Stress: The other performance enhancer

One thing that’s been programmed into the world of sports is the idea of “clutch,” that some players perform better under pressure than others. It exists, absolutely, but whether or not it’s impact is properly weighed is another topic for another time. There is no better example of an athlete handling stress and anxiety than Mariano Rivera, who always appears in control and never seems to change his demeanor. When you watch him, you’re unable to tell if it’s a one run playoff game or the third inning of a meaningless Spring Training game.

In a guest post at THT, Dr. Rob Dobrenksi – a licensed Psychologist in NYC and Shrink Talk author – wrote about anxiety and the different ways it can affect a player’s performance. The basic idea is that anxiety is actually beneficial to a player’s performance because the adrenaline rush gives them “an edge,” as he calls it. However, every player has a point where too much anxiety is detrimental to their performance. Think of the anxiety-performance relationship as a upside-down U-shaped curve, like the one in the graph from the THT article to the left. For some players, like Mo, the peak of their U-curve is way to the right. For others, it’s closer to the left.

Dr. Dobrenski mentions that there are three main components of anxiety, one of which is the inner monologue we all engage in. “If I don’t drive in this run, I’ll be the goat and probably be on the bench tomorrow” is an example. People and athletes are taught to “monitor and challenge” their inner monologue, which admittedly is easier said than done. Instead of worrying about being the goat, they’re taught to think “I can do this, and if I don’t, it won’t be the end of the world,” especially when it comes to something we’ve done countless times before, like Chuck Knoblauch throwing the ball to first.

Alex Rodriguez is perhaps the biggest poster boy for failing under pressure. That is, until this past October of course. Perhaps the peak of his U-curve was well on the left of the graph until he dealt with his PED demons and took some of the weight off his shoulders, shifting his U-curve to the right. I’m no doctor, athough I do play one on a blog, and I’m willing to bet your ability to deal with stress is greatly affected by a whatever else is going on in your life. In fact, I know it is.

The bottom line is that stress and anxiety are completely normal human emotions. We’ve all been stressed out at work, and it certainly effects how we perform, one way or the other. Baseball players are no different, it’s just that their performance under stress is subject to far more public scrutiny. Some anxiety is good for performance, but too much is a problem, no matter who you are.

Yankees sign Royce Ring, David Winfree

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have signed lefty reliever Royce Ring and utility player David Winfree to minor league deals. Ring’s name should be familiar, he’s bounced around quite a bit and spent some time with the Mets. The 29-year-old was the 18th overall pick in 2002, but he hasn’t been able to sustain any type of success in the big leagues. He’s struggled with control, posting a 53-40 K/BB ratio in 65.2 big league innings, and it’s 191-80 in 213.1 IP at the Triple-A level. Ring’s splits against lefties are okay, but nothing special. Some will point to him as a potential replacement for Phil Coke, but I think he’s more of a replacement for Zach Kroenke.

The 24-year-old Winfree is a career .270-.318-.442 hitter in the minors, .273-.317-.460 in Triple-A. He’s spent considerable time at first, third, and in right field in his career, and TotalZone says he sucks at all three spots. I assume the righty hacker is going to take over the Eric Duncan role of filling in at the different corner every day for Triple-A Scranton.

Our Depth Chart has been updated to reflect all the recent minor moves.

Sherman: Yankees have $2M to spend on left field

The Yankees are telling agents that they only have $2M to spend on upgrading left field, according to Joel Sherman. No matter how much we dream of a Johnny Damon return, there’s zero chance that’ll happen if Sherman’s report is accurate. $2M isn’t going to buy you much on the free agent market (about half a win), and frankly if that’s all the money they have to spend, then I’d rather just see them save it for a potential mid-season pickup and go into the year with Brett Gardner and Jamie Hoffmann battling it out.

Yeah, Brian Cashman successfully lobbied Hal Steinbrenner to expand the payroll last year for Mark Teixeira and Andy Pettitte, however Sherman notes that the Yanks had agreed to a trade for Mike Cameron last July, but Little Stein wouldn’t take on the extra $5.5M in salary. Maybe people should stop blowing off the concept of a payroll limit after all.

The twists and turns of Johnny Damon’s off-season

To kick off the 2009 Winter Meetings, Brian Cashman delivered a quote that we’ve parroted ever since. When describing the team needs, Cashman said he sought “pitching, pitching, pitching — and left field.” Pitching he has since covered, bringing back Andy Pettitte and trading for Javy Vazquez. But what about left field? He addressed center field by acquiring Curtis Granderson, but has done nothing about left field. In fact, he traded his longest tenured outfielder, leaving the position a bit more uncertain. Ever since, we’ve attempted to determine the best candidate for the spot.

Cashman recently said that the team “is, for the most part, set.” He went on to say that the team likes Brett Gardner in left field, though we’ve heard similar things from Cashman in the past only to have him change course when the opportunity arises. This happened last winter, when he described the potential acquisitions of both Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia “fantasy land, not reality land.” The more common reference goes back to Bubba Crosby, the supposed center fielder heading into 2006 — until, of course, the Yankees signed Johnny Damon.

Could Damon end up back with the Yankees under similar circumstances? It doesn’t appear likely, but with Damon’s market practically nonexistent at this point there’s no ruling it out. It would be a wild ride if it happened, given all we’ve heard about the Damon-Yankees relationship this off-season.

Damon got the ball rolling at the World Series parade, expressing his desire to come back but letting everyone know just how highly he thinks of himself.

“I’m going to have a lot of options, so I think what it comes down to is what kind of option the Yankees want to give me or not give me. Why wouldn’t I want to come back? We have the best owners in baseball, we have the best team and we have the most revenue and the biggest payroll. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the Yankee tradition? I would like to continue mine. I feel like I can come back and do a great job again.”

Predictably, Damon’s market did not develop as he had planned. He never had a lot of options, though that didn’t stop his agent, Scott Boras, from playing his hand as though a dozen teams expressed interest. Word leaked that Boras told the Yankees to not bother marking an offer unless it was at least three years at $13 million. Since no team was going to offer that, the Yankees moved on.

When they started negotiating with Nick Johnson, apparently Damon recognized the urgency of the situation. He reportedly offered to come back for two years and $20 million, but the Yankees, already knee deep in the Johnson negotiations, stuck to their two-year, $14 million offer. Damon understandably rejected that, thinking that perhaps he could catch on with another team in need of a corner outfielder with leadoff hitter skills.

Since the Johnson signing, we’ve heard little of other teams’ interest in Damon. The Yankee talk started up again after the Vazquez trade, since the team sent Melky Cabrera, the presumed left fielder, to Atlanta. But Cashman quickly quelled the chatter. Damon, too, admits that there’s nothing to rumors of a reunion, at least for the moment. “I haven’t had any conversations with them recently. Nothing would surprise me, out there’s nothing there right now.”

The most recent nugget on Damon came on Monday, from Jon Heyman of SI. In the notes portion of his column he said that the “Braves and Giants are believed to have made offers for Damon.” A few hours later, Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted that the Braves did not have an offer on the table. And, since the Giants signed Aubrey Huff on Sunday, chances are they don’t have room for Damon either. His off-season saga continues.

With the team all but set, the Damon situation represents our last bit of excitement before actual baseball. The team might add a left fielder or utility player between now and Spring Training, but it’ll be just another transaction. Whether Johnny Damon come back or signs elsewhere affects how we will enjoy the 2010 season. Not that I’ll enjoy it any less without Damon. It’ll just be different.

What each 2009 Yankee brought to the table

Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer. – Ted Williams

We all know that baseball players fail more often than they succeed. Our parents and coaches teach it to us at a young age. We see it every day when players ground out, pop out, strike out, and even invent new ways to make outs. The backs of baseball cards, their percentages expressed in decimal format, reveal this to us. Sure, we still get angry when our favorite player — or, better yet, a player we dislike — strikes out. Even though our rational mind comprehends the rate of failure in baseball, our emotions still react as though we expect the player to succeed every time.

Last week, Jeff at Lookout Landing1 wrote an article on this subject through the lens of player evaluation. Because failure occurs more frequently than success, we tend to harp on a player’s shortcomings while sometimes ignoring what he contributes. And what a player contributes can come in many forms, as Jeff says.

Now, there are a million different ways for a player to accumulate value. He can draw a lot of walks, or hit a lot of singles, or hit a lot of homers, or play awesome defense, or steal eighty bases, or whatever. There is no one mold for a valuable position player. There are countless molds. What this means, in turn, is that there are also a million different ways to be flawed. You can be a slap-hitter. You can be a hacker. You can be a butcher in the field. We’re talking about literally infinite combinations. If you have a hundred players with value X, they could take a hundred different paths to get there.

By value, he means a player’s contribution to runs and, as a byproduct, wins. That’s all that matters, right? Who cares if it happens in an ugly fashion? As long as a player makes contribution to his team scoring runs and winning ballgames, we shouldn’t care how he accomplishes it. Yet many fans do. We can sometimes let a player’s flaws distort our evaluations of his contributions. Jeff continues in the next paragraph:

Some of these paths will be more appealing than others. Fans generally like power, contact, and discipline. Fans generally don’t like free swingers or strikeouts. If Player A achieves value X with home runs, walks, and groundouts, while Player B achieves value X with doubles, defense, and strikeouts, Player A will generally be better-received, even though the two made equivalent contributions to the team.

There’s plenty more to say on this topic, but for now let’s just take a quick look at how each Yankee position player contributed to the 2009 team.

Power, contact, discipline, and defense: Mark Teixeira

Power, contact, and discipline: Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui

Contact, discipline, and defense: Derek Jeter

Power, discipline, and defense: Nick Swisher

Power and contact: Robinson Cano

Contact and defense: Melky Cabrera

Discipline and speed: Brett Gardner

(You could argue that Cano adds defense, even though UZR doesn’t agree, and you can argue that Swisher doesn’t add defense based on a few blunders earlier in the year. I don’t buy them, but feel free to make the case.)

Despite these players’ flaws, both real and perceived, each brings at least two skills to the table out of five: power, contact, discipline, defense, and speed.2 Say what you will about each player’s flaws — and we will certainly follow-up on this — but it’s hard to argue with the ways in which these players can succeed. With one four-skill player, seven three-skill players, and three two-skill players, it’s no wonder the Yankees were so successful in 2009.

1Lookout Landing is one blog I’d recommend to any fan of the game, regardless of team allegiance. Jeff leads thought provoking discussions that reach beyond the Mariners, and the other authors contribute as well. Plus, the M’s are a pretty interesting team. (Up)
2Yes, the traditional five tools include throwing arm and do not include discipline, but I think the latter is much more important in terms of value than the former. (Up)

Yankees sign Reid Gorecki

Via Baseball America, the Yankees have signed righty hitting outfielder Reid Gorecki to a minor league deal, presumably with an invite to Spring Training. The 29-year-old from Queens is a career .268-.342-.428 hitter in the minors (.273-.342-.432 in Triple-A), and TotalZone says he’s been superb defensively in right and center over the last three years. He got his first taste of the big leagues with the Braves last season, hitting .200-.222-.200 in an irrelevant 27 plate appearance cameo.

I could have sworn Gorecki got Rule 5’d a few years ago, but I confused him with Ryan Goleski. Silly me. Once upon a time BA ranked him as the 11th best prospect in St. Louis’ system, confirming the TotalZone data by saying he was legit big league CF with speed, good instincts and a strong arm. Much like the Jon Weber signing, this is just a depth move. He’s actually got a slight reverse split for his career, so there’s really no point in even entertaining the idea of platooning him with Brett Gardner in left.

A few more minor league signings will trickle out over the next few weeks; probably a few arms, maybe another outfielder, another infielder, the usual.

Derek maybe not getting married

When we yesterday highlighted a New York Post story claiming that Derek Jeter is getting married in November, we may have jumped the gun a bit. Although the story featured a denial by those in charge of the venue in Huntington, Long Island, the Post seemed pretty convinced of its veracity. Today, though, Craig Calcaterra’s sources tell him that Derek’s sister Sharlee is the one getting married. I just don’t know who or what to believe anymore, but hey, at least my sister still has her chance.