Yanks not having any “hi-level” trade talks about starters at the moment

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are not currently having any “hi-level” trade discussions with any teams about a starting pitcher(s). They do have interest in Matt Garza though, who a) I really like, and b) is totally available. Things figure to pick up next week at the winter meetings, but the Yankees are definitely moving at their own pace this offseason. “We’re not desperate to do anything,” said Brian Cashman to Mark Feinsand, which is consistent with this idea of playing it cool and letting the market come to them. We’ll see, but I doubt the Yankees will have a quiet winter.

Open Thread: Jesus Montero

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Yankees have had no shortage of mega-hyped prospects in recent years, dating back to Drew Henson and Alfonso Soriano and continuing in recent years with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. Soriano and Joba came up and had immediate impact, just like the most recent mega-hyped Yankees prospect: Jesus Montero.

Montero started the 2010 season at Triple-A as a 20-year-old, posting a .375 wOBA with a career high 21 homers in 123 games. The Yankees sent him back there to start this season, and after a strong April he slumped through May and June. He hit the snot out of the ball after that, finishing the Triple-A season strong before getting his first taste of the big leagues on September 1st. The Yankees didn’t hold him back, Montero started at DH on Sept. 1st against Jon Lester and the Red Sox in Fenway Park in a game that carried major weight in the AL East race. He didn’t get a hit, but he was hit by a pitch in the later innings and scored the go-ahead run.

That first week in the big leagues just kept getting better and better. Montero scored that go-ahead run in his first game, then he picked up his first career hit in his second game. He had his first career two-hit game in his third contest, and then in his fourth game he hit his first two career homers. Montero hit .328/.406/.590 (.421 wOBA) in his 69 plate appearances in the season’s last month, twice homering off extreme sinkerballer Jim Johnson and also once off AL Cy Young Award runner-up Jered Weaver. He also hit one out of Junichi Tazawa.

Montero turns 22 years old today, the age when a typical American kid is getting ready to wrap up his senior year of college. He’s almost guaranteed to have a prominent role with the 2012 Yankees, either as a pure DH or a DH/backup catcher hybrid or something else entirely. If he hits, something he’s done his entire career, then the role is secondary. The Yankees will get Montero’s bat into the lineup everyday.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Giants and Saints are your Monday Night Football matchup (8:30pm ET on ESPN), and that’s it for local sports. You can talk about anything you like here, it’s all fair game.

Please Help: There’s only two more days left to vote for Brian McElhinny for the 2011 Blogging Scholarship. I wish that existed when I was in school. Brian writes Raise The Jolly Roger, a great Pirates’ blog. Anyway, please click the link and go vote, it literally takes about five seconds, maybe less if you have a super-fast internet connection. Thanks.

More CBA madness: Draft pool even smaller than expected

Via Jim Callis, the pool for the first ten rounds of the draft is closer to $180M than the $200M that was reported last week. It doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it basically means each team will have ~$667k less to spend next draft. The Yankees have signed guys like Graham Stoneburner, Mark Melancon, and Dante Bichette Jr. for close to that amount in recent years.

Furthermore, Callis also says that if teams do not sign a pick, they will not be able to allocate that pick’s money elsewhere. There had been some speculation that clubs with extra picks would simply not sign one of their first rounders, then redistribute the money to get better players with their remaining extra picks. Teams won’t be able to do that, apparently. This new setup is about as close to hard slotting as you can get without actually implementing hard slotting.

Valuing Francisco Cervelli

(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

The Yankees’ deep catching corps could start paying off soon. Two of their young catchers, Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, have already made their Major League debuts. Both of their names have surfaced in various trade rumors and speculations, and there is a chance that the Yankees could trade one this off-season in a deal for an impact pitcher. If that impact pitcher does not surface, or if the Yankees find the price prohibitive, they can use their catching depth in other ways. Given a few recent deals, they might have another catcher of value on the roster.

Despite his status as occasional punchline at RAB, Francisco Cervelli is not a bad player. At time his play frustrates. Many of his mistakes seem boneheaded and avoidable; his throws are often inaccurate to the point of hilarity; and it appears he stabs at pitches and drags them back over the plate, which is the poorest of framing methods. While those do hinder what could be a better overall game, Cervelli does provide some value. In the last two seasons, as the Yankees’ primary backup catcher, he has produced a .317 wOBA, which is only slightly below league average. That includes a .348 OBP, which ranks 13th among all catchers with at least 450 PA*.

*An admittedly arbitrary sample size which Cervelli barely fulfills.

With the possibility of Montero fulfilling the backup catcher role while also DHing, and with the further possibility of Romine transitioning to the bigs as a backup, Cervelli could be expendable. He might be a tough sell at this point, given the frequency and recency of his concussion history. Still, he’s been pronounced fully recovered, and it sounds as though he’ll be raring to go for spring training. He might end up reporting to a location other than Tampa for it.

In the past week or so, two catchers have changed teams in relatively minor deals. First the Marlins traded John Baker to the Padres for Wade LeBlanc. Then, yesterday, the Rays traded John Jaso to the Mariners for Josh Lueke. The returns might not be overwhelming, but both the Marlins and the Rays realized returns for catchers similar to Cervelli. Jaso might seem superior, because he produced quality numbers in 2010. But his 2011 negated much of that. The result is a .318 wOBA (101 wRC+) in 687 career PA. Baker has been around a while, but injuries have hindered his career. In 760 career PA he has a .333 wOBA (99 wRC+). Both of them, then, are average hitters who are both at least two years older than Cervelli (.308 wOBA, 85 wRC+ in 560 PA).

A few teams could remain in need of a catcher. Minnesota might want a caddy for Joe Mauer who is a bit better than Drew Butera (.215 wOBA, 28 wRC+ in 409 career PA). Anaheim has been on the market for a catcher who can hit better than Jeff Mathis (.246 wOBA, 45 wRC+ in 1360 career PA). Houston could use someone younger and better than Humberto Quintero (.258 wOBA, 54 wRC+ in 1137 PA). LA might need someone now that Rod Barajas has gone (does Matt Treanor actually count?). Colorado has reportedly been mulling the idea of signing Ramon Hernandez and trading Chris Iannetta. Perhaps they’d be amenable to trading for Cervelli instead. That’s a considerable list, and it includes only the obvious candidates. Cervelli would almost certainly perform better than any of their current options.

The issue with trading Cervelli is the same one that Mike found when valuing Eduardo Nunez: is Cervelli worth more to the Yankees or to another team? As a Yankee he provides some experience as a backup catcher, allowing them to work in Jesus Montero at his own pace. It also allows them to give Austin Romine some time at AAA. He also ensures a certain level of depth in the system. Is that worth more to the Yankees than what they could get on the trade market? Judging by the Jaso and Baker trades, the Yankees might not find much to their liking.

Wade LeBlanc, who went to the Marlins in the Baker deal, is a soft-tossing lefty with a poor ground ball rate. He’s had success in limited runs, but even pitching in the spacious confines of Petco Park did little to aid his home run rate. At age-27 there’s little hope he’ll reach a level significantly above replacement. Josh Lueke has a bit more promise as a strikeout reliever. He posted quality minor league numbers at many levels, including AAA. Yet even with his promise Lueke comes with plenty of personal baggage, which obviously reduces his value. That is to say that neither Baker nor Jaso fetched much in a trade. That could tip the scales towards the Yankees keeping Cervelli.

I the Yankees want to cash in on Cervelli, chances are they’ll have to sell him as part of a bigger package. They could probably shop him on his own to a few teams, but they might not realize much in return. As a second or third chip in a larger deal, however, he could prove valuable. At the same time, that makes a deal less likely; the Yankees would have to find a player they really liked on a team that needs a catcher, and base the offer around another player. Chances are, then, that Cervelli provides more value to the Yankees than he does on the market. Which is just fine. Minus some boneheaded mistakes, he’s actually provided some decent value for the Yanks in the last two years.

Valuing Eduardo Nunez

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

As fans, we come up with our own evaluations of players. They’re impacted by our emotions and confirmation bias, though I think we’ve done a better job of being more objective over the years. Teams have their own evaluations of players as well, evaluations based on stats and hordes of scouting reports dating back to when the player was just some kid in Single-A. The evaluations of fans and teams are often totally different, that much is obvious.

Over the last two or three years, another thing has become obvious: Major League teams value Eduardo Nunez. The Braves have interest in him for the second straight offseason, and the Mariners wanted him in the Cliff Lee non-trade last year. Those are just the rumors we’ve heard about, but I’m willing to bet several other clubs have inquired about his availability without us knowing. We see Nunez as a hacker at the plate and unable to consistently make the routine throw, but other teams see him as a valuable piece. Why? I’ll give you six reasons why…

  1. Aaron Hill, two years and $11M
  2. Clint Barmes, two years and $10.5M
  3. Mark Ellis, two years and $8.75M
  4. Jamey Carroll, two years and $6.75M
  5. Willie Bloomquist, two years and $3.8M
  6. John McDonald, two years and $3M

Those six players have signed those contracts this offseason. They average 34.5 years of age, hit a combined .255/.307/.351 in 2011, and will earn an average of $3.65M next season. Nunez turned 24 in June, hit .265/.313/.385 in 2011, and will earn roughly $500k next season (as well as the year after). Now it’s easy to see why other teams have been asking the Yankees about Nunez. The middle infield market is absolute garbage these days.

It’s great that the Yankees have an asset in Nunez, an asset other teams covet, but what exactly should they do with him? We could argue this nonstop from here until Opening Day, and I don’t think there’s a right answer. If a deal comes along that will allow them to add an impact starting pitcher, then they should trade him. If nothing like that materializes, then they should keep him because Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter aren’t getting any younger. There’s no rush to do anything right now, so the Yankees can wait to see just what offers come along, if any.

Is Nunez a frustrating player to watch? Oh hell yes, there’s little argument to be made there. Frustrating does not mean worthless though. Eduardo has real life value as long as the middle infield situation around the game remains awful and utility guys are getting two guaranteed years and starting spots on the open market. It’s just a question of whether he’s more valuable to the Yankees on their roster, or as trade bait.

Inside the best-pitched game of the Yankees’ 2011 season

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

For my money, there are few things more thrilling in modern-day baseball than a complete-game shutout. A large part of my thirst for the complete game is that unless you’re Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, it’s a feat that’s grown rarer as baseball marches on. Last season there were 75 complete-game shutouts, or 2.5 per team, although four teams didn’t record a single one — Cleveland, Houston, Kansas City, and somewhat surprisingly, San Diego.

That 2011 tally of 75 may have been up from 2010’s 59 and 2009’s 63, but even though CGSHOs seem to be coming somewhat back into vogue, it hasn’t necessarily been that way for the Yankees.

The Yankees technically authored three complete-game shutouts in 2011, although only two were of the nine-inning variety. Phil Hughes was credited for a complete-game shutout for his rain-shortened six-inning win against the White Sox on August 2nd, but that really doesn’t count.

Truly, keeping an opposing team off the board for nine full innings is a pretty herculean task. When Bartolo Colon did it on Memorial Day back at the end of May, I was exceptionally pumped, as it was the first Yankee complete-game shutout since Sabathia authored one against the Orioles on May 8, 2009, not to mention the fact that if you’d told me Colon would pitch a CGSHO at any point in the 2011 season I would’ve thought you were crazier than the National League for making pitchers hit. It was also only the third recorded by a Yankee since 2006, and if you go back over the last 10 seasons, Yankee pitchers have only recorded 17 complete-game shutouts. Admittedly the Yankees’ potential shutout tally is inherently limited by the presence of the Greatest Closer of All Time, but that only adds to the scarcity and makes the accomplishment that much more impressive in my eyes.

As great as Bartolo’s game was, if you sort by Game Score, CC Sabathia threw an even more dominating start a month-and-a-half later, which, at 87, was the top Game Score by a Yankee pitcher of the 2011 season. At the time, it represented the second-highest WPA for a starting pitcher in all of MLB after Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter. Sabathia’s CGSHO wound up finishing third overall come season’s end.

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc ? WPA
1 CC Sabathia 2011-07-10 NYY TBR W 1-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 1 9 0 113 79 87 0.761
2 Bartolo Colon 2011-05-30 NYY OAK W 5-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 0 6 0 103 71 85 0.365
3 CC Sabathia 2011-07-26 NYY SEA W 4-1 GS-7 ,W 7.0 1 1 1 3 14 0 102 71 82 0.167
4 Bartolo Colon 2011-05-18 NYY BAL W 4-1 GS-8 8.0 3 0 0 1 7 0 87 61 82 0.629
5 CC Sabathia 2011-06-30 NYY MIL W 5-0 GS-8 ,W 7.2 6 0 0 2 13 0 118 77 78 0.317
6 CC Sabathia 2011-04-05 NYY MIN L 4-5 GS-7 7.0 2 0 0 1 6 0 104 67 78 0.278
7 CC Sabathia 2011-05-19 NYY BAL W 13-2 GS-8 ,W 8.0 7 0 0 0 9 0 109 84 77 0.097
8 CC Sabathia 2011-07-16 NYY TOR W 4-1 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 1 1 3 8 0 110 74 77 0.339
9 Ivan Nova 2011-06-20 NYY CIN W 5-3 GS-8 ,W 8.0 4 1 1 0 7 0 105 70 77 0.289
10 CC Sabathia 2011-07-05 NYY CLE W 9-2 GS-7 ,W 7.0 5 0 0 2 11 0 100 69 76 0.162
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/17/2011.

Given Sabathia’s dominance of the Rays on July 10th, I wanted to see how exactly he attacked them that afternoon. The following is a breakdown of Sabathia’s complete-game shutout compared with his insane eight-start run from June 25nd through August 1st (62.2 innings, 78(!) strikeouts, 16 walks, .503 OPSa, 1.01 ERA), his entire season, and the league average numbers for left-handed pitchers:

Sabathia’s four-seamer was something else on July 10th, averaging 95mph, going for a strike over three-fourths of the time, coaxing a swing well over 50% of the time, and generating a well-above average percentage of whiffs. Interestingly, he increased his deployment of the slider both during the July 10th game and throughout his eight-start run, compared with how frequently he used it on the season.

I say interesting because CC appeared to be getting into some trouble later in the season due to increased slider usage, although looking at the data in this chart compared to the August data in that link we see that the slider was breaking slightly less during his rough August stint (-0.43 inches of V-break compared to -0.73 during the dominant run) and was also roughly one mph slower. Those are both such minimal changes that I don’t feel comfortable drawing any conclusions about the slider one way or another, although given how important it is to CC’s repertoire it’s possible something even as minor as 0.30 less inches of average vertical break at one mile per hour slower would have a deleterious effect.

But I digress. The other interesting thing that sticks out to me on the above chart is that CC got zero swings-and-misses on on his sinker during the eight-start beast run, despite throwing it 12% of the time. Like any good sinkerballer, it’s obviously more of a pitch-to-contact pitch for him, but I hadn’t really realized that about his sinker until I looked at the numbers.

In any event, I’ll eagerly await the next CC Sabathia shutout complete-game shutout, not to mention a few more insane 1.00-ERA runs he’d like to string together.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 28th, 2011

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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