Open Thread: Know the players by their new numbers

CC Sabathia, Bullpen Coach Mike Harkey and Pitching Coach Dave Eiland watch Phil Hughes throw today in Tampa. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

That’s a great looking photo up there. The pitchers and catchers officially arrived at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa this morning and got right to work. We love to celebrate the return of baseball, even if it’s just for a few hours of bullpen work each day, and over the next few weeks, the team will start to take the field in preparation for Opening Day.

Meanwhile, for number-watchers, today was a big day. The Yanks finally filled in the holes on their active roster, and all of the new guys and some of the old ones have new numbers. With so many non-roster invitees in camp and so many numbers retired, the Yankees have guys wearing everything from 2 to Colin Curtis‘ 98 in camp.

The most symbolic change this year will be the number on Joe Girardi‘s back. For the past two seasons, the Yanks’ skipper has donned 27 in his quest for the franchise’s 27th World Championship. With the trophy secured, Girardi will wear number 28 this year in the hunt for his next trophy. Girardi will be set until the Yanks win their 31st World Series title. Elston Howard’s number won’t come off the wall.

Meanwhile, some of the late-winter additions not noteworthy enough to warrant a press conference as Number 14 Curtis Granderson did picked out their numbers. Randy Winn has 22 on his back. Most recently, Xavier Nady and LaTroy Hawkins had donned Roger Clemens’ old number. Looking to buck with the past, Javier Vazquez has 31, last donned by Michael Dunn. Those 33 Vazquez shirts from 2004 won’t come in handy. Another once and current Yankee, Nick Johnson, has opted for 27. He last wore 36 but didn’t want to fight Edwar Ramirez for it. Kei Igawa, the not-so-proud former owner of 27, will switch to 17, says Bryan Hoch.

On the minor league front, two dueling outfielders have numbers that should tell you about their chances of making the team. Marcus Thames gets the well-travelled 38 — five former Yankees over the last two years, including Brian Bruney and Ian Kennedy in 2009, have worn it — while Jamie Hoffmann has been saddled with 73. A number that high is usually the Spring Training equivalent of a red shirt on the old Star Trek TV show.

Also of note are a bunch of the Yanks’ top prospects. Jesus Montero and Austin Romine will wear 83 and 84 respectively. Zach McAllister and Jeremy Bleich have 80 and 82. The youngest guy in camp, Kyle Higashioka, born in April 1990, will wear 92.

Finally, we have the numbers that are obviously missing from the uniforms this spring. The Yankees have again held back Joe Torre’s 6, Paul O’Neill’s 21 and Bernie Williams‘ 51. Johnny Damon‘s 18 remains on the shelf and so does Hideki Matsui‘s 55. Of those numbers, the 6 and the 51 should probably be retired while the other three can be returned to circulation.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. Some NBA trades involving the Knicks are going down. NBC’s botched Olympics coverage will be on. In local action, the Nets and Knicks both play at home at 7:30. Be good to each other.

Check injury status of players back to 2002

Whenever a player gets injured, I always wonder about his history. Has he suffered from this type of malady before? Is he generally injury prone? There are some good resources out there to find that, but this newest one might be the best. Via Tango, Rotoblog has developed a free player injury database. It comes in both CSV and SQL dump formats, so nerds of all levels can bask in the glory of their spreadsheets. There are just two conditions to using this database. 1) When citing information from it you must link back to Rotobase, and 2) You have to make any additions publicly available. Those sound eminently reasonable. So head over and download the .zip file. Josh Hermsmeyer, we thank you.

Link Dump: Cashman, Chan Ho, Milo

Some loose ends from around the netweb…

NoMaas interviews Brian Cashman

Surely you’ve seen this by now, but NoMaas sat down for a chat with Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman. The whole thing is well worth your time, though I found his comments about trading Austin Jackson for Curtis Granderson (“What Granderson is currently doing in the big leagues, we didn’t necessarily project for Austin Jackson.”) particularly interesting. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I take it as Cashman basically saying they sold high as Jackson, that they felt his value might never get any higher than it is right now.

Either way, make sure you check it out. The mustest of must reads.

Chan Ho parking himself in the Bronx?

DUCWIDT? Anyway, Jon Heyman said this morning that in addition to the Cubs and Rays, the Yankees might be a potential landing spot for free agent swingman Chan Ho Park. Park – who had a 1.84 ERA and a .543 OPS against after June 2nd last year – would surely make a fantastic addition to the bullpen if it wasn’t for two thing: a) the Yankees have at least three pitchers on their staff that do the swingman thing already, and b) there’s just no money for him.

Park made $2.5M last season, and will probably have to settle for a little less than that this late in the offseason, but the team’s recent bullpen construction suggests they’re adverse to paying big money for a reliever, unless they have a long track record of near-elite performance. Park’s a quality pitcher, but I’m not sure they really need him, or that they could even afford him if they wanted.

Milo dismissed from UVM hockey team

Yankees’ prospect Justin Milo was dismissed from the University of Vermont hockey team this week for unknown reasons. The Yanks’ 37th round pick in last year’s draft fell because he has legitimate NHL potential and wanted the opportunity to continue his hockey career at Vermont, something that will usually scare teams away. Whether or not Milo’s dismissal from the team pushes him toward baseball full-time remains to be seen.

The 22-year-old hit .256-.432-.389 last season, mostly with Short Season Staten Island. He’s a speedy lead off type, possessing strong contact skills and walking more than he struck out in his pro debut. If he focuses on baseball, Milo could develop into a useful player pretty quickly.

Update: Matt sent in some more info. He was dismissed essentially for a lack of effort, and the Yanks are making arrangements for him to get to Spring Training. He’ll then finish up classes so he can graduate before continuing his baseball career. Between him and Jamie Hoffmann, the Yanks’ have a mean top line.

Does SIERA underrate Mo like FIP does?

Nine years ago, Voros McCracken presented his theory of Defense Independent Pitching, or DIPS. In a well-researched bit for Baseball Prospectus, he showed that while a pitcher’s strikeout rate, walk rate, and, to a lesser extent, home run rate remain fairly consistent from year to year, the number of hits they allow on balls in play does not. Using this data, he concluded that, “There is little if any difference among major-league pitchers in their ability to prevent hits on balls hit in the field of play.” This ran counter to conventional thinking, but he brought enough data to the table that his findings were tough to refute.

Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP, was borne of DIPS. Consistent with McCracken’s theory, FIP considers only a pitcher’s home run, walk, and strikeout rate. This isn’t to say that all balls in play are created equal. Instead, it is to say that balls in play are subject not only to the pitcher, but to the hitter at the plate and the defense behind the pitcher. With those three factors at play it becomes difficult to assign blame. FIP simple views a pitcher through the lens of what he himself controls.

Yet we know that a pitcher does have a degree of control over batted ball type. Some pitchers keep the ball on the ground, like Brandon Webb, while others induce more fly balls, like Jered Weaver. A pitcher’s batted ball tendencies add another dimension to analysis. Recently, Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman of Baseball Prospectus introduced their solution: SIERA, which stands for Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average. It attempts to combine batted ball types, in addition to strikeout, walk, and home run rates, in order to get a better gauge of a pitcher’s true skill.

While the five-part explanation resides behind Baseball Prospectus’s pay wall, they have been fairly up front with the formula. It might seem complicated, but it essentially takes the various factor and runs them through adjustments in order to not only put a value on a pitcher, but scale it to ERA. Peter Hjort of Capitol Avenue Club was kind enough to create a SIERA calculator, complete with pitchers from 2009. But that’s not what I’m interested. What gets me thinking more is how SIERA views a pitcher who has been consistently underrated by FIP.

In the comments of Rebecca’s post about Mariano Rivera’s playoff WAR, commenter CB noted that FIP does not treat Rivera fairly. It consistently estimates his ERA above his true level, and that has become more and more true in recent years. Sure, Mo’s FIP is consistently in the low- to mid-2s, because he doesn’t allow a lot of home runs, doesn’t walk batters, and usually strikes out more than a batter per inning. My question is, does SIERA provide a better look at Mo?

We’ll look at the years 2002 through 2009, since that covers the FanGraphs era.

Until 2007, FIP came much closer to Mo’s ERA than SIERA. His ERA skyrocketed that year, mostly because of a horrendous April (10.57 ERA), so SIERA, which for Mo was consistently higher than FIP from 2002 through 2007, came closer. In 2008 both formulas came to the same conclusion, and finally in 2009 SIERA predicted a lower ERA than FIP. Problem is, neither came all that close. Once again, Mo performed better than any fielding independent metric could have predicted.

(For those wondering, that counts tERA, though it came damn close in 2008.)

Despite the discrepancy, I do not consider this a bug in SIERA. In fact, I consider it a feature. I mean, if a projection system can accurately project god, well, then where do we have go go from there?

Credit: AP Photo/Rob Carr

Prospect Profile: Adam Warren

Adam Warren | RHP

Background
Warren grew up in the Inner Banks region of North Carolina, in New Bern. He attended the high school of the same name, and starred for four years both on the mound and in the infield. A three-time participant in the North Carolina State Games, Warren earned All-State and All-Conference honors as a junior, and was also named the New Bern Sun Journal Player of the Year. He repeated as an All-Conference honoree as a senior, and was selected to the East Coast Professional Showcase Team. Warren graduated fifth in his class in 2005, and it was going to take big money to buy him away from the University of North Carolina and their powerhouse baseball program.

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How much is Yankee Stadium helping Nick Swisher?

Nick Swisher kills the ball to left field. Even in his poor 2008 he still showed power to left field, from both sides of the plate. His recovery in 2009 comprised improvements in his hitting as a lefty to center field, and from both sides of the plate to right field. This makes me ask the obvious question: Did Yankee Stadium aid Swisher’s 2009 rebound?

To get a better idea of an answer, we turn to my favorite new resource, FanGraphs splits. Here we can see how Swisher hit to each field over his career. The only downside is that we can’t further break down these splits into home/road. Swisher’s season stats, half of which he accumulated at Yankee Stadium, will have to suffice.

In 2007, when Swisher hit well, and in 2008, when he did not, he hit exactly zero extra base hits as a righty to right field. In 2005 and 2006 he hit one in each year, both times a double. That’s four years in the majors with just two extra base hits to the opposite field when batting righty. In 2009 he hit three, two doubles and a triple. While we’re dealing with small samples here, a matter of 17 to 30 balls in play per season, it’s tough to ignore his 2009 numbers eclipsing the entirety of his career to that point.

Hitting as a righty to right field in 2009, Swisher put just 21 balls in play. Like the rest of his career, the majority of those were fly balls. What changed is that he hit almost no balls on the ground, just 4.5 percent, and hit plenty on a line, 18.2 percent. It still resulted in no home runs, but again, the two doubles and one triple were more than he hit in his entire career combined to that point.

As a lefty hitting to right, it appears that the short porch also aided Swisher. In 2008 he hit .391 as a lefty to right, on the power of a .320 BABIP (lower because home runs do not count as balls in play). In 2009 he hit .330 on a .247 BABIP, but also posted a .413 ISO, which beats his .365 mark from 2008. Again, we’re working with relatively small samples here, around 110 balls in play (plus home runs) in each of the past two years. Over his career he’s accumulated 648 plate appearances as a lefty hitting to right, about a full season’s worth. In that sample he’s hit .384 with a .393 ISO on a .314 BABIP. That sends some mixed signals.

In 2009 his BABIP fell far below his career average. The home runs didn’t cause it, as the 12 he hit as a lefty to right lines up with his career totals. He did, however, hit more fly balls as a lefty to right in 2009. These are usually a BABIP killer. Yet, in Yankee Stadium, hitting fly balls to right field can bring good results — as in, more home runs. True to that, Swisher 40 percent of Swisher’s fly balls sailed over the fence. Though, again, that includes all of his games, not just those played at Yankee Stadium.

As was clear when I asked the question, there’s just not enough data to definitively answer whether Swisher benefitted from the dimensions of Yankee Stadium. We can see, however, that he certainly improved his power to right field upon joining the Yankees. For the bulk of his career he has been a dead pull hitter as a righty, but once in Yankee Stadium he took the ball the other way more often. Maybe this is a skill he’ll improve upon in 2010, making him more of a complete player. He’s never going to be a high average guy, and he’ll always strike out a ton, but if he can balance himself from the right side of the plate he can still add a dimension to his game.

Credit: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Dustin Moseley, the newest Yankees non-roster invitee

Spring Training non-roster invitees don’t normally amount to anything. The Yankees have invited dozens over the years, only to see them spend the year in the minors, or, if they have an out clause, catch on with another organization. Even the ones who do head north with the big league team, like Morgan Ensberg in 2008, don’t always stick around all season. The Yankees have invited a pair of former high draft picks to camp, 2002 first rounder Royce Ring and 2003 second rounder Jason Hirsh, and yesterday announced that they’d also bring along 2000 first rounder Dustin Moseley.

The newest invitee spent the last four seasons in the Angels organization, breaking camp in the rotation over the past three years. He never stuck, though, moving between the minors and the bullpen after April. The Yankees faced him four times, twice as a starter, in fairly unremarkable games.

In the 2000 amateur draft the Reds selected Moseley with a supplemental first round pick, 34th overall. He didn’t sign until November and so didn’t see any professional action that season. Still, Baseball America ranked him the Reds No. 7 prospect for the 2001 season. In 2002 he moved up to No. 5, where he remained for 2003. In 2004 he peaked at No. 4 in the organization.

His results in both 2002 and 2003 warranted the ranking. While he posted unspectacular strikeout rates, and saw those rates fall as he climbed the minor league ladder, he stuck to what he does best: keeping the ball on the ground. That, in turn, kept the ball inside the ballpark. Combined with a serviceable walk rate, it led to low ERAs for Moseley as he worked through A+ and AA ball in 2002, and then AA and AAA in 2003.

For the second straight year, in 2004, he split the season between AA and AAA. I don’t have the game logs, but I wonder if this is akin to Jeff Karstens’s 2006, where he started in AAA, pitched poorly, dominated AA, and moved back up. His 1.56 WHIP at AAA suggests that might be the case. After the season the Reds traded him to the Angels for Ramon Ortiz, who went on to get hammered at Cincinnati’s hitter-friendly park.

Moseley didn’t make Anaheim’s Top 10 in 2005, mainly because they had a stacked system. Injuries limited Moseley to just 80 innings that year, and in that short span the Pacific Coast League took its toll. Whenever discussing the PCL, I find it necessary to mention that Bubba Crosby posted a 1.046 OPS there in 2003. Moseley allowed 11 home runs in his 80 innings, a far greater rate than he’d allowed in his career to date. He recovered a bit in 2005, bringing his home run rate back to his career norms and generally keeping the ball out of the air. His 4.68 FIP looked good in the PCL, and earned him a brief July cup of coffee before a September call-up.

In 2007 and 2008 Moseley broke camp in the Angels rotation, but didn’t last long either year. He stuck around in the bullpen in 2007, pitching 92 innings between eight starts and 38 relief appearances and posting a 3.98 FIP, mostly because of his low home run rate. When that took a jump in 2008, Moseley suffered. It also didn’t help that he allowed 70 hits in 50.1 IP. An forearm injury divided his season, landing him on the DL in early May. He came back to make a spot start in July, and then disappeared to the minors, not to return until rosters expanded. His 120.1 minor league innings went pretty horribly, resulting in a 6.94 ERA against a 5.62 FIP.

John Lackey’s elbow injury cleared Moseley for another rotation stint, though this one lasted only three starts. He left his April 17th start with an elbow injury that landed him on the DL. Hip surgery in August ultimately ended his season. Between his last start and his hip surgery, he also experienced nerve problems in his neck. The Angels declined to tender him a contract in December, making him a free agent.

Clearly, the Yanks can’t expect much from Moseley. Even if he pitches to his 2007 level, he’s bullpen fodder at best. The Yankees seem to be full in that department, so if Moseley stays with the organizations he’ll have to start in Scranton, joining Zach McAllister and Ivan Nova. Perhaps he’d provide an experienced depth option, but with the arms the Yankees have accumulated over the past year, including fellow NRI Jason Hirsh, it doesn’t seem likely that Moseley dons the interlocking NY in 2010.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum