How well do you know your 2009 Yankees?

If you’re looking to kill some time at the office, or are just bored at school, then take this quiz to see if you can name every player who played for the Yankees in 2009 in under six minutes. I missed just one stinkin’ relief pitcher, and it made me hate him even more. Once you finish, tell us how you did in the comments. But don’t cheat, I’m sure there will be some spoilers in the thread.

In which an owner talks about something he doesn’t understand

The Yankees catch a lot of grief because of their payroll, and whether you think it’s fair or not is another discussion for another day. Most of those outside of the Tri-State Area will bitch and moan every time the Yankees sign a CC Sabathia or a Mark Teixeira, yet won’t give an iota of credit whenever the team makes a shrewd move like grabbing Nick Swisher as an ultra-buy low or finding a big league arm (Al Aceves) and a top pitching prospect (Manny Banuelos) in Mexico for the the total cost of a replacement level player ($400,000). It’s the way it is, and most don’t think twice when fans of other clubs complain.

However, when team owners start to run their mouth, especially when they aren’t even in the same sport, well then something’s not right. At a press conference yesterday, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti took an unprovoked shot at GM Brian Cashman and our beloved Bombers

“It certainly doesn’t show up in the standings,” Bisciotti said. “If I’m a Yankees fan, I’m upset we’re not winning 130 games with the roster that they have and the money that they pay out. I think it’s a disgrace they only beat the average team by 10 games in the standings with three times the money. I’d fire that GM. You don’t need a GM. All you have to do is buy the last Cy Young Award winner every year.”

Dare I say … Boversimplification?

I’m sure Mr. Bisciotti is a smart dude, you kind of have to be to make the kind of money needed to buy an NFL franchise. However, what the hell is he talking about that it doesn’t “show up in the standings?” The Yankees have won almost 100 more games than any other team in baseball over the last 14 years. They could have gone 0-162 in 1996, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007, or 2008, and they still would have the best record in the game over that time. They’ve won the most World Championships in the last two decades, the most division titles, most pennants … how doesn’t it show up in the standings?

The goal isn’t to win 130 games in the regular season, at least not around these parts. The goal is to win 11 in the playoffs. If Bisciotti is going to talk trash about the Yankees not getting bang for their buck, then maybe he should look in a mirror first. The team he owns has missed the playoffs more times in the last five years than the Yankees have in the last 16. Something about throwing stones in glass houses seems appropriate here.

Anyway, thanks for the laugh Steve.

The price of pitching just went up

Young pitching can be both a blessing and a burden. A blessing because they represent hope for the future. A burden because they oftentimes stumble early in their careers. Many teams, especially those with lower payrolls, gladly accept these foibles in exchange for potential ace production in the future. But for a team like the Yankees, with a huge payroll and a demanding fan base, growing pains are not as easy to stomach. We need look no further than Joba Chamberlain for proof.

Thankfully for the Yankees, they have the resources to sign top pitchers as free agents. This takes the pressure off them to develop their own arms, as they can pay top dollar for the best free agent arms. This isn’t always the best strategy, as we saw in the 2004-2005 off-season. But, when applied to top-flight pitchers the team has coveted for years, the payoff can be great. It might mean overpaying, but it also means more of a sure thing than a young, developing starter.

But what if the supply of young, top-flight starters dried up? What if more and more of the game’s top arms opt to sign extensions while they’re still under team control, rather than sign a series of one-year contracts until they reach free agency? That certainly changes the equation for the Yankees. When players sign extensions during their arbitration years they typically forgo at least a year, oftentimes more, of free agency in exchange for security. After all, they might blow out their arms at any time.

For the Yankees and other high budget teams, this means a shallower pool of free agent pitchers still in the primes of their careers. We’ve seen three of the games best young pitchers sign extensions this off-season: Felix Hernandez, Josh Johnson, and Justin Verlander. Hernandez, who will turn 24 in April, signed a five-year extension in January. It sounds insane, but he’ll 29 when he reaches free agency. That’s young enough that the Yankees still might target him, but not nearly as attractive as he would have been, at 26, had he not signed the extension.

Johnson, who finally bounced back after missing much of the previous two seasons with injuries, is just 26, and would have hit free agency at age 28 after the 2011 season. His contract is heavily backloaded, meaning he’ll likely be available after the 2011 season, but in a trade. At least in this instance the Yankees wouldn’t have to pay in both prospects and a long-term contract. In 2012 and 2013 Johnson will make a combined $27.5 million before hitting free agency at age 30.

Verlander, 27 later this month, would have hit free agency the same year as Felix. Yeterday, he reportedly reached an agreement with the Tigers for a five-year, $80 million contract. Had he gone year-to-year, he would have hit free agency at age 29. He’ll now hit free agency at age 32. Again, this hasn’t stopped the Yankees. They did, after all, sign A.J. Burnett at the same age. But it’s not nearly as attractive a proposition now that he’s locked up for the next five years.

Beyond the matter of losing prime-age years, these extensions also mean slimmer pickings in the coming years. The 2011 free agent class figured to feature Zack Greinke, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, but Halladay signed an extension and probably won’t hit the market until he’s 38, and Greinke, who would have hit free agency as a 27-year-old, signed an extension that will keep him in Kansas City two years longer. In 2012 we would have seen Verlander, Johnson, and Hernandez, but now they’re locked up. Adam Wainwright would have been in this class, too, but the Cardinals have him locked up affordably through 2013. Matt Cain is all that remains. Even in 2013 Jon Lester would have been a free agent, but the Sox signed an extension to keep him around for two additional years. Chad Billingsley, John Danks, and Cole Hamels are scheduled to hit free agency, but as we can see that remains far from a certainty.

Over the next two years, just two top flight starters will hit free agency, Lee and Cain. There will be others — Brandon Webb and Josh Beckett come to mind for next off-season, but if the Sox don’t reach an extension with Beckett shouldn’t teams be a bit concerned? — but there figure to be very few Sabathia-type arms hitting free agency over the next three years. And, given the enthusiasm of teams to lock up their young starters, we could see this scarcity continue for years to come.

As a result, the Yankees have no other choice than to develop their own young starters if they want to maintain a top of the line rotation. It might hurt, and we might see a few of them turn in seasons like Joba’s 2009. But in future years, when a few of those starters pan out, the Yankees will reap the rewards — meaning they can sign their own young pitchers to long-term extensions, keeping them out of the prying claws of those greedy Yankees. Wait, what?

Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

State of the RAB

Fellow dwellers in the series of tubes:

As we near the three-year anniversary of River Avenue Blues, I’d like to take a few moments to greet and thank everyone who has visited and supported us since our inception in February of 2007. We’ve come a long way since then. Our posts have grown greater in number and deeper in thought. Our audience has grown from few and quiet to many and loud — through not only comments, but emails, instant messages, our web form, and even in real life. For those of you have ambled by here recently, and even for those who have been here for years, this is who we are.

While this particular site launched in 2007, Ben, Mike, and I go back a bit further than that. We all started up our own baseball writing projects in the mid-00s, just because we loved writing about baseball. Sure, at times we each had aspirations of attracting a large audience, but none of us really expected it. It was more a form of catharsis, a way to deal with the day in, day out stress of the baseball season. The players get to vent that stress through physical performance. For us less athletic types, writing sometimes does the trick. It does for us, at least.

The baseball season is, thankfully, fast approaching, and changes will come with it. This seems to happen every year. A certain percentage of the audience checks out after they stop playing games, only to return six, but hopefully only five, months later, just in time for Opening Day. Some readers, intrigued by our non-stop hot stove coverage, tune out during the season, opting to enjoy the game for itself and not getting caught up in the tangle of daily analysis. We do keep many of those who discovered us during the hot stove, and that means the composition of our audience will change.

That won’t change the content. We’ll continue to write stories that interest us. Sometimes that involves a prospect. Sometimes it involves breaking down data. Sometimes it involves comparing players with various statistics. If you particularly like something, but especially if you don’t, email us and let us know. We also appreciate emails in regards to typos and other small errors. We aren’t to the point of hiring a full-time editor — hell, we don’t even really pay ourselves — so any corrections from the crowd are appreciated. If you have an issue with the data we used to analyze an issue, or a conclusion we drew from the data, that’s perfect for the comments section. It might make us think of the topic in another way, perhaps making our posts more complete in the future.

What will change, undoubtedly, between now and Opening Day is the comments section. Again, it happens all the time. It’s happened over the past year, and it will continue to morph and evolve. We have an excellent core of commenters who not only know baseball, but also know how to lighten the mood. As we get more and more comments, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to monitor them. We want nothing more than a robust baseball discussion, but unfortunately there are others who do not. Allow me to elaborate.

Baseball incites argument. That’s good. We can all learn a lot from people whose opinions differ from our own. But, contrary to what many people think, not all opinions are created equal. The opinions which count for the most are those which are supported by evidence. As Tango likes to say, an opinion without evidence is bullshit. You can still hold said evidence-less opinion, but don’t expect it to garner much respect among our commenters.

If you hold an opinion and cannot back it up with evidence, we ask that you not act like a jackass about it. Accept it as just your opinion, with no basis in fact, and move on. There’s plenty to discuss. If you do continue to post evidence-less opinions, well, good for you. If you feel the need to do that, again, we just ask that you not act like a jackass about it. That’s the most important point, as you can see.

For the core commenters, we’re asking a bit more. By responding to jackasses, you’re legitimizing them. Over the past few weeks I’ve seen plenty of this — ashamedly, have been part of it once. It takes the focus off the baseball discussion and puts it onto the jackass. We do not want this. It generally leads to everyone acting like a jackass, and the comment thread devolves into an unreadable mass. Remember, we’re here to talk baseball, not act like tough guys on an internet message board.

As we specify in our commenting guidelines, we really appreciate you keep comments true to the topic of the post. If a conversation moves a certain way, keep it within that particular thread within the comments. Even then, we ask that it not get too far out of hand. For off-topic comments, we have an open thread every evening. We’ve also added an off-topic thread, which you can find in the navigation bar, and by clicking here.

To our readers who don’t use the comments section, we thank you every bit as much as our regular commenters. You’re welcome at any time to drop in and add to the conversation. We hope our threaded comments layout makes it easy to follow different conversations within the thread. We’re also working to make improvements on the layout, including re-adding the ability to see unread comments. Again, if you have any suggestions please contact us. We make it ridiculously easy to do so.

We’ll leave this post up overnight. Baseball will be back in the a.m. Thanks again for reading.

Open Thread: Official Winn

The slow time just before Spring Training can be hell for blog content, so I figured I’d pass along the news that Randy Winn is listed on the Yankees’ 40-man roster page at the official site, which confirms that he in fact passed his physical and is officially signed. Our Depth Chart is up to date.

The 40-man roster is now full, which means someone will have to head to DFA-ville before the Yankees can acquire another player. Looking at the list of the players, I’m guessing Edwar Ramirez would be the first to get the axe, however a spot would also open up if/when Jamie Hoffmann is returned to the Dodgers. Chris Garcia is dead to me, so he can follow Edwar out the door. Who’s after that, maybe Jon Albaldejo?

Anyway, use this as your open thread for the night. The Knicks and 4-43 Nets are both playing tonight, and rumor has it Derek Jeter is making an appearance on MLB Network’s Hot Stove program tonight. You know what to do, so enjoy the thread.

Looking at minor league defense

Sean at Pending Pinstripes is examining the Total Zone defensive ratings of the Yankees’ minor league teams from last season, one level at a time. Yesterday he covered the Rookie level GCL Yanks, and today he got to Short Season Staten Island. We’re dealing with small sample sizes at these levels, though it’s interesting to see how well (and how poorly) some guys performed in the field. Despite his 29 errors, Carmen Angelini actually graded out really well in Total Zone. Whether that suggests there’s a flaw with TZ or with the completely subjective nature of errors is a discussion for another day.

Make sure you check out Sean’s first two entries, and check back in for the rest of the series.

Yankees hitters against fly ball pitchers

On Monday we looked at how Yankees hitters fared against ground ball pitchers. In 187.1 innings, the Yankees’ offense hit ground ball pitchers hard, scoring 4.80 runs per nine innings. The sample included the top 13 ground ball pitchers in the AL, of which the Yankees faced 12. There are a few problems with this analysis, including the small samples against individual pitchers, and that many of the pitchers on the list can be defined by more than just their ground ball tendencies. Still, I’d like to get through one-dimensional pitcher types, then plot them and see how the Yankees fare against, say, ground ball pitchers with low walk rates.

Continuing the series, today we’ll look at how the Yankees fared against the top fly ball pitchers in the American League. Since the AL pitcher with the 10th highest fly ball rate, Jeff Niemann, sits at just around 40 percent, and since A.J. Burnett ranks 11th, we’ll go with the top 10 this time. These pitchers include, in descending order: Jered Weaver, Scott Baker, Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Verlander, Jarrod Washburn, Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson, John Danks, Zack Greinke, and Niemann. Reluctantly, I’ll include Kevin Millwood, since the Yankees did not face Greinke, and also because Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia rank 13th and 14th.

The initial problem with this analysis is evident by looking at the FB% column. There’s an over three percent drop-off between Weaver and Baker, and a nearly four percent drop between Weaver and Guthrie. Further, there’s a nearly 12 percent difference between Nos. 1 and 10. And then there’s the sample size issue, but we’ve already noted that.

Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson both murdered the Yankees in a similar number of innings. I wonder if this is an effect of them pitching in the same series, perhaps catching the Yankees hitters in similar trends. Both had good seasons, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that they pitched well against the Yankees. In Jackson’s case, however, we see more extra base hits than singles. That seems curious, and I think it might be a little luck-involved. True to that, Jackson posted a .194 BABIP agains the Yanks.

Niemann presents another odd case. The Yankees sent 70 men to the plate against him and put 26 of them on base, a .371 OBP. They also swiped four bases and got caught only once. Yet just five of those 26 base runners came around to score, 19 percent. Overall, 769 batters faced Niemann this season and he allowed 253 of them to reach base, a .329 OBP. Yet 84 of those 253 came around to score, 33 percent. Again, it seems like Niemann got lucky with men on base against the Yankees.

Against Weaver it appears the Yankees got lucky, since his 6.05 RA against the Yankees sits far above 3.75 ERA (and, for equal comparison, 3.88 overall RA). He allowed 26 of 81 batters to reach base, an OBP of .321 (though B-R for some reason has it at .325). Of those 26 baserunners, 13 came around to score, 50 percent. Overall he allowed 266 of 822 baserunners to reach, a .302 OBP, and allowed 91 of them to score, 34 percent. The Yankees did have the top offense in baseball, which can account for this. But to score 50 percent of your base runners seems a bit high, especially when the pitcher — and a good pitcher at that — usually allows 34 percent to score.

(Oddly enough, Weaver held the Yankees to a .226 BABIP, against his .281 season-long total.)

Now that I’m getting more into this data, I’m more interested in the breakdowns than how the Yankees actually scored against these guys. It shows that it’s tough to find correlation in small samples, of course, but it also has led me to break down some of these guys further.

As for the fly ball stuff, the Yankees performed worse against the top fly ball pitchers than the top ground ball pitchers, though in about 40 fewer innings. Surprisingly, they hit more home runs against ground ball pitchers, 1.63 per nine innings, than against fly ballers, 1.36 per nine. Against ground ball pitchers they put 204 men on base and brought them around to score 100 times, or 49 percent. Against fly ball pitchers they put 153 men on base and scored 68 of them, or 44 percent.

Next up, we’ll look at the best strikeout artists in the league. Apologies again to Zack Greinke for his omission.