The Boston angle of the Ronan Tynan story

When the embattled Ronan Tynan departed New York for Boston, many in New York wondered he would defect to the Red Sox and grace (or torture, depending upon your view of things) Fenway Park with his rendition of “God Bless America.” If The Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen has his way, that’s exactly what Tynan will be doing come Opening Day when the Yanks are in town. Cullen profiled Tynan’s move up to Boston in the wake of fall from Yankee grace following a joke made at the expense of two of Tynan’s Jewish neighbors. While the tenor continues to insist that some of his best friends are Jewish and that his joke was not meant to be malicious, he had to leave the city after few wanted to fraternize with him. Whether he takes the mic at Fenway in three weeks or not, I can’t say I’ll miss him too much.

Open Thread: A day off

I despise off days during the baseball season, and the same goes for the exhibition season as well. The Yankees enjoyed their first scheduled off day of the spring today, which was a bit of a bummer for us fans. Even more of a bummer is that picture above, showing the demolition of the leftfield stands at the Old Stadium. And that picture is four days old. Imagine what the place looks like now.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for this Monday night. I want to remind you that we’re trying to clean up the comments, and keep them free of inside jokes and memes and harassing of non-regulars. Take the Curtis Granderson thread from earlier today, there’s over a hundred comments on it, but maybe 30 are about Granderson. Please clean it up (I’m looking at you, regular commentors) and stay on topic. Thanks.

Photo Credit: Bebeto Matthews, AP

Yankees offered Hechevarria $8.5M

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees offered Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechevarria an $8.5M contract, but he instead took $10M from the Blue Jays. We don’t know how that money would have been distributed – how big was the signing bonus, what was the year-to-year breakdown, etc. – but the largest signing bonus the Yankees have ever given to a young prospect (meaning Hideki Irabu and Jose Contreras don’t count) was the $3.35M they gave Andrew Brackman two-plus years ago. The Red Sox gave Jose Iglesias a $6M bonus, and I’d have to think Hechevarria would have cleared that.

You can always tell how much a team likes a player by how much they’re willing to pay him, and clearly the Yanks’ had a ton of interest in the rail-thin Hechevarria. Can’t blame them for not trying, that’s a tremendous offer.

Link Dump: Options, Spring Training, Starters

A little of this, a little of that…

Righties Nova and Noesi optioned down

The cuts continue to roll in, and this time it involves two players on the 40-man roster. Ivan Nova was sent down to Triple-A Scranton, and he’ll likely be among the first called up when a pitcher is needed. Hector Noesi was sent a little further down the ladder, back to High-A Tampa, and it would be a surprise if he contributed anything to the big league team before the summer of 2011. By my count, there’s 46 players left in camp, but don’t hold me too it.

Cliff’s Spring Training Status Report

Cliff Corcoran at the great Bronx Banter posted a report card for the one-third point of Spring Training. There’s not to much we can say with any certainty at this point, but he touches on the expected lineup, the bench spots, the fifth starter’s spot, basically the entire team top to bottom. As always, it’s well worth the read.

Maybe the Yanks shouldn’t be so worried about their starters’ workload

Sucka got no juice (he’ll never, ever live that down) says that all the innings the Yankees’ three top starters have thrown in recent years may not be such a problem, citing what may or may not be evidence to support his claim. Of course, it’s easy to not be concerned about it from the outside looking in, and it’s obvious the Yanks are doing their best to mitigate the risk of a breakdown. Javy Vazquez was brought in to soak up innings at the back of the bullpen, and everyone’s been on a light schedule so far in camp.

A closer look at Kevin Long

Chad Jennings takes a closer look at Yankees hitting instructor Kevin Long. He’s helped a number of players with their swings, and he doesn’t want to stop any time soon. The profile covers his playing days — he never saw a major league at bat, topping out at AAA — and a freak accident that sounds like it could have been a lot worse.

Hitting the opposite way a key for Granderson in 2010

In previewing Curtis Granderson’s season, I noted that his rebound to 2008 levels is essential for the Yankees offense. That would represent a replica of Johnny Damon‘s 2009 season, making Granderson the perfect fill-in. How, though, will he return to those levels? Clearly, hitting lefties better is a good start. But what then? Where else was Granderson deficient in 2009?

Throughout his career, Granderson has hit the ball well to left field. In fact, during his first full-season in 2006 he destroyed the ball to the opposite field, hitting .388 with a .320 ISO in 107 balls directed that way. His average to left dipped a bit during his breakout 2007 season, to .265, but he still hit for plenty of power, a .184 ISO. This is the season, though, during which he started to hit for more power to right. HIs ISO when pulling went from .229 in 2006 to .441 in 2007. In 2008 Granderson again hit well to the opposite field, posting a .327 BA and .292 ISO. This was, at least in part, because he hit 25.5 percent of his balls in play that way, similar to his 24.6 percent mark from 2006. He hit 20.5 percent the opposite way in 2007.

In 2009 Granderson got back to his 2007 level distribution, hitting 21.6 percent of his balls in play the opposite way. His numbers on those balls in play dropped greatly, too, a .179 batting average and a .047 ISO. Of course, as in his 2007 season, his numbers when pulling spiked, a .385 BA and .405 ISO. Even better for him, he hit 259 balls that way, far more than at any point of his career, representing 52.3 percent of his balls in play. Yet the net effect was negative, and Granderson posted the worst BA and OBP of his career.

Granderson’s poor contact to the opposite field in 2009 shows in his batted ball splits. He hit a career high 73.6 percent fly balls to left, though it wasn’t terribly higher than his 70.8 percent mark in 2008. The difference, however, showed up in two other places. First, he hit 24.4 percent of those opposite field fly balls to the shortstop or third baseman. That means of the 79 fly balls he hit to left, 19 of them didn’t leave the infield. Even worse, zero of those 60 outfield fly balls left the yard. Granderson never flashed tremendous home run power to left, but he’s always put at least a couple out of the yard. Not in 2009.

Furthermore, Granderson hit a scant few ground balls to the left side, which likely sapped his batting average (since ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls). He hit just 8.5 percent ground balls the opposite way, about half his percentage from 2008. Also, though not as significant, he also posted a three-year low in infield hit percentage to the left side. Since most infield hits go in that direction, he further hurt his average.

While Granderson’s issues against lefties are well-documented and easily accessible, his numbers when hitting the opposite way also present cause for concern. During his run from 2006 through 2008 Granderson generally hit well the opposite way; even in his pull-happy 2007 he still far outperformed his 2009 marks. We’ve often heard that the left field porch at Yankee Stadium could help Granderson, but perhaps it could work against him. If he starts trying to put balls there it could hurt his numbers going the opposite way. As we’ve seen, his inability to hit that way in 2009 played a prominent role in his poor performance.

Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP

2010 Season Preview: Can Swish do it again?

About a month before the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira to the fourth largest contract in baseball history, GM Brian Cashman fooled White Sox GM Kenny Williams into giving him outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher in exchange for three of the sparest of spare parts. Swisher was slated to begin the season as the every day first baseman, but once Teixeira signed on the dotted line, Swish was moved into an outfield platoon role with Xavier Nady. He was a man without a position, but he ultimately became a very important part of the 2009 Yankees.

Swisher took over rightfield on an every day basis after Nady tore an elbow ligament barely more than a week into the season, and went on to enjoy his finest season in the big leagues. He hit .249-.371-.498 with a career high .375 wOBA while batting mostly out of the six-seven-eight spots in the lineup. His 29 homers were the third most on the team behind Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, and his 97 walks were second in the league. A weak postseason performance (.128-.255-.234, .282 wOBA) left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, but he basically carried the offense in April (.312-.430-.714, .473 wOBA) while Tex slumped and A-Rod was on the DL.

We know Swish is a valuable offensive player, but most fans are in disagreement about his defense. He makes the occasional goofy play in the outfield for sure, but his three-year UZR of +3.0 is rock solid. The components that make up UZR (range, errors, arm) tell us that Swisher has no problem getting to balls (+11.7 range runs), but that his arm (-6.6 arm runs) dragged him down. His 2009 UZR (+3.5 range, -1.1 arm) bears out that relationship as well. This is completely subjective on my part, but Swisher’s throwing appeared to improve considerably after working with pitching coach Dave Eiland and the since departed Phil Coke last summer, so I’m hopefully he continues that progress and the defensive metrics are a little kinder to the Yanks’ rightfielder in 2010. Either way, Jeff Zimmerman’s age-adjusted UZR projections have Swish as perfectly average defensively at right next season (meaning a UZR of zero), so let’s roll with that.

Baserunning is another aspect of the game that Swisher can make interesting. He’s not a basestealer, just seven successful steals in 15 attempts during his career, and EqBRR says he was worth -0.9 runs on the bases last year. Believe it or not, that’s the first time Swisher has been below average on the bases since 2006, though even in a best case scenario, we should be happy if he’s just league average. Brett Gardner, he is not.

So now let’s turn to offense, and the question is can he repeat what he did last season? The quick answer is yes because his 2009 performance was in line with his 2005-2007 performance, and also because he’s in the prime of his career at 29-years-old. However, there’s evidence out there that suggests Swisher might be in for a bit of a step back offensively.

Greg Rybarczyk’s great site Hit Tracker Online keeps track of every homerun hit in the big leagues going back to 2006, and sticks each one into one of three categories. “Just Enough” homers are those that cleared the fence by less than ten feet vertically or that landed past the wall by less than the fence height (so if it’s an eight foot wall, it landed no more than eight feet deep). “No Doubters” are those that cleared the fence by at least 20 feet vertically and landed at least 50 feet deep, the true monster shots. Everything else goes in the “Plenty” category.

As you can imagine, Just Enough homers are the most volatile year-to-year because they’re so close to the fence. As Rybarczyk chronicled at ESPN’s TMI blog, players who’ve hit 30 total homers in a season with at least 40% of them qualifying as Just Enoughs have seen their homer totals fall 23% on average the next season. That’s a problem for Swisher and the Yankees, because he led the American League with 14 Just Enough homers, 48.3% of his total big flies.

This isn’t the first time Swisher has been in the Just Enough danger zone either. His 14 Just Enoughs were second in the league back in 2006, exactly 40% of the career-high 35 homers he hit for the A’s. What happened in 2007? Swish regressed back to just six Just Enoughs and 22 total homers, a 37.1% drop. This isn’t to say Swisher is guaranteed to see a drop off in his homerun – and thus overall offensive – production in 2010, but it’s not looking good. Let’s see what the various projection systems say…

So yeah, the five freely available projection systems do see a slight regression for Swish, back basically to his career average with a .358 wOBA. The homer total is plenty respectable, and represents just a 13.8% decline from his 2009 total. If Swisher were to suffer the average 23% drop, he’d instead hit just 22 homers, which would further reduce his projected batting line to .236-.355-.430 with a .349 wOBA assuming those three missing homers became outs. A .349 wOBA hitter is still above average, but a far cry from what Swisher provided the Yanks with in 2009.

Okay, so combining that projected .358 wOBA with +0.0 runs defensively and say -1.0 runs on the bases, and Swisher would be a 2.6 WAR player next season, a decline of exactly one win. If we use the further reduced .349 wOBA projection, he would be a 2.1 WAR player. Those three extra homers are worth half-a-win to the Yanks.

In a way, Swisher’s 2009 season was the best case scenario for the Yankees. He provided a ton of pop and on-base skills near the bottom of the lineup, and he played basically every single day. He’s likely to improve after famously struggling at home last year (.226-.382-.394, .349 wOBA), though chances are his road performance (.268-.361-.585, .399 wOBA) will come back down to Earth as well. I like Swisher as much as the next guy, but I’m not going to be surprised if his performance declines a bit next season. You’ll see lots of people play it off as Swisher getting complacent or whatever, but now you know there’s a real baseball reason for it. Dude straight up got lucky with some homers last season.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

RAB Bracket Busters

I opened up a NCAA Tourney Pick ‘Em group on Yahoo, so if you’re interested in competing for bragging rights (and maybe a prize if we come up with something) against some fellow RAB readers, then come sign up. Here’s a group info…

Group ID: 99692
Password: riveraveblues

You can only submit one bracket, but an unlimited number of teams can join, so there’s no rush. Just make sure you sign up before the games start on Thursday. The points double each round, so you get one point for a correct pick in the first round, two in the second, three in the third, etc., for a total of 192 possible points. I don’t know as much about college basketball as I used to, but you can see my brackets here (link goes to PDF). Good luck.