On Jeter and his improved defense

One week after profiling Jesus Montero and his work to improve his defense, Anthony McCarron did the same with Yankees’ captain Derek Jeter. After the infamous dinner with Brian Cashman, Jeter began working out with Jason Riley at The Athletes Compound, about 30 miles from Jeter’s Tampa home. They worked specifically on his range and quickness, because evaluators still considered his hands and arm to be elite. The result: Jeter’s UZR improved by almost 15 runs from 2007-2008, then another seven from 2008-2009.

The whole article is a must read, but the most interesting part was when Riley indicated that Jeter “had a commitment to play 8-to-10 more years, maybe not all at shortstop, but he wants to play that long.” That was prior to the 2008 season, which still means Jeter plans to be playing at age 41 or so. Whether or not Riley was speaking hyperbolically remains to be seen, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Happy Birthday to us!

Hard to believe it’s been this long already, but RAB turned three years old on Saturday.  We share a birthday with Yankee farmhand Jason Hirsh, former Yankee cult hero Shane Spencer, former Yankee draft pick Donzell McDonald, Livan Hernandez, and some kid named Verlander.

A big thanks goes out to your guys, our readers. You make it all worth it, and RAB wouldn’t be where it is without you. The last year in particular has been overwhelming. Ben, Joe, and myself are all stunned by how much the site has grown in that time. Of course, when the team we cover wins the World Series, the positive vibe tends to trickle down. It was a great year all around in Yankeeland, and we’re looking forward to doing it again in 2010.

Open Thread: An Ace In Action

CC Sabathia threw his first bullpen of the 2010 campaign today, tossing 35 pitches off one of the Tampa mounds to Jorge Posada. After a career high 266.1 IP last season, Sabathia took a grand total of three weeks off this winter before he started throwing again. “I can’t take too much time off or my arm just gets in a funk,” said CC, who was playing catch three times a week by early December. Dude is just a horse, but it good to see the Yanks scale back a bit and take it easy on the big guy.

Meanwhile, Joe Girardi indicated that Sabathia is likely to be followed in the rotation by A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Javy Vazquez, in that order. Obviously, this is completely unsurprising. Looking at the schedule, I’m guessing the rotation will shake out like this during the first few weeks of the season:

April 4th: Sabathia
April 5th: OFF
April 6th: Burnett
April 7th: Pettitte
April 8th: OFF
April 9th: Vazquez
April 10th: Sabathia
April 11th: Burnett
April 12th: OFF
April 13th: Pettitte (home opener)
April 14th: Vazquez
April 15th: Sabathia
April 16th: Burnett
April 17th: 5th Starter

The Yanks can skip the fifth starter’s spot the first two times through the rotation without starting anyone on short rest of anything like that. Pettitte would get the nod for the home opener, something he’s more than qualified for. The first two weeks of the season were laid out pretty neatly this year, thankfully.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. The Knicks are playing, plus there’s the Olympics, so have at it.

Photo Credit: Bryan Hoch, MLB.com

Report: Damon heads to Detroit

Via MLBTR, the Tigers and Johnny Damon have reached on a one-year deal guaranteeing him $8M. The Yankees offered Johnny $6M ($3M of which was deferred) a few weeks ago, but he turned it down and they turned to Randy Winn. I’m glad it worked out for him. The deal includes a no-trade clause, but I’m willing to bet he’d waive it to rejoin the Yankees, should such a situation arise.

Damon was a great player for the Yankees during his time here, and I wish him the best in Detroit. At least now Austin Jackson won’t get thrown to the wolves and be forced to hit leadoff.

What the Good Book says: Yankee hitters

I arrived home last night at a little after 1 a.m. fully intending to go sleep, but when I walked into my building, I discovered with delight that my review copy of Baseball Prospectus 2010 had arrived. Sleep would have to wait. I spent around 45 minutes pouring through the latest edition of BP’s guide. Complete with PECOTA projections and pithy comments, the guide is, as always, an indispensable part of Spring Training.

Instead of droning on and on about the virtues of the book — or dwelling on the choice to go with a pea green cover this year — I’d rather just have some fun with it. Over the new few days, we’ll dive into the meaty part of the analysis offered by the Baseball Prospectus Team of Experts, but this weekend, I’ll bring you some selected projections and my comments. For what it’s worth, BP thinks the Yankees are “in a very good position to repeat.”

We’ll start today with some offensive lines and cover the pitcher’s projections tomorrow. Baseball Prospectus 2010 will be available in stores on February 22 and is already available for sale at Amazon.

Derek Jeter — .286/.359/.401 VORP: 20 WARP 1.6
PECOTA is bearish on Derek Jeter simply because, as the book says, “only a handful of shortstops 35 or older have had great offensive seasons.” One of those shortstops was 35-year-old Derek Jeter, but his comps don’t scream out success at similar ages. If Derek can continue to defy aging, he’ll far exceed this conservative projection. If he matches the projection in his walk year, not only will be he worst professional season, but the Yanks will have some tough choices to make as well.

Nick Johnson — .279/.421/.423 VORP: 21.4 WARP: 2.3
As always, Nick Johnson’s biggest question marks surround his health. BP is critical of his ability to stay healthy, someting they call a skill “Johnson doesn’t have.” They wonder if the Yanks can “keep him on the field for 150 games,” but as a DH, he won’t suffer through the wear-and-tear of playing first. He’ll also have a nice Interleague Play-inspired vacation in June. On the bright side, PECOTA pegs him for 466 plate appearances.

Mark Teixeira — .294/.395/.541 VORP: 43.3 WARP: 5.0
Need I say much here? Basically, PECOTA expects Teixeira, playing his age 30 season, to duplicate his age 29 year. That’s not an unreasonable expectation, and if Teixeira can avoid a painfully slow start, he could be even better. PECOTA projects 35 home runs for the Yanks’ number three hitter.

Alex Rodriguez — .282/.388/.532 VORP: 39.4 WARP: 4.4
In all likelihood, A-Rod will outplay his projection. PECOTA pegs him for just 532 plate appearances because he’s playing his age 34 season and missed considerable time, albeit with a one-time injury, last year. BP calls him “one of the most valuable and essential players in the game,” but as the rest of us do, they question whether he’ll “justify every year of his contract.”

Jorge Posada — .263/.355/.445 VORP: 16.7 WARP: 1.6
The key stat here for Posada is the way PECOTA pegs him as a prime candidate for a collapse. He’ll turn 39 in mid-August, and his collapse rate is an alarming 37 percent. Comfortingly, though, his attrition rate is nearly the same. We’ll probably see something of a decline from Posada, but hopefully, it’s closer to an attrition dip than an all-out collapse. The Yanks are penciling him in for 120 games behind the plate. That might be optimistic, but BP is high on Francisco Cervelli‘s defense as a caddy to Jorge.

Nick Swisher — .248/.370/.470 VORP: 26.2 WARP: 2.7
BP isn’t high on Swisher’s personality. They say he is “not master of his mental domain” and is far from “a frustration-free ballplayer.” But he excels at taking pitchers and working walks. He went to a full count in 22 percent of his plate appearances, fifth best in basebal, and his projected IsoD is topped only by Nick Johnson. If Swisher can get his head more into the game, he could have a breakout year.

Curtis Granderson — .268/.351/.491 VORP: 35.2 WARP: 4.4
For what it’s worth, PECOTA pegs Johnny Damon, playing for the Yanks next year, to hit .272/.360/.433 with 17 home runs. Granderson is projected to hit 28 home runs and play a far superior defense to Damon’s. More alarming, says BP, are his struggles against lefties, and the Yanks “should be prepared for the possibility that he’ll need a platoon mate.”

Robinson Cano — .295/.343/.483 VORP: 27.8 WARP: 3.4
Cano, says BP, is “far better as setting the table than cleaning it.” He ranked 141st in RBI percentage and hasn’t been a productive player with men in scoring position for the duration of his career. If he could get on base more, the Yanks would probably bat him higher in the order to minimize his potentially rally-killing ABs. Still, he is a “flawed but valuable player” and could out-play his projection, which is weighted down by his terrible 2008.

Brett Gardner — .266/.356/.378 VORP: 13.4 WARP: 1.5
Says BP, “Gardner’s speed on the bases and in the field merits another long look.” That sums up Brett Gardner. He’s not going to need to carry the club, and if he can get on base 35-37 percent of the time while improving his baserunning smarts, the Yanks will be happy. As for the other guys, PECOTA predicted a .231/.299/.447 line from Marcus Thames in Detroit. BP calls him “as one-dimensional a player as you’ll find in the majors.” Randy Winn is expected to hit .270/.334/.384 in San Francisco. Jamie Hoffmann, labeled “a curious selection by the Yankees as the first pick in the Rule 5 draft,” could hit .261/.332/.399. Pick your poison.

Demo continues on 161st and River Ave.

After opening their new stadium in style last year, the Yankees’ old home continues to be torn down across the street. Gary Dunaier snapped some photos of the demolition of the Old Stadium from a moving downtown 4-train earlier this week. The escalator bank in left field is gone, ditto the rightfield bleachers and the wall above them. Make sure you click through the first link for all of Gary’s pics.

(h/t TYU)

The new Nick Swisher

The Yankees triumphantly won the World Series last season, though they did it without much help from their every day rightfielder. Nick Swisher batted a robust .128-.255-.234 in 56 plate appearances during the postseason, leading to an overhaul of his batting stance. That overhaul continued into the offseason according to Pete Caldera, as Swish worked with Kevin Long in Arizona for a few weeks to create better balance in his lower half.

Meanwhile, Swisher also shed a dozen pounds during the winter thanks to a new boxing regimen. “It was a very controlled atmosphere — it’s not like we were out there just throwing haymakers at each other,” said Swisher of his boxing experience. “I really enjoyed it.” Does that mean he takes over Shelley Duncan’s place as the team enforcer?