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).

Open Thread: RAB Fantasy Football League Recap

Fantasy Football ChampJust as the NFL regular season came to an end last night, the 2009 edition of the RAB Fantasy Football League wrapped up as well. This year’s champ was sadly not me, but instead Greg Fertel of the great Pending Pinstripes. Greg beat out Right Field Porches (I’m sorry, I have no idea who you are, so identify yourself in the comments if you want credit) 110.14-94.62 in the finals. RAB regular Jamal G. finished in third place, and last year’s champ, the aptly named Tommie’s Champions, finished in sixth.

Greg had Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, and Tony Romo on his roster, all three of whom were among the league’s ten highest scoring players. Johnson had almost a 25 point advantage over Aaron Rodgers as the league’s most productive player, and nearly a 70 point edge over third place Adrian Peterson. I guess 2,006 rushing yards and an NFL record 2,509 yards from scrimmage will do that.

As for me, well I finished in 14th place out of 16 teams. That’s what happens when you have Chad Pennington as you’re starting QB in Week One, Terrell Owens as your number two WR, and Willie Parker on your roster period. By the time Jerome Harrison starting going nuts, it was too late. Only the presence of Maurice Jones-Drew made my team tolerable.

So congrats to Greg. His prize for winning: a pair of bleacher tickets to the Yankee game of his choosing during the upcoming season. Maybe next year I’ll win myself a pair of tickets from myself. If you’re curious, the final standings are after the jump.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. There’s no MNF (boo), but the Rangers are taking on the Bruins at home (yay, but I’m sure it’ll eventually turn to boos). The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Boise St. vs. TCU) is also on tonight. I guess they’ll get around to playing the National Championship Game when the weather warms up in the Northeast. Anything goes, so have fun.

[Read more…]

The Misery Tenor

Will Leitch penned a piece for New York Magazine on the trials and tribulations of Ronan Tynan, who lost his gig singing “God Bless America” at Yankee home playoff games after making an anti-Semitic remark in October.  Tynan,  who was dubbed “The Misery Tenor” by his friends because he’s sung at so many funerals, still sings at Buffalo Sabres games but is trying to figure out what’s next.

The Yankees have no plans to bring Tynan back according to Leitch, meaning the seventh inning stretch at a bunch of Yankee home games just got a little quieter.

Link Dump: Vazquez, Pujols, Montero, Draft WAR

Ben, Mike, and I found a lot of interesting stuff today that we’d like to share with you.

Is Javy Vazquez unclutch?

So asks Jay at Fack Youk. Using information from Tom Tango, which we laid out last week, Jay examines Vazquez from a few angles, starting with his FIP to ERA relationship. It then moves to performance with bases empty, men on, and bases loaded, measured using tOPS+. Not satisfied, Jay looks at run differentials and leverage situations as well, and then finally at WPA.

The most important line in the article: there’s a big difference between hasn’t and can’t.

ZOMG! Yankees looking at Pujols to DH!

Yes, the linked column is as ridiculous as the headline I gave it. Phil Rogers, playing to his readers’ emotions, discusses the futures of Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, and Adrian Gonzalez, four young starts primed for free agency in the next two years. He writes a few insane lines, which I’d like to highlight for your enjoyment.

Nothing happens in a vacuum, including the relative lack of spending by the Yankees and Red Sox this offseason.

Relative lack of spending? Relative to what? The Red Sox have spent over $100 million this off-season, signing John Lackey and Mike Cameron. No other team has spent over $100 million. How in the world is that a lack of spending?

The Yankees are keeping the DH spot clear, for the time being, as a potential way to accommodate Pujols, Fielder or even Gonzalez playing alongside Mark Teixeira.

Absurd. Yes, the Yankees will have a free spot at DH after this season. But that’s not to accommodate any potential free agent. It’s not exactly smart to tie up your DH spot for years into the future, and the Yankees are simply avoiding that. Yes, it’s nice to have that spot open for a big-hitting free agent, but even then, why tie down a non-position long-term? I guess when it involves a player like Pujols there are exceptions. But there are far better reasons for the Yankees to keep clear their DH spot than to save it for Pujols or Fielder.

Montero hitting cleanup

No, Jesus Montero won’t be taking Alex Rodriguez‘s lineup spot any time soon. But, as he stands among prospects, Jim Callis would slot him in there. Two other big-time prospects, Jason Heyward of the Braves and Mike Stanton of the Marlins — surround him, with Desmond Jennings of the Rays and Dustin Ackley of the Mariners hitting atop the order.

Callis then answers a question about Arodys Vizcaino, noting that he’d rank third among Braves prospects, the same spot he occupied for the Yankees before the trade. And don’t miss Callis’s All-Bust Team. It includes the “worst No. 1 overall pick ever.”

And, while we’re on the topic of Montero, check out Robert Pimpsner’s top 10 Yanks prospects. It’s as good a list as any, featuring Montero, Austin Romine, Manny Banuelos, Slade Heathcott, and Zach McAllister in the top five.

Career WAR of Yankee drafts

Greg Fertel, at the newly renovated Pending Pinstripes, examines Yankee drafts from 1975 through 2000, using the combined WAR of each pick. As you can imagine, the 1990 and 1992 drafts are up there, as are ’82 (Fred McGriff) and ’83 (Todd Stottlemyre). Greg does count players who didn’t sign, which certainly changes the equation. Takeaway line, regarding the dreadful drafting from 1997 through 2000: “If you take out Mark Prior, who the Yankees didn’t sign, the total WAR netted by those draft classes is -0.3!” I’m glad the farm system is back to being a priority.

How pitchers and teams fared in starts of X innings

The Baseball Reference blog, full of amusing trivia, breaks down every single start this season based on the starter’s innings pitched. It notes the runs, team win-loss, and pitcher win-loss. Notable and right on the top: There was only one start where a pitcher threw 9 innings and allowed five runs. That was Roy Halladay against the Yanks.