Is Zach McAllister a prospect worth holding on to?

At The Hardball Times, Harry Pavlidis writes an article titled, “Pitching prospects who might be keepers.” With that title, it’s tough not to read. Harry examines minor league players using four criteria: strikeout rate, walk rate, groundball rate, and home runs per fly ball + line drive. Since those represent four important pitching skills, you might imagine that Harry’s analysis spits out the very best in minor league arms. Alas, this does not appear to be the case.

To get the most contextual look at each pitcher, Harry weighs each stat against the pitcher’s league average. This way he can compare someone pitching in AAA to someone pitching in A ball — or, just as important, comparing someone pitching in the International League to someone pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He puts everything on a scale of 100, like OPS+ and ERA+, so you can see how far each pitcher ranks above league average in each category.

Among the 29 names on Pavlidis’s list sits Zach McAllister, the 22-year-old sinkerballer who figures to start the season in AAA. Despite the label, however, McAllister didn’t induce many more groundballs than a league average Eastern League pitcher. That means more fly balls and line drives than other sinkerballers, but this is where McAllister registers well above league average. He keeps balls in the park on hits in the air, no small accomplishment. He also ranks well above league average in walks.

While McAllister does have some impressive numbers, his inclusion on this list does not necessarily mean he’ll find success in the big leagues. Of the 29 on Pavlidis’s list, 13 have seen major league action and none have overly impressed. Lenny DiNardo stands out. His walk rate ranks well above league average, but in the majors he walked way, way too many hitters. His just above average strikeout rate translated into well below league average in the majors, and even his home run to fly ball plus line drive ratio dipped.

Still, given McAllisters numbers, both in this analysis and in more general analyses, the Yanks could get use out of him in the back of the rotation. He’s not the kind of pitcher who will win a job during Spring Training — not with the Yankees, at least. But if the team faces an injury or two, he could certainly get his chance in the rotation. Perhaps his skills in throwing strikes and keeping fly balls in the park will translate into major league success. At this point, I think that’s a better gamble than trading him in for a major league spare part with much less potential future value.

Link Roundup: Former Yankees in the news

Damon a fit in Atlanta?

Want to read 1000 words on how and why Johnny Damon would be a great fit for the Braves’ lineup? Well, then point your browsers to this David O’Brien blog post and prepare for a lengthy analysis. O’Brien says Atlanta has around $7-$8 million per season for two years to offer to Damon, and since Scott Boras has yet to field a better offer, Damon just might accept.

Now, if that salary figure sounds familiar, that’s because it is reportedly what the Yankees were willing to pay Damon for at least 2010 and maybe 2011. Would Damon then accept a lesser salary with another team than he would with his former employers? Joe tackled just that question in his closing arguments, and it’s worth noting that some people are more comfortable taking lesser money from a new team than they are with taking a paycut to stick with their old one. In the end, Damon will produce no matter the salary, but he could have a better early-season outlook in Atlanta than with the Yankees.

If the Braves opt against pursuing Damon, I’m not sure where or for how much Damon ends up. The Braves — and of course the Yankees — are simply the two best and last real remaining options for Johnny. Unless the Cardinals lose out on Matt Holliday, Damon will have few choices for a player coming off a great year. He really is this year’s Bobby Abreu.

Yanks, 14 others ask about Wang

Yesterday, we learned that Chien-Ming Wang would throw off a mound in mid-to-late Feburary. Today, we hear of interest in the rehabbing right-hander. Alan Nero, Wang’s agent, told Andrew Marchand that 15 teams have inquired into the status of the former 19-game winner and erstwhile ace. The Yankees, but not the Mets, were among those teams, and I still would not be surprised if Wang returned to the Bronx on an incentive-laden deal this year.

Matsui: I want to play the outfield

Hideki Matsui‘s insistence that he will play some games in the outfield in Anaheim continues to amuse me. Last week, the World Series MVP returned home to Japan and held a press conference at which he reiterated his belief that he will see some time in left field in 2010. “I’d like to prove I can play defense at spring training,” Matsui said during a news conference. “It will be difficult to play defense every day like in the past, but I’d like to reach the point where I’m able to play defense once every few games.”

Matsui, never a great defender, last played the field on June 15, 2008 — coincidentally the same day Chien-Ming Wang suffered his career-derailing Lisfranc injury. Since then, he has undergone at least one knee surgery and a few procedures to drain fluids from his knees, but if the Angels want to risk, so be it.

The story behind Fred McGriff and Tom Emanski

How, you may ask, does Fred McGriff end up on a link dump of news concerning former Yankees? Well, New York drafted McGriff in the ninth round of the 1981 amateur draft, and then the team traded him with Dave Collins and Mike Morgan on December 9, 1982 to the Blue Jays for Tom Dodd and Dale Murray. It wasn’t a good trade. Anyway, while McGriff made a name for himself with the bat, he is in one of the longest running baseball video commercials of all time, and today, Tyler Kepner gets the story behind the Emanski endorsement. His teams did win back to back to back A.A.U. National Championships, after all.

Randy Johnson will announce his retirement tomorrow

The Big Unit spent two productive years in pinstripes, and his Hall of Fame career appears to have ended: Bob Nightengale says RJ will announce his retirement tomorrow morning. He went 34-19 with a 4.37 ERA in pinstripes, though he really made his mark with the Diamondbacks. When Arizona signed Johnson to a four year, $53M contract in 1999, they were rewarded with four Cy Youngs and a 2.52 FIP with 1,417 strikeouts in 1030 innings. Wow.

Can the Yankees avoid arbitration with Gaudin, Mitre?

Today begins the filing period for salary arbitration hearings, which means the start of a tedious process for players and teams. Once a player files, he and the team must exchange figures by January 19 in anticipation of a February hearing. For the next month plus, teams and players will negotiate for what each considers a fair salary. If they reach no such agreement they present cases in front of an arbiter, who will then choose either the team’s or the player’s proposed salary. In other words, once you get to a hearing there’s no longer a chance for compromise. It’s either one or the other.

Partly because of this all or nothing nature, most cases never go to a hearing. In fact, as Craig Calcaterra notes, 90 percent settle. This has left, since the inception of arbitration in 1974, just 487 hearings, or about 14 per season. It seems like that number has come down in recent years, too, perhaps because of the imbalance in decisions. Teams have won 57 percent of hearings, and while that’s not a huge margin, it does give a player an incentive to settle.

(But at least it’s not as bad as corporate-consumer arbitration, which heavily favors one side.)

At MLB.com Anthony Castrovince describes the history of arbitration and how it has evolved since its inception in the early 70s. Back then it was a way to better reward players for their contributions while still preventing them from becoming free agents. Over the years, players continued to push the limits higher, gaining better and better compensation in arbitration. A handful of cases in each decade stand out, but none quite like Ryan Howard’s $10 million in 2008. The next year, arbitration eligible players received average raises of 172 percent. While free agent salaries trend downward, arbitration salaries continue to rise.

Given the perils of facing an arbitration hearing, chances are the Yankees will settle with both of their arbitration cases, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre. Neither pitcher had a standout 2009, and the Yankees will likely use that to their advantage in negotiations. Mitre’s poor statistics almost force him to settle. Gaudin and his agent will likely concentrate on his numbers while with the Yankees (42 IP, 3.43 ERA), so maybe he has more of a case. But given Gaudin’s 2009 salary, $2 million, and his season-long performance, I’m not sure he can expect too hefty a raise. This could keep the two parties’ proposals close together, making it easier to strike a compromise.

Javy Vazquez: Unclutch?

It’s a question that’s been asked since the Yankees reacquired Javy Vazquez right before the holidays. Was the second half of 2004 and his abysmal playoff showing the real Javy, or was it the product of bad mechanics or something along those lines? Jay at Fack Youk looked into the issue and determined that yeah, Javy generally does perform worse in higher leverage situations.

During his twelve year career, Vazquez has posted a .798 OPS against with a 4.51 FIP in hi-lev situations compared to .700 & 3.60 in lo-lev spots. American League pitchers posted a .750 OPS against with a 4.45 FIP in hi-lev spots last year, so Javy’s slightly below average in that regard. The flip side of the coin is that Vazquez is superb in lower leverage spots, as AL pitchers posted a .765 OPS against and a 4.56 FIP in those situations last year. Obviously you want pitchers that bear down and do well in big spots, but for a fourth starter, Vazquez is far more than qualified.

If you’re someone that believes in intangibles and stuff (they certainly exist, though I don’t think they’re nearly as important or have as much of an impact as many believe), then Javy has two things going for him this year: a) it’s a contract year and he’s never once been on the free agent market, and b) dude’s got a chip on his shoulder, he’s going to be out to prove that what we saw in 2004 was not the real Javy. I’m betting contract year Javy Vazquez is going to be a damn good pitcher.

By the Decade: Team of the Decade

All good things, the saying goes, must come to an end. As the Aught-Aughts ended a few days ago, so must our Yankees By the Decade retrospective. But we can’t let it rest without one big wrap-up post. So let’s get to it. This morning, I’ll explore who was on the Yanks’ team of the decade and just which team should be awarded baseball’s team of the decade.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve slowly assembled a team of the decade for our Bronx Bombers. We’ll have to omit the relievers because they came and went. The life of a bullpen pitcher is fleeting, and the Yanks used 114 relievers this decade. The six guys we’d pick to backup Mariano are Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Tom Gordon, Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson and Ramiro Mendoza. The rest of the Yankee team of the decade, then, looks a little something like this:

C: Jorge Posada
1B: Jason Giambi but not for his defense
2B: Robinson Cano/Alfonso Soriano
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Hideki Matsui, co-starring Johnny Damon
CF: Early-decade Bernie Williams
RF: Gary Sheffield
DH: Unimpressively Jason Giambi
SP: Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina
CL: Mariano Rivera

That is one impressive roster. There are at least three Hall of Famers and a fourth who should definitely be Cooperstown-bound along with a handful of near-Hall of Famers. This is a team primed to win, and win they did.

Year W L W-L% Finish Playoffs Result RS RA Payroll
2009 103 59 0.636 1 Won WS 11-4 915 753 $201,449,189
2008 89 73 0.549 3     789 727 $209,081,577
2007 94 68 0.58 2 Lost LDS 1-3 968 777 $189,639,045
2006 97 65 0.599 1 Lost LDS 1-3 930 767 $194,663,079
2005 95 67 0.586 1 Lost LDS 2-3 886 789 $208,306,817
2004 101 61 0.623 1 Lost ALCS 6-5 897 808 $184,193,950
2003 101 61 0.623 1 Lost WS 9-8 877 716 $152,749,814
2002 103 58 0.64 1 Lost LDS 1-3 897 697 $125,928,583
2001 95 65 0.594 1 Lost WS 10-8 804 713 $112,287,143
2000 87 74 0.54 1 Won WS 11-5 871 814 $107,588,459
Totals 965 651       52-40 8834 7561 $1,685,887,656
Average 96.5 65.1         883.4 756.1 $168,588,766

The Yankees averaged a Major League-leading 96 wins and 65 losses. They scored 883 runs per season but allowed a pedestrian 756. The team won two World Series, lost two World Series and made the playoffs in nine out of ten seasons. They finished first eight teams, won 52 playoff games and had an aggregate Opening Day payroll of over $1.68 billion.

Yet, despite these gaudy numbers, the wins, the success, the playoff appearances, many have been hesitant to award the Yankees the team of the decade. Maybe baseball outside of the Bronx is just sick of the Yankee Dynasty, whenever it ended if it ever has. Maybe baseball writers need a good-guy foil for the Evil Empire. Thus, some have called the Red Sox the team of the decade.

Truth be told, Boston was very, very good during the 2000s. They are the only team that can approach the Yanks in terms of success. Boston went an average of 92-70 over the decade. The Sox averaged 865 runs per year and gave up 744. They finished in 2nd place eight times, won the division once, made the playoffs six times and twice won the World Series. They spent a garish $1.168 billion in the process, small beans compared with the Yanks but wealthy by everyone else’s standards.

The Red Sox have been lauded as a team of the decade simply because no one expected it. For decades, the Sox weren’t caused; they simply suffered through horrible Front Office and franchise management. The new owners have reshaped the Red Sox brand and have brought perennial contenders to the Back Bay. Through smart spending, solid drafting and building from within, the new Red Sox management has constructed a team in the model of the Yankees from the mid-1990s and the Yankees from today. It’s hard to label the imitators as the team of the decade when the original is still better, albeit ever so slightly.

As the Teens — the 2010s, the decade of Marty McFly and Doc Brown’s flying DeLorean — descends upon us, the Yankees are primed for more wins and more playoff berths. As the core ages, the Yanks have used their dollars to bring on younger and more versatile pieces. They are grooming some players from their system for the Majors and have turned others into potential cornerstones for the next three or four or five years.

Other teams may be catching up, but the Yankees, as they were in the 1990s, were the team of the 2000s. It’s good to be a fan indeed.

Left field closing arguments: Johnny Damon

Each player in our left field closing arguments series has potential upside with considerable downside. Today’s player offers upside with little downside. I think Damon remains the preference of nearly everyone out there, but just in case…

For the past four years, Johnny Damon has been awesome. When the Yankees signed him to a four-year, $52 million contract in the winter of 2005, they were widely praised, though with the caution that they might regret it in the last year or two. Then, when he started off slow in 2007, people wondered if the Yankees would get just one good year out of Damon. Alas, he recovered in 2008 and posted two of the best seasons of his career to finish the contract. Now a free agent without a home, we’re all wondering if Damon will swallow some pride and return to the Yankees.

Issues of money and contract length separate the two sides. Scott Boras originally sought a multiyear contract at $13 million per annum, Damon’s salary through his last contract, but no team came close to biting. While Damon can still produce, he’s just not the same player that signed the contract in 2005. The Yankees acquired him to play center field, but by the end of his contract he was stuck in left field and not playing well even there. His hitting ended up better than expected — his OPS+ was actually higher with New York than with Boston, where he played during his prime years.

How far will Damon’s salary fall? The Yankees, reportedly, offered him a two-year, $20 million contract, but Damon wouldn’t take. Then, when the reports surfaced that the Yankees were talking to Nick Johnson, Damon acquiesced, only to find that he was too late. The Yankees were already too far in the Johnson negotiations, and didn’t want to pay Damon his 2/20 along with Johnson’s salary. We haven’t seen anything linking the two parties — and even saw explicit denials of interest after the Yankees traded Melky Cabrera to the Braves. But this is all part of a larger game. The Yankees and Damon still match up, and we could certainly see them strike a deal.

There’s no questioning Damon’s ability to hit, especially at Yankee Stadium. During his four years in New York he posted a .285/.363/.458 line, dragged down by a poor 2007 in which he hit. 270/.351/.396, mostly due to a terrible start. In the second half of that year he hit .296/.364/.450, much closer to his Yankees career than his terrible first half. He’s even better at home, a big attraction to the Yankees. In the inaugural season of the New Yankee Stadium, he hit .279/.382/.533 in 318 PA. His road numbers, .284/.349/.446, weren’t quite as good, but still very good considering what he does at home.

Damon does show a platoon split, but it’s not an enormous cause for alarm. In 2009 he had a .889 OPS against righties and a .776 OPS against lefties. In 2008 the split was .889/.710, a bit more drastic but still not horrible, especially because of his .342 OBP against lefties that year. No, it’s not an ideal platoon scenario, but the Yankees have help if they want to sit Damon against tough lefties. That’s one advantage of having the lefty-mashing Jamie Hoffman on the roster. But even if Damon plays against tough lefties, he’s not useless. He can handle himself, and perhaps handle himself better at his home ballpark.

On the negative side there are three areas of concern. First, Damon’s age. He’ll play his age 36 season in 2010, an age where many players see their numbers decline. On a multiyear deal that might be cause for larger concern, but on a one-year deal, especially one for seven figures (rather than eight), the Yankees can mitigate that risk. The major risk, really, is that he falls off a cliff, but while that’s possible, I don’t think it’s probable. Again, Damon is coming off perhaps the best season of his career, and if he re-signs with the Yankees will have the same ballpark benefits.

Second, his late-season slump. Damon posted excellent numbers in almost every month of the 2009 season, his best coming in August when he hit .327/.371/.622 and helped the Yankees run away with the division. But he fell flat in September, hitting just .247/.350/.315. Could that have been a sign of decline? Perhaps. He did continue the futility in the first round of the playoffs, going 1 for 12 with a walk in the ALDS. But then he bounced back to have a good ALCS and excellent World Series. It looks like Damon’s slump was just that. Plus, if there really is tiring with age, the Yankees can sit him more in favor of Brett Gardner. In fact, that might be the ideal scenario for Gardner heading into the 2010 season: 4th outfielder who regularly spells Damon in left.

Third, his defense. It was pretty bad in 2009, both by scouting and by statistical standards. I tried to find a glimmer of hope, but was unsuccessful (Keith Law even added a negative scouting report to supplement the numbers). The good news is that, just like players can have bad offensive seasons, so they can on defense. Maybe Damon’s poor 2009 in left was just a blip. Maybe he really did, as he claims, get better as the season moved along. There’s no guarantee, of course, that Damon bounces back. But his bad 2009 doesn’t mean he can’t. He certainly can, and if he does he’ll be of even more value — and perhaps compensate for any decline he sees on offense.

Of all the options we’ve so far explored in this series, Damon makes the most sense. He’s familiar with New York and has thrived in the spotlight. He’s also a much better bet with the bat than any of the other suitors, and though he had a bad 2009 on defense he could rebound in 2010. Money separates the two sides now, but as we get closer to pitchers and catchers reporting, maybe Damon will realize that the market isn’t quite what he had imagined. It might hurt his pride to take a one-year deal with a massive pay cut, but it’s also in his best interests as a player. If the Braves and the Yankees offer the same deal, why would he go to Atlanta? They don’t offer the opportunity and familiarity of New York.

We each have our own reasons for the decisions we make. Maybe Damon wouldn’t be comfortable returning at a greatly reduced salary. Maybe he’s insulted that the richest franchise in the game won’t overpay for him. But if he wants the best chance to win, it’s with the Yankees. At the right price, I’m sure they’d like to have him back.

So now, whenever a rumor surfaces involving Damon and the Yankees, we can refer back to this post and its comments. Have your final say now.

Photo credit: Eric Gay/AP

Shelley lands in Cleveland

I’m sure it’s already under discussion in the open thread, but in case you’re not into that kind of thing: Shelley Duncan has signed with the Indians. Chad Jennings don’t offer any further details on the deal, but I presume it’s a minor league one.

Also, just to have it up here, the Red Sox signed Adrian Beltre today to a one-year, $9 million contract with a one-year, $5 million player option for 2011 with a $1 million buyout. I guess he really wanted to play in Boston (or really didn’t want to play for his other suitors).