Olney: Yanks working hard to land a pitcher tonight

Update (10:12pm): Mark Feinsand says they’re close to a deal, but it’s not a salary dump. Yay, no Lowe!

Update (9:51pm): Kenny Rosenthal echoes Olney’s report, adding that it is in fact a trade.

Update (9:50pm): Ken Davidoff hears the Yanks have (are in?) “two or three” serious trade discussions for a starter, though none for Harang.

8:50pm: Via Buster Olney, the Yankees are “working very hard tonight on deal for starting pitcher.” Tonight being the key word. Earlier today we heard the team was looking to add a starter before New Year’s, but that seemed rather arbitrary. Olney’s wording leads you to believe the team is in the final stages of negotiations at this moment.

So … any guesses? Olney mentions they were in on Aaron Harang last year, but that’s not a small contract.

Yanks hit with $25.69 million payroll tax

For the Yankees, winning the World Series came with a hefty price tag this year as MLB announced on Monday that the Yankees were the only team to be levied a tax on its payroll in 2009. The team must pay its $25.69 million to the Commissioner’s Office by Jan. 31. This marks the seventh straight year that the Yanks have had to pay the tax, and of the $190 million in luxury tax payments collected by baseball, $174 million of that has come from the Yanks. Considering that the idea of the luxury tax was to rein in the Yanks’ spending ways, I’d say it’s been a stunning failure for baseball. At least the other teams can to benefit in form of added revenue earnings when the Yanks’ money is redistributed.

Open Thread: Forget the Hot Stove

This is what it’s all about …

(h/t to my brother Andrew)

The Giants and Redskins are the Monday night game, plus all the hockey locals are in action. Here’s your open thread for the night, treat it appropriately.

Link Dump: WS Trophy, DeRosa, Sheets

Boys & Girls Club with the World Series trophy

On his blog at YES Network, Jon Lane posted this picture. The Yankees brought their World Series trophy to the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club in the Bronx last week, as well as a few other branches. Ray Negron is in the picture, to the left of the trophy. The senior adviser is heavily involved organizations like Boys & Girls Club, and has even written children’s books — and soon a children’s movie. Alex Belth at Bronx Banter did a great series of posts on Negron. You can find them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

DeRosa wants to play in the Bronx

From the man himself:

“I want to play where I can win a championship, period. The end,” DeRosa says. “The finances will take care of themselves. I want to be part of a team that is committed to winning. I know the Yankees are, I know the Mets are. The Mets didn’t have a great season, but I know (GM) Omar (Minaya) wants to put a winning program together.”

Will the finances really take care of themselves? DeRosa was reportedly seeking three years at $18 million earlier this off-season, but recent word is that he’s prepared to lower those demands. He could fit well as a utility man on the Yankees, but I doubt they’re interested in him for more than one year — if they’re interested at all. If DeRosa is as serious about winning as his quote indicates, he’d do well to take a year an $3 to $4 million from the Yankees. Otherwise, I suspect Brian Cashman wouldn’t spend current and future money on a complementary player.

Will health issues keep Yanks away from Sheets?

The link goes to an iYankees summary of a Ken Davidoff report. Sorry, Ken, but that pay wall is just too much (even for me, who has an Optimum account, yet still can’t access content). Apparently, Ben Sheets is “not on the board” for the Yankees due to health concerns. Whether that’s a leverage ploy or not, I’m not sure. The Yankees have said on multiple occasions that they like Sheets, but it would have to be under the right circumstances. After a strong 2008 season, Sheets underwent surgery for a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow, the same procedure Andy Pettitte underwent in late 2004. Pettitte came back in 2005 to post one of his two best seasons. Could Sheets make a similar recovery?

By the Decade: Second base sluggers

We pick up our Yankees By the Decade series today with the guys who manned the second base spot. Much of the decade was dominated by two top-hitting second basemen with a whole bunch of rather forgettable — but ultimately adequate — fill-ins in between.

  AB Hits 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB HBP K GDP BA OBA Slug%
Robbie Cano 2826 861 198 17 83 386 129 14 21 330 93 .305 .337 .475
A. Soriano 1946 557 120 10 95 265 90 8 29 410 23 .286 .325 .505
Miguel Cairo 457 134 23 7 6 57 25 1 14 60 8 .293 .344 .414
C. Knoblauch 328 89 19 2 5 20 31 0 4 34 4 .271 .341 .387
Enrique Wilson 296 69 14 0 7 43 16 0 2 25 5 .233 .273 .351
Jose Vizcaino 157 43 8 1 0 8 9 0 0 24 1 .274 .310 .338
Luis Sojo 97 32 7 0 2 15 4 0 0 4 4 .330 .356 .464
Tony Womack 86 25 4 0 0 4 4 0 1 14 2 .291 .330 .337
Clay Bellinger 41 10 2 0 3 5 4 1 1 7 0 .244 .326 .512
Nick Green 37 7 1 0 1 3 5 0 0 15 0 .189 .286 .297
W. Delgado 25 6 1 0 0 3 5 0 0 5 0 .240 .355 .28
Rey Sanchez 25 8 1 0 0 2 1 0 1 1 1 .320 .370 .360
Wilson Betemit 20 5 1 0 2 7 0 0 0 9 1 .250 .250 .600
Ramiro Peña 13 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 .154 .154 .154
A. Gonzalez 12 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 3 1 .167 .231 .167
Cody Ransom 9 2 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 0 .222 .222 .333
Homer Bush 7 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 1 .000 .125 .000
Mark Bellhorn 5 1 0 0 1 2 2 0 0 2 0 .200 .429 .800
Robin Ventura 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 .000 .000 .000
Jerry Hairston 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333
Felix Escalona 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .333 .333 .667
Andy Phillips 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
A. Cannizaro 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
Totals 6399 1855 401 37 205 822 326 24 74 952 145 0.29 0.327 0.46

Between the two of them Alfonso Soriano and Robinson Cano combined for 74 percent of all Yankee second base at-bats, and they didn’t do too badly for themselves. On the whole, Yankee second basemen hit .290/.327/.460. The on-base percentage is a little low, but the batting average and slugging figures look a-OK to me. As a comparison, Boston’s second basemen hit .274/.330/.420 on the decade.

Individually, Soriano and Cano were both among the top of the game at their position, and yet, fans always wanted more. Before getting sent to Texas for A-Rod, Soriano launched 95 home runs and hit .286/.325/.505, mostly at the top of the Yankee order. Cano doesn’t have the same power as Soriano but has show a bit more patience. He has hit .305/.337/.475 with just 330 strike outs to Soriano’s 410 in 1000 more ABs.

Why then do Yankee fans always feel as though their second basemen should be better than they are? Cano takes a lot of guff for seemingly not hustling in the field or for being a lackadaisical base running. Soriano was accused, rightfully so, of flailing and too many pitchers, and fans and commentators always wanted him to exhibit more patience than he did at the plate. Always, it seems, Yankee fans want more, more, more.

What we can see from the chart, though, is how the Yankees have it good with a decade bookended by Soriano and Cano. Although Soriano’s .830 OPS is slightly better than Cano’s .812 mark, I have to give the decade award to Robinson Cano. He has far more playing time in pinstripes this decade than Soriano, and I like the OBP edge. We might be singing a different tune had Soriano’s late-game home run held up on a Sunday night in Phoenix, but that’s ancient history now.

Beyond those two, the decade was filled with a quest to fill the whole. I was surprised to see Miguel Cairo’s numbers at second base looking so decent. In nearly a season’s worth of at-bats, he hit .293/.344/.414. Considering those numbers are far above his career triple-slash line of .266/.315/.358, the Yankees were able to catch a bit of lightening in a bottle with Cairo, and it’s no wonder that Joe Torre seemingly fell in love with giving him playing time.

In the end, the Yanks had a good run this decade largely in part because of the solid play at second base. Robinson Cano has been an anchor since 2005 after the misguided Tony Womack experiment came to end. Before him, we lived through the era of Soriano, and even the guys who filled the hole for a year weren’t too bad. Meanwhile, Cano is just 27, and the next decade should belong to him. We know what he brings to the table; we know what he doesn’t bring to the table. As he hits his peak years offensively, he’s a great second baseman for a great Yankee team.

Non-Breaking News: Yanks looking to add a starter

Via MLBTR, the Yanks are looking to add a starting pitcher this offseason, although this time Mike Puma of the Post has attached the completely arbitrary deadline of New Year’s to it. What’s going to happen if they don’t bring in another arm in 11 days, are they just going to stop trying? No, of course not. Since when is Brian Cashman someone that won’t wait and wait and wait to get something at the price he wants?

Anyway, Puma’s report also mentions that Cashman “is believed to have inquired about Carlos Zambrano,” which is as vague as a rumor could possible be. Thankfully the Cubs already shot it down, and Jason at IIATMS explained why Zambrano would be a bad idea, saving me the trouble. As we’ve been saying, Ben Sheets and/or Justin Duchscherer is the way to go.

A (somewhat) informed look at Posada vs. Molina

"For the love of Mo, please let this debate end."Last week I linked to a THT article looking at the difference in pitch selection between Jorge Posada and Jose Molina whenever CC Sabathia was on the mound last year, but I wanted to see if I could dig a little deeper into this debate. I don’t claim to be any sort of statistics whiz, but I definitely know my way around a slide rule. Frankly, I’m sort of embarrassed to be posting this because I’m not 100% confident in it’s accuracy, but whatever.

Over the last three years, opponents have hit .268-.343-.420 off Yankee pitchers when Posada was behind the plate (9,345 plate appearances), compared to .248-.309-.381 when Molina caught (5,285 plate appearances). There’s no denying that’s a pretty drastic difference, and I went back far enough – Molina’s entire time in pinstripes, actually – to ensure that sample size wasn’t an issue.

Using Dave Pinto’s Lineup Analysis Tool, we know that a lineup of nine hitters with a .343 OBP and a .420 SLG would score 4.896 runs per game, while a lineup of nine .309 OBP and .381 SLG batters would score 3.915 runs per game. We’re going to normalize everything over 120 games in this post, because that’s how about how many games you’d expect your number one catcher to play in a given season. So, over 120 games, opponents would have scored 587.52 runs when Posada was catching, and 469.80 runs when Molina was behind the plate. Big difference.

American League pitchers have allowed 2,310 runs per 486 games over the last three seasons, or 570.37 over 120 games. That means Posada’s “game calling” was worth 17.15 runs below average during that time, while Molina’s was worth 100.57 runs above average. I put game calling in quotes because it’s a vague term and there are a million variables involved. In the end, it’s up to the pitcher to execute, but for our purposes we’ll hoist all of the blame/praise onto the catcher.

Okay, so right now we’re saying that Posada’s game calling is worth -17.15 runs above average while Molina’s is worth +100.57. Let’s come up with a fancy acronym for this … how about GCRAA, or Game Calling Runs Above Average? Works for me.

At Beyond The Box Score today, Dan Turkenkopf posted last year’s catcher blocking percentages, which tells you how many runs a catcher saved or cost his team with his ability to hande balls in the dirt. You can click on the link for a more detailed explanation, but Posada’s and Molina’s blocking ability was worth 4.66 and 4.30 runs below average, respectively. Those totals are already normalized to 120 games, so that’s nice and easy.

I don’t think anyone would have argued that Molina’s defense and ability to handle pitchers was better than Posada’s, however that’s just part of the equation. During the last three seasons, FanGraphs says that Posada’s offense has been worth 62.5 runs above average in 1,222 plate apperances while Molina’s has been worth a whopping 26.2 runs below average in 523 plate appearances. Normalizing both to 500 plate appearances (approximately 120 games worth), Posada’s offense is worth 25.57 runs above average, Molina’s 25.05 runs below average.

The last piece of our catching debate pie is baserunning. Since FanGraphs considers stolen bases and caught stealings in their wOBA calculation, which is in turn used to determine wRAA, we don’t need to worry about them. Instead, we can use the same EqBRR-EqSBR calculation I presented here and here to determine how each player’s non-stolen base baserunning effected the team. Over that same three year time period, Posada’s baserunning cost the team a staggering 16.81 runs while Molina’s cost them just 0.13. Such are the benefits of hitting at the bottom of the lineup I suppose, no one behind you is ripping extra base hits requiring more than station to station baseball. Normalizing both to 500 plate appearances, we get 6.88 runs below average for Posada and 0.12 runs below average for Molina.

Catcher defense is practically impossible to quantify, so I’m not even going to bother trying to figure it out. Let’s just assume it’s included in our GCRAA and Turkenkopf’s block pecentage stats, which give Molina a humongous advantage anyway. Alright, let’s sum it all up:

Posada Molina
GCRAA -17.15 +100.57
Block Percentage
-4.66 -4.30
wRAA +25.57 -25.05
EqBRR – EqSBR -6.88 -0.12
Total -3.12 +71.10

So based on everything we did above, Jorge Posada playing full time is essentially a league average player because his inability to handle pitchers and awful baserunning negates his offense. Molina, meanwhile, would have resulted in an extra 71 runs assuming equal playing time, or basically seven wins. It’s a big difference, basically the difference between Derek Jeter and Ramiro Pena last season.

Obviously, you shouldn’t consider this to be any sort of definitive proof that Molina’s ability to work with pitchers is so superior to Posada’s that it would have been worth playing him every day despite the difference in their bats. Remember, I didn’t adjust the GCRAA for league are anything like that, I just hammered out an old school back of the envelope calculation, if you know what I mean. There is certainly evidence that pitchers get better results with Molina behind the dish, I never denied that, but I’m still not convinced it’s enough to make up for the difference in offense despite everything above. I just can’t see Molina being a friggin’ seven win player because of his game calling; there has to be a way to improve GCRAA.

Maybe one of these days someone a whole lot smarter than me will take a stab at this. Mo knows we’ll deal with it again next year with Frankie Cervelli.

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP