Game 97: Hot hot hot

(Photo Credit: Flickr user via Creative Commons license)

It’s brutal in New York. Temperatures in the high-90’s, more humidity than I care to cite, and seemingly no breeze. The Yankees did not take batting practice outdoors this afternoon because of the heat, but they’ll have to endure it for the first couple of innings, at least until the sun goes down. That’ll help, even a little bit. Anyway, here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, 1B
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Frankie Cervelli, C

Phil Hughes, SP

Now that’s a lineup I can get behind. It’s a My9 game, so head over there for first pitch a little after 7pm ET. Enjoy, and stay cool.

A quick note on Curtis Granderson and plate discipline

The Yankees are a power and patience offense, so it’s not a surprise that they lead baseball with a 9.9% walk rate and are second with a .178 ISO (one point behind the Red Sox). Their best player all season has been Curtis Granderson, who personifies that power and patience approach. His .299 ISO is third best in baseball, trailing only Jose Bautista (.358) and Lance Berkman (.305), plus his 11.8% walk rate is a top 30 mark and continues to climb. Only Nick Swisher (15.0%) and Russell Martin (12.1%) have better rates on the Yankees.

That walk rate is not an outlier for Granderson, who walked 10.0% of his plate appearances last year and in 10.5% of his plate appearances from 2008-2010. What is sort of surprising is the number of pitches he’s seeing; Curtis leads the majors by averaging 4.48 pitches seen per plate appearance. Bobby Abreu (4.42), Carlos Santana (4.41), and Adam Dunn (4.41) are next in line. He had averaged 4.11 P/PA from 2008-2010. Furthermore, Jack Curry noted the other day that Granderson had fouled off 135 two-strike pitches to stay alive this year, second in the AL to the unstrikeoutable Dustin Pedroia (150). It’s not all about the long ball with Grandy, who’s been putting together quality at-bats all season. That’s great to see.

Scouting The Trade Market: James Shields

If you can’t beat him, trade for him, amirite? Rays right-hander James Shields has dominated the Yankees twice within the last two weeks (one earned run in 15.2 IP), but that’s not the real reason we’re talking about him here. Tampa is gradually dropping out of the race and the generally belief is that Shields’ days with the team are numbered as he gets more expensive and their next top pitching prospect (Matt Moore) gets closer to the show. The Reds are one team with interest, and earlier this week Buster Olney (Insider req’d) noted that no one explores options more thoroughly than Tampa. If they move him, it’ll be because they’re improving the team, not just saving money.

So with all that in mind, let’s break Shields’ game down and see what kind of fit he is for the Yankees, if he’s one at all…

The Pros

  • Shields is in the middle of the best season of his career. His 2.53 ERA is backed up by a 3.14 FIP and a 2.98 xFIP, and he’s got career highs in strikeout rate (8.69 K/9), swing and miss rate (11.6%), and homerun rate (0.86 HR/9). His 45.6% ground ball rate is his second best ever, and although his 2.30 BB/9 is his worse walk rate since his rookie year, it’s still pretty damn good.
  • Although his world class changeup gets most of the attention, Shields legitimately throws six different pitches. That low-80’s changeup works off three different fastballs: a low-90’s four-seamer, a low-90’s two-seamer, and a high-80’s cutter. He doesn’t use the last two often (6.8% and 4.9% of the time this season), but he does use them. Shields is throwing his high-70’s curveball more than ever this year (22.0%), which is part of the reason why he’s had so much success. A slider is his other offering.
  • That repertoire is the reason why Shields has virtually no platoon split for his career, though he has a slight one in 2011. It’s not significant enough to worry about. Because that’s not good enough, he also has arguably the best right-handed pickoff move in baseball. He leads the league with ten pickoffs, and runners have stolen zero bases off him in three attempts this season. During his career, runners have stolen just 38 bases in 62 attempts (61.3%).
  • Only eight pitchers have thrown at least 200 IP every season since 2007, and Shields is one of them. He’s on pace to do it yet again this year. You don’t throw that many innings without being healthy, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Shields has never been on the disabled list. He’s obviously a career AL East pitcher and has been very successful in baseball’s most unforgiving division, so the transition should be minimal. Shields has pitched in the playoffs and in the World Series, so that’s another plus.
  • The contract is as friendly as it gets. Shields will be paid a total of $4.25M this season (about $708k per month), then there are club options for 2012 ($7M with a $2M buyout), 2013 ($9M with a $1.5M buyout), and 2014 ($12M with a $1M buyout). Escalators tied to innings pitches, starters, and finishes in the Cy Young Award voting could put another $6M in his pocket. Either way, that’s an absolute steal.

The Cons

  • As great as he’s been this season, we can’t completely ignore Shields’ atrocious 2010 campaign. His 5.18 ERA didn’t match his 4.24 FIP, but Shields led the league in hits allowed (246, or 10.9 H/9), earned runs allowed (117), and homeruns allowed (34). Opponents hit .294/.338/.490 off him overall and .313/.356/.534 off him away from pitcher friendly Tropicana Field.
  • The roads woes are not an isolated incident either. Shields has been a 4.67 ERA (~4.45 FIP) pitcher away from home over the course of his career, when batters have tagged him for a .276/.323/.467 batting line.
  • I don’t put much stock in this stuff, but Shields hasn’t pitched well against the Red Sox in his career, a 4.95 ERA and ~4.05 FIP in 18 career starts. His numbers at Fenway Park are even worse: a 7.71 ERA with a ~4.90 FIP in eight career starts. In fairness, he did throw a complete game shutout against the Red Sox earlier this year, the video you see above. As for the current version of Yankee Stadium, he owns a 3.71 ERA (~4.40 FIP) in four career starts there.
  • Shields is incredibly homer prone. That 0.86 HR/9 this year might be a career best, but it’s still not all that great. He allowed one homer for every six innings pitched last season and 1.1 HR/9 from 2007-2009. His career HR/FB% is 11.6%, which is quite high. It’s not uncommon for changeup pitchers to be homer prone, every once in a while they’ll leave one up, and a high changeup is just a batting practice fastball.
  • He’s been healthy in the big leagues, but it’s worth nothing that Shields did miss the entire 2002 minor league season because of shoulder surgery. Once it’s in a guy’s past, he’s never really clear of danger.

The elephant in the room here is the intra-division issue. Brian Cashman and Rays GM Andrew Friedman have made exactly one trade with each other, a 2006 swap that involved Nick Green coming to New York and cash going to Tampa. Talks between the two clubs about Matt Garza never really got off the ground this winter because “strong impressions were that it would be something that would cost us more because we are in the division, kind of like Roy Halladay,” according to Cashman. “There was also reluctance from them to trading within the division.” That whole intra-division thing would be a major, major obstacle.

In terms of talent and expected production, Shields is about as good as it’ll get. He’s not in the Halladay/Cliff Lee/Felix Hernandez/uber-pitcher category, but he’s proven over several years to be a well-above-average hurler in the tougher league, and this year he’s been ace-like. He’s still very much in the prime of his career at age 29, so there’s no reason to expect a significant age-related drop-off anytime soon. And that contract, goodness is that contract favorable. Any team that trades for him would be getting more than three of his peak years for a total of $29.5M or so, assuming all the options are picked up. That’s a steal, fire-your-agent kind of robbery.

The Rays are extremely well run and have a knack for getting both quality and quantity in trades. They turned Jason Bartlett (Jason Bartlett!) into three big league relievers and a useful prospect. We saw the Garza haul, which cost the Cubs their two top prospects (Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee), two other near-MLB ready prospects (Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer, both of whom have played in the bigs this year), and a serviceable bench player (Sam Fuld). You’d have to mark up from there if you want to envision a package for Shields because he’s better now than Garza was last year and he has a much more favorable contract than his former teammate. Think two top prospects, three other near MLB ready guys, and maybe more. I don’t believe a trade of this magnitude would happen between the two teams, but the Yankees would have to strongly consider it if Tampa shows the willingness to move him to one of their biggest rivals.

Update: Buster Olney says the Yankees called the Rays about Shields, but were told that he’s not available.

The RAB Radio Show: July 22, 2011

This week we shift focus, kind of, to the players the Yankees have to offer in a trade. But we still talk about possible targets, obviously.

  • Is there anyone on the current roster we’d trade?
  • What we would require if trading Betances and Banuelos.
  • A long segment on Jesus Montero, including his availability and his continuing presence in AAA.
  • Trading lesser prospects for less intriguing arms.

Podcast run time 39:57

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

RAB Live Chat

Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

(From Flickr user ztil301 via Creative Commons.)

After playing a pair of four-game series against division rivals, the Yankees head back home to take on some of the lesser teams in baseball. In the next 10 games they’ll play Oakland, Seattle, and Baltimore, taking them right into August. First up is Oakland, against whom the Yankees are 19-3 in the last three seasons.

What the A’s Have Done Lately

Surprisingly enough, Oakland has played pretty well since the All-Star break. They came out swinging against the Angels, taking three of four, before splitting a pair with the Tigers. They averaged five runs per game in that stretch, which is just slightly better than their 3.52 runs per game this season. It’s actually far more surprising that they beat up on Anaheim, since Anaheim has one of the best, if not the best pitching staff in the league.

A’s on Offense

(From Flickr user Dinur via Creative Commons.)

Despite the recent outburst, the A’s still have one of the league’s worst offenses. As mentioned, they’ve scored just 3.52 runs per game, which is 13th in the AL, with only Seattle trailing. It’s also about 0.8 runs per game below the league average. Of course, they play in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the league, so it’s expected that their hitters are a certain degree worse than they would be if they played elsewhere. Yet even when we adjust for their park in Batting Runs Above Average, they’re still at -59.4, which is — you guessed it — 29th in the majors, with only Seattle trailing. (Though they trail by 30 runs.)

It’s no surprise that Josh Willingham’s name has come up often in trade talks. He’s been Oakland’s best hitter this year, putting up 4.3 runs above average. While that number is park-adjusted, I’m not quite sure it adequately compensates a player for a park as poor as the Oakland Coliseum. He’s hitting .240/.315/.427 right now, which is below his career numbers in every regard. Coco Crisp has been the other veteran who has provided positive run value. His .265/.315/.385 line might not look like much, but compared to his teammates it’s golden.

(From Flickr user Dinur via Creative Commons.)

Two youngsters have stepped up for Oakland this season and have provided positive run values despite having fewer PA then other starters. Jemile Weeks has stormed onto the scene, hitting .308/.342/.406 in his first 153 big league plate appearances. He’s never really hit for power, even in the minors, but he did have a good walk rate down there, which could help him maintain his value as his BABIP regresses a bit.

Earlier this season the A’s acquired Scott Sizemore from the Tigers for a song, and he’s actually produced positive value as an Athletic. In 125 PA he’s hit .261/.328/.414, which, again, would translate to much better numbers elsewhere. He’s part of the A’s MO, which is to acquire decent on-base guys who have no semblance of power. I get it, in a way. Their stadium suppresses power, so you might as well try to build clubs in different ways. Not that it has worked, really.

The rest of the A’s hitters are having years ranging from pretty bad to completely crappy. They have gotten rid of two of their worst offensive detractors, Mark Ellis, traded to the Rockies, and Daric Barton, optioned to the minors. While the A’s have replaced Ellis with Weeks, they haven’t gotten much out of Barton’s replacement, Chris Carter. He has tons of potential to hit with power, but he’s managed just four extra bases in 110 career PA, all of them coming last year.

A’s on the Mound

While the A’s have the second worst offense in the league, their pitching staff has allowed the third fewest runs in the league. Again, this is greatly an effect of their ballpark, and a trip to the Stadium could be a humbling experience. They’re without one of their best, Brett Anderson, who recently underwent Tommy John Surgery. But the Yanks will still run into two of their very good young starters.

(From Flickr user Dinur via Creative Commons.)

Friday: RHP Trevor Cahill. His year hasn’t gone as well as his first few starts might have indicated, but Cahill is on his way to another fine year in the majors. It’s pretty impressive for a 23-year-old who broke in at age 21. His strikeouts are up, but so are his walks. It leads to a slightly worse ERA and slightly better peripherals than last year, which is good on the whole. But for this year it can still come back to haunt him. It certainly did earlier in the year against the Yankees, when he walked five and gave up four runs. Last year he faced the Yanks twice and gave up 15 runs in 10 innings. He’s been very good lately, giving up three or fewer runs in four of his last five stars, including one 7.2-inning, 2-run start against the scorching Texas Rangers.

Saturday: RHP Rich Harden. It will be around 100 degrees in an afternoon affair, so of course Harden is going against A.J. Burnett. Harden has made just three starts this year, and while he has avoided the walk, issuing just four in 18 innings, he has also allowed four homers in that span. He can still strike ’em out, but it appears he’s lost most of his arsenal, which doesn’t play well against a dynamic lineup such as the Yankees. Which, of course, means he’ll below through them and we’ll be in for a short afternoon. Which means, in turn, that both he and Burnett will walks six and an equal number of people at the Stadium will spontaneously combust. In all seriousness, it’s hard to get a read on Harden. He’s been so injured lately that no one really knows what’s going to come next.

Sunday: LHP Gio Gonzalez. It’s been quite a year for Gonzalez, whose ERA is is a full run lower than it was last year. His peripherals are a measure better, too, because he’s striking out more hitters. But he’s still walking batters, giving up homers, and getting ground balls at similar rates, which are the only aspects that hold him back. Still, it’s hard to argue with a 2.33 ERA. He’s had a few clunkers along the way, including a four-inning, seven-run performance against the Rangers in early July (though only three runs were earned). He’s allowed four or more runs just five times in 19 starts this season, though one of those was to the Yankees back in June. In four of his last five starts he’s gone at least seven innings and has allowed zero or one run.

Bullpen: The A’s have had some turnover in their bullpen, but overall it’s a quality unit, with an AL-leading 2.93 ERA. They also have the second-lowest bullpen FIP in the AL at 3.28. (Guess who’s in first?) The only drawback is that they’ve had 38 meltdowns, which ranges closer to the middle of the pack. Brad Ziegler leads the way with a 1.80 ERA andd 2.42 FIP, while Andrew Bailey has been awesome in his limited time (2.00 ERA, 2.35 FIP). Grand Balfour, Craig Breslow, and Joey Devine have also done a good job keeping other teams at bay in the later innings.

Recommended A’s Reading: Friend of RAB Jason Wojciechowski’s Beaneball.

Mailbag: Karstens, Hughes, Lamb, Betances

Seven questions this week, most focusing on trades (past, present, or future). The Submit A Tip Box in the sidebar is the way to go if you want to send questions in.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user afagen via Creative Commons license)

Ben asks: What’s the deal with Jeff Karstens? It seems like the year he’s having came out of nowhere. I don’t know that any talent evaluator could have seen this coming (2.28 ERA!). Or did the Yankees just miss something with him?

Karsten is almost exact same guy this year as he has been his entire career. Here, look…

(click for larger)

His walks are trending in the right direction, so credit him for that, but the shiny ERA comes from that comically low BABIP and super high strand rate. Leaving runners on base isn’t a skill, though strikeout pitchers do fare a little better in that department than pitch-to-contact guys. Karstens is most certainly not a strikeout guy. He’s throwing some more two-seamers this year, but otherwise his pitch selection is relatively unchanged. His fastball velocity has actually dropped a touch this year as well. The Yankees didn’t miss anything with Karstens, he’s the same guy he’s always been, just with a few fewer walks and some better luck. I’m 100% confident in saying he wouldn’t stand a chance in the AL East.

Ryan asks: Would you make Phil Hughes available as part of a package for a front line pitcher (Felix, Ubaldo, Etc) if it meant holding on to Banuelos? I guess I am asking do you think Banuelos will end up being a better pitcher than Hughes?

I’d be willing to trade just about anyone in the right deal, especially for a high end starter. Hell, I’d give up Hughes and Manny Banuelos in a deal for Felix Hernandez. Anyway, Phil’s trade value is down now not just because of the injury and crappy second half last year, but because he’s not cheap anymore. He’s making $2.7M this season, his first time through arbitration. Two more years of arbitration-eligibility are coming, then he can be a free agent.

I do think Banuelos has the potential to be a better pitcher than Hughes, mostly because Phil hasn’t developed that reliable third pitch and hasn’t shown he can stay healthy for two years in a row. Banuelos hasn’t be all that healthy either the last two years, but I’m not going to hold an appendectomy and a blister against him. His third pitch (the curveball) is far, far more usable than Hughes’ changeup. Like I said, I’d give up anyone in the right trade, but at this point in time I think I’d keep Hughes over Banuelos. At least we know he can do something at the big league level, we don’t know that about Manny.

John asks: Just a question about trades. I know most GMs don’t like trading intra-division. But say the Yankees wanted a pitcher from the Rays and their GM won’t bite on a trade. Could they theoretically get another team from outside the division to trade for that player and then trade that player to the Yankees in another deal? I know it’s frowned upon but is there any specific rule that says you can’t do that?

I don’t know of any rule that prevents this, but it would be very tough to pull off. First of all, the middle man wouldn’t participate out of the kindness of their heart, they’ll mark up the price and try to make a profit. Plus they have to agree to a trade to the original team, and who knows what those terms will be. I’m sure it could be done, but it I think it’s easy to see why it never happens.

(Photo Credit: The Detroit News)

Mike asks: I see we have Mike Lamb, can he help? It seems he was always a clutch hitter.

It’s funny, when they signed (former short-term Yankee) Mike Lamb I just assumed it was a move to fill out the Triple-A roster. Jorge Vazquez, Kevin Russo, and Jesus Montero were on the disabled list at the time and Chris Dickerson was in the big leagues, so they brought him and Terry Tiffee aboard. But you know what? I think Lamb is Eric Chavez insurance to a certain extent. They’re the same player on the surface, left-handed hitting first and third base types.

Of course it’s been a while since Lamb was successful in the big leagues, he had a .218 wOBA in 40 PA for the Marlins last year and a .254 wOBA in 272 PA for the Twins and Brewers in 2008 (didn’t play in the bigs in 2009). He was pretty good before that though, posting a .351+ wOBA in three of the four seasons from 2004-2007. Lamb has always hit righties better than lefties, though his defense isn’t nearly as good as Chavez’s. I’m not going to hold it against him though, fewer are that good. Anyway, I don’t think he’d offer much help to the Yankees down the stretch, but we could see him get the call if Chavez can’t get healthy, which is always possible.

E.J. asks: It looks like that the Yankees have stalled in signing any of their most recent draft picks. When compared to other teams the Yankees have the lowest amount signed and one of the lowest percentages signed. Is that because most of the unsigned players are from High School and that they have more leverage and thus it takes longer to negotiate? Are do you believe that there are many players that will sign over-slot and they need to wait closer to August 15th so that they don’t get their hand slapped too much by MLB?

I think it’s a little of both. They took a ton of high school guys and are probably evaluating most of them in various summer leagues before deciding what to offer, if anything. I’m pretty sure they have some agreements in place as well, but are just holding off on the announcements so MLB doesn’t bitch and moan. I’m sure that come the morning of August 16th, they’ll again have 30 or so players signed, just like every year.

Karl asks: Would somebody at RAB be willing to talk about, in any format, their interpretation of “paying twice?” It seems that Cashman has rebuilt the system by erring on the side of keeping top prospects, knowing that if a team is willing to wait the big FAs will only cost money. Thanks.

There’s two ways you can “pay twice” for a player. One is in a trade, when you have to give up players to get the guy and then sign him to an extension. The Johan Santana trade is the perfect example. Forget about what you know now, at the time the Mets were giving up four young players and giving Santana a contract that paid him like a free agent on top of that. They paid once in prospects, then again in the form of the contract. They didn’t acquire the contract from Minnesota, that’s something they did on their own as a separate transaction.

The other way to pay twice involves giving up draft picks to sign a free agent. You’re paying the player whatever amount of dollars and surrendering a draft pick as well. No agent gives a discount for the pick, so it’s two separate costs. Sometimes it’s worth it (ace starters, elite position players), most of the time it’s not (relievers and part-time players).

Nick asks: Hey guys! I was curious about something. This is all “what if” and speculation but let’s say Dellin Betances went to Vanderbilt and pitched for them until the 2010 Draft (or through it figuring they would’ve been in the CWS). If he would’ve put up his AA numbers from last season at Vandy, what would his draft stock have been? A solid 1st rounder? Top 20, 10, 5? Thanks!

That’s a pretty good question. Betances signed in 2006 so he would have been draft eligible in 2009, not 2010. That’s unless he stayed for his senior season, I mean, but not many players do that. He had a pretty crummy season in 2009, walking 5.5 men per nine while striking out “just” 8.9 batters per nine innings. Those are career worsts for him (min. 30 IP), and on top of that, he missed the second half of the season due to his elbow injury. That said, Betances’ frame and stuff would have gotten him drafted high, not his stats.

Looking back on that draft class, he would have been outside the top 20 or so on talent, probably in that 20-30 range. Maybe even a little behind that. I get a feeling that he would have been a little like Andrew Brackman was in 2007. Huge stuff but raw with some some health concerns. He would have been a candidate to fall a few rounds in that case.