Open Thread: Shock! Yankees players considered overrated

Ah yes, the good ol’ Sport Illustrated MLB players poll, when players around the league annually vote the players they’re most jealous of their least favorite Yankee(s) as the most overrated player in the game. Alex Rodriguez tops the list this year, followed by Joba Chamberlain and Derek Jeter. Joba was in the top spot last year while A-Rod came in second, so those two flip flopped. Jayson Werth places fourth this year followed by Jonathan Papelbon, but Nick Swisher received the same amount of votes as those two. For all intents and purposes, the top four spots of the list were occupied by Yankees. Are they overpaid? Sure. But I think you could make a case that A-Rod and Joba are actually underrated in the public eye given how often they get trashed in the media.

Anyway, I just figured I’d throw that out there. The regular game thread will be along a little later on (game starts at 10pm ET), so use this open thread to hold you over. The Mets are again playing the Pirates (Dickey vs. McDonald), plus the Giants and Cardinals (Vogelsong vs. Carpenter) will be on ESPN. The NBA Finals start tonight as well, you can watch that on ABC at 9pm ET. Talk about whatever, go nuts.


Keith Law’s Updated Top 25 Prospects

Keith Law posted an updated list of the top 25 prospects in baseball today (Insider req’d), and Jesus Montero jumped from number four in the preseason rankings to number three. That’s only because Domonic Brown graduated to the big leagues though, Montero basically maintained his spot. “I’m holding on this one,” said KLaw, “because I think he’ll hit and no one is reporting anything significantly wrong with him except over-eagerness at the plate; I imagine there’s some frustration that the Yankees are employing a guy hitting .174/.292/.348 in a spot Montero could fill.” He has no idea.

As for Manny Banuelos, he jumped from number 12 to number eight, again because of graduation more than anything. “Not a great start to the year, although the stuff is largely intact (if not quite as electric as it was in the AFL last year) … every source save one said he was still an elite prospect in their views, worthy of a top 10 spot.” Unsurprisingly, no other Yankees cracked the top 25 even though three others cracked Law’s preseason top 100 list.

2011 Draft: Scott McGough

The draft is just six days away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some players individually rather than lump a few together in one post.

(Photo Credt: Flickr user boomer-44)

The son of a former minor leaguer, McGough was a 46th round draft pick of his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school back in 2008. He did not sign and was part of Oregon’s first baseball team since 1982 as a freshman. McGough has also pitched in the wood bat Northwoods League and for the Collegiate National Team during the last two summers.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 185 lbs., the name of McGough’s game is power. His fastball regularly sits 92-94 and he’s flashed a few 97’s with the Ducks. A sharp slider in the low-to-mid 80’s is his top secondary offering and a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch. McGough has also dabbled with a curveball and changeup this spring at Oregon’s behest. McGough is a good athlete with a loose arm, though he’s still working to find consistency with his delivery and overall command. Here’s some video.

McGough is almost certainly a reliever long-term (he’s pitched out of the bullpen for Oregon almost exclusively), but the fastball-power slider combo hints at strikeout potential and a late-inning profile. He’s expected to a be drafted somewhere in the fourth or fifth round, which is a fine spot to jump on a college reliever. Keith Law did not have McGough and his latest draft prospects list, though Baseball America ranked him the 126th best prospect in the class in their latest effort.

How much longer for Nova?

One reason the Yankees have difficulty developing pitchers is that their win-now mentality is often at odds with the struggles young pitchers face. Rare is the instance that a pitcher, fresh from the minors, pitches to his potential from Day 1. There are certain pains each one goes through, and those pains often hurt his team’s current standing. The team accepts those wounds with an eye to the future. But the Yankees, with their championship-or-bust mantra and their toughest-in-baseball division, often have to cut short those experiments in order to keep the focus on the present. That’s why it came as a surprise when Joe Girardi announced that the Yankees would stay on rotation this weekend, even though they have a days off on Thursday and Monday.

The reason for the surprise, of course, is Ivan Nova. His turn comes Thursday, and with the way he’s pitched this season, and particularly of late, skipping him seems like a fairly easy and obvious move. That would line up Sabathia, Colon, and Garcia for the weekend, and then, after a day off, the Yankees could attack Boston with Burnett, Sabathia, and Colon. Instead they’ll head to Anaheim with Nova, Sabathia, and Colon scheduled. For the Boston series they’ll have options, but none of them include Burnett, Sabathia, and Colon all pitching. Instead, CC can go in the finale on Thursday, preceded by, in all likelihood, Garcia and Burnett. The chances of them going Garcia-Burnett-Nova, I think, are slim to nil.

More important than the discussion of rotation order, though, is the discussion of Nova’s place in it, period. Again, this harkens back to the idea that the Yankees need to keep an eye on the present as well as the future. Nova certainly has potential, but as it stands now he’s not doing much to help the team win. His ERA currently ranks 92nd among 113 qualified starters, and that’s just the start. His FIP ranks 87th, and his xFIP ranks 107th. As Mike noted, his swinging strike rate, just 3.9 percent, is dead last among those 113 pitchers, and his contact rate is the highest. He mitigates this somewhat with ground balls, but it’s not nearly enough. Combined with a crappy walk rate, it adds up to a 1.59 WHIP, which is fourth worst in the league.

If this were a matter of Nova experiencing typical rookie struggles while putting up decent results, it would be one thing. But as nearly all the numbers indicate, he ranks among the worst regular starters in the majors. Worse, there is no real reason to believe that he’ll suddenly improve. That is, maybe he will improve down the road — his minor league control numbers were better, for example — but in the here and now there is no indicator of impending improvement. The Yanks will probably get a decent start out of him here or there, but chances are he’s going to roll along in roughly the same manner he is now. That’s not going to work for the Yankees this season.

There are reinforcements, of course. Hector Noesi, once Girardi found his name on the bullpen card, has done a decent job in limited action. He was already going to be one of the first rotation reinforcements from the minors, so they have little to lose by giving him a shot. There is also Carlos Silva, who has done an OK, decent, even fine job during his stint in the minors. He has a mid-June opt-out, and so will warrant consideration soon enough. Nova shouldn’t have much time, in other words.

If the Yankees do stick with their announced plans to start Nova in Anaheim, it could be as a last chance scenario. But that could end up being a mistake. The Angels have some decent hitters, but they lack power. Nova might be able to cover up some of his shortcomings if there isn’t someone who can punish him for all the walks and base hits. If good results mean an extended stay in the rotation, that would render the Anaheim game a bad audition environment. It means he’ll get a start against the Red Sox (probably not) or the Indians, both of which have produced some of the best offensive numbers in baseball this season.

There are benefits to having a young starter in the rotation, and further benefits to letting him work through his troubles. But a team in the Yankees’ situation can’t afford an extended audition. Nova has shown little to this point that indicates he will help throughout the 2011 season. It was a worthy experiment, but it should be coming to an end. The Yankees have a few arms they can call upon to take the fifth spot in the next few weeks while Brian Cashman looks around for a more suitable replacement. In the long-term, Nova might help the team as a fourth or fifth starter who can deliver some league-average innings. In the short term he’s shown that he’s something less than that, and it’s something the Yankees can’t afford.

Scouting The Trade Market: Derek Lowe

Three offseasons ago, everyone knew that the Yankees were going to make a major run at CC Sabathia. The rest of their starting pitching plans were a little unclear, but it seemed like a safe bet that they were going to pursue another free agent starter. They ultimately landed A.J. Burnett, but the other candidate was the sinkerballing Derek Lowe, who ended up with the Braves.

Atlanta has the most pitching depth in baseball, even after trading Rodrigo Lopez to the Cubs last week. Aside from their five Opening Day starters (Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and the currently DL’ed Brandon Beachy), they also had top prospects Mike Minor and Julio Teheran in Triple-A and the lesser known but still effect Todd Redmond. The Braves are very much in contention and maintain that they have no interest in trading Lowe, but everyone has a price. Let’s start with the cons…

The Cons

  • It’s hard to believe, but Lowe will turn 38 on June 1st. And with that age comes with a loss of velocity, as his famed sinker now sits more 86-89 than 89-91 like it did a few years ago.
  • Lowe would be more than just a second half rental. He’s under contract next season for the decidedly not team friendly price of $15M. He makes the same amount this year, so he’ll cost about $2.5M per month the rest of the way. That is no bargain.
  • It’s been more than six years since Lowe pitched in the American League or in a hitter’s ballpark.
  • Lowe’s recent DUI case was thrown out, but it’s still an unnecessary distraction and an obvious character flaw.

The Pros

  • Despite his age and declining velocity, Lowe is still really effective. His 55.8% ground ball rate this year is his worst since the data started being recorded in 2002, but it’s still a top ten mark in all of baseball.
  • Lowe is one of the most durable pitchers in the game, throwing at least 190 innings in each of the last six years and in eight of the last nine. In the one off year, he still made it to the mound for 182.2 IP.
  • Lowe’s strikeout rate has actually been going up over the last few years, and right now it sits at 7.79 K/9 with 9.2% swings and misses. Both of those are career highs as a starter. Those whiffs are the result of an increased using of his sharp slider, which is often mistaken for a cutter. He’s also throwing his changeup more than ever as well.
  • I don’t put too much stock in postseason track record, but it can’t be a bad thing that Lowe owns a 3.30 ERA in 76.1 playoffs innings since becoming a full-time starter in 2002. He’s also pitched in the World Series, for what it’s worth.

One thing to keep in mind: all those ground balls are great because dinky little seeing eye singles are better than the extra base hits that tend to result from fly balls, but the Yankees have a pretty poor defensively infield. Aside from Mark Teixeira, everyone is below-average now that Robinson Cano seemingly forgot how to use his glove.

Lowe’s contract is far from ideal, but you’d have to think the Braves would be willing to eat some of it to move him. They simply won’t get anything of value back if they don’t. Part of the problem is that Atlanta doesn’t have any obvious needs. Jason Heyward is out with a shoulder issue, but when he’s healthy their outfield is pretty much set (Heyward, Nate McLouth, and Martin Prado). None of their four infielders (Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Alex Gonzalez, and Chipper Jones) are going anywhere, and neither is catcher Brian McCann. They have pitching as well. Of course these things have a way of changing and quickly, but right now there’s no obvious trade match between these two clubs even though Lowe’s appears to be one of the better trade candidates out there.

The RAB Radio Show: May 31, 2011

It’s been an odd West Coast trip so far. The Yanks have held their own against four very good, if not great in some cases, pitchers. Yet they’re only 2-2 to this point. Mike and I talk about the frustrations of Friday and Saturday, and then look forward to see what could change in the next couple of weeks.

Podcast run time 23:10

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.