Working to control the 2010 innings load

CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett both reached career highs in innings pitched in 2009. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

By the time Robinson Cano fielded a Shane Victorino ground ball and tossed it to Mark Teixeira to end the 2009 World Series, the Yankees’ starting pitchers had thrown a lot of innings. For nearly a month, Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett had been making high-stress October starts, and the innings kept mounting. Keeping these key arms fresh, then, has now become a primary concern for the Yanks this spring.

The horses were ridden hard in October and November. After throwing 230 regular season innings, Sabathia tacked on another 36.1 in October, far surpassing his career high. A.J. Burnett tossed 207 regular season innings and added another 27.1 in the postseason. His previous career high was 221.1, a mark he reached in 2008. Andy Pettitte, the October veteran of the group, threw 194.2 regular season innings and another 30.2 in October. He hadn’t surpassed the 225-inning mark since 2005. These guys threw long and hard in high pressure situations.

As Spring Training begins, Joe Girardi knows that his pitchers worked a lot last season. Today, while addressing the media, Girardi spoke about physically preparing his pitchers for another long season. “We figured we could ease all these guys into it,” the Yanks’ skipper said. “We wanted to make sure that they’re absolutely physically prepared to go out and have that same type of workload.”

The Yankees are going to proceed slowly with their hurlers. They won’t ask the pitchers to overtax themselves in Spring Training. CC Sabathia, the ace, will throw his first full bullpen session on Saturday, and the others will follow suit as though lining up the rotation for the regular season. A.J. will toss on Sunday, Pettitte Monday and Javier Vazquez, the new guy, will take his turn on Tuesday. It’s a smart move for the Yankees.

Why the care and kid gloves? Well, a 2007 Washington Post article about the Chicago White Sox helps to put it all into perspective. As Dave Sheinin noted then and as the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays can tell you, teams that go deep into the postseason one year often see their pitchers regress the next. Wrote Sheinin, “Of the 30 pitchers who threw 240 or more innings in a season between 2001 and ’05, the vast majority (21 pitchers, or 70 percent) saw their ERAs rise the following season — and 11 of them experienced a jump of at least one full run. Still others experienced arm injuries the year after their high-workload season.”

And so the Yankees will be careful. They have a lot riding on their pitching staff. Besides the $72.75 million invested into their four top starters, the Yankees are going to need to have these guys be on top of their games to fend off the Red Sox and the Rays. The team knows this, and as Spring Training begins, so too do the innings concerns.

A Pro Baseball Central appearance

Steve Keane from The Eddie Kranepool Society has asked me to appear as a guest on his Pro Baseball Central show on Blogtalk Radio tonight. I’ll be calling in to chat Yankees, Mets, Spring Training and New York baseball with Keane and co-host Joe McDonald at 9:30 p.m. Give it a listen. I promise I won’t make too much fun of the Mets’ woes.

Thursday Open Thread

Hooray for wind sprints. Enjoy the thread.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Boxing bout bedeviled by Bar Mitzvah

For months, the Yankees have been trying to secure a boxing ticket for the new Yankee Stadium, and rumors indicate that the team is close to doing so. According to the Daily News, Yuri Foreman and Miguel Cotto are nearing an agreement to fight at the Stadium in June. Yet, a Bar Mitzvah might throw those plans for a loop. According to a Times report, the Yankees are targeting Saturday, June 5 for the boxing bout, but the team has also promised that night to Jonathan Ballan, the team’s lead bond lawyer for new stadium financing, for his son’s Bar Mitzvah. The sticking point in negotiations is the scoreboard. The Yanks have allowed Ballan and his family use of the scoreboard for 30 minutes, and as Belson writes, “the 30,000 or so fans expected at the bout would probably not enjoy seeing a montage of Ballan family photos on the scoreboard.”

The team expects a simple resolution to this problem and plan to reach an agreement over the price of the Bar Mitzvah by the end of the week. Bob Arum, the boxing promoter working to set up this fight, has promised the family a meet-and-greet with Foreman and some autographed baseballs from the team. What more would a 13-year-old want anyway?

A look at the Yanks’ salary arbitration history

As a student of both the law and baseball, I’ve always been intrigued by salary arbitration, an essentially arbitrary process that pits an employer against an employee in a battle over a one-year contract. Back in 2005, I wrote a piece examining just that aspect of arbitration, and it’s still relevant today. The arbitration process remains a prickly issue for teams and a rather opaque one at that.

As fans of the Yankees, we’re not used to watching the team go to arbitration. In fact, since beating Mariano Rivera in 2000, the Yankees have gone to arbitration just once. That hearing came in 2008 when the team won a dispute against Chien-Ming Wang over $600,000. Whether the hearings are worth it is a question the Yanks have apparently answered in the negative recently.

Recently, Maury Brown at the Biz of Baseball released a salary arbitration scorecard in an effort to bring some transparency to the process. He’s tracking all of the hearings since arbitration started in 1974 and has info on the arbitrators themselves for every hearing since 2005. Did you know, for instance, that clubs have won 57 percent of all salary arbitration cases and that only one team — Tampa Bay — has never lost a hearing? The Yanks’ long-term track record, a 12-9 mark, is perfectly in line with the MLB averages.

Armed with this database, let’s take a look at some of the Yanks’ historical arbitration cases. The team was far more likely to go to arbitration in the early years of the process, and in 1974, they went to hearings with four players. In fact, the early years of arbitration were a gold mine for hearings. Players and teams sat through 29 disputes in 1974, a good six percent of all arbitration cases over the last 37.

That year, the Yanks faced off against Wayne Granger, Gene Michael, Duke Sims and Bill Sudakis. Granger’s case was over a matter of $4000. He won but was released before the end of Spring Training. Gene Michael had asked for a raise of $10,500 after putting up a terrible age 35 season, and he lost his case. Duke Sims, a late September 1973 waiver claim by the Yanks, lost his case and was traded in early May. Sudakis, a back-up infielder coming off of a career year, trumped the Yanks by $5000 and had a middling 1974 season before the Yanks traded him to the Angels in December.

For the Yankees, those four cases would be their only panels of the 1970s, and the team wouldn’t need an arbitrator until the 1981 off-season. That winter, Rick Cerone had the good fortune of a career year, and he won his arbitration panel. The difference in that case was $900,000, and just seven years after the Yanks went to arbitration over what now amounts to pocket change, baseball salaries were already on the rise.

Throughout the 1980s, the Yanks would sit through the bulk of the franchise’s overall arbitration hearings. In 1982, the Yanks’ $300,000 offer to Ron Davis, who was asking for $575,000, made them winners, and Davis was traded before the 1982 season began. The team beat Bobby Brown over a matter of $85,000 and beat Dave Revering over $75,000. Revering too would be traded in mid-season.

And then the big names arrived. In 1987, at the height of Don Mattingly’s career, the first baseman won a $1.975 million arbitration award. The Yanks had countered with $1.7 million, and this hearing is a notable won because even had the Yanks won, it would have been the highest arbitration award in history at that point. In 1988, Mike Pagliarulo earned himself a significant raise even though the Yanks won his hearing. His 1987 salary sat at $175,000, and the arbitrator award him the Yanks’ $500,000 offer.

Once the 1990s began, the Yanks continued their slow and steady trickle of hearings. In 1993, Jim Abbott asked for $3.5 million, but the Yanks’ $2.35 million won out. John Habyan asked for $800,000 but was granted $600,000. Randy Velarde asked for $1.05 million, and even though he had made just $360,000 the year before, the Yanks’ offer of $600,000 was deemed insubstantial.

The following year would bring the team another trio of forgettable names. In 1994, Pat Kelly won his arbitration hearing and received $810,000. But the Yanks beat Kevin Maas and Terry Mulholland. The difference in the Maas case was just $65,000, but the Yanks rightly wouldn’t budget. Maas never played another game for the team.

After this burst of early-decade hearings, the big stars came to the forefront. In 1996, the Yanks lost to Bernie Williams over a difference of $445,000. In 1999, they lost to Derek Jeter over a matter of $1.8 million. In 1999 and 2000, the team split hearings with Mariano Rivera. The closer, better at nailing down the 9th than his salary, won in 1999 when he asked for $4.25 million but lost in 2000 when he asked for a then-record $9.25 million. No arbitrator wanted to push that limit for even the best closer.

On a historical level, the Yankees have been fairly active in the arbitration field with no real advantage over any other team. Their 21 cases rank them eighth overall in baseball since 1974, but they’ve sat through just one hearing over the last ten off-seasons. Meanwhile, since the Mattingly arbitration and the explosion of baseball salaries in the late 1980s, the average difference for the Yanks’ arbitration cases is $713,000.

It’s a messy process with teams explaining why a player doesn’t deserve as much as he thinks he’s worth, and it can lead to a rather disgruntled employee for a least some time after the hearing. Yet, salary arbitration lives on, an alternative-dispute resolution system drafted by a multi-billion-dollar business as they argue over a few hundred thousands dollars. After all, somehow, someway, salary levels have to be determined, and when the two sides can’t come to terms, they reap what they have sown.

Story of the day: Complacency

Following up on Mike’s last post, I’ve noticed a particular focus on Point No. 3: Complacency. Apparently there’s a concern that the Yankees will be happy having won the World Series last year, and will start the season on cruise control rather than with full effort. Maybe those aren’t the specific accusations, but it’s certainly implied. I’ve never been one to judge a ballplayer’s effort, so maybe I’m just laying down my personal biases here. But I see no reason to think the team will not care as much about winning in 2010 because they hoisted the trophy in 2009.

Even if there is a hangover effect on World Series winning teams, why would a player ever admit to it if questioned? When asked, players will almost certainly respond the way Phil Hughes did a couple of days ago. “Last year was nice, but we have to do it again this year. At the end of 2010, I don’t think anyone will be talking about who won in ’09.” It’s right out of the Crash Davis handbook for dealing with the media. I don’t expect any different from anyone, even if — especially if — there is some mythical hangover effect.

This actually gives me more respect for the beat reporters. While I don’t think the current storyline is relevant, it certainly highlights the daily pains they go through to find one. It ain’t easy chasing down a story in Tampa, especially when all’s quiet on the Yankee front.

Oh noes! The Yankees have issues

As players report to camps in Florida and Arizona, it’s time for all of us to fill the bandwidth with columns about who’s in the best shape of their life, what team has a chip on their shoulder, things of that nature. Another Spring Training staple is looking at what’s wrong with the Yankees, which both Jayson Stark and Jon Heyman did today. Essentially, you can round up both articles like this:

1. They have too many good hitters, and Joe Girardi doesn’t know how to line them up yet.
2. They have two pitchers in their early-20’s, both of whom were named the best pitching prospect in baseball earlier in their career, and they don’t know which one will hold down the all-important fifth starter’s spot.
3. They won last year, so doesn’t mean they won’t try as hard this year?

And that’s basically it. Ah yes … baseball’s back.