YES adds Curry to on-air staff

In early December, long-time New York Times baseball writer Jack Curry took a buyout offer and departed from the Gray Lady. Today, we learn that Curry will join the YES Network as a Yankees studio analyst, YES program contributor and website columnist. “I look forward to this new chapter of my career, and am eager to contribute to YES on air and online,” Curry said in a statement. “I’m eager to provide insight and information to our television viewers and Web readers.”

Curry started at The Times in 1987 and began covering the Yanks in 1991. In 1998, he took over as the paper’s national baseball writer, and over the last 18 years, he has appeared on TV during Yankee pre-game shows on both MSG and the YES Network. Now, he’ll serve as Bob Lorenz’s sidekick. “He will be a tremendous addition to our Emmy Award-winning multi-platform Yankees coverage,” John Filippelli, YES’ president of production and programming said, “and will complement Bob Lorenz, our pre- and post-game host, extremely well in the studio.”

Learning from history with Don Mattingly

Buck Showalter, George Steinbrenner and Don Mattingly in 1993. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

As the Yankees spent Spring Training in 1990 in Fort Lauderdale, Don Mattingly found himself getting ready to play out the final season of a three-year contract. He was a month away from his 29th birthday and over the last six years had hit .327/.372/.530 with 161 home runs. He had made six straight All Star appearances and had earned himself five Golden Gloves and an MVP award. While his seasonal numbers had declined from his gaudy totals he put up in 1985 and 1986, he was one of the league’s top first baseman and the Yanks’ biggest superstar. He would, in other words, earn his money.

That spring, a year before Mattingly was to hit free agency, the Yankees made the point moot. They signed him to a five-year extension worth $19.3 million, and until Jose Canseco topped that total a few months later, Mattingly’s $3.86 million annual salary was the highest in baseball. Donnie Baseball would be the Yanks’ marquee name for years to come.

But for Mattingly, disaster struck. Number 23 had injured his back in a clubhouse incident in 1987, and in 1990, his back problems would flare up again. He played just 102 games and hit .256/.308/.335 with five home runs. While he recovered some of his health, over the duration of that five-year contract, Mattingly was a shell of his former self. From 1991 until his retirement in 1995, he hit .291/.350/.416 with just 53 home runs. His playing time dipped from 153 games per season to 134, and he went from a superstar with top power to an above-average hitter with recurrent health problems and little power.

Over the weekend, Steve Lombardi at WasWatching highlighted the Mattingly saga. With much attention on the Yanks’ decision not to extend Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter right now, Lombardi focused on how Steinbrenner used to operate his club. He wouldn’t let his star players approach free agency and treated them well. “Don’t tell Jeter this is how the Yankees used to roll,” he said in the headline.

To me, though, Mattingly’s contract status and his subsequent decline serve as a warning to the Yankees in 2010. When George Steinbrenner jumped the gun and overextended Mattingly, the team paid a high price. The club knew that Mattingly’s back problems sapped him of his power in 1988 and 1989. They could have waited out 1990 to see how he fared. Had he duplicated his 1990 season, there’s no way the Yanks would have extended him that $19.3 million offer.

Today, Rivera and Jeter find themselves in similar situations. The two are in the latter stages of Hall of Fame careers and both are still very productive players. The Yankees will, as Hank Steinbrenner has noted, take care of these guys when the season ends. There is no reason to do it a day sooner. What happens if age catches up to Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera this year? The Yanks can’t reward these two for the past if the future doesn’t hold similar levels of productivity.

As always, baseball is a business, and putting money into a risky investment before the investment requires it is rarely a good idea. The Yankees didn’t wait with Don Mattingly twenty years ago, but they will wait with Jeter and Rivera today. Both players know and accept that they’ll get their dollars when the time is right, and the Yankees know to be careful when the big bucks are concerned. That’s just smart baseball.

Will Edwar ever get another shot?

Once the Yankees officially announce that they’ve signed Chan Ho Park, they’ll have to remove a player from the 40-man roster. Looking at the list, two names stand out: Christian Garcia and Edwar Ramirez. Once designated for assignment, the team has 10 days to trade the player or place him on waivers. If claimed, the player has a new team, complete with 40-man roster spot. If not, the Yankees can outright either one to AAA. Since Garcia, despite his spate of injuries, still retains significant upside, chances are the Yankees will take their chances with Edwar. With the various relievers, including Kiko Calero, still looking for jobs, I think Edwar will pass through without issue. So he’d remain a Yankee, but will not take up a 40-man spot.

(We might get a better idea once we find out what happens to Casey Fein, who was DFA’d to make room for Johnny Damon. Fein posted numbers similar to Edwar at AAA last year.)

Anyone who followed the minor leagues in 2007 has to love Edwar. He absolutely dominated, striking out nearly two Eastern League hitters per inning before a quick promotion to AAA. His strikeout rate fell at the higher level, but not by much. Of the 153 AAA batters he faced that season, he fanned 69 of them, or 45 percent. The International League hitters were so helpless against him, in fact, that they mustered just 20 hits in Edwar’s 40 IP. His performance through the end of June was so convincing that he earned a big league cal-up, but fell out of Torre’s circle of trust pretty quickly.

After starting the season in the minors in 2008, Edwar earned a quick call-up by striking out 13 of 31 batters faced, walking just one. He didn’t allow a run in his first 13 appearances, and by the All-Star break he was one of the best relievers in baseball, allowing just 10 runs over 33 innings and striking out 36 of 132 batters faced. His second half didn’t go as well, though that’s due almost exclusively to the Angels, who scored 11 runs over 1.2 innings, spanning three appearances. At the end of the season Edwar’s ERA, 3.90, nearly matched his FIP, 3.96. The Yankees thought they found their guy, though concerns about his flat fastball, a necessary compliment to his devastating changeup, still seemed a bit flat.

Something went terribly wrong at the beginning of 2009, forcing the Yankees to option Edwar in mid-May. He’d thrown just 17.1 innings and did strike out 16, but he also surrendered six home runs and walked 15 hitters. That made for a monstrous 8.45 FIP, and the Yankees really had no other choice at that point. Thankfully, Al Aceves had come up to help quell the bullpen situation. At AAA, Edwar brought his walk rate back down, though his strikeout rate didn’t reach the levels it had in 2007, or even during his short stay in 2008. Another good sign: his home run rate dropped, though it was still higher than in 2007 and 2008 — a given, really, since he allowed no AAA home runs in those seasons.

Once the Yankees DFA Edwar, chances are he won’t return to the Bronx. They’d have to make another roster move to bring him up, and considering his disaster of a 2009 I’m not sure they’d be inclined to do so. He’ll probably continue pitching well at AAA, and at some point people will call for his promotion if one of the bullpen cogs isn’t working out. But unless he really impresses not only with numbers, but with an improved fastball at AAA this season, I think we might have seen the last of the lanky kid. I’m going to miss him.

Photo credit: Pat Sullivan/AP

The Sabermetrics Library

Over the past few weeks, Joe’s been going through and providing in-depth primers on all of the stats we use, but if you’re looking for a more concise version, check out the The Sabermetrics Library. Steve Slowinski of DRays Bay put it together with the idea of having a one-stop sabermetric glossary, and as Veronica Corningstone might say, he effing nailed it. Check out the wOBA page, for example. You’ve got a short description of the stat, some things to remember, and values for context. Super easy, right?

Whether you’re well versed in some of these metrics or not, make sure you bookmark that shizz. It’s an invaluable resource, born out of nothing more than passion for the game.

Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects

Baseball America posted their list of the Top 100 Prospects in all of baseball today, with Yanks’ wunderkind Jesus Montero coming at number four overall. Jason Heyward of the Braves topped the list, and was followed by Stephen Strasburg and Mike Stanton. Brian Matusz of the Orioles came in right behind Montero at number five. Montero is third different Yankee prospect to be considered one of the four best prospects in the game within the last four years, joining Phil Hughes (2007) and Joba Chamberlain (2008).

Austin Romine was the only other Yankee prospect to make the list, coming in at number 86, one spot ahead of Boston’s Lars Anderson. Old friends Arodys Vizcaino and Austin Jackson checked in a numbers 69 and 76, respectively.

On the importance of a healthy ballclub

The Yankees may miss team trainer Gene Monahan, right, more than they realize. (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

Gene Monahan hasn’t missed a Spring Training since the mid-1960s, and he has served as the Yankee head trainer since 1973. But last week, in news that slipped a bit under the radar, the Yankees announced that Monahan was battling a significant illness and would be missing Spring Training and some of the regular season this year.

“I miss not being around my professional family already, but I’m battling,” Monahan said in a statement. “The New York Yankees have gone above and beyond in this most difficult time. I couldn’t do this alone, but with the support and love of my immediate family, my family within our organization and the dedication and expertise of many fine doctors, I look forward to resuming my role with the team this season.”

Many Yankee fans didn’t know what to make of this news. We all know who Gene Monahan is, but we generally don’t see him unless something is wrong or someone is hurt. We don’t see the work he puts in behind the scenes making sure his players are healthy enough to face the rigors of a 162-game schedule. We don’t see the pre- and post-game stretching or the countless massages, ice packs and heat baths Monahan oversees. We simply see him jog out and fetch someone we don’t want to see getting fetched.

A recent series of posts at Beyond the Box Score, though, can help us understand Monahan’s — and the rest of the team’s medical staff’s — impact on the Yankees. Last week, Jeff Zimmerman explored the percentage of team payroll lost to the DL and found the Yanks to be among the league’s best in this category. Looking at totals from 2002-2009, Zimmerman found that the Yanks lost $175 million of the $1.46 billion they spent over those eight seasons. The 12 percent loss is good for 25th lowest in all of baseball.

In terms of total DL trips, the Yankees fare a bit worse. They’ve sent 57 players to the disabled list and find themselves with 11 teams ahead of them who have seen fewer trips to the DL. The Yanks’ 6,107 DL days are 11th highest in the league. The Yankees, then, appear to be losing their cheaper players to longer disabled list stints and also, Carl Pavano.

To put a win value on these DL numbers, colintj at BTB ran some WAR calculations and determined that DL time can lead to a difference, on average, of seven wins lost to injury between the healthiest team, which loses around 2 WAR per season, and the least healthy team which loses around 9 WAR per season. Over the span of the study, the Yanks have lost 6.49 WAR per 162 games — or 0.45 above the average WAR lost per 162 games — to injury. In other words, the team’s medical staff is great at keeping the high-priced guys on the field but seemingly average at keeping the Yankees healthy overall.

In a sense, health is one area that has seen little study in the age of sabermetrics. Because health can be there one day and gone the next, it’s nearly impossible to predict who will lose time to an injury and for how long this player will be gone. Last year, A-Rod missed far less time than expected due to his own ability to heal while Chien-Ming Wang missed nearly the entire season with various ailments. Now with Monahan out, we’ll be able to see how healthy the Yanks can be without their long-term head trainer. In a division in which every win will be important come the pennant stretch, an X-factor such as this one could very well tip the balance of AL East power.

Park faces a tough transition to the AL East

Over the past few years, specifically since the failed Kyle Farnsworth signing, the Yankees have changed their approach to building a bullpen. Instead of signing high-priced veterans like Steve Karsay, Paul Quantrill, and Tom Gordon, the Yankees have used younger, cheaper options to fill the later innings and bridge the gap from starter to Mariano. That strategy took shape in 2008, when the bullpen consisted mostly of players with under three years of service time: Joba Chamberlain, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Dan Giese, Brian Bruney, Ross Ohlendorf, Jon Albaladejo, and eventually Phil Coke. As the year progressed some of those pitchers succeeded and stayed, while others failed and went to Scranton. The key was flexibility.

The Yankees did sign a veteran free agent that off-season, which in a way ran counter to the strategy. While the Yankees probably didn’t expect LaTroy Hawkins to step into the eighth inning role, they expected that he could have held down the middle innings. That didn’t work out too well, though, and the Yankees designated Hawkins for assignment at the end of July, eating the remaining $1.2 million in his contract. Thankfully for the Yankees it was only a one-year deal, allowing them to cut loose Hawkins when it became necessary, though perhaps the $3.75 million salary made them pause a bit too long before releasing him.

Photo credit: Jim Bryant/AP

The $1.2 million they ate for Hawkins equals the entire contract of Chan Ho Park, who will join the major league bullpen this season. He’s coming off an excellent season in Philadelphia, though you might not think it just by glancing at his aggregate stats. I covered his excellent bullpen stint at FanGraphs, so I’ll spare you a repeat here. For those not inclined to click through, the main takeaway is that Park struck out more than a batter an inning, walked one out of every 12.88 batters he faced, and allowed zero baseballs to leave the yard.

Despite the quality 2009 performance, Park still holds a poor reputation among among fans. After breaking into the league with the Dodgers, he signed a five-year, $65 million contract with the Rangers in December 2001. In the first three years of the contract, Park pitched just 271 innings and posted an ERA of 5.85 against a 5.48 FIP. During his fourth season the Rangers had seen enough, shipping him to San Diego for Phil Nevin. While Park improved the next year, making 21 starts and three relief appearances, he still posted a 4.81 ERA and 4.66 FIP. PETCO Park can probably claim credit for a good portion of the improvement.

Prior to that 2006 season, Park pitched for Korea in the WBC. He appeared four times, making one start and three relief appearances. In the start he got a no-decision, but in each relief appearance he picked up a save. Over 10 innings he struck out eight and walked none, allowing just seven hits and no runs. Unfortunately for Korea, Park couldn’t pitch in the semifinals against Japan, as he started the semifinal game against them just a few days prior. Japan won the rematch 6-0, sending Korea home.

After the year in San Diego, Park signed a minor league deal with the Mets, where he pitched 51.2 poor AAA innings before tossing 4.0 major league innings. He allowed seven runs in that span and was released shortly afterward. The Dodgers took a chance on an old friend the following winter, and here Park succeeded. He appeared in 54 games, starting five, and posing a 3.40 ERA. That earned him a $2.5 million contract with the Phillies last season. He pitched 3.1 innings in the World Series, allowing just two hits while walking one. He struck out four Yankees and allowed none to score.

It appears the Yankees made out well in this deal, signing a pitcher who thrived in the bullpen last year to a reasonable contract. If things go poorly, they can eat the remainder. If things go well, they’ll be out an additional $300,000. As I said in the FanGraphs article, it appears the Yankees believe something changed when Park moved to the bullpen last season. His numbers in relief for the Dodgers in 2008 weren’t nearly as good, so there’s a chance Park just got lucky. In fact, he certainly did get lucky, as no pitcher can sustain a zero percent home runs to fly ball ratio. But if Park can maintain his high strikeout and low walk rates, he can afford to surrender a few longballs and still be a solid cog in the bullpen.

Park made a successful move from the rotation to the bullpen last season, but this year’s transition will be tougher. He’ll move from the NL East to the AL East, where the batters tend to hit the ball harder. According to Baseball Prospectus’s Pitcher’s Quality of Batters Faced, the hitters Park faced posted an aggregate .258/.334/.398. While many of the Yankees relievers faced aggregate hitters with similar batting averages and OBPs, they all faced better power hitters. All of the slugging percentages were over .410, and many were near or over .420. Park will have to work even harder in 2010 to keep his home run rate down.

At just $1.2 million, the Yankees made a good move to acquire Park. They shouldn’t expect him to pitch like he did for the Phillies last season, but even a level below that would be acceptable. He fills a spot in the pen and allows the Yankees some flexibility, possibly in making a trade using another pitcher who was slated for the bullpen. The worst case scenario is that he stinks early on, doesn’t get used often, and the Yankees eventually eat the remainder of his contract. Best case, he pitches solidly in middle relief and gives Girardi yet another option when he makes the call to the pen.