2011 Draft: John Sickels’ Yankees Review

John Sickels at Minor League Ball is reviewing each team’s draft haul, and today he got to the Yankees. He is a rare fan of the Dante Bichette Jr. pick and also likes 13th rounder Justin James as a sleeper. “The rest of the class was focused on raw high school kids with power potential and signability issues, plus some college pitchers who look like bullpen contributors,” said Sickels in his overall recap. Make sure you heck it out, he provides mini-scouting reports on each of the team’s top ten selections.

Yankees sign Greg Smith and Cory Wade

The Yankees have signed left-hander Greg Smith and right-hander Cory Wade to minor league deals and assigned them to Triple-A Scranton. Dan Brewer and Buddy Carlyle were placed on the disabled list to make room on the roster. Smith was part of the Dan Haren (to Arizona) and Matt Holliday (to Oakland) trades, but he’s just a fill-in starter for SWB while most of their rotation is in the big league bullpen. I liked him as a prospect once upon a time (I was hoping the Yankees would get him in the second Randy Johnson trade), but that was a while ago.

Wade is actually interesting and could be useful to the big league team. He had a very nice year for the Dodgers in 2008 (3.78 FIP in 71.1 IP), but Joe Torre’s workload was just too much and he had shoulder surgery in 2009. Wade resumed pitching late last year and caught on with the Rays after being non-tendered, striking out 8.34 while walking just 1.47 per nine in 36.2 relief innings with their Triple-A affiliate before being released over the weekend (he told them he was going to use his opt-out clause, so they let him go early). He is a little homer prone, but Wade is a three pitch reliever (fastball, curve, change) and is only 28. He’s certainly more useful than the Carlyles and Amaury Sanits of the world.

Game 64: Goodbye, Cleveland!

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Marianne O'Leary via Creative Commons license)

This series has gone so well for the Yankees, I don’t want it to end. No one does. The Yankees have outplayed the Indians in every way imaginable, and they’ll look to complete the rare four game sweep tonight. A.J. Burnett‘s last start was brutally ineffective, so hopefully he pitches a strong game tonight and avoids the June slump that sent last season into a downward spiral. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Brett Gardner, LF
Frankie Cervelli, C – Russell Martin was in the lineup, but was late scratch because of a stiff back

A.J. Burnett, SP

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Sorry for you out of towners. Enjoy.

Two LOOGYs In A Pod: Both Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano have starting playing catch, maybe even with each other. No word on their timetable, but I can’t imagine it’ll be anytime soon … Rafael Soriano still hasn’t been cleared to throw, but it could happen this week … Eric Chavez is hitting in the cage but still not running.

New design added to the RAB Shop

Courtesy of Tyler Wilkinson, we’ve uploaded a new design to the RAB Shop designed for all the ladies out there that dig more than just the long ball. Yes, I stereotypically chose pink for the image above, but you can customize the color and style within the shop itself. You don’t even have to get a shirt, there’s hoodies, onesies, coffee mugs, and tons of other stuff.  We have ten different designs available now (well, nine really, since we have two color schemes of one), so check it out in case you haven’t lately.

Boone Logan’s Ineffective Slider

It has not been a good year for Boone Logan, who has “held” the 46 left-handed batters he’s faced to a .350 wOBA this year. He’s only struck out seven of those guys as well, which is an an unfathomably bad rate (15.2%). The Yankees were apparently concerned enough about Logan’s ability to repeat his success from the second half of last year that they signed Pedro Feliciano to a (not cheap) free agent deal. Feliciano’s injury has again thrust Boone into top LOOGY status, a job he really doesn’t deserve at the moment.

The root cause of Logan’s struggles appears to be his slider, a pitch that went from being 2.50 runs above average (per 100 thrown) in 2010 to 1.71 runs below average this year, a swing of more than four runs. He’s throwing the pitch almost exactly as often this year as last, but batters have gone from swinging and missing at it 25.6% of the time to 12.7% of the time, so the slider’s whiff rate has been cut in half. Part of the problem is just location, which you can see from the heat maps above (what’s a heat map?). Logan did a good job of burying the pitch down and away to lefties last year, but this season it’s ending up in the middle of the plate entirely too often.

The characteristics of the pitch are different that last year as well. Boone has actually picked up about an inch and a half of horizontal movement while losing a mile an hour of velocity. A slower pitch with more break is loopier; the 2010 version of the pitch came in harder and had shorter, sharper break. Leave a loopy slider out over the plate … well that’s just a meatball, even to a same-side batter. Logan’s release point is no different (here’s a gif comparing 2010 to 2011), at least not different enough to worry about (could just be a PitchFX issue). Since his fastball velocity is also down noticeably, it could just be a mechanical issue. Or maybe he’s hiding an injury (or doesn’t even know about it) Both theories make sense, as do countless others.

Given the injuries to the rest of the bullpen, the Yankees need Logan to pitch better than he has just to provide depth. He has to improve against lefties at the absolute minimum, since the only reason he’s on the team in the first place is to neutralize the Adrian Gonzalezes and Adam Linds and Matt Joyces and Nick Markaki of the league. Getting back to burying that slider down and away, preferably just out of the strike zone, is step one of that process.

Scouting The Trade Market: Michael Wuertz

Ugly hat is ugly. (Photo Credit: Flickr user ztil301 via Creative Commons license)

Injuries have really done a number of the Yankees’ bullpen of late, taking away both Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano for a while, though there’s some hope that Soriano will be able to start throwing this week. Some of the minor league reinforcements like Amaury Sanit (hah), Tim Norton, and Mark Prior are also on the disabled list, so the well is starting to run dry. Even if Soriano comes back relatively soon, the Yankees will still have to go outside the organization for help anyway. They’ve lost that much depth.

One team that could be a trade match is the Athletics, who are sinking like a stone after losing a dozen of their last 13 games and firing their manager. They have a full five man rotation on the disabled list, as Brett Anderson recently joined Dallas Braden, Brandon McCarthy, Rich Harden, and Tyson Ross on the shelf. Bigger names like Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes are sure to be mentioned, but perhaps the best fit is slider specialist Michael Wuertz. Let’s break it down…

The Pros

  • Wuertz is death on right-handers thanks to one of the game’s best sliders. He’s holding same side batters to a .103/.167/.205 batting line this year and .192/.258/.306 with 32.7% strikeouts since the start of 2009.  Batters have missed with 13.4% of their swings against him this season, which is insanely high but actually down from 15.4% last year and 17.9% two years ago.
  • Although his calling card is his ability to shut down righties, Wuertz is also more than serviceable against lefties. They’re hitting .242/.353/.345 off him this year and .212/.291/.389 since the start of 2009. His slider is so good that he uses it against lefties as well, which is not something you usually see.
  • He has experience in a variety of roles, including middle relief work and setup man duties, plus he even spent some time as Oakland’s closer when Andrew Bailey got hurt last year. For what it’s worth, he’s also pitched in the postseason (with the Cubs back in 2007). I don’t put much stock in that, but it doesn’t hurt.
  • Wuertz’s contract contains a club option for next year, so it would not necessarily be a rental. He currently projects as a Type-B free agent, so the Yankees could get a draft pick should they let him walk.

The Cons

  • As great as that slider is, Wuertz uses it 51.5% of the time, a very high rate. Slider usage that extreme usually leads to elbow trouble, with Brad Lidge, Justin Speier, and Manny Corpas being recent and notable examples.
  • Sure enough, Wuertz has dealt with some injuries over the last two years. He missed all of April with shoulder tendinitis last season, then missed a few weeks with an oblique strain this April. Thumb issues also shelved him for some time last September (no DL trip because of expanded rosters though).
  • His strikeout rate is trending downward, though it’s still more than respectable at 7.91 K/9. It’s just not as good as 9.08 batters he struck out per nine innings last year, or the 11.67 he struck out per nine in 2009.
  • The club option proves for some nice flexibility, but it’s not exactly cheap. Wuertz is making $2.8M this season (about $467,000 per month, pro-rated) and the option will pay him $3.25M next year ($250,000 buyout). The Yankees can obviously afford it, but that’s pricey by middle reliever standards.

It’s tough to come up a player similar to Wuertz that’s been traded in recent years just to get an idea of the likely cost, plus we can’t forget that Billy Beane always seems to ask for the moon. The Twins gave up a C-level prospect to get Jon Rauch from the Diamondbacks two years ago, but that was part of a waiver trade a month after the deadline. Kyle Farnsworth was traded to the Braves along with Rick Ankiel last year, so that doesn’t help us either. Matt Capps had the Proven Closer™ tag last year, so that doesn’t work either. Anyway, Wuertz makes some sense for the Yankees just because he’s a veteran arm with a standout pitch and experience in high-leverage spots. He’s really not all that different from Joba when you think about it.