning-plus of scoreless relief.

The biggest negative about Robertson’s game is that he can get a little too liberal with walks, though his 4.7 BB/9 last year was a full walk worse than his 3.6 minor league mark. It’s worth noting that he did cut his walk rate down to just three batters per nine after July 24th last year, covering his final 21 innings (out of 43.2 total, so basically half his season workload). Robertson’s strikeout rate is right in line with his minor league performance, though his .347 BABIP in 2009 was pretty high, so maybe his .226 batting average against stands to come down some. He also shows a reverse split (3.70 FIP vs. RHB, 2.74 vs. LHB), which is always pretty nifty.

Here’s what the projection systems say…

That’s a quality relief pitcher right there. The walks are still high because of his limited big league track record, but the strikeouts are through the roof as well. As a fly ball pitcher, Robertson will always be a bit homer prone, though that’s hopefully something that can be improved with age. The projected performance is better than what most teams have available for their 8th inning, but there’s a chance K-Rob won’t be anything more than a 7th inning guy in the Bronx this year.

After pitchers and catchers showed up for work in Tampa, the Yankees jumped all over an undervalued free agent and signed 36-year-old Chan Ho Park to a one year deal worth just over a million bucks. A middling starter for most of his career, Park has posted a 3.29 ERA (3.70 FIP) with a 7.55 K/9 and a 2.30 K/BB ratio in over 120 innings as a reliever in the last two years. His velocity clearly plays up in relief, and last year he stranded all but four of the 21 runners he inherited (81%). Let’s look at the projections…

Park’s projections are a little screwy because of the time he spent as a starter in recent years, but rest assured, the Yankees will use him exclusively in relief (unless there’s a meltdown of biblical proportions in the rotation). Even if Park were to pitch to his projection, the Yankees could deploy him in low leverage situations or easily boot him off the roster. However, I suspect Park will outperform his projection, and will likely fill a role similar to what Al Aceves provided in 2009.

In addition to Robertson and Park, the Yankees also carry one of the game’s best lefty relievers in their bullpen. After battling shoulder trouble and general ineffectiveness early in his stint in pinstripes, Damaso Marte proved his worth and showed everyone what he was capable towards the end of 2009 and into the playoffs. He posted a 5.62 ERA after coming off the disabled list in mid-August, but that’s misleading because four of the five runs he allowed came in one disastrous outing. Overall, he had a 2.58 FIP and a 7.88 K/9 after returning, and went on to be nearly perfect in the postseason, retiring all but the first two men he faced.

At 35-years-old and a veteran of 540 big league appearances, Marte has proven to be death to lefthanders. He’s held them to a .197-.294-.287 batting line against during his career, and was even better than that in 2009 (.120-.214-.280). If he stays healthy, which is admittedly far from a given (shoulders are scary), Marte will be a major weapon in a division that features such lefty mashers as Adam Lind, Nick Markakis, Carlos Pena, and the corpse of David Ortiz. His performance against righties has improved as his career has progressed, but with guys like Robertson and Park aboard, Girardi shouldn’t have to deploy him against hitters of the opposite hand too often.

Let’s see what the five freely available projection systems have in story for Damaso…

Clearly, the projections see Marte working primarily as a lefty specialist, hence the low innings totals but relatively high number of appearances. Much like every other pitcher, limiting Marte to specific and specialized situations will only increase his effectiveness. At $4M, he’s the sixth highest paid pitcher on the team and most expensive non-Mo reliever, so he’ll be expected to pitch more than capably in whatever capacity he’s used.

The Yankees head into the 2010 season with a three-headed monster at the back of their bullpen, and that doesn’t even include Aceves or the loser of the Phil Hughes/Joba Chamberlain fifth starter battle. It’s clear that the team views Robertson as a long-term fixture, maybe even a future closer, while Park is just a short-term fill in, the product of a market inefficiency. Marte is under contract for at least the next two years, but contract status is a mere formality. All three of those guys are capable of handling late inning duties by themselves, yet the Yankees have the luxury of being able to deploy all three.

Photo Credits: Marte via Tony Gutierrez, AP; Robertson via Matt Slocum, AP; Park via Kathy Willens, AP

Report: Yankees place Gaudin on waivers

The battle for the fifth starter’s spot appeared to lose a candidate overnight, as Ed Price reports that the Yankees have placed righty Chad Gaudin on waivers. Several things can happen now…

  1. Someone claims him. The waivers are irrevocable, so whoever claims Gaudin will get him and his entire $2.95M salary, no questions asked.
  2. He clears, and the Yanks send him to the minors. They’d still owe him his full salary.
  3. He clears, and the Yanks choose to flat out release him. They’d still owe him 45 days termination pay, which would be $737,500 according to Ken Rosenthal.

Considering that he’s bounced around so much (six teams in seven seasons), I’m willing to bet Gaudin’s been outrighted off someone’s 40-man roster before, which is essentially what the Yankees are doing. Under that assumption, Gaudin has the right to refuse a minor league assignment and elect to become a free agent, however he would forfeit his entire salary by doing so. Given the current economic climate, I can’t imagine he’ll find more than $2.95M on the open market, so it seems unlikely that he’ll go this route. If he does, his agent will have given him some bad advice.

For the second straight year, Gaudin had a tough going in Spring Training. Last year the Cubs decided to cut him loose too close to Opening Day, so they had to pay him his full $2M salary. The Padres signed him for the league minimum, then flipped him to the Yanks in August. He’s allowed 16 hits and ten runs with a 5-5 K/BB ratio in 9.1 innings this spring, covering four total outings (two starts), which is obviously pretty bad. However, did the Yankees fall for the trap of Spring Training stats by waiving Gaudin instead of Sergio Mitre?

Sure, Mitre’s had an impressive spring (14 IP, 3.21 ERA, 14-3 K/BB), and with an $850,000 salary it’s less likely that he would have cleared waivers. Maybe the Yanks felt this was the best way to keep both players in the organization, since Gaudin’s hefty salary makes him less attractive than most of the other back-end types floating out there. I hope that’s the case, because there’s nothing in either player’s track record to suggest that Mitre is better option going forward than Gaudin.

In over 460 career innings in the American League, Gaudin has been the definition of league average. His 4.25 ERA equals a 101 ERA+, his .271 batting average against isn’t much worse than the .265-ish league average (basically one extra hit every 142 at-bats), and his 6.5 K/9 is right around the 6.8-ish average as well (one fewer strikeout every 30 IP). His walk rate (4.2 BB/9) is definitely high (~3.4 league average), but he mitigates it somewhat with a strong groundball rate (43.7%). There’s nothing sexy about league average, but it’s very valuable in the role he’s expected to fill.

Mitre, on the other hand, has never been league average at much of anything, even before having Tommy John surgery. Even in his best season (2007), he put up a 4.65 ERA (93 ERA+) and a 4.8 K/9, both below average by any measure. And that came in the NL, in a pitcher’s park. His groundball rate (59.7% career) is spectacular, but missing bats and avoiding contact is the name of the game in the AL East. Oh, and Gaudin’s more than two full years younger.

The move to waive Gaudin all but assures that Mitre will open the season as the long man in the bullpen, yet there’s not much to suggest he’s the right man for the job beyond Spring Training stats. Thankfully, we’re talking about two guys that amount to spare parts, though for all intents and purposes they represent the Yanks’ sixth and seventh starters. Hopefully Gaudin clears and they’re able to stash him away in Triple-A for the time being. It would be a shame to lose him for what amounts to salary relief.

Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP

Past Trade Review: Cashman’s Top 3 Heists

When two or more general managers consummate a trade, they believe that their team will benefit. Why else would they agree to it? As we’ve learned throughout baseball history, though, trades don’t always work out for both sides. GMs who end up on the losing end of a few deals find themselves looking for new jobs soon enough. Those who come out on the winning end extend their tenures. It seems, however, that few, if any, GMs can consistently come out ahead. There are just too many variables involved. Every so often, a trade is going to smack you in the face.

We’ll soon enough get to Brian Cashman‘s biggest blunders. Today, though, we’ll focus on his heists. That is, his best deals during the 12-plus-year reign as Yankees’ GM. This will not only include the players received, but the players sent. I’ll look at this using the WAR of the players acquired, for the length of his contract when traded, and the value of the players sent, either by the same measure, or, in the case of prospects, for the six years of team control.

3. Nick Swisher

After the 2008 season the Yankees had plenty of remodeling to do. A number of starters, including Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu, were slated to hit free agency and the team showed no desire to retain either one. Considering the numbers both produced in 2008, it wasn’t an easy task to replace them. Xavier Nady was in the fold, though, presumably ready to man right. In a buy-low move to fill first base, Brian Cashman traded Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez for Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira. He later acquired Mark Teixeira to play first base, rendering Swisher’s role unknown. After Nady tore his UCL, though, Swisher slid right into Abreu’s spot.

Swisher relished his new job, posting a .375 wOBA, the highest mark of his career. Always a patient hitter, he actually increased his walk rate in 2009 to 16 percent, also the highest of his career. Power came in abundance, too, as his .249 ISO was, again, the best mark of his career. This, combined with league average defense, produced 3.6 WAR, which is 4.2 higher than the sum of Betemit, Marquez, and Nunez (Betemit produced -0.6 WAR before his release). Marquez notably fumbled the season. It’s hard to imagine him pitching worse than the 9.85 ERA he produced in 2009.

There’s still time for the White Sox to see more from this trade, but it’s doubtful that they ever make up the 4.2 WAR difference from the first season, let alone keep up with Swisher’s pace. Marquez was never projected as a top of the rotation starter. If he’s lucky he’ll spend a few years in a major league team’s bullpen. Nunez could get another shot with the Sox, but again, it would take an enormous breakout for him to get within a few wins of Swisher’s eventual WAR total with the Yanks.

2. Bobby Abreu

The 2006 season was not an easy one for Yankees’ outfielders. On April 29 Gary Sheffield collided with Shea Hillenbrand at first base. He picked up two RBI on the play, but also had to leave the game. The issue was with his forearm, but after he tried to return in early May it was clear he’d need at least a long rehab period, and possibly surgery, to correct the problem. Then, just two weeks later, Hideki Matsui broke his wrist while sliding to make a catch in the outfield. There was a chance both would miss the rest of the season.

The injuries forced the Yankees to call up Melky Cabrera, who looked lost during his cup of coffee in July 2005. He started off the season hot as can be in Columbus, hitting .385/.430/.566 through his first 135 PA. With the injuries and few bodies to fill the outfield — the Johnny Damon signing loomed large here — Melky was the obvious choice. He and Bernie Williams would have to bear the load. They did it pretty well, but the Yanks still could have used some help. Thankfully, Brian Cashman was on the case.

For some reason, the folks in Philadelphia just did not like Bobby Abreu. Even though he’d played in at least 152 games in each of his first seven seasons with the club, and even though he’d posted a .415 OBP and .522 SLG in that span, they still did not warm to him. He had an expensive contract and the Phillies just weren’t contending that year. Heading into July they were 36-43, 11 games back of the first-place Mets. Rumors swirled all month that they desired to trade Abreu, and the Yankees, with two outfielders on the DL, were often connected. Those rumors, though, involved the Phillies demanding Phil Hughes in return.

The team’s tune changed later in the month, and eventually they traded Abreu to the Yankees for three prospects – including their 2005 No. 1 draft pick – and a lefty reliever. The trade, obviously, was all Yankees. The No. 1 pick and the lefty reliever, C.J. Henry and Matt Smith, are no longer playing for any system. One prospect, Carlos Monasterios, continues to dawdle in the low minors. The only promise the Phillies have from that trade is Jesus Sanchez, who converted to the mound last season. He performed well, and with some improvement he might be a salvageable prospect.

Still, the Yanks clearly won here, with Abreu producing 5.8 WAR over his 2.5 seasons in pinstripes. Corey Lidle takes that number down a bit, as he was worth -0.2 WAR during his half season. Matt Smith, the only player to appear in the majors for the Phillies, produced 0.3 WAR in 2006, followed by -0.3 in 2007. If Sanchez can come up and produce that might change the outlook on this trade. As it stands, though, Cashman pulled nearly six wins out of thin air.

1. Alex Rodriguez

When I first came up with the idea for this post, I thought Abreu would be the one. After looking through Cashman’s trade history, it appears that many of his best trades were for the short-term — David Justice stands out. The Abreu trade, to my mind, seemed the most one-sided. But then I saw the A-Rod trade and thought that it was worth examining. As it turns out, it was the most lopsided deal he ever made.

We all know the story. In the winter of 2004, after he had sent the Yankees to the World Series with an 11th inning walk-off home run off Tim Wakefiled, Aaron Boone tore his ACL playing basketball. Since his contract expressly prohibited that type of activity, the Yankees voided the deal. That left an opening at third base. The Yankees traded a minor leaguer to Texas for Mike Lamb, who had spent most of his time in 2003 demolishing AAA after hitting at about league average over the previous two seasons. The Yankees, though, probably wanted a bit more certainty from the position.

Then, about 10 days after acquiring Lamb, the Yankees worked a deal with Texas to acquire Alex Rodriguez. Most of us have stories of where we were and who we were with when we heard the news. It was a pretty big event in recent Yankees history, not only for who the Yankees acquired, but whom they traded. In exchange for the best player in baseball, the Yankees sent Alfonso Soriano to Texas. This might have made the deal seem a bit less palatable. It was not, though.

At the time of the trade Soriano had three years left of team control. He had produced tremendously for the Yankees in 2003, a 4.8 WAR. Yet the Yankees added nearly two wins over 2003 with A-Rod’s acquisition, as he produced 6.7 WAR in 2004. Soriano dropped precipitously, though, producing just 1.8 WAR that season. Over the next two he added another 7.5 WAR before hitting free agency, bringing his total to 9.3. A-Rod’s contract technically ran through 2010, but had the opt-out clause after 2007. For the period the Yankees controlled him, he produced 30.1 WAR. The difference, 20.8 WAR, represents an enormously lopsided deal.

On all three of these deals the Yankees came out tremendously ahead. In the first two the other teams had little or nothing to speak of. In the last, the player received vastly outproduced the player sent. It’s kind of crazy that A-Rod’s deal was the most lopsided, considering the Yankees sent a productive player in exchange for him. But, as his 30.1 WAR indicates, he’s just that good.

Photo credits: Swisher — Steve Nesius/AP, Abreu and Rodriguez — Gene J. Puskar/AP

Report: A-Rod to meet with feds on Friday

As federal officials continue their investigation into Anthony Galea, a Canadian doctor suspected to furnishing PEDs to American baseball players, Alex Rodriguez will meet with the feds on Friday in Buffalo to talk about his connection to the doctor, according to Michael S. Schmidt of The Times. A-Rod and his lawyers will journey to upstate New York to cooperate in the investigation, and it is anticipated the feds will question the Yanks’ third baseman as to whether or not Galea has been sending various drugs into the States. Both Major League Baseball and the Yankees will be awaiting detail of A-Rod’s questioning.

For the Yankees, this story has put them into an awkward position with A-Rod. The slugger told the team this winter that he had no dealings with Galea, but stories this spring have cast that assertion into doubt. For numerous reasons, I hope nothing comes of this investigation except this questioning, but as is often the case with Alex Rodriguez, I’m not holding my breath.