Introducing the RAB Paywall

Since late February in 2007, long before Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia were Yankees, long before we knew about Manuel Banuelos or the power of Kevin Long, Joe, Mike and I began RAB as an experiment in blogging. We had been writing for various other outlets and thought we could do a better job on our own site. Since then, we’ve followed four baseball seasons, penned over 11,200 posts, received 950,000 comments and see 1.2 million of you reload the site every month.

For years, RAB has been a labor of love. We earned some money off of advertising, but it’s not enough to run the site full time. Mike has worked as an engineer and writer for MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs; Joe has a day job as a tech/mobile phone writer and also contributes to FanGraphs; I’m in law school and recently picked up a gig at Baseball Prospectus. Still, we’d love to focus on River Ave. Blues as a full-time venture, and so we announce today a trailblazing path in baseball blogging: The RAB paywall.

Drawing inspiration from The New York Times’ recent foray into charging for web content, we’ll be doing the same. After all, while free content is a nice benefit of the Internet, those who produce the content need to be adequately compensated for their time and energy.

So how will this work? First, the good part: Some of our articles will be free. You can still enjoy game threads and open threads as well as the numerous asides we post. Those aren’t going anywhere. But long-form pieces and recaps will fall behind the paywall. Our readers too can access a certain number of free posts per month. Here’s how it works:

  • 27 free articles per month. After 27, you can buy a monthly subscription for $3.14.
  • 42 free comments per year. After exceeding that total, commenters can purchase an annual unlimited account for $19.23.

Of course, we’ll also offer some bonuses as The Times is doing. Those of you who find their way to RAB via our @RABFeed Twitter account or Facebook page won’t be docked for article views. We still want to make RAB as accessible as possible while working toward drawing in enough revenue to make the site sustainable.

We know many of you might not be happy about this news, but we hope it will lead to better and more thorough coverage. With the added revenue, we’re going to upgrade our offerings, post more frequently and provide more in depth coverage. Over the next few months, you’ll see some changes to the site that aren’t quite ready for prime time, and by next April Fools Day, the paywall will be live.

DirecTV’s deal with YES Network expires today

Yankees fans nearly faced a cataclysmic situation last fall. FOX, which had exclusive broadcast rights for the World Series, was involved in a contract spat with Cablevision, which serves millions of customers in the tri-state area. Thankfully for Yanks fans, the ALCS was broadcast on TBS. But had the Yankees advanced to the World Series, those fans might have been blacked out, as Fox pulled its programming from the cable carrier. The two parties averted disaster, though the point became moot when the Yankees were eliminated.

The situation now facing DirecTV customers will affect Yankees fans on a greater level. While the World Series is the main event, as the Yankees showed last year, it doesn’t matter much if you don’t get there. The regular season, though, goes 162 games whether there’s a broadcast or not. Today the agreement between DirecTV and YES Network expired, leaving those Yankees fans in limbo. Could they possibly miss a portion of the regular season because the two parties can’t reach a new deal?

The two sides have had their says in the matter. Says DirecTV: “DirecTV customers should not be forced to pay a penny more for YES Network.” The company claims that YES is seeking a fee “significantly higher” than it receives from other cable providers. A YES spokesman says, “We are negotiating in good faith with DirecTV in hopes of resolving this matter quickly.”

This current incident brings to mind a nearly decade-old dispute between, surprise-surprise, Cablevision and the YES Network. When the network debuted in 2002, Cablevision did not carry it. The Yankees had previously been broadcast on MSG, which is owned by Cablevision. Only government intervention brought the two parties together.

It is not clear whether the two parties have made any progress in the matter. DirecTV says they will keep the station alive during negotiations, but YES could opt to pull it. It’s unfortunate to see these kinds of disputes, since it ultimately hurts the consumer in the end. Still, it could be worse. You could be a Dish Network subscriber. That carrier has never broadcast the YES Network.

Yankees top FanGraphs’ organizational rankings, again

What happens when you combined a talented Major League roster with a top five farm system and more financial resources than any other team? You land in the top spot of FanGraphs’ organizational rankings, which the Yankees have now occupied for the second year in a row. The ranked first in big league talent and financial resources and third in baseball operations and farm system, which seem like reasonable rankings. “It’s a tough combination to beat, honestly,” said Dave Cameron, who wrote the article but didn’t rank the teams, that was a group effort. “A well run baseball operations staff backed by revenue streams larger than several other organizations put together, in the largest market in the country, with a brand that is synonymous with baseball itself – the Yankees aren’t going anywhere any time soon.”

The Red Sox, Phillies, Rays, and Braves round out the top five of the rankings, basically the five best teams in baseball.

Recapping the majors

If you’re looking for a way to catch up on games around the league, but want to do it as quickly as possible, I have a solution. At FanGraphs I’ve started a daily featured called The Morning After, which is way too long and takes forever to produce. Understandably, I want you to read it and provide feedback. You can read today’s The Morning After at FanGraphs, and then comment here. Deal?

Mailbag: Banuelos, Walk Year, Pitchers in the OF

Three questions this week and I tried to be concise with my answers, but I failed. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your submissions.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Williard asks: Since spring training, Manny Banuelos has been praised highly by many writers and scouts. But what can we actually expect out of him in terms of ceiling and probability?

There’s no hype quite like New York hype, so sometimes it can be tough to read through the garbage and figure it what is and what isn’t true. I’m certainly guilty of over-hyping prospects, we all are. It comes with the territory, and there’s nothing we can really do about it.

As far as Banuelos, he certainly got a lot of exposure and generated a lot of buzz this spring, and the Yankees didn’t help matters by keeping him in big league camp until the very last day. The good news is that we were able to watch him pitch some in Spring Training, so we could see if the goods matched the reports. And yes, they did. Banuelos legitimately sits 92-94 with his fastball and generates that velocity with surprising ease for a dude on the wrong side of six foot. His curveball is progressing and at times it looked unhittable, and other times it was meh.

What makes Banuelos stand out is two things. One, he’s got a dynamite changeup, and that was on full display last month. That gives him a weapon to get out right-handed batters, and finding a way to neutralize batters of the opposite hand is a common obstacle for young pitchers. He’s already taken care of that. Two, the kid really does look like a veteran up there. Very poised, he’s always got the game face working, and he never seems to get overwhelmed. Granted, it was just Spring Training, but we’ve been hearing that about him since the day he signed.

Left-handers with that kind of velocity and a knockout secondary pitch are at worse, mid-rotation starters. Add in the makings of a strong curve, the willingness to throw strikes, and the ability to not crap his pants on the mound, and we have a true ace caliber pitcher. Banuelos isn’t a finished product even though the general consensus seems to be that he could hold his own in the majors right now; he still needs to refine that curveball and just work on command in general. But he’s legit, there’s true frontline potential and he should find his way into the Yankees rotation before long. There’s always risk, but having the control and changeup down already means his probability is much higher than most 20-year-olds.

Clark asks: Other than empirical evidence, is there any data that supports that players perform better in contract years?

The definitive study on contract years was done by Dayn Perry and can be found in Baseball Between The Numbers. I recommend reading the entire book because it’s incredibly informative, but Perry found that from 1976-2000, the top free agents tended to be about 10% more productive in their walk year that either the year before or the year after. To put numbers on it, the average WARP during a contract year during that time was 5.56. The average the year before was 5.08, and the year after it was … 5.08.

Perry notes that this has a lot to do with player aging and not just trying harder to land that big contract. The average age during the walk year was 31, which is pretty close to when a player starts leaving his prime and entering decline. Just under 38% of players in the study peaked during the walk year while 34% peaked the year before and just 28.3% peaked the year after. It’s not really a surprise that performance tends to decline after players land that contract; the players are simply get older.

There’s definitely a very real impact from players trying harder during their walk years – don’t we all work a little harder the month or two before our companies conduct performance reviews? – but there are other factors at play. It’s not all because of greed.

Oswalt played some outfield last year. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Charley asks: So, I had this dream last night where Red Sox were playing the Yankees and they were tied in the bottom of the ninth. The Yankees had runners at 2nd and 3rd and Tito put 3 pitchers in the OF. A ball was hit to Beckett and he threw a laser to home plate. You think this could ever be a scenario; even just one pitcher in the OF to start the inning? Sounds like a Joe Maddon move.

True story. A few years ago I had a franchise going in MVP 2006 NCAA Baseball, and I was in Game Three of the best-of-three Super Regionals. So winner goes to the College World Series. I had a one-run lead in the ninth but there was a man on third and one out. Might have been bases loaded or first-and-third, I forget, but there was definitely a guy on third and one out. I wasn’t taking my regular center fielder out because he was my best player, but I put pitchers in left and right for this very reason. Granted, I cheated a little because they were two-way players capable of hitting, fielding, AND pitching, but still. Anyway, there was a fly ball to the right fielder, and he ended up throwing the ball to the backstop to allow the run to score. I ended up losing that game in extras, which sucked.

I can’t imagine any big league manager, even Joe Maddon, trying something like. I think the fear of injury (not necessarily the actual injury risk, just the fear of injury) is too great. It’s takes quite a bit of effort to throw a ball from the outfield to the plate, and you don’t want a pitcher to do that without properly warming up. Plus throwing mechanics for pitchers and outfielders are different. It would be a ballsy move, and I think I’d prefer to take my chances with a real outfielder instead of take a pitcher out of his comfort zone. But that’s just me.

Granderson drives Yanks to Opening Day win

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It had been 84 years since the Yankees started a season with the same three outfielders and same four infielders on consecutive Opening Days before Thursday, and it had also been three years since the Yankees last won their first game of the season. The 6-3 win over the Tigers was a total team effort that featured a few individual highlights, namely from the guy roaming center field.

Biggest Hit (subjectively): The Grandyman cans Coke

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Yankees and Tigers played to a three-all tie through six innings yesterday, so it came down to a battle of the bullpens. Jim Leyland made the wise move and went to a left-hander to face Curtis Granderson leading off the seventh, giving the ball to former Yankee Phil Coke. Coke is making the transition to the rotation this year, but Detroit won’t need their fifth starter for another week or so, so he finds himself working in relief for the time being. He missed the plate with his first two pitches, rather ordinary fastballs that clocked in at 90 and 89, respectively. It’s not easy to get a 90 mph fastball by a big league hitter in a 2-0 count, but Coke tried to do it and Grandy tomahawked the pitch into Damon’s Deck for a one-run lead. The pitch was up in the zone and over the plate, prime hitting real estate. The WPA of this homer: .182, the second largest swing of the game.

Granderson, of course, was a question mark for this game as recently as Wednesday since that oblique injury limited him during the final week of Spring Training. He show the muscle was more than healed in the very first inning, making a diving catch to rob Will Rhymes of a base hit. He also made a brilliant catch going back on a ball hit by Brandon Inge in the ninth, so Granderson provided two legit highlight reel catches plus the eventual game-winning homer off one of the guys he was traded for. All in all, it was a damn fine day for the Yankees center fielder.

Biggest Hit (by the numbers): Tex Message

We’re all well aware of Mark Teixeira‘s painfully slow starts, and we also know that the first baseman took a lot of extra swings this winter in an effort to start the season somewhere besides the dumps. It took him three games to hit his first homer of the season in 2009 and then a dozen last year, but it took all of two-and-a-half innings in 2011. The Yankees had runners on the corners with one out when Justin Verlander tried to sneak a 1-1 fastball by Tex upstairs. It didn’t work, as Teixeira hooked the ball into the right field corner for a three-run homer and a 3-1 lead. It had plenty of distance, landing in the second deck like Granderson’s shot, so the only question was fair or foul. It was fair, and it resulted in a .211 WPA swing, the biggest of the game.

(Photo via Ben Kabak)

Win, Hold, Save

Once the Yankees decided to take the plunge and sign Rafael Soriano this offseason, we evaluated the move basically two different ways: the contract was awful, and the bullpen was awesome. The latter was on full display today.

Joba Chamberlain took over for CC Sabathia in what figures to be his primary inning this year, the seventh. He struck out Austin Jackson on a bit of a hanging slider, but he gets no credit for that since I think I would have been able to strike out Jackson yesterday. Rhymes then lined out to a perfectly positioned Brett Gardner, and Magglio Ordonez flew out weakly to right to end the inning. Since the Grandyman homered in the bottom half of the inning, Joba got the credit for the win today. Three up, three down by the pen so far.

Soriano was warming up even before the Yankees took the lead, and he came in to handle the eighth. He got Miguel Cabrera looking at strike three for the first out (a generous call, no doubt about it) before Victor Martinez rolled over on a slider and grounded out to first rather harmlessly. Ryan Raburn made the final out of the inning on a hard hit fly ball to deep right-ish-center. Give that man a hold. Six up, six down for the pen.

Soriano gave way to Mariano Rivera, who went fly ball, fly ball, strikeout to record his first save of the season. The three relievers retired all nine men they faced with a strikeout each, which is exactly how you’d draw it up in the later innings. Joe Girardi still had David Robertson in reserve if something went awry, and Boone Logan was available in case the Tigers actually had a dangerous lefty in the lineup. I’m still not a fan of the Soriano contract, but I love watching him get outs late in the game.


(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Making his third consecutive Opening Day assignment for the Yankees and eighth overall, Sabathia was strong but hardly overwhelming. He did strike out seven (Jackson twice, so they don’t count) and walked just two, but four of the six hits he allowed came with two strikes. CC will tighten that up as he gets closer to midseason form, so there’s no worries there. Seventy of his 106 pitches were strikes (66.0%) and half of his non-strikeout outs came on the ground. What I found interesting was that Sabathia threw a first pitch breaking ball to 12 of the 27 batters he faced (eight called strikes, two balls, two fouls). The data at FanGraphs says he threw first pitch breaking balls just ~23% of the time last year and ~19% of the time in 2009, so he definitely threw more than usual on Thursday. It could just be a blip on the radar, but it’s worth keeping track of going forward. Maybe it’s the Larry Rothschild effect.

Another thing worth paying attention to as the season progresses: Granderson was playing very shallow in center. It worked out well because he made at least two nice catches on balls hit in front of him while still tracking down everything hit over his head. Again, let’s follow this going forward.

Nice Yankees debut for Russell Martin, who went 1-for-3 with two runs scored, but it would have been 2-for-3 if not for a nice diving grab by Raburn. He also showed off the wheels and stole third, and looked perfectly fine behind the plate. The hip and knee look wonderful.

The 2-3-4 hitters reached base a total of six times in eleven plate appearances, driving the offense. Alex Rodriguez carried his torrid spring into the season, clubbing an opposite field double off the wall and walking twice. Nice Swisher also blooped in a single to drive in an insurance run, but he got caught in a run down trying to advance to second. I guess you take the good with the bad.

Gardner struck out in his two official at-bats, seeing nine pitches total. Can’t blame him, Justin Verlander was throwing grenades out there. He did, however, bunt twice, once in the third inning (!!!) and then again in the eighth. I’m not really in the mood to talk about bunting, so let’s just leave it at that. Derek Jeter went 0-for-2 with a walk, a run scored, and a sac fly, though he looked pretty immobile in the field. Moreso than usual. Let’s hope it was the crappy weather and wet field. Jorge Posada took an unkind 0-for-4 but it was Robbie Cano that had the worst day of all. He struck out twice (once on a ball over his head) and flubbed a routine play on the field, indirectly leading to a run for the Tigers. He’ll do better.

The Yankees won their tenth straight Opening Day game at home, a streak that goes back to 1982.

WPA Graph & Box Score

A little rocky for Opening Day, but a win is a win. has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score.

Up Next

These two teams will take Friday off then meet back up for game two of the series and season on Saturday afternoon. FOX will carry the matchup of former Florida Marlins teammates – A.J. Burnett and Brad Penny – at 4:10pm ET.