A look at the new batting practice caps

New Era and Major League Baseball really have this marketing thing down pretty well. Every few years, the two overhaul some aspect of the official on-field outfit, and every few years, hat-obsessed fans – like me – gobble up the merchandise. In 2009 alone, I bought three new Yankee hats: the new Yankee Stadium patch cap, the World Series 2009 cap, and a World Series Championship cap. I might draw the line at the new batting practice hat though.

A few years ago, New Era introduced the 3930 batting practice cap. The mesh caps are worn by MLB players throughout Spring Training and supposedly during practice. New Era hypes the CoolBase “vapor management” and “superior drying” technology. Well, OK. If you say so.

This week, New Era has unveiled a restyling of these caps. Sports Business Journal reported that the new caps will retail for $26.99 and go on sale on January 25. According to Gerry Matos, New Era’s SVP of marketing, orders for the new caps are out-pacing last year’s numbers and could exceed those placed in 2007 when the cap company last refreshed the line.

But is this a change for the better? For the Yankees’ caps, the changes are minimal. The home right, on the right above, features a minimal change from the old version with just a new white line running through it. The road caps sports some bands of that familiar road gray. The backs of these caps — not shown in pictures now but the back of the Reds’ cap is available here — are where the design breaks down. It becomes just a mess of colors.

Uniwatch, the blog for all things uniform in professional sports, doesn’t like the new hats. That site, run by uni purists, call these designs “awful” and “atrocious.” I’m not sure I’d go that far, but these new hats just seem unnecessary to me. In the end, it’s just another hat.

How much could Chad Gaudin make in 2010?

Aside from finding an ever-elusive left field upgrade, the only matter of business left for the Yankees this offseason is to settle on contracts with Chad Gaudin and Boone Logan, both of whom are eligible for salary arbitration. Logan is eligible for the first time, but this is Gaudin’s third crack at arbitration, and after the season he’ll hit free agency for the second time of his career (the Cubs released him last April after giving him $2M).

Both the team and player (that means Gaudin or any other player in the league eligible for arb) have to submit their proposed salary figures for next season by tomorrow, though they could agree to a deal any time before a hearing, which would occur during the first week of February. In most cases the two sides will meet in the middle and go on their merry way, however sometimes they can’t reach an agreement and a hearing is necessary. Two years ago, the Yankees were unable to come to a compromise with Chien-Ming Wang. The Yanks won the hearing and saved themselves not only $600,000 for the 2008 season, but the carry over effect saved them even more money in 2009.

The three-person arb panels will pick between one of two salaries: the figure the team submits, or the figure the player submits. They can’t pick something in the middle. Both sides will try to justify their submitted salaries by comparing the player to other players with similar service time, not just other players in general. Gaudin has five years of service time, so he’s going to be compared to other pitchers when they had five years of service time. The people on the arb panel are not baseball experts at all, they’re professional arbitrators who will weigh the arguments presented to them as they see fit. Because of this, neither side will use advanced stats to make their point, instead they’ll rely on the old stand-bys of wins, ERA, strikeouts, walks, maybe WHIP, stuff like that.

After some digging, I found a handful of pitchers who were statistically comparable to Gaudin when they had five years of service time. Let’s tabulate…

(click for a larger view)

These aren’t perfect comparisons obviously, however they’re close enough for this blogger. All four had worked both as a starter and reliever early in their career, and all but one (Benoit) had bounced around between a few teams. Let’s see how much these guys got paid when they reached their third year of arb…

* Arb-2 is salary in second arb eligible year, Arb-3 is third arb eligible year. But you knew that already.

Okay, so this wasn’t as much of a help as I expected to be. I was hoping that they had all received similar raises, like 50-75% or something, but apparently not. It’s worth noting that both Wellemeyer and Correia were coming off career years, and that Benoit was bound by a two year contract extension he signed prior to his second year of arb eligibility. It’s still a valid comparison because of the amount of service time he had.

Instead of focusing on how big of a raise each player received, let’s take a look at how much money they ended up making in their last year before becoming free agents, like Gaudin is now. Both Benoit and Correia pulled in three-and-a-half million or so, and if you average all four players out, you get a $3.1M salary. We’ve been saying all winter that Gaudin will probably earn about $3M next season, though that was nothing more than a gut feel and estimate. At least now we have some basis for comparison.

Three million bucks or so will get you just under a win on the free agent market. CHONE projects Gaudin as a 2.1 win player next year, though that’s assuming he makes 28 starts. If he does that in 2010, either disaster has struck the Yankees’ pitching staff or he’s pitching for another team. More realistically, Gaudin would be a 0.8 WAR player if he throws 40 IP with a 5.00 ERA as a starter then another 60 IP with a 4.00 ERA as a reliever. $3.1M for 0.8 WAR is basically breaking even. Is Gaudin capable of pitching like that? Maybe, maybe not. It’s possible I’m overstating his abilities.

The Yankees overpay for a lot of things, and chances are they’ll be overpaying for Chad Gaudin in 2010. The team has reached the point where a marginal win has an almost negligible effect on the big picture, and I’m certain the team has an appropriate amount of the budget allocated for Gaudin’s 2010 salary.

Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong, AP

The Yankees now will not be the Yankees later

As we pass the mid-January mark, most teams have the core of their 2010 roster in place. Only a few free agents remain, and other than a team adding Johnny Damon as a leadoff hitter or Joel Pineiro as a No. 3 starter, none figures to have a significant impact on a first-division team. The Yankees, as we’ve realized over the past three weeks, have little work left this off-season, leaving us to sit back and admire the roster Brian Cashman has assembled for 2010.

It’s hard not to like what the team offers. Some might not like Brett Gardner roaming left field, but with eight great to solid hitters ahead of him, and with Gardner bringing speed and defense to the table, the Yankees could do worse. I agree with ESPN’s Keith Law when he says, “I’m not a Gardner guy, never have been, but their offense is fine even if they put a pointed stick in left field (if the ball hits the stick, the batter is out).” He also notes that the Yankees will find alternatives, if need be, as the season moves along. But, if the No. 9 hitter who plays good defense is the only worry for this team, they have to be in a good spot.

Where they stand now, however, goes out the window once the season begins. At this point all we can do is analyze what we can expect from this group of players. We really have no idea what they will end up producing. Injuries and off-years can drag production down, while career years can boost the team. This captures the beauty of baseball. We have a reasonable idea of what players and teams can do, but once they start playing everything changes, and continues to change over the course of the team. The Yankees on April 4 won’t be the same team as they are to start Spring Training, and won’t be the same as the team they will be on July 1.

Buster Olney reminds us of this on his blog today, noting the common thoughts at this time last year.

A year ago, the conventional wisdom in baseball offices was that the Red Sox had the kind of starting pitching and overall pitching depth that should be envied, that the Rays’ trade for Matt Joyce was one of the best trades of the winter, and that the Tigers were a mess and couldn’t possibly compete in 2009.

For the most part, I believed all three points. While I didn’t go so far as to envy the Sox pitching staff, mainly because their depth consisted of recovering injury cases who had never pitched in the AL, I recognized they had a number of quality arms. Thinking, like many others, that Edwin Jackson’s 2008 was an aberration — he still walked too many and didn’t strike out enough — the Joyce trade looked like a win for the Rays. And I thought that the Tigers shouldn’t have started Rick Porcello in the majors because they didn’t have the pitching to compete. So what points do I believe now that will turn around once the season starts?

One point Olney lists, and with which I agree, is that the Yankees “have the best chance for repeating as champions since the dynasty Yankees.” I’m not so sure about that — the 2008 Red Sox looked like a strong enough team. But yes, the way things look now the Yankees surely lead the pack in terms of World Series favorites. How long they stay there depends on how close they stay to expectations. It means high production levels from older players, plus improving production from younger ones. It means staying healthy. It means standing strong against the ever-improving AL East.

Only the luckiest of the lucky teams go through a season without anything significant going wrong. I wouldn’t expect that for the 2010 Yankees. They’ll get their share of bad breaks, hopefully offsetting that with a few good breaks. But, while the Yankees deal with their issues, so will other teams. We can speak to the perils of a starting pitcher going down for the season, but other teams face the same risk and don’t have the Yankees’ depth to cover it up. That’s part of the game — sometimes the good breaks come in the form of another team’s misfortune.

I expect the world of this 2010 Yankees team. They’re well-built, with a strong and deep rotation alongside one of the best offenses in baseball. Things will change between now and October, of course, but so they will for the 29 other teams. As it stands, on January 19, I feel pretty damn good about this team. Don’t you?

Fan Confidence Poll: January 18th, 2009

2009 Season Record: 103-59 (915 RS, 753 RA), won AL East by 8 games, finished with the best record in MLB by 6 games, won 27th World Series

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Yanks bullpen in good hands

Managers have changed the way they use their bullpens over the last 25 years. In that time the percentage of non-save relief appearances that last at least one inning has increased 20 percent, from about 25 percent in 1984 to about 45 percent in 2009. Andy chronicles this trend at the Baseball-Reference blog. Late-inning specialization surely has something to do with the shifting numbers, with multi-inning appearances declining in the same period. Over the past few years we’ve been accustomed to analysts talking about the strength of a bullpen in terms of its setup men bridging the gap to the closer.

Specifically, we’ve seen teams employ the three-headed monster scheme. The 2003 Astros had Brad Lidge and Octavio Dotel setting up for Billy Wagner. In 2004 Joe Torre used Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon extensively in setting up Mariano Rivera. These were all one-inning roles, with the pitcher entering the game in his specific inning, if the game was within three runs, a save situation. Analysts called it shortening the game. Have three lights out one-inning relievers, the idea went, and you made it a six-inning game.

Beyond the obvious — no pitcher, not even Mariano, is perfect — this bullpen scheme has a flaw. It assumes those three pitchers can pitch every important endgame. As Torre learned in 2004, relievers wear out, especially when the rotation averages under six innings a start. In order to properly construct this endgame, a team needs at least four reliable arms for the back of the bullpen so it can spread the load more evenly. The 2009 Yankees appear to have just that.

As it currently stands, Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain will act as Rivera’s primary setup man, which essentially means pitching the eighth. But, again, the Yankees will encounter many situations where they lead by three or fewer runs in the eighth inning. Joba Hughes can’t pitch in all of them. That means the seventh-inning man has to step into the role. But the seventh-inning man figures to face just as many within-three-runs situations. What happens then?

In addition to Joba Hughes setting up Rivera, the Yankees will carry two other highly regarded relievers, David Robertson and Damaso Marte. Either can pitch the seventh and even the eighth if needed. It gives Joe Girardi more options, allowing him to rest his best guys and make sure they’re not pitching with tired arms. Al Aceves helps here, too, as he showed the ability in 2009 to take the ball in a setup role.

Thankfully, this won’t be a big worry for the Yankees this season. Different people have different takes on Joe Girardi’s bullpen management tactics, but I think most agree that he does spread the load evenly. As in the second half of last season, he’ll have the tools to achieve this in 2009. Not only do the Yankees have five quality guys in the back of his bullpen, but also swingmen like Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin along with a handful of guys at AAA waiting for a shot. Bullpens are volatile, and anything can happen, but as it stands now the Yanks don’t need to concern themselves with bullpen construction.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola

The Boss stops by

So here’s an interesting if typical late January story: George Steinbrenner stopped by Steinbrenner Field late last week and spent four hours in the office. He said he is “feeling good” and is excited for the upcoming season. It’s a typical story because this seems to be the extent of the media’s exposure to George. It’s interesting because this is the first we’ve heard from Steinbrenner since the season ended. Clearly, the Boss is not at full strength anymore. His days of roaring are over.

Rosenthal: Hairston close to deal with Pads

On July 31, Brian Cashman sent Chase Weems to the Reds in exchange for Jerry Hairston, Jr., and for three months, Hairston got the job done. He served as a versatile utility player with decent speed and hit .237/.352/.382 over 93 plate appearances. He scored the winning run in Game 2 of the ALCS and filled in during the World Series when both Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon went down with leg injuries. Today, Ken Rosenthal reports that the San Diego Padres and Hairston are “closing in on [a] deal.” Hairston will be joining his brother Scott who arrived in San Diego yesterday, and the Yanks will be out a potential bench player.