Lining a pitch up the middle is not progress

Curtis Granderson can help a ball club in a number of ways. He can play a solid center field. He can hit for power. He can get on base at an above-average clip, and afterward he can motor around the bases. But as we learned in 2009, the mere ability to do something doesn’t necessarily bring results. Granderson can get on base at an above-average clip, but in 2009 he didn’t. Since he’s done it before, we don’t say that he can’t, but rather that he didn’t. In the same way, just because he hasn’t hit lefties well in the past doesn’t mean he can’t.


Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

It appears that questions about Granderson’s ability to hit lefties will surround him this spring. We’ve already heard stories about him working with Kevin Long on ways to better approach lefty pitchers. Those are encouraging, but far from a sign that Granderson will put his woes behind him. Still, that won’t stop certain newspapers from taking one small detail and making a huge deal out of it. Apparently, according to the NY Post, hitting a line drive in batting practice off Kei Igawa represents progress. Oh, the crazy storylines of the spring.

I agree with SG’s statement that Granderson will probably never hit well against lefties, but that he can certainly outperform his career numbers to this point. One aspect of splits that often goes unmentioned is the small sample they provide. Granderson has come to bat 2,896 times in his career, but only 24 percent of those have come against lefties. That leaves his total at 685, or just under a full season’s worth of plate appearances. We don’t judge a player based on a single year of his career, so why would we judge Granderson based on one year’s worth of data?

Because of this small sample against lefties, we need to regress the figures in order to get a better idea of Granderson’s true skill against lefties. Thankfully, Matt Klaassen of FanGraphs already did the calculation, which adds 1,000 plate appearance of league average splits to Granderson’s existing 685 PA. If Granderson hits to his CHONE projected .359 wOBA, we can expect that to be .374 against righties and .311 against lefties. That .311 number is still below average, and it’s even blow the .323 wOBA he posted against lefties in 2008. It is, however, a bit more optimistic than CAIRO, which pegs him at .299 against lefties, and certainly better than his .266 career wOBA split.

Deliberate and focussed practice could help Granderson even further against lefties. Again, echoing SG, we can’t really expect Granderson to make leaps in his split figures, but it’s certainly possible. We saw such a transformation first hand in Paul O’Neill. While in Cincinnati O’Neill hit lefties poorly, routinely posting OPS numbers in the .500 range. Even in his first year with the Yankees he struggled against lefties. But then, at age 31, he came around, posting OPS numbers in the .700 range or better for the next five seasons. We might set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting Granderson to make the same transformation, but we know that it is certainly possible.

The discussion of Granderson’s skills and results against lefties reminds me of what a good all-around player he is. We’re not questioning his defense, his speed, or his ability to get on base. Instead, we’re focussed on his performance in fewer than a quarter of his plate appearances. I think we’ll all be satisfied with his performance in the other 75 percent, and maybe even a bit more satisfied with that 25 percent sample.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 1st, 2010

Schedule This Week: vs. Pirates (Weds.), @ Phillies (Thurs.), vs. Rays (Fri.), vs. Blue Jays (Sat.), @ Twins (Sun., split squad)

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Talking to an anonymous scout about the Yanks

I recently had a chance to sit down and talk about the Yankees with a long-time scout. I’m not going to tell you who it is or what team he works for or if he even exists, but he’s been around the game all of his life, and he knows of what he speaks. Coincidentally, Gene Wojciechowski did the same thing at ESPN yesterday. Call it dumb luck.

Anyway, thanks to the scout, who shall remain anonymous, for taking the time to talk to us about our favorite team.

Mike: Thanks for talking with us. Let’s start right at the top and get your thoughts about the front of the rotation?

Scout: C.C. Sabathia is a beast. When you imagine an ace in your head, you picture Sabathia. But 50 lbs. lighter. [Laughs] Not that there’s anything wrong with being so big, he makes it work. I wish he was on my side.

[A.J.] Burnett’s got a great arm. A great, great arm. A great arm. It’s a great arm. But I’m not sure he’s intellectually all there for him to take that next step. I mean … he won 13 games with a 4.04 ERA. Jason Marquis won 15 games with a 4.04 ERA. What does that tell you? His pie facials are good for the team, though.

Andy [Pettitte] isn’t what he once was, but he’s still pretty good. A team like the Yankees needs that veteran stabilizer in the rotation, the guy who’s been there, done that. It’s hard not to like Andy, he’s such a competitor, and as long as they have him in the rotation, they’ll be fine. He’s their stabilizer. He stabilizes the whole thing.

They traded for Javy Vazquez, what are your thoughts on him?

Javier’s a nice pitcher. He had a great year in Atlanta, but the AL East is a different division. If I was the Yankees, I’d look at what he did in 2004 and wonder “Are we getting that Javy, or the Javy from the other 11 seasons of his career?” It’s tough to say. He’s definitely an upgrade over what they had in the back of the rotation last year, but they have to hope he pitches well so they don’t have to keeping starting guys on short rest in the playoffs again.

Actually, only four of the 15 games they played last postseason were started by a guy working on three days rest. What do you think happens with Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain this season?

Well, the Yankees need another starter. They only have four right now, and teams these days carry five. So that means one of those two will be their last starter. For me, I’d put Joba in the bullpen. He’s just a different animal when he works in relief, it’s almost like he’s a bull in a china shop. He’s a grunt and fart kind of guy. You can stick him out there, let him grow into the closer after Mariano Rivera, and not worry about that anymore.

Hughes is much calmer than Joba, he’s more like a cow in a meadow than a bull in a china shop. He was very good in the bullpen last year, which surprised me. It’s not often you see a young pitcher struggle as a starter before finding some success in the bullpen. I think he’s a changed man after working the eighth inning last year. He’s more aggressive, more dominant, yet so serene. I think he can carry that over and back into the rotation.

Speaking of Rivera, what’s it like scouting a guy like that?

Rivera’s on another level. It’s like going to business school and being taught by Donald Trump. I  saw him in Double-A, and he was a stick. I didn’t think he would last as a starter, and sure enough he didn’t. What surprised me is that he succeeded in the bullpen without that bull in a china shop mentality. He’s one of the all-time greats, getting by on that great cutter. I tell my team to watch the inner half, then he carves them up outside. Then they watch the outer half, and he comes inside.

He’s amazing.

Any thoughts on the rest of the bullpen?

I didn’t see them too much last year, but [Damaso] Marte is a quality lefty. He won’t be as good as he was against the Phillies again. [Laughs]

I saw [Al] Aceves in Mexico and recommended him to my team, but the Yanks grabbed him before we could. I like him, he’s as gritty as a pitcher can be. He’s one gritty son of a bitch. Chan Ho Park gives them an Asian on the team, which is huge because they were going to lose a lot of money in Japan and stuff when they let Hideki [Matsui] leave.

Speaking of Matsui, the Yankees lost him and Johnny Damon, but replaced them with Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson. How do you think that will work out?

Matsui and Damon have been great Yankees for a long time. And they were clutch, you could look them in the eye in a big spot and tell they weren’t scared. They’ll miss that.

I really like Curtis Granderson, but he doesn’t really fit with the Yankees. For one, he’s young. But for two, he’s athletic. The Yankees aren’t known for athletes, they’re known as the Bronx Bombers, they need power bats.

He hit 30 homers last year.

But will he do that again? Matsui was a lock for 30-100 every year.

Matsui had 30 homers and 100 RBI once as a Yankee, and it was six years ago.

I’m telling you, he was a lock for it. My point is, you don’t know what to expect from Granderson. He’s an exciting player, but I don’t think he fits the Yankee mold.

As for Johnston [sic], well I don’t know what to make of him. He’s got a bad body, and he’s too passive at the plate. It’s almost like he goes up there praying for a walk. I want my DH’s to be big boppers, and Johnston’s [sic] just big. You knew what you were getting out of Damon and Matsui, why fix what ain’t broke?

Fair enough. How do you feel about giving Brett Gardner a chance to play every day?

Gardner’s another guy who doesn’t fit the Yankee mold. He’s a gamer. He fights and battles and does all the little things that don’t show up in box scores. I like him, and they’re probably better off letting him use that speed at the top of the order.

Let’s move on to some of the bigger name players on the team. A-Rod looked like a new man last season, and he had some huge hits in the playoffs. A lot of people talked about how he used to be a cancer in the clubhouse, but that’s apparently changed too. How important do you think team chemistry is?

[Laughs] Well, they always said A-Rod was bad for clubhouse chemistry, but it turns out he was pretty good at chemistry, didn’t it?

Was that a steroids joke?

[Laughs] Yeah.

Look, A-Rod is a great player. Always has been. But he’s such a fake, I don’t know what to think of him. There were all these questions about his ability to come through in a big spot, and after he did it last year, you have to wonder if he’s up to doing it again. I think he has a chance to get complacent. He’s already made millions in this game, now that he has his title, what’s left for him to do?

We don’t know if he’s up to doing it all again, like the good old boys were. Bernie [Williams] hit that big homer once, Paulie [O’Neill] used to beat the shit out of watercoolers when he failed. Do we ever see A-Rod do that? No. That how I like my players. If they can’t hit the ball, hit the watercooler. I want passion.

What about Derek Jeter?

Oh, Jeter. Derek Jeter is all that’s right in baseball and the world. He’s obviously a great player, but he’s even a greater person. He’s done so much for the Yankees, the organization, the city of New York, their fans … he’s what makes it all go. If I were the Yankees, I’d give him a blank contract after the year, and let him fill in the numbers. I’d trust him to do the right thing.

You’d give him a blank contract?

That’s what I said. He’d do the right thing with it, because he’s Derek Jeter.

Okay then. Now let’s quickly touch on some of the other players on the team. Mark Teixeira?

Great all-around player. I’d worry about his performance in October last year, that could signify a lack of clutch.

Robinson Cano?

Great swing, but he lacks focus. If he ever got his head screwed on straight, he could do a lot of damage in this game. He needs to look at that guy in Boston, [Dustin] Pedroia, and watch how he plays. He wants it.

Nick Swisher?

Another guy like Johnston [sic], praying for a walk whenever he gets to plate. He’ll make you pay if you make a mistake, plus he’s a prankster. The Yankees aren’t known for pranksters.

Jorge Posada?

Georgie’s been so great for the Yankees for so long. For me, he’s the glue that keeps the team together. Him and Jeter. We saw it in 2008, the team collapsed when he got hurt. He’s old, especially for a catcher, but I’d keep running him out there because he’s so important to the team. Georgie is like the Andy Pettitte of the hitters.

You mean he’s like a stabilizer?

Yeah.

What about Joe Girardi?

Joe’s a smart guy, but now he doesn’t have a contract. After this season, I mean. You have to worry that that might wear on him, and he might start making panic calls because he thinks his job is on the line. He got it done last year, but now he has to do it again. Plus, I don’t think the front office likes him very much.

Last question: How do you think the Yanks will do this season?

On paper, they’re the best team in the league. In all of baseball. But the games don’t get played on paper, they have to do it on the field. They’ve got a good rotation, and a good bullpen, and a good lineup, but will it be enough? They play in a tough division, you might say it’s the toughest in baseball.

I’ll tell you this much, I wouldn’t want to play them in the short series.

Open Thread: The games are a comin’

Well, the Olympics are basically over, so that means Yankee baseball is right around the corner. CC Sabathia threw 28 pitches worth of live batting practice today, and he’ll do it again on Tuesday before making his spring debut on Thursday against Roy Halladay and the Phillies. Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain each threw two sets of 20 pitches today, simulating two innings. Those guys will throw another session of live BP before making their spring debuts on Friday.

Use this thread to talk about whatever you want as you prepare to get back into the grind tomorrow. Anything goes, so have at it.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Open Thread: USA vs. Canada

On the final day of the Olympics, the gritty underdogs that are the USA hockey team will take on those big bad hosers from Canada for the gold. USA already beat Canada once in the tournament (despite being completely outplayed), and they’ve outscored their opponents 22-6 in their five games so far. Puck drops at 3pm ET on NBC, so enjoy the game and talk about it here.

Chan Ho wants a ring

Chan Ho Park finally made it to Tampa today, a week after agreeing to a deal with the team, and Edwar Ramirez was DFA’d to make room for the Yanks’ new No. 61. Park told Erik Boland that his first choice was to return to the Phillies, and he told Marc Carig that other teams offered him a chance to start, but he told both of them that he came to the Yankees because he wants to win a ring.

I usually joke about players saying they want a chance for a ring, because the money almost always makes the decision for them. At age 36, Park has made his money, over $84M during his career, and by all accounts he’s the greatest pitcher to ever come out of South Korea. He’s got his money, he’s already got the fame back home, now he wants a World Championship. At least now we know we’re on the same page.

Edwar, we hardly knew ye

Chan-Ho Park finally made it to Tampa today (more on him later), and to clear a roster spot on the 40-man, the Yankees have designated Edwar Ramirez for assignment. Ramirez, entering his age 29 season, has been with the Yanks since mid-2006. Over parts of three seasons with the big league club, he has appeared in 96 games and has thrown 98.1 innings. He has a career ERA of 5.22 and an impressive K/9 IP of 10.6, but he’s also walked 5.1 guys per 9 and has a tendency to give up the long ball. His “Bugs Bunny” change-up can be devastating, but he’s struggled to find consistency in his stints in the Majors. I’d imagine some other team will pick him up quickly.