The worst eight weeks of the year

It might not seem that far away. Pitchers and catchers report in 39 days — 38 if you’re reading this after waking up this morning. That’s less than six weeks until baseball returns! Sam Miller of the Orange County Register put it best, while mixing in a Yankees rumor:

No, I don’t care much about Freddy Garcia or Kevin Millwood, though there’s a chance you’ll see a post on one or both of them in the coming weeks. Why? Because we are indeed in for the worst six weeks of the year. But really, it’s longer than that. Having a date for pitchers and catchers is nice and all, but it’s the most anticipated date of the year on which nothing happens. We really have at least eight more weeks of winter.

Baseball is mostly done right now. Even the winter leagues have stopped play. College baseball will return soon enough, and there are various leagues that do run year-round, but we’re not going to see anything resembling big league baseball until early March — and then we’re watching the starters play a couple of innings before giving way to guys who won’t be gracing our TVs in April. So, if you think about it, we’re 10 weeks from seeing starters pitch four or five innings.

Yes, this is the worst time of year for a baseball junkie. In a way I admire the people who can put baseball out of their minds during this time of year. But people such as Mike, Ben, and me, who write sites like this, and you, who read sites like this, don’t have the luxury of an off switch. It’s baseball all the time. That means we’re going to follow every bit of news, and we’re going to write about possibilities that seem, well, impossible. It’s how we fill the lull between the height of the Hot Stove Season and the start of real baseball.

Many of our readers won’t like reading posts examining possible mid-season acquisitions or musings on lefty relievers. I understand that. We’re putting it out there, because we love doing this so much. We think about baseball all the time, and the only way to contain the itch is to write about whatever we’re thinking. Sometimes that will bore. Sometimes that will inspire outright rage. Sometimes we’ll hit on something that people want to talk about. It’s the nature of this time of year.

Through this lull, we’re going to continue pumping out content. It’s what we do. Thanks for sticking with us through this difficult time. Dealing with this together makes it just a bit easier.

Yankees claim Brian Schlitter

Via Carrie Muskat, the Yankees have claimed righty reliever Brian Schlitter off waivers from the Cubs. I’m guessing new pitching coaching Larry Rothschild had something to do with this. The 25-year-old made his big league debut in 2010, taking the place of Carlos Zambrano when he was suspended for one of his various tirades. He got rocked in eight appearances (8 IP, 18 H, 11 R, 5 BB, 7 K), but his minor league career features 8.6 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 190 IP (all relief). The Cubbies originally acquired him from the Phillies in exchange for Scott Eyre back in 2008.

Baseball America did not rank Schlitter among Chicago’s top 30 prospects in last year’s Prospect Handbook. The Baseball Info Solutions data at FanGraphs says he throws a fastball that averages 93 mph and a slider, so it’s a pretty generic repertoire. He’s a big boy though, listed at 6-foot-5, 235 lbs. on the Cubs’ official site. Schlitter’s just another arm for depth purposes, nothing wrong with another hard-thrower.

Open Thread: New Writers

This picture of Matt Lindstrom from the 2006 Futures Game has nothing to do with anything. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)

Back in November we announced that we were looking to add some weekend writers, and after a prolonged review of the hundred or so applications that poured in, we’ve finally made our picks. Here’s the new cast…

  • Brock Cohen: You know him from the comments at brockdc. He writes for the Huffington Post and can be followed on Twitter at @brockdc.
  • Hannah Ehrlich: She goes by seimiya in the comments and is on Twitter at @firstheart42. Oh, and she’s got one of these Tumblr thingees all the kids are talking about.
  • Stephen Rhoads: He comments as Stephen R. and also writes for TYU. He’s on Twitter at @stephen_mr.

We’re excited to have them on board and a thank you goes out to everyone that applied. We had go through about five rounds of eliminations before deciding on Brock, Hannah, and Stephen because there were so many good applicants. Look for their posts starting this coming weekend.

And now that that’s finally over with (seriously, so many applications), we can move on to the open thread. The Rangers and Nets are both in action, but talk about whatever you like. Have at it.

Cooperstown wrap: Alomar, Blyleven earn Hall call

After weeks of hand-wringing over Jack Morris’ potential Hall of Fame candidacy, he didn’t even come close to earning a plaque in Cooperstown today when the inductees were unveiled. Rather, Bert Blyleven, in his 14th year of eligibility, and Roberto Alomar, in his second, are heading to the Hall. Blyleven, after intense campaigning by Rich Lederer, eked in with 79 percent of the vote while Alomar garnered 90 percent. “It’s been 14 years of praying and waiting,” Blyleven said to reporters today. “And thank the baseball writers of America for, I’m going to say, finally getting it right.”

Meanwhile, among those who missed their chance at enshrinement were Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, notable names and prolific hitters felled by steroid allegations. On the Yankee front, Don Mattingly garnered just 79 votes or 13.9 percent. He’ll stay on the ballot for another year, but Kevin Brown, who earned just 12 votes or 2.1 percent of the total, won’t. Only six writers voted for Tino for the Hall while one-time Yankee great Raul Mondesi earned a grand total of zero votes.

Finally, check out this ESPN NY post from long-time RAB reader Rebecca Glass. She argues that Bernie Williams could wind up making the most of a weak field next year when he’s first eligible for the Hall of Fame. Feared, I say. Feared.

The RAB Radio Show: January 5, 2011

It’s Hall of Fame day. We start the show by honoring Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, this year’s inductees. But, as always, the down ballot guys are more interesting than the guys who got in.

Next year there will be no first balloters who will ever make the Hall of Fame. Bernie Williams might be the best of them. This creates opportunities for guys who didn’t get the requisite votes. Barry Larkin could be the sole inductee. Jack Morris might have his best chance. Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines could make some decent progress. Because in 2013, things will start to get interesting.

Podcast run time 25:03

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: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Joel Piniero would fit nicely at Yankee Stadium

(Mark J. Terrill/AP)

On yesterday’s RAB Radio Show Mike and I discussed the Angels as they relate to the Yankees. It was just a year ago when the two teams faced off in the ALCS, but since then the Angels have taken a bit of a hit. They finished 80-82 last year, and now, after failing to sign any impact bats this off-season, they find themselves as also-rans in the AL West, where the Rangers and the A’s looking like the top contenders. While that likely won’t prompt the Angels to make a move now, it could make some of their players available during the season. One guy Mike and I discussed yesterday was Joel Pineiro.

At some point in the mid-00s Pineiro became an afterthought. A 12th round draft pick in 1997, Pineiro never really produced spectacular numbers in the minors. It wasn’t until 2000 that he really made a splash, when he produced a 2.80 ERA in 61 Pacific Coast League innings. That earned him the No. 80 spot on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects. He continued to pitch well by PCL standards in 2001, eventually earning a call-up to the bigs. After absolutely dominating — a 2.03 ERA in 75.1 innings — he was in the show to stay.

After two excellent seasons, Pineiro dropped off. In 2004 he pitched poorly before missing the final two months with an elbow injury. A shoulder strain caused him to miss the beginning of the 2005 season, and when he came back he was pretty terrible. In 2006 it was more of the same, and Pineiro actually shifted to the bullpen at one point. There were talks around the deadline of the Yankees swapping Shawn Chacon for Pineiro, but that didn’t pan out. After the season the Red Sox signed him to be the closer, and we all know how that worked out. They traded him to the Cardinals, which is where the real story begins.

Pineiro had always been a decent ground ball pitcher. From 2002 through 2004 he was in the top third of the league in ground ball rate. That gave him hope with Cardinals’ pitching coach Dave Duncan. In 2008 the experiment didn’t go so well, as Pineiro posted a 5.15 ERA and 4.71 FIP in 148.2 innings. But the next year everything seemed to click. His ground ball rate jumped from the mid- to high-40s all the way to 60.5 percent. That caused his home run rate to dip. Combined with a pristine walk rate, 1.14 per nine, he put together a very good season: 3.49 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.68 xFIP. It was lucky, too, because he was headed for free agency.

There was a faction of fans, I’m not sure how large, who wanted the Yankees to sign Pineiro last off-season. The team needed a fourth starter, and even if we boosted Pineiro’s 2009 ERA to reflect the realities of the American League, he still would have been one of the best fourth starters in the league. I took the case against him. This was a guy who had exactly one good season in the last six. There wasn’t even a season where his peripherals made his results look better. It screamed of fluke. How would he fare without Duncan’s tutelage?

As it turns out, Pineiro would have greatly helped the Yankees in 2009, even if he had suffered the same oblique injury that limited him to 23 starts. Again he kept his ERA below 4.00, 3.84, and had a FIP and xFIP to match. He kept the ball on the ground, 54.9 percent, and had a walk rate that ranked eighth in the majors among pitchers with at least 150 IP. That’s not to say the Yankees made a mistake by trading for Vazquez rather than signing Pineiro; the warning signs were considerable. But now that he has experienced a second straight year of success, and by using the same arsenal, I think he’d make for a decent trade candidate.

The main factor for Pineiro is the ground balls. While Yankee Stadium might not be an overall hitters’ haven, it is favorable to left-handed batters, particularly when it comes to home runs. Right-handed pitchers can have problems, then, as Phil Hughes realized in 2010. But the ability to keep the ball on the ground can help mitigate that issue. The Yankees might not have the best infield defense, but then again they had pretty terrible infield defense when Chien-Ming Wang pitched, and he did pretty well for himself. Pineiro’s ground ball tendencies make him a good fit for the rotation.

The Angels won’t let him go cheaply, of course. Pineiro is attractive not only because he has just one year left on his contract, but also because he will earn just $8 million in that one year. Another quality season will likely earn him Type A status, so the Angels aren’t just going to give him away. Since they’re so far below their normal payroll level as it is, they have no incentive to sell off anything now. That could mean a high asking price, which is why the Yankees should consider Pineiro with an eye towards the deadline. He won’t be a cheap acquisition then, but he’ll be cheaper than now.

Of course, Pineiro isn’t the best pitchers with whom the Angels could part. There’s Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, plus the always promising Ervin Santana. But I think that considering their situations — they’re under contract for the next few seasons — Pineiro will be the easiest to pry from the Angels if they fall out of the race. In fact, given his contract and his impending free agency, he might be one of the more attractive mid-season trade targets. The Yanks would probably love to add him now and get a full season, but that just doesn’t appear likely. Instead, Pineiro is a guy we should keep an eye on in the first half. He could very well be wearing pinstripes by July.

Prospect Profile: Hector Noesi

(Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Hector Noesi | RHP

The Yankees signed Noesi out of his hometown of Esperanza in the Dominican Republic when he was a 17-year-old way back in 2004. He was signed by then scout and the team’s current supervisor of Dominican scouting Victor Mata, who has also signed players like Gary Sanchez, Ivan Nova, Jose Ramirez, Eduardo Nunez, and the Melkys (Cabrera and Mesa) through the years. I can’t find any info on Noesi’s signing bonus, so we’re out of luck there.

Pro Career
Noesi didn’t start his professional career in the United States until the 2006 season, when he threw just seven impressive innings (11 K, 1 BB, 0.49 FIP) with the team’s rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate. A 50-game suspension for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program delayed the start of his 2007, but once he served his time he was assigned to Low-A Charleston. Noesi made five starts with the River Dogs (20 IP, 4.60 FIP) before going down with an elbow injury. He had Tommy John surgery soon thereafter, which kept him out until the second half of the 2008 season. Noesi threw 48.2 (essentially rehab) innings with the GCL team and the short season Staten Island Yankees after coming back from surgery, posting a 3.55 FIP.

Four full years after originally signing, Noesi was finally healthy and able to begin his career in earnest in 2009. The Yankees sent him back to Charleston to start the year, where he made eleven starts and seven relief appearances (75.2 IP, 2.09 FIP) before earning a midseason promotion to High-A Tampa. Noesi made nine starts in Tampa to close out the season, pitching to a 2.57 FIP in 41.1 IP. He had effectively pitched himself back onto the prospect map after the long injury layoff, and was rewarded with a 40-man roster spot after the season to avoid exposure to the Rule 5 Draft.

Noesi opened the 2010 season back with Tampa, but he wasn’t there long. He made just eight starts (43 IP, 2.20 FIP) before getting bumped up to Double-A Trenton, where he made 16 starts and one relief appearance (98.2 IP, 2.99 FIP). Noesi pitched so well that he earned a spot in the Futures Game, where he allowed a single to current big leaguer Logan Morrison in his scoreless inning of work. Another promotion came his way in August, and he finished off his season by making three starts with Triple-A Scranton (18.2 IP, 3.20 FIP). Overall, Noesi’s 2010 campaign featured a 2.80 FIP in 160.1 IP. Over the last two years, he’s pitched to a 2.57 FIP.

Scouting Report
Long and lanky at 6-foot-2 and 175 lbs., Noesi stands out for his command and a delivery that is both simple and fluid, two things that are not mutual exclusive. Although control is typically the last thing to come back following elbow surgery, Noesi has unintentionally walked just 51 batters in 326 innings since returning from TJ (1.41 uIBB/9), a testament to how well he can command the baseball. He has also been perfectly healthy since the elbow surgery, leading the farm system in innings pitched in 2010 and holding his velocity deep into games.

Noesi’s best pitch is lively fastball with a little boring action in on righties, routinely sitting at 90-93 mph and touching as high as 96 the last few years. He backs that up with quality changeup, his second best offering, and he also throws both a slider and a curveball. Neither of the two breaking balls is even an average big league pitch right now, and Noesi doesn’t command any of his offspeed pitches as well as he does his fastball. He helps himself by fielding his position and holding runners well.

Here’s some video of Noesi from this past June, and there’s plenty more on Mike Ashmore’s YouTube channel.

2011 Outlook
The Yankees do have some questions at the back of their big league rotation, so Noesi will be part of a group of upper level arms that will get a very long look in Spring Training. More than likely he’ll be assigned to Triple-A Scranton to start the season with a callup possible at pretty much any time. He’s almost guaranteed to make his major league debut at some point during the 2011 season, and it could come as either a starter or reliever.

My Take
Noesi’s grown on me over the last two years, and I’m pretty sure it’s obvious as to why. The performance is outstanding and he’s now knocking on the door of the big leagues, a combination you want to see in a prospect of any caliber. The ability to command a fastball with some giddy-up is far too uncommon, and Noesi has that part of the game down to a science. His ceiling will be limited to a back of the rotation starter until one of his breaking balls steps forward and becomes a go-to pitch, but he still has plenty of time to work on that. If nothing else, Noesi will be serious competition for Nova and Sergio Mitre in Spring Training, and he’ll be one of the first called up whenever an arm is needed in some capacity. On the other hand, he’s a prime piece of trade bait as a cheap, workhorse type starter.