Yankees agree to sign Rafael Soriano

MFIKY. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

According to SI’s Jon Heyman, the Yankees have agreed to terms with Rafael Soriano to a three-year, $35 million deal. The deal comes as something of a surprise, since it wasn’t a week ago that Brian Cashman said he would not give up the team’s first round draft pick. They’ve done just that, and have given a relief pitcher $12 million annually.

We’ve talked about Soriano all winter, so there’s nothing much to add to this, at least initially. We’ll be back with a bit more thoughtful reaction later, but for now I’ll say I don’t like it. The draft pick doesn’t bother me as much as the contract. The Yanks get an expensive setup man for two years before he possibly slides into the closer role after Mariano Rivera‘s contract expires. Though, as we know, you can never count on Mo to call it quits.

The one thing I will add right now: I dislike this move less if it moves Joba back to the rotation.

Update: Heyman provides further details. Apparently Soriano can opt out after each of the first two years. So maybe he’ll pitch lights out in 2011 and go bye-bye after the season ends.

Update by Mike: Chad Jennings spoke to someone in the organization that said the Yankees have not had any internal discussions regarding moving Joba back to the rotation. Because the best pitchers should pitch the fewest innings, you know.

Oh, and Buster Olney says Soriano did not receive a no-trade clause. It doesn’t matter, the contract itself is a no-trade clause.

Open Thread: Rube

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

I have no idea why, but I was always liked Ruben Sierra, at least when he played in New York. The Yankees first acquired him from the A’s for Danny Tartabull at the 1995 trade deadline, and then a year later he was shipped to Detroit for Cecil Fielder. In between the trades he called Joe Torre a liar for supposedly reneging on a promise of a more playing time, prompting the then-manager to call Sierra a “spoiled kid” and “uncoachable.” Usually a player can’t come back from something like that, but Sierra did, rejoining the Yankees in 2003 in a trade for Marcus Thames.

Torre and Sierra buried the hatchet, and he went on to become a moderately productive part-time player. He hit .244/.296/.456 with 17 homers in just 338 plate appearances in 2004, and of course his big moment came after the season in the playoffs. The Yankees were down 5-2 to the Twins in Game Four of the ALDS, but Sierra corrected things with a huge three-run homer off Juan Rincon to tie things up in the eighth inning, helping the Yanks to the eventual series win. The Twins haven’t won a playoff game since, a stretch of ten games (really twelve since it goes back before Game Four). The Yankees re-signed Sierra for the final time six years ago today, and all told he hit .254/.310/.421 with 45 homers and horrifyingly bad defense in pinstripes.

Anyways, here is tonight’s open thread. Both the Rangers and Islanders are in action, but you’re free to talk about whatever your heart desires. Enjoy.

The Mariano Rivera story: How great is great

After fifteen years of watching Mariano Rivera make mincemeat out of opposing batters, we know just how dominant he is. Today, at the Pinstriped Bible, Cliff Corcoran pur Mariano Rivera in context, and by using a variety of statistics that measure reliever wins and player contributions, Corcoran has the following to say of Mo: “There have been relief pitchers that have had better single seasons than Rivera ever has, but none has ever been as good for as long, and any attempt to compare peaks is moot because Rivera has pitched at a peak level throughout his career.” Mariano Rivera — he’s better than you.

The RAB Radio Show: January 13, 2010

We mentioned this morning that Kevin Long and Derek Jeter are getting a jump start on the spring. They’ll get together to work out some kinks in Jeter’s swing so that he doesn’t have a repeat of 2010. I’d love to talk about that more, but I’m no hitting instructor. But Jaime Cevallos is.

If you’re not aware, Cevallos is an independent instructor who has worked with a number of major leaguers, including Ben Zobrist. He has a method, and from all I’ve read about it he makes a number of solid points. He joins us on the show today. Here are a couple of videos that go along with it. First, here’s a bit on how he helped the Charleston River Dogs in 2002. Then there’s a bit analyzing Jason Heyward’s swing.

You can find more about Jaime at TheSwingMechanic.com. He also has a book, Positional Hitting.

Podcast run time 24:03

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Let’s talk about Armando Galarraga

Word got out last night that the Tigers, with Brad Penny now on board, could look to unload the arbitration-eligible Armando Galarraga. Surely you remember him from the non-perfect game this past summer. We all know that he did in fact throw that perfect game, but the record books will say otherwise because of Jim Joyce’s rather infamous blown call on the 27th out. Despite that feat, Galarraga is the odd man out of the rotation because the Tigers have their hearts set on using Phil Coke (Phil Coke!) as a starting pitcher in 2011. I think you all know what’s next … should the Yankees have interest in Galarraga?

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Although he turns just 29 in two days, Galarraga has already earned the journeyman tag. He signed with the Expos out of Venezuela on Halloween day in 1998, then was traded to the Rangers as part of a package for former Yankee Alfonso Soriano seven years later. A little more than two years after that, Texas flipped him to the Tigers for a nondescript minor leaguer. Galarraga made just three appearances with the Rangers (zero with the ExpoNats), but it looked as if Detroit had found itself something useful following his 2008 season. That’s the year he posted a 3.73 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP in 178.2 innings.

As fine as that performance was, the underlying red flags were enormous. Galarraga wasn’t striking out many batters (6.35 K/9) and he wasn’t making up for it with a bunch of ground balls either (43.5%). His walk rate was rock solid (2.97 uIBB/9) and right in line with his minor league walk stats, but he was very prone to the long ball (1.41 HR/9). Opponents hit just .226/.294/.410 (.319 wOBA) off of him thanks to a .247 BABIP, which was the third lowest in the game among pitchers with at least 100 IP that season. Galarraga’s 4.88 FIP was far more indicative of what his performance might look like going forward rather than the 3.73 ERA.

Sure enough, Galarraga took a beating in 2009. His ERA climbed nearly two full runs to 5.64 (5.47 FIP) and his strikeout (5.95 K/9), walk (3.45 uIBB/9), ground ball (39.9%), and homer (1.50 HR/9) rates all declined. A correction to a .302 BABIP in 143.2 IP didn’t help matters either. Last season was slightly better but no not really. Galarraga’s ERA fell to 4.49 (5.09 FIP), but so did his strikeout (just 4.61 K/9 now) and ground ball (37.3%) rates, as well as his BABIP (.268). The walk (3.12 uIBB/9) and homer (1.31 HR/9) were back at 2008 levels, but that only does so much.

(AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

So that leaves us where we are today. Galarraga’s a big (6-foot-4) and skinny (180 lbs.) guy that throws mostly two-seamers (35.2% of the time, averaging 90.6 mph) and sliders (33.0%, 86.7 mph), but he also mixes in a straight four-seamer (18.8%, 91 mph) and changeup (12.2%, 84.2 mph) on occasion. His peripheral stats over the last three years are wholly underwhelming: 5.69 K/9 (below average 8.0% swings and misses), 3.37 uIBB/9, 1.41 HR/9, 40.4% grounders, and a 5.13 FIP. The only pitchers with a worse homerun rate than Galarraga’s over those last three years are Aaron Harang and Dave Bush, and the only pitchers with a lower BABIP in that time are Tim Hudson and Ted Lilly. Not a good combo. Unsurprisingly, Galarraga also has a massive platoon split for his career (.307 wOBA against vs. RHB, .371 vs. LHB). There’s not much to like here.

We don’t know how much Galarraga will earn in his first trip through arbitration, but it’ll surely be over the $1M mark, possibly even $2M. Since these aren’t guaranteed contracts, the Tigers could flat out release him in Spring Training and pay just a portion of his salary, which is exactly what the Yankees did with Chad Gaudin last year. Because that 2011 salary isn’t guaranteed, whatever team signs him wouldn’t be able to get him for the league minimum with Detroit on the hook for the rest like we’re used to seeing. Galarraga would be able to sign with whatever team offers the most money. The other thing Detroit could do is try to send him to the minors. He’s out-of-options, so he’d have to pass through waivers to go back to Triple-A, and it’s highly unlikely that another team would claim him with a seven-figure salary. Either way, there’s not much for the Yankees to see here, unless he’d be willing to take a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training after a release. There’s no harm in that.

Perhaps the more interesting news came from the Central Division of the other league last night. The Cubbies may be open to moving Tom Gorzelanny after their Matt Garza pick up, and I’d have more interest in him than in Galarraga bar none. I wrote about Gorzelanny last month, and although he won’t be great, he definitely passes the “better than Sergio Mitre” test, something I’m not sure we can say about Galarraga.

Kevin Long making his rounds this winter

Derek Jeter isn’t Kevin Long’s only project this winter. We learned earlier this month that Long and Jeter will work together in advance of spring training, but that doesn’t mean that Long has taken the rest of the winter off. In an article regarding Long’s and Jeter’s upcoming sessions, The Post’s Brian Costello reveals some of Long’s winter schedule. He’s worked with Nick Swisher and Colin Curtis, and plans to meet with Mark Teixeira next week before visiting Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. That sounds like a pretty full slate. Baseball might be a seven-month sport for us, but for these guys it’s year round.

Evaluating Rob Thomson

Thanks for nothing, Randy. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Earlier this week the Yankees did the expected and brought their entire coaching staff – sans Dave Eiland – back for the 2010 season. Third base coach Robbie Thomson was obviously included in that mix. I don’t think there’s anything more disappointing or frustrating in baseball than a runner being thrown out at home, so I wanted to evaluate how the Yankees, and Thomson by association, fared in this department last season. With a hat tip to R.J. Anderson for some procedural assistance, I did just that.

There are really just two situations in which a third base coach sends a runner: when there’s a single with a man on second and when there’s a double with a man on first. Now that’s just a general statement because not all singles are created equally (a runner’s not going to score, or even necessarily advance from second on an infield single) and the same is true of doubles (umpires can allow a runner to score from first on a ground rule double at their discretion, but we rarely see it happen). All I did for this post was look at these situations to see how many times a runner was sent and how many times he scored.

Before we get into the data, there’s two important things to mention. First of all, I eliminated plays with errors. So if a runner scored because the outfielder made a bad throw or bobbling the ball, I just ignored the play and treated it as if it never happened. Secondly, remember that there can be other runners on base as well. If there’s a runner on second when there’s a single, there can also be a runner on first and/or third at the same time, but we don’t care about those guys. Our attention is paid just to that guy on second. Same deal when there’s a a double hit with a man on first, we don’t care what the other two potential runners ahead of him do. Now that that’s over with, here’s the stats…

Update: Typo in the tables, it says double with a man on third. That should be first, obviously. The data is correct however.

Okay great, now what? For this to tell us anything meaningful, we need context, so here’s the same data for the other 29 teams in the league…

At first glance we see that last year, the Yankees were below average at scoring from second on a single when the runner was sent, but above average when scoring from first on a double, again when the runner was sent. That “when the runner is sent” part is important, because we’re only looking at instances when the runner actually tries to score. Poor old Jorge Posada is barely able to go from first to third on most doubles, but we’re not going to hold that against the team here.

Even though the team was below average at scoring from second on a single, we have to remember that we’re dealing with a pretty small sample of data. If one of those seven runners is called safe instead of out, their success rate in those situations climbs to 94.5%, which for all intents and purposes is league average. When it comes to rounding third and scoring, the Yankees are basically average once again. The 0.6% difference overall (both situations) is nothing, it’s not worth getting upset over. League average isn’t sexy, but the Yankees aren’t a team that needs every last runner to score to be successful.  I have a feeling that if  I went back and looked at the data for former third base coach Bobby Meacham, it would be a lot more interesting. That’s another post for another time.

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

One thing I have to mention is that the the title of this post really isn’t fair, because sending a runner home in these spots isn’t entirely up to him Thomson. Sure, he puts up the stop sign or waves guys in, but how often do we see a player run through the stop sign? It happens quite a bit, but it isn’t accounted for in this data. Another thing to remember is that the umpires have a say as well. They botch calls at the plate, and that will skew the numbers as well. I’m sure that stuff evens out over a 162 game season, so it’s not a huge concern.

Objectively, I think Thomson does a fine job. A runner getting thrown out at home doesn’t automatically equal a bad send, because a lot of times it takes a perfect relay throw and tag by the defense. I guess there’s two ways to look at it: you don’t want the Yanks to take unnecessary risks because their lineup is so strong, so being a little conservative at third isn’t the end of the world. The other side of the coin is that because the Yanks have such a good lineup, they can afford to take more chances since they’ll get more opportunities to score later. We really have to look at this stuff on a case-by case basis, but this data tells us that the Yankees are doing just fine here. I’d be more concerned if they were well below average that I would be excited if they were well above.

Aside: I also took a quick glance at sacrifice flies when there was a runner at third at well, and the Yankees were a perfect 44-for-44 in that department. The third base coach doesn’t have much, if any, say in those situations though because it happens so quickly, which is why I didn’t bother to include it in the data.