By the Decade: Saves but not by Mo

As the decade draws to a close in just over 14 hours, we continue our Yankees By the Decade retrospective with a move beyond the offense. We start off the look at our pitchers with the easiest of the easiest. Clearly, the reliever of the decade — or the century or all time — is Mariano Rivera. The man saved 397 games for the Yanks and was simply the best.

Mo, however, wasn’t the only pitcher to record a save for the Yanks from 2000-2009. In fact, Yankee pitchers not named Mariano recorded 77 saves throughout the decade. Who were these pitchers who stole saves from Mo and what exactly were their stories? Let’s take a look.

Player Saves
Mariano Rivera 397
Steve Karsay 12
Ramiro Mendoza 10
Kyle Farnsworth 7
Tom Gordon 6
Mike Stanton 6
Juan Acevedo 6
Philip Hughes 3
Jose Veras 3
Phil Coke 2
Edwar Ramirez 2
Tanyon Sturtze 2
Jeff Weaver 2
Dwight Gooden 2
Alfredo Aceves 1
Brian Bruney 1
Joba Chamberlain 1
David Robertson 1
Chien-Ming Wang 1
Scott Proctor 1
Paul Quantrill 1
Orlando Hernandez 1
Chris Hammond 1
Dan Miceli 1
Jeff Nelson 1
Brian Boehringer 1
Todd Erdos 1
Jason Grimsley 1
Total 474

For the most part, these non-Rivera relievers who notched a save this decade were interlopers. They were the three-inning guys who protected a big lead. Take, for example, Orlando Hernandez. He pitched the final four innings of the Yanks’ 11-5 win over the Mets on June 28, 2002 for his save of the decade. Meanwhile, Chien-Ming Wang, the Yanks’ erstwhile, ace recorded a save on June 3, 2006 when he recorded two outs in the tenth on a night when Mariano Rivera was simply unavailable.

But beyond these one-off guys, the relievers called upon in unlikely situations, a handful of Yankee pitchers recorded a handful of saves. Why wasn’t Mariano available? The leader in non-Mariano saves this decade was Steve Karsay. The one-and-done set-up man who made 78 appearances in 2002 stepped in that year in late August and early September when Mo was on the shelf with a shoulder injury. Karsay had stepped in earlier that year when groin and shoulder trouble shelved the Yanks’ closer. He blew four saves, threw 88.1 innings and never pitched effectively in the Majors again.

Another trio of set-up men — Ramiro Mendoza, Kyle Fansworth and Tom Gordon — stepped in on nights when Rivera couldn’t go. Mendoza notched 10 saves combined two seasons earlier this decade, and Gordon picked up six over his two-year stint with the Yanks. Even unreliable Krazy Kyle managed to get three outs in the ninth with a Yankee lead in tact.

For many, the name Juan Acevedo may raise an eyebrow. Who was this pitcher who nailed down six saves while making just 25 appearances for the Yankees? Well, he came on the scene in 2003 with a stellar Spring Training. With Rivera out for April with a groin injury, Acevedo stepped in and was flat-out awful. He saved five games in April but ended the month with an 8.10 ERA. He picked up another save in a 17-inning affair on June 1, 2003 but found himself bound for Toronto after the Yanks released him and his 7.71 ERA.

In the end, for ten years, Mariano Rivera was simply there. He saved 397 games and blew just 40 for a 90.1 save percentage. He appeared in 651 games for the Yanks and finished 589 of them. He threw 713.1 innings and recorded 669 strike outs while walking just 137 batters all decade. His ERA+ was 214. For the Yankees and for all of baseball, he is truly the closer of the decade. In ten years, we may have to see who else gets saves for the Yankees, but this year, this decade, it’s all Mariano.

Left field closing arguments: Marlon Byrd

This is the second in our final series on what the Yankees might do with left field. Check out the original left field post for a quick primer on what we’re looking for. Yesterday we examined Reed Johnson. Today will be the final discussion for Marlon Byrd.

Did Marlon Byrd mature as a hitter during his years in Texas, or did he just take advantage of a hitter friendly ballpark? That’s the question any interested team will have to answer. It’s also one we cannot answer with certainty until we see Byrd in new digs. This is the main reason I want to see the Yankees stay away from him.

It is uncommon for a player to suddenly start hitting for power at age 29. It certainly can happen, and it has happened, but when it does it’s unexpected. While power is said to be the last tool to develop, it usually doesn’t take eight professional seasons to do so. But that’s the case for Byrd, who was drafted in 1999 and who first broke a .450 SLG in 2007. Since that power surge coincided with his move to Texas, we can view it with a skeptical eye. Rangers Ballpark at Arlington is, after all, one of the most hitter friendly parks in the majors.

Byrd spent his first full major league season, 2003, with the Phillies, hitting .303/.366/.418 over 553 plate appearances. That’s an excellent line, especially for a 25-year-old center fielder. The next year, however, wouldn’t be nearly as good. Byrd could not sustain his .363 BABIP, and saw his numbers fall to .228/.287/.321in 378 plate appearances. The Phillies optioned him to AAA Scranton in mid-June, but he didn’t show much improvement. From August 1, his recall date, through the end of the season he basically remained the same.

In 2005 the Nationals traded Endy Chavez for Byrd, and saw middling results: a .318 OBP and .380 SLG in 244 PA in 2005, and a .317 OBP and .350 SLG in 228 PA in 2006. The Nats released him after the season, and he signed on with Texas. That’s when his numbers started to surge.

At first it seemed like a 2003 repeat. Byrd hit .307/.355/.459 in 454 PA for the Rangers in 2007, but had a .370 BABIP. But instead of crashing down to earth, as he did in 2004, Byrd followed up his 2007 campaign with a career year in 2008. He hit .298/.380/.462 in 462 PA, increasing his ISO from .152 to .164, and raising his walk rate from 6.5 to 10.2 percent. At the same time, his BABIP fell to .332. That earned him a more regular playing time in 2009.

While his BABIP fell yet again, this time to .315, Byrd again turned in a quality season. His OBP was a bit low, .329, mostly because he nearly halved his walk rate. But his ISO once again jumped, this time to .196, by far a career high. He hit 20 home runs, doubling his previous career high, and hit 43 doubles, also a career high by 15. That he did it over 599 PA makes it even more impressive.

All the while, Byrd has seemingly played good defense. As with most players his UZR fluctuates, but over his career he’s a 0.0 UZR center fielder and a positive in the corners. That’s a major consideration for the Yankees. They might also like his platoon splits, which are almost nonexistent. Over his career he’s about even against lefties and righties — though in 2009 he actually had a reverse split.

Still, that his power surge came in Texas should raise concern in his ability to do it in other ballparks. Yankee Stadium typically suppresses right handed power, which would offset Byrd’s greatest strength, his rising power numbers. Byrd also isn’t the first center fielder who saw a power surge in Texas. Gary Matthews Jr. posted an ISO of over .180 in each of his three years in Texas, a mark he hadn’t come close to previously, and one which he hasn’t approached in Los Angeles. Unsurprisingly, he played the same seasons — age 29, 30, and 31 — in Texas as Byrd.

In his mailbag yesterday ESPN’s Buster Olney described Byrd as “the pre-eminent outfield target” on the free agent market. He won’t get a Matthews type deal, but there could be a team — say, the Cubs — who will pay him more than other teams are willing. That’s why I don’t expect the Yankees to get involved. At this point there is no reason to give a player like Byrd more than one year, and if really is the “preeminent” outfielder still available, he’ll probably get at least two. That just doesn’t fit with what the Yanks have done so far this off-season.

So now, whenever a rumor surfaces involving Byrd and the Yankees, we can refer back to this post and its comments. Have your final say now.

Photo credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America

Open Thread: The other side of the lake

A reader sent this in over the weekend. It’s a free movie about the National High School Championship in Japan, which couldn’t come at a better time given tonight’s lack of entertainment. The Rangers, Devils, Knicks, and Nets are in action (the latter against each other), so check that out after watching the above flick. Enjoy the open thread.

Why it’s not a good idea to bet on the Yankees

If you were to bet $100 on one team, every game for the past decade, who do you think would have paid out the most? Since the Yankees had the decade’s best winning percentage, they’re an easy first choice. Yet they’re not even close. In fact, they’re one of the worst teams to bet on. You can thank the oddsmakers for that. If you’d bet $100 on every Yanks game this decade, you’d have lost $5,233. Mets bettors would have fared worse, losing $6,151. notes the best and worst bets of the decade in each sport, and the worst bet in the majors might come as a surprise. It actually has me wondering what is more cursed: the Cubs franchise or the Cubs bettors. Had you bet $100 on every game of theirs this decade, you would have lost $16,276. The winners, apparently, bet on the Angels. Anyone who bet $100 on each of their games would have won $10,888. The Marlins, Twins, A’s, Giants, Cardinals, and Rangers also finished in the positive.

All of this illustrates exactly why I don’t bet on baseball.

By the Decade: More designated, less hitting

The offensive part of our Yankees By the Decade retrospective is coming to an end. After looking at the eight position players, we’ve landed on that catch-all designated hitter spot. Through the 2000s, the Yanks used 61 players at least one at the DH spot. From A-Rod to X-Nady, nearly everyone had a chance to DH. To whittle down the candidates, the chart shows those with at least 10 games as a designated hitter.

Jason Giambi 1267 297 52 0 77 225 261 16 51 322 20 .234 .384 .458
Hideki Matsui 930 264 47 2 49 176 117 4 7 137 18 .284 .365 .497
Bernie Williams 430 111 22 0 11 62 57 3 1 78 22 .258 .343 .386
Ruben Sierra 409 97 13 1 20 81 27 3 0 77 11 .237 .280 .421
Johnny Damon 386 106 20 3 7 38 48 1 0 70 4 .275 .354 .396
David Justice 363 88 15 1 18 55 53 4 0 81 8 .242 .337 .438
Nick Johnson 294 77 11 0 12 46 50 4 10 77 13 .262 .387 .422
Gary Sheffield 191 61 8 0 13 42 30 1 2 26 4 .319 .415 .565
Jorge Posada 171 35 7 0 4 17 30 3 3 49 6 .205 .330 .316
Shane Spencer 165 37 5 4 5 19 19 0 1 27 2 .224 .302 .394
Chuck Knoblauch 164 47 8 1 2 21 27 0 10 31 3 .287 .412 .384
Jose Canseco 89 23 3 0 5 16 19 1 0 29 1 .258 .378 .461
Glenallen Hill 86 27 4 0 9 14 7 0 1 24 0 .314 .368 .674
Alex Rodriguez 82 24 2 0 9 24 17 0 2 21 3 .293 .417 .646
Derek Jeter 57 16 3 0 2 6 5 0 2 11 1 .281 .359 .439
Bubba Trammell 44 10 4 0 0 4 4 0 0 8 1 .227 .292 .318
Jim Leyritz 44 11 0 0 0 3 5 0 0 13 1 .250 .327 .250
Shelley Duncan 42 9 1 0 4 10 5 0 0 14 2 .214 .298 .524
Totals 5684 1448 253 12 263 920 824 45 94 1218 133 .255 .355 .442

What leaps out at me from this chart is how the Yanks’ designated hitters weren’t that great at hitting. Most of the regulars who DH’d hit well below their career averages, and the team never really had a true DH this decade either. Jason Giambi led the pack with 22.3 percent of all DH at-bats, and Hideki Matsui was second with 16.4 percent. Beyond those two, the Yanks used the DH spot to rest regulars and give aging stars a spot in the lineup.

Early in the decade, the Yanks went after sluggers for the DH spot. They used a Glenallen Hill/Jose Canseco tandem in the second half of 2000 to some stellar results. Hill, acquired on July 21, 2000, from the Cubs for Ben Ford and Oswaldo Mairena, turned in a 175 OPS+ in 143 at bats, and around half of those came as a DH. Canseco, acquired on August 7, 2000, in a waiver move designed to block him from going to the Red Sox, had a great power spurt too. The duo combined for 15 home runs in just 175 DH at-bats.

After that though, the Yankees used the DH as a spot of convenience. They tried Chuck Knoblauch there in 2001 and Nick Johnson to some success in 2002 and 2003. After Johnson was traded, the Yanks turned to Jason Giambi, and he surprisingly hit significantly worse as a DH than he did as a first baseman. As the first baseman of the decade, Giambi hit .280/.420/.567. As the DH, he hit .234/.384/.458. That’s a swing of .145 OPS points.

Back in my younger and more ignorant days as a rookie baseball blogger at Talking Baseball, I explored the differences amongst hitters when they DH and when they play the field. My study then confused causation with correlation, but I’ve always believed that many hitters are better when they play the field too. Giambi always said that he preferred to play first because it kept him more in the game. It kept him warmer and more ready to bat. The decade’s numbers seem to bear him out.

At the same time, though, Giambi DH’d when he wasn’t healthy enough to play the field, and he would, in all likelihood, hit better when healthy. He DH’d, when he could, in 2004, 2006 and 2007 when sapped by injuries, and he played first in the years he was healthy. Somewhere, somehow, it’s probably a mixture of both.

Beyond Giambi, the Yankees’ DH numbers really highlight their love for the concept of the rotation DH. Hideki Matsui took over with great success over the last two years, but the team has used A-Rod, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada as the DH enough times to put them on this list. A-Rod, it seems, just loves to hit.

And so as Nick Johnson prepares to take over the DH mantle, I will anoint Jason Giambi as the Yanks’ DH of the decade. Had Hideki closed the playing time gap, he probably could have stolen this one from the Giambino; after all, he put up a better DH-only OPS this decade. But with over 300 at-bats, 28 home runs and approximately 43 runs created separating the two, Jason takes the crown but only barely.

RAB Live Chat

Tango answers questions from a sabermetric skeptic

Having a summary opinion without evidence is bullish!t. – Tom Tango

The above quote illustrates why I enjoy Tango’s work. Everyone has an opinion — what’s the old saying? — and they’re entitled to that. But that doesn’t mean we should take every opinion seriously. Only opinions backed by argument, based on facts and a logical thought process, warrant consideration. So when a fairly prominent blogger tries to stir the pot by deriding the sabermetric community, using little or no evidence, Tango will likely respond.

We’re no strangers to Mike Silva. We’ve addressed at least one of his evidence-less rants, and see plenty more of him on the BBTF Newsstand. In the traditional talk radio style, he makes emotional appeals as a substitute for evidence, but that type of argument doesn’t fly in statistically inclined baseball communities. We require evidence.

Proving that he’s not 100 percent gasbag, Silva agreed to send Tango 10 questions about advanced statistics and the sabermetric community. Before linking to the entire series, I’d like to note some highlights.

My biggest beef with Silva — the reason I no longer visit his site — is his stance on the sabermetric community. He suggests that “the ultimate goal is to mainstream their theories and perhaps gain more power in the baseball community.” Using “mainstream” as an infinitive peeves me enough, but the idea that statistically inclined fans want to gain more power is preposterous. Tango rightfully takes Silva to task on this issue, though his focus is more on the second part of Silva’s non-question, wherein he claims that “the ‘value’ of hose these metrics can be used seems to be marginal in my opinion.” Tango:

It’s one thing to say that you don’t understand it, so either you accept it or want to learn more or ignore it. It’s another thing to say that you don’t understand it, and so you will dismiss it as being “marginal” or worse. You have no basis for dismissal. Ignore it, if you must. Dismissing it is out of the question. There’s a huge number of people that find value in it.

Another interesting sequence arises when Silva asks about the future of sabermetrics. Where will we see advanced metrics in 10 years? “Fad? Major part of a front office operation? Replace traditional scouting?” No, yes, and no are the correct answers, but Tango takes it a step further.

You haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until PITCHf/x, FIELDf/x, and HITf/x take shape. You will wish and pray to get back to the simpler times of 2000s. The 2010s will bring an avalanche of data. It will absolutely be a major part of the front office. The best-case scenario is that you have all these f/x systems set up at colleges and high schools. Instead of one scout seeing one game of some prospect in one town, while missing a game on another town, you will have every single pitch charted, every swing charted, and every single fielder charted. The question is to try to identify all of the contributions of each player to each pitch and each play. Having a summary opinion without evidence is bullsh!t. Scouts have summary opinion on limited amount of data (say they see 5% of someone’s games in college). That’s valuable. Now, imagine having a summary opinion based on 100% of the data?

I think this describes what happened after I read that paragraph.

I also enjoyed Tango’s explanation of FIP. I think this point is lost on many proponents of the stat: “it is only concerned with one component to pitching. And that component is the one that does not involve his fielders.” It’s like OBP, and Tango makes that connection as well. It tells us just one thing. It happens to be a very important thing, but there are other factors to consider, just as we consider factors like power and base hits when discussing OBP.

If you have questions about sabermetrics yourself, or you just want to see Tango dole out some quality arguments and explanations, I recommend the entire series. It’s not an overly long read, and I think it’s totally worth the time.

Part 1: UZR
Part 2: WAR
Part 3: WAR and finances
Part 4: FIP
Part 5: Stat saturation
Part 6: The goal of sabermetrics
Part 7: Selling the stats
Part 8: Hall of Fame
Part 9: Stats in fantasy baseball
Part 10: The future