Spring Training Game Thread: Starting From The Top

The last time we saw our beloved Bombers take the field, we watched them walk away with their 27th World Championship. Hard to believe that was less than four months ago, isn’t it? Seems like an eternity.

The team has undergone some major changes since the wonderful night, waving goodbye to a few stalwarts while welcoming in both long-term cornerstones and short-term stopgaps. Despite that, the goal remains the same: to be the last team left standing when it’s all said and done in November.  This game means nothing in grant scheme of things, everyone’s just going to be shaking off some rust and trying not to hurt themselves, yet we’ll live and die with each pitch anyway because we love our team.

The three long-shot candidates for the fifth starters’ spot are all scheduled to take the mound, though only to start an inning. If one of them can’t finish off a frame, a throw-away reliever will be brought in to clean up the mess before the next guy comes in. Here’s today’s lineup, at least for the first few innings, anyway…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Marcus Thames, DH
Jamie Hoffmann, RF
Brett Gardner, LF
Frankie Cervelli, C
Ramiro Pena, 2B

Scheduled Pitchers: Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, Al Aceves, Jon Albaladejo, Wilkins Arias, Jason Hirsh, Royce Ring, Amaury Sanit, Zach Segovia

Among those slated to take the mound for the Pirates are former Yanks Ross Ohlendorf and Steven Jackson. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET, and you can watch on either YES or MLB Network. Enjoy the game.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

2010 Draft: A Pair Of First Round Arms

The Yankees don’t kick off their exhibition schedule until this afternoon, but meaningful baseball has been played across the country for weeks. The college baseball season started in mid-February, and high school ball in warm weather states has begun as well. The Yanks’ scouting department doesn’t get the luxury of Spring Training, they need to be in mid-season form right out of the gate.

As I’ve already explained, the Yankees didn’t gain or forfeit any picks this year because of draft pick compensation, and their first choice comes in at number 32 overall. That pick will be their first in an effort to rebuild the farm system that has thinned out as the result of trades, graduation, and attrition, so they better make it count.

I figured I would kick off this year’s draft coverage by highlighting two personal faves of mine, a pair of power college arms.

James Paxton, LHP, No School
The name probably rings a bell for more than one reason. Paxton was Toronto’s sandwich round pick last year, though they weren’t able sign him and he returned to Kentucky. Well, he was going to return to Kentucky, except the NCAA wouldn’t let him. I’m not interested in explaining the whole story, but essentially the NCAA found out Paxton had someone negotiate with the Jays on his behalf, which is a no-no. The two sides were in court for months as Paxton tried to get his eligibility restored, and he ultimately decided to drop out of school when it became apparent the NCAA was trying to make an example out of him.

So now the 21-year-old Paxton will have to show off his stuff in an independent league this spring instead of fronting the Wildcats’ rotation. He’s a pure power arm from the left side, using all of his 6-foot-4, 220 lb frame to generate fastballs typically in the 93-95 range, though he’s flirted with 98. Paxton’s second pitch is a hard curveball that’s a true strikeout pitch, and his changeup is no worse than average. His stuff plays up because of strong control and command (just 61 walks in 148.1 IP at UK).

Even though his delivery is simple and his arm action is clean, Paxton dealt with elbow tightness in high school (he was raised just outside of Vancouver, so he’s a hoser) plus some minor back and knee trouble in college. Thankfully those were all one-time incidents. After going 37th overall last year, Paxton might end up going as high as in the top ten this year. If he’s around when the Yanks’ first pick comes up, they’d be wise to grab him.

Photo Credit: Canadian Press

Brandon Workman, RHP, Texas
One of the best high school arms in the country back in 2007, the Phillies wouldn’t meet Workman’s demands of first round money when they took him in the third round. So he ended up going to school, making the Longhorns’ standout pitching staff that much better. Workman made a name for himself by no-hitting my Nittany Lions last March, and he’s posted a 131-48 K/BB ratio in 128.1 IP during his first two years on campus. He has a 13-4 K/BB ratio in 11 IP during his two starts this season.

Another big guy like Paxton, Workman stands 6-foot-5 and packs 220 lbs. onto his frame, and his repertoire is all power. His fastball legitimately sits in the mid-90’s, and he’s run it as high as 97. An over-the-top curveball is Workman’s second pitch, and he’s messed around with everything from a slider to a splitter to a changeup as his third pitch. Although his delivery was extremely violent coming out of high school, Workman’s worked hard and has done a good job of smoothing it out.

Right now he’s projected to go somewhere in the back half of the first round, but if Workman’s bonus demands are similar to what they were three years ago, then he might slip a little further. It’s a surefire first round arm, possibility even a top ten arm, but these things never go according to plan. In a system lacking high upside pitchers, Workman would be a breath of fresh air.

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Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has shown that he prefers polished pitchers, which would give Paxton the edge over Workman. Either way, the Yanks’ system is short on power starting pitchers at the moment, so nabbing one of these two guys would go a long way toward correcting that.

The next Yankee owner

Derek Jeter is all smiles during his Spring Training press conference. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

When Derek Jeter signs his next contract, it will represent his last big payday. He might not retire at the end of the three- or four-year extension he’ll sign with the Yankees in eight or nine months, but by the time 2015 rolls around, Derek will be 40 and playing on a year-to-year basis.

But what if the Yankees and Derek reach a different kind of agreement? In a Post column that makes serious use of a RAB meme, Kevin Kernan suggests that Jeter, who wants to be a part-owner of a baseball team one day, should be given an ownership stake in the Yankees and thus be a Yankee For Life®. The crux of Kernan’s article rests on this concept that Jeter bleeds pinstripes and that he always should and always will. It’s similar to false dichotomy between those who are True Yankees in the eyes of a judgmental media and those who are not.

If we wade through that argument, however, Kernan may have presented a solution to the Yanks’ needs to retain Derek Jeter but not as a salary that ties up too much of the team’s payroll on players who are fast approaching 40. Jeter, according to Kernan, told him that being an owner of a team is “definitely a goal of mine.” Jeter has never mentioned the Yankees, and considering that he’s building a massive mansion in Tampa, he could easily target a Florida team. But aren’t the Yankees’ team offices also based in part in Tampa? It almost makes too much sense.

In probing Jeter, Kernan got the usually taciturn captain to open up. Jeter wants to “get to call the shots,” he says, and he wants to oversee a disciplined organization similar to the Yankees. After all, it’s all he has known throughout his baseball career.

Those who know Derek can see the owner in him emerging. Team adviser Reggie Jackson has worked with Jeter for the better part of his career. “Jeter will be an owner one day,” Jackson said to The Post. “That will happen. He wants to be an owner. I’m sure he knows enough people to help with money. He knows the path.”

That path might be even easier than Jackson or Jeter think right now. If Jeter is intent on becoming an owner, the Yankees could figure out a way to include that in his next contract. Jeter may be a wealthy man. After all, he’s in the last year of a deal that will pay him $189 million, and he earns a little bit less than $10 million a year in endorsements. But that still leaves him approximately $1 billion short if he wants to purchase the Yanks outright.

So what are the Yankees to do? In an ideal world, the team would be able to give him an ownership stake in his next deal. They could start to line him up for an adviser role with the team that includes a nice title and some real power and retains him within the organization. It would make him a Yankee for Life® indeed.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement has another take on the matter. Per the CBA and the Uniform Players Contract, Jeter is barred from having an ownership stake in the team. Term 4.(c) of the boilerplate cannot “own stock or have any financial interest in the ownership or earnings of any Major League Club” and will not, “while connected with any Major League Club, acquire or hold any such stock or interest except in accordance with Major League Rule 20(e).”

According to my research, there is a way that the Yanks could give Jeter some ownership stake. I don’t have the full text of Rule 20, but sources indicate that a player may have an ownership stake with the express permission of the Commissioner and as long as that stake is sold if if the player leaves that team.

The Bombers might not be able give Derek an outright share in the team. But the team could work something out with Bud Selig or the two parties can work out something agreeable to both teams. After all, would we want to see Derek owning any other team?

Do not put stock in spring training stats

It has been a long four months, but today we will finally get some live Yankees baseball. Though we won’t see much, it’s still exciting to see the players back in uniform, facing competition. In addition to the regulars, who will play only a few innings, we’ll see some of the up and comers, plus a few of the random non-roster invitees. For those of us who want to watch baseball for the sake of watching baseball, it is heaven.

I encourage everyone to watch spring training baseball for the pure enjoyment of the game. I do not, however, encourage anyone to draw insights from what they see in these games. The pitchers and hitters are still working back into their grooves. A.J. Burnett, for example, will not throw his curveball in his first few spring starts. I’m sure the hitters will all be focusing on what they’ve worked on with Kevin Long and figuring out what works. How can we judge these players if they’re not playing the same way they will when the season starts?

Even if the players were in full shape and approached the games in the same manner as they did during the regular season, we still fall into the small sample trap. Last year Cody Ransom led the Yankees with 82 PA in spring training. An everyday player will get more PA than that in April alone. So not only are we working with a flawed sample here, but it’s also minuscule. There are no reasons to draw any conclusions whatsoever from the spring numbers.

Last spring, Mark Teixeira came to bat 67 times and hit .433. In his first 67 PA of 2009 he hit .235. Melky struck out only three times in 69 PA. Brett Gardner hit three home runs in his 74 PA, which equalled the number he hit in 248 regular season PA. Robinson Cano slugged .667, and Jorge Posada slugged just .404. Even worse, Swisher slugged .352. Johnny Damon was 2 for 5 in steal attempts, but perfect in the regular season. Finally, my personal favorite, Angel Berroa hit .371 and slugged .597 — and still didn’t make the team.

Let today bring us enjoyment. Let the rest of the spring remind us of the greatness of baseball, and what we can look forward to for the next seven months. Live Yankees games are back, but let’s not read much into them yet.

Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP

Open Thread: Team bondage

Al Aceves on a motorcycle, otherwise known as the greatest picture in the history of the universe. You can see the rest of the pics here.

Wait … that didn’t come out right.

A day before their Spring Training games start, the Yankees had what has apparently become their annual team bonding excursion. Last year they played pool, and this year the whole gang went to an arcade to relive their childhoods. A.J. Burnett won the Indy car game, Andrew Brackman won at skee-ball, and Royce Ring won at Pop-A-Shot. I had no idea what Pop-A-Shot was until I looked it up, and apparently it’s that basketball game where the hoop moves around. Never heard it called that before, but it was never my thing anyway.

“It was a great day,” said Mark Teixeira. “The fact that we get three or four hours not to have to worry about baseball and not have to compete on the baseball field, it was fun. Playing video games, we felt like kids again. It promotes a light-hearted atmosphere.

“The great thing about this kind of atmosphere is that there’s no veterans or rookies, starters or role players, Triple-A or Single-A; everyone is on the same playing field. We’re all having fun, really kind of letting our hair down and getting to know each other without competing on the field.”

I’m glad everyone had a blast today, because the baseball season is one really long grind. Hopefully they got their fun in now, because they’re going to be playing from tomorrow until October 4th, at the very least.

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On to more serious business. Here’s your open thread for the night, but we first need to do something about the comments. There’s way too many memes and inside jokes going on around here, and worst of all they’re repeated like, ten times a thread. We need to put an end to that. It’s off-putting to new readers and commentors, which we don’t like.The more people that come to the site to talk intelligently about baseball, the better it is for everyone. Let’s scale it back a bit on that stuff and focus more on good old fashioned baseball talk, please. Here’s our commenting guidelines if you need a refresher.

Anyway, all three hockey locals are in action now that the Olympics are over. Anything goes, just be nice.

Photo Credit: NY Yankees

Calculation error costs Yanks $10K each from playoff shares

Back in November, I reported on the Yanks’ record-setting playoff shares. After winning the World Series, the team doled out full playoff shares of $365,052.73, topping the 2006 Cardinals’ record of $362,000. Today, we learn that the record will not stand. Darren Rovell reports that the 46 members of the organization who received full shares will have to give up $10,000 each because two trainers and one player were not allocated the proper amount. Interestingly, Rovell adds that each player nets approximately 50 percent of the total share after taxes.

Sending Teixeira to bat with men on base

Simple concepts dictate baseball lineup construction. The top two hitters in the order get in base so that the heavier hitters in the middle of the lineup can drive them in. This is why we typically see the best power bats in the 3-4-5 spots, while the lighter hitting players bat on either side. Teams can run into problems, however, in filling the first two spots.

Again, the primary goal of the first two hitters is to get on base for the power hitters. That gives the heavier bats more opportunities to knock in runs. The problem in filling the first two spots relates back to those power guys. Oftentimes they’re also the best on-base guys on the team. In fact, on-base skills don’t come easy to players who lack power. Among active players, only five have a career OBP over .350 and a career ISO under .120: Luis Castillo, Chone Figgins, Jason Kendall, Mark Loretta, and Ichiro. Raising the ISO to .150 adds only eight names (including Derek Jeter). This is not an easy to find skill, on-base without power.

As a substitute for on-base skill, we often see teams place speedy hitters in the first and second slots. The rationale goes, so I assume, that they can advance more bases, both by stealing and by taking the extra bag on a base hit. The problem, of course, is that they don’t get on base a lot in the first place, so they can’t swipe or take an extra bag very often. Even then, with the heart of the order due up, the most important thing remains having runners on base. I’d far rather have a slow runner on base 40 percent of the time than a fast runner on base 34 percent.

This concept applies to one of the few decisions the Yankees must make in spring training. While Brian Cashman has stated his desire to have Nick Johnson hit second, it doesn’t appear to be a given at this point. It should be, but it’s not. The alternatives include Curtis Granderson and, to a lesser extent, Robinson Cano. Both might be solid No. 2 hitters, but with Johnson on the roster they’re not the best options. WIth Jeter and Johnson setting the table, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez will come to bat with more men on base.

Photo credit: Eric Gay/AP

To illustrate this point, let’s take an ideal scenario. Jeter and Johnson both hit in front of Teixeira for all of Teixeira’s plate appearances, and they OBP somewhere around their 2009 totals, .400 and .420. Running a quick percentage check, this means that Teixeira would come to bat with both runners on 16.8 percent of the time, and at least one runner on about 65 percent of the time. Given Teixeira’s 707 plate appearances from 2009, that means he’d come to bat with at least one runner on 460 times, and two runners on 119 times.

(This, of course, discounts the double play, but it also discounts the No. 9 hitter getting on. Let’s call it a wash for now, though if someone wants to run the numbers be my guest.)

Last year, with Jeter’s .400 OBP and Damon’s .365, Teixeira had a 14.6 percent chance of coming to the plate with both runners on, or 62 percent with at least one runner on. That gives him a theoretical 438 PA with a runner on base, and 103 with two runners on . His actual number of plate appearances with a runner on base was 371, a bit below the theoretical mark. This is due to double plays — Damon hit into nine last year — instances where Jeter made the last out of the inning, and times when Damon hit a home run. We also can’t expect the numbers to line up exactly.

Assuming an even ratio of theoretical plate appearances with a runner on to the actual number, that would give Teixeira 389 PA this season with at least one runner on, an increase of 18 instances. In other words, that’s 18 more opportunities for a double or home run to plate an extra run. Then there’s the cumulative effect. If Jeter and Johnson getting on base increases Teixeira’s chances of success, that can further increase A-Rod‘s chances of success. We can continue passing the buck down the lineup.

If Granderson recovers to his 2008 form, he’s essentially a clone of Damon. While that’s good, and while he’ll be able to take extra bases that Johnson will not, I think that the added plate appearances give the Yankees a bigger advantage. It means more opportunities for Tex and A-Rod. While Granderson might be able to score from second, or even first, in a few more instances than Johnson, he won’t be on base as much and therefore won’t get as many opportunities.

Joe Girardi has many options when filling out his lineup card, especially in the No. 2 spot. The three players who could hit there each bring a different skill to the table. Cano can advance runners with base hits and hit them in with power. Johnson can get on base to set the table and also hits for decent average (hopefully his power recovers a bit). Granderson can clear the bases with power and circle them with speed. Given the number of times he figures to be on base, I think Johnson is the choice here. The thought of Teixeira and A-Rod coming to bat with more runners on base should make any Yankees fan salivate.