How will Yankee Stadium play in 2010?

Last April the Yankees were targets of widespread criticism. It wasn’t because of their lavish off-season, though, but rather because of their new palace in the Bronx. While the old Yankee Stadium was known as a haven for left-handed hitters, who could pop home runs over the short porch in right, the new Stadium seemed to exaggerate that effect. Both the Yankees and their opponents cleared the fence frequently last April, with the Yankees hitting a home run every 19.87 PA, while opponents hit one every 23.92 PA. The effect persisted in May, with only slight changes in the home run rates. Many thought that the Stadium was clearly hitters’ park, and some went so far as to call it an embarrassment.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

In The Star Ledger, Marc Carig tackles the topic of how Yankee Stadium will play in 2010. He notes the trends that I wrote about a few weeks ago on ESPN. Once June hit the home run rate dropped. Opponents felt the brunt, dropping to one home run every 41.83 PA, and staying in the mid-30s for the rest of the season. The Yankees only saw a slight drop-off, though. Their June, July, and August numbers were only slightly worse than the April and May ones. I think this illustrates the issue.

The perception of Yankee Stadium as a bandbox started in April, and was based mostly on a game where Cleveland hit six home runs. Tampa Bay also had a game where they hit four homers. Remember, though, that opponents only came to the plate 311 times in April, hardly a meaningful sample. Opponents hit 13 home runs, but six of them came in that Cleveland game, where Chien-Ming Wang and Anthony Claggett served up the taters. May isn’t quite as explainable, as opponents hit 29 home runs in 672 plate appearances, a slightly quicker pace than April. But, again, their rate dropped off considerably after that.

As I noted in the ESPN TMI article, the Yankees hit a ton of home runs at the Stadium because the team was built to do just that. In addition to the three lefties — Matsui, Damon, and Cano — the lineup featured four switch hitters: Teixeira, Cabrera, Posada, and Swisher. Those four have all hit for more power from the left side in their careers. The plan worked, too, as each of them outpaced their career slugging numbers from the left side. Combined with the raw power of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter’s excellent power numbers to right, the team was not only built for its home park, but was also well-rounded enough to succeed on the road.

We still don’t know if the early season power numbers from last season were an aberration or if they represent some kind of weather pattern at the Stadium. That’s why park factors are best examined using three-year samples. We just don’t know what caused the balls to leave the yard. Were the pitchers just not used to pitching at the park, as Joe Girardi says? Or is there an environmental effect that pushes the balls out? We’ll have a better idea after this April and May, though we still won’t have the full picture. That will take another year or two to determine.

What it means to cover baseball in 2010

My dad, a lifelong reader of The New York Times, emailed me a few weeks ago as the Yanks were amidst Spring Training. Did I, he asked, notice a decrease in the number of articles about March baseball in The Times Sports Section this year? Granted, The Times has never covered New York sports with the same vigor and thoroughness as the Daily News or The Post, but even by Times’ standards, coverage of baseball this spring seemed light.

At the time, I thought little of it. It was just another discussion point in the ongoing debate my family has over the future of print journalism vs. content and news delivered in real time on the Internet. If The Times didn’t see fit to saturate its Sports pages with Spring Training stories, so be it. Anyone interested in tales from the Grapefruit League could find plenty to read on numerous websites.

Apparently, though, my dad wasn’t alone in noted the decreased content out of Florida and Arizona. Over at Fangraphs yesterday, Marc Hulet surveyed the newspaper industry’s baseball coverage and found that coverage in his area was on the wane as well. Those who added their comments to the piece presented a mixed bag of viewpoints. Some felt that their local papers had ramped up coverage; others felt that print articles remained as they always did.

Upon closer inspection, though, nearly everyone agreed that the Internet is where the news now is. By and large, newspapers have expanded or maintained their sports coverage, but as newspapers decrease in size, that coverage remains online in the form of web-only features, blog posts or various other Internet-based analysis. Some larger sports outlets – ESPN, Fox Sports, Yahoo – are poaching local talent and providing them with a more maleable platform and a larger potential audience. Others – local newspapers – are pushing their writers to rely upon and use the Internet.

In New York, we’ve seen this paradigm shift unfold. Led by Peter Abraham in 2006, the New York papers ramped up their online presence. Today, Marc Carig, Mark Feinsand and the team at LoHud, among others, bring non-stop online coverage of Yankee news and analysis to the Internet long before their game-recap and news-capsule pieces appear in the next day’s print edition – that is, if the game ends early enough. If I happen upon a Daily News in the subway in the morning after a Yankee game, nothing in the sports section is news to me.

For us, the Internet has always been our primary medium, and although we complement beat writer coverage, we are, in a way, competing for the same eyeballs. We know that ESPN New York, for instance, is making a push to capture Internet-savvy sports fans. We know that New York’s cut-throat tabloids are putting more and more content up on their websites, and so we respond in turn.

This year, as our readers have noticed by now, we’ve changed the format of our game recaps. For decades, baseball game stories have followed a fairly static approach: Run through the chronology of the game, highlight the big plays, get a few rote quotes from the players, file story. Ours are trying to lend something more to the game and our understanding of it. We still highlight the big plays, but we are trying to do so with the assumption that anyone reading knows what happened.

With MLB.com’s replay offerings and numerous enhanced box scores and play-by-play applications prevalent online, fans know the minutiae of the game as it unfolds or soon after they arrive back at their computers. What we want to do is highlight aspects of the game that don’t always pop. A dramatic home run late in the game may appear to be the biggest play, but what of that key out earlier on? What of the two runs scored in the 1st? What of the run prevention in the sixth?

Beyond the results, we can look closely at the process as well. If a pitcher doesn’t have it, can we pinpoint what he was doing wrong? Was it pitch selection, poor scouting or a flat pitch? Player quotes add minimal amounts of context, and what we see at home with advanced pitch charting helps us bring you our reader a more nuanced and complete understanding of the game in context.

Baseball and the Internet have come together nicely over the last decade, and as I wrap up this meta blog post, I am optimistic that the next ten years will be just as productive. It’s an old sport long covered by traditional media adapting to a new and faster way to deliver information. That can only lead to positive developments for everyone involved.

Adams stays hot in Trenton loss

Triple-A Scranton (6-5 win over Rochester in 11 innings)
Kevin Russo, 3B-2B & Jesus Montero, C: both 1 for 4, 1 BB – Russo drove in a run, stole a base & K’ed … Montero’s had one hit in every game so far
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB – left the game after getting hit by the pitch on the hand when he squared around to bunt
Robby Hammock, 3B: 1 for 1, 1 RBI – walk-off single
Juan Miranda, 1B: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K – tied the game up with a two-run homer in the bottom of the 9th
David Winfree, LF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K
Jon Weber, DH: 0 for 4, 1 BB, 2 K - remember when he was all the rage in Spring Training?
Colin Curtis, RF: both 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB
Greg Golson, CF: 2 for 5, 1  RBI, 2 K, 1 SB – threw a runner out at third
Reegie Corona, 2B-SS: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Dustin Moseley: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 1 HB, 7-1 GB/FB – 54 of 89 pitches were strikes (60.7%) … love that 13 of the 14 outs he were recorded came via the K or GB (one was a double play), but damn, only 14 outs?
Zack Segovia: 1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 17 of 29 pitches were strikes (58.6%)
Boone Logan: 2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3-1 GB/FB – 22 of 36 pitches were strikes (61.1%) … looking very good so far
Mark Melancon: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 19 of 33 pitches were strikes (57.6%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 11 of 14 pitches were strikes (78.6%)

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Getting the place ready

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

With the Yankees set to return to the Bronx tomorrow for their first homestand of the 2010 season, it’s time to spiffy the place up. All I know is that if anyone in my family had seen this guy cleaning the dugout walls like that, he’d be getting yelled at for having his knees in the couch.

Anyway, this is tonight’s open thread. The Nets and Knicks are both in action, plus the Reds and Marlins (Cueto vs. Nolasco) are on MLB Network. I’ll be watching the new episodes of House and 24. Whatever you go with, talk about it here.

Thunder adds Van Benchoten

With Chris Garcia on the shelf for what will likely be the rest of the season, Double-A Trenton has added former Pirates’ first rounder John Van Benschoten to the bullpen. Lance Pendleton moves from the ‘pen to the rotation to take Garcia’s spot. Those moves by themselves aren’t interesting, but they confirms that Manny Banuelos wasn’t scratched from yesterday’s start because he had been called up. It was a long shot to begin with. Rumors circulate that he’s out with an appendectomy, but those are unconfirmed.

How long will the Gardner-Thames platoon last?

It’s tough to find controversy when a team goes 4-2 in its first two series, defeating both of its toughest division rivals. It becomes even tougher when the team scores 36 runs in those six games and has won convincingly in the two latest contests. Still, there is one issue that seems to have some Yanks fans wondering. It’s a minor issue, but an issue nonetheless. It appears, at least for the time being, that Joe Girardi will platoon Brett Gardner and Marcus Thames.

When we heard about the possibility earlier this month I didn’t think much of it. Why, I wondered, would the Yankees sacrifice so much on defense just to get Thames’s bat into the lineup? Yet when they faced their first lefty of the season, Jon Lester on Tuesday evening, Thames’s name was on the lineup card. It appeared again on Friday night when David Price took the mound for the Rays. The decision came back to bite them that evening, as Thames couldn’t run down a Jason Bartlett liner to center, which allowed two more Rays to score in an abhorrent fourth inning.

So will the Yankees continue to employ this platoon?

For now, I imagine the team wants to see if they can get anything out of Thames. The only way to do that, so they think, is to play up Thames’s skills. Well, we can really make that singular, since Thames has one skill, power, and he flashes it most proficiently against left-handed pitching. If Thames, then, is going to be of any use to this team, he’s going to have to hit against lefties. Hence the early season trial. I suspect, however, that it won’t last too long.

I don’t love the math in Greg Fertel’s analysis. It uses MLE stats, which don’t necessarily correlate to major league numbers, and it uses defensive projections. While these are better methods than pulling numbers out of thin air, they also leave plenty of room for error. Those issues aside, I think Greg has a good overall point, and one that I tried to make in Friday’s recap. Thames would have to hit a ton off lefties in order to justify his playing time.

Gardner saves runs with his glove, many more than Thames. He will also produce a non-zero average against lefties. Thames will allow many more balls to drop, balls which Gardner would catch. At the plate he might produce better, but in order to determine his value we have to look at his production over Gardner’s, and then look at his production under Gardner’s in the field. Without running through projection numbers, I’m fairly certain that the runs Gardner saves will be worth more than the runs Thames creates, even if Thames actually starts hitting lefties.

Still, Thames figures to get a few more shots against lefties. It’s tough to just on just a few plate appearances, especially early in the year. I understand where the Yankees are coming from in wanting to see if Thames can provide value to the team. The ultimate answer, I believe, will involve Thames being reduced to a pinch-hitting role — and an eventual ouster from the team once they can find a more productive player for his roster spot.

Link Dump: Joba, Sabathia & Crawford, Chan Ho

A few links on a gorgeous Monday afternoon…

Joba’s one of the 25 best players under 25

A pair of ESPN scribes are running a series of posts at the TMI Blog naming the 25 best players in the game under the age of 25. Joba Chamberlain checks in at number 20, but with the caveat that he is considered a reliever and not a starter. I know, I know. I don’t like that their list is based on a standard 25-man roster, with bench players and what not, but it’s still pretty entertaining. I’d rather just see a list of players that young, like Baseball America used to do. I don’t remember seeing them put one together in the last few season, but I remember. Miguel Cabrera dominated the top spot until he turned 26.

CC wooing CC

Via sucka got no juice, apparently CC Sabathia has been leaning on his good buddy Carl Crawford about joining the Yankees as a free agent next year. “I joke around with him all the time about that — all the time,” said Sabathia. “I told him I’ve got an extra room in the house, whatever he needs.” Let’s not forget that CC is close to Cliff Lee after all the time they were teammates in Cleveland.

Chan Ho Park had diarrhea

Last, but certainly not least. I’m sure you’ve seen this already, but in case you haven’t…