The best value player for the Yankees

The Yankees do not cheap out when they have the opportunity to land a superstar player. Whether it’s locking up Jeter, trading for A-Rod, or signing CC Sabathia, we all know that the Yankees will spend money. They’ve spent so much, in fact, that they currently have $144 million committed to just nine players in 2011. With such a top-heavy group of players, the team still needs young, cost controlled talent to fill out its roster. Thankfully for them, there can be plenty of value in those players.

To examine how much the Yankees paid their best players for their contributions, I’ll put their Wins Above Replacement (WAR) up against their salary for the season. We can take this all the way back to 2005, just because it’s easy and the data is so readily available. I’m going to leave out players who the Yankees traded for mid-season, just to make everything a little easier. Also, I’m clearly only going with position players, at least in this post.

2005: Alex Rodriguez

Photo credit: Gregory Bull/AP

Yes, the Yankees got more value out of Alex Rodriguez than any other player in 2005. With his salary that might not have seemed possible. Remember, though, that Texas was still paying a chunk of that salary, at least until 2008. According to Cot’s, the Yanks paid $16 million for a $25 million player. That covers 2005 and 2006. In 2007 his salary escalated to $27 million, so we’ll add another $2 million to the Yankees’ contribution (even though they might have still paid him $16 million). The team also got quality values from Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi, and Hideki Matsui, for whom they paid less than $2.6 million per win above replacement.

While WAR is a big picture value tool, it can’t see the nuances throughout a season. For instance, it has the Yankees paying Tino Martinez $4.58 million per win, since he produced only 0.6 WAR. His home run streak in May, though, did help the Yankees recover from a stagnant start.

2006: Robinson Cano

The Yankees got excellent value from Robinson Cano in his second season. At a league minimum salary he produced 3.5 WAR, finishing third in the AL batting average race. His buddy, Melky Cabrera, was also effective, producing 1.6 WAR at his paltry salary (which, during a partial season, I estimated at about $300K). Gary Sheffield’s and Hideki Matsui’s injuries skewed their value numbers, though that’s to be expected. The Yankees did seemingly pay a lot for Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi that season, over $4.5 million per win.

2007: Robinson Cano

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

While Cano did lead the Yankees in win value in 2006, he was outstanding in 2007. His 5 WAR at a $490,800 salary meant under $100,000 per win, easily the best mark on this list. His overall WAR mark is also impressive, as it ranked third on the team behind Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada.

Again, we see A-Rod come in under $2 million per WAR despite his enormous salary. Jorge Posada made a bit more in 2007 than he had in the past, but still came in at $1.7 million per win. He hasn’t gotten close to there since. Then again, he hasn’t come close to his 2007 production, either.

2008: Brett Gardner

I made something of an exception to the partial season idea by including Melky in 2006 and Gardner in 2008. There was good reason, though, as both produced more than 1 WAR. Gardner, in fact, produced somewhere around $200,000 per WAR, though that comes with a roughly estimated $200K salary. Adjust that all you want, he’s still way out in front of the rest.

Johnny Damon, at 3.7 WAR, was the next highest, followed by Alex Rodriguez, his full salary finally realized. Bobby Abreu, or at least Bobby Abreu’s defense, was the goat here, as he produced just 1.3 WAR for his $16 million. While a team certainly can win while paying a lot of money for its wins, it’s unsurprising that the Yankees didn’t have any players, other than Gardner, for whom they paid less than $3.5 million per WAR. That doesn’t sound like a winning formula.

2009: Brett Gardner

Photo credit: Jim Mone/AP

Clearly, if Gardner took home the prize in 2008 he did again in 2009. He produced 2 WAR while earning just $414K, or $207K per win. Melky Cabrera, with 1.7 WAR, was also a decent value. Count Cano and Swisher as others for whom the Yankees paid less than $2 million per WAR.

Alex Rodriguez falls to the cellar on this list, not only because of his $32 million salary, but because his shortened season hurt his value. Jeter’s 7.4 WAR season also played nicely with his $20 million salary, as he cost only $2.7 million per WAR. Damon and Matsui were trailers here, too, but it wasn’t as bad as the situation in 2008. Not by a long shot.

Here’s the spreadsheet, in case you wanted to take a look at the whole list:

Selig implements a better LCS format

Baseball will do away with the unnecessary off-day between Games 4 and 5 of the league championship series, Commissioner Bud Selig announced today. In responding to complaints by players, team managements and fans over the voluminous amount of October off-days, the Special Committee for On-Field Matters proposed eliminating the extra day off, and baseball has accepted the change. A seven-game LCS will now take place over nine days instead of ten. “The removal of the off-day,” Selig said, “during both League Championship Series marks the first step in a process that will ultimately result in an improved postseason format for our game.”

As for the Yankees, this news is obviously an interesting development because they used the extra off-day in 2009 to keep their three-man playoff rotation in tact. As much as I enjoyed that pitching advantage, the truth is that the Yanks played 15 games over 30 days in October, and that stop-and-start schedule disrupted the flow of the games. With weather always a fact in mid-fall, the games should be as close together as possible. Baseball might lose some money on this one, but the powers-that-be made the right decision.

Gooden charged with DUI in New Jersey

Former Mets and Yankees pitcher Dwight Gooden has run into legal trouble again. After leaving the scene of a two-car accident in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey on Tuesday morning, Gooden was arrested and changed with, according to the Daily News, “driving while under the influence of drugs, endangering the welfare of a child, leaving the scene, reckless driving and DWI with a child passenger.” According to reports, a child — possibly his five-year-old son Dylan — was in the car during the accident. For Gooden, this is his first brush with trouble after nearly four years of sobriety.

Open Thread: Back to the Stone Age

The Yankees are playing the Nationals tonight, but the game isn’t televised so we’re stuck in the dark. This reminds me of the days when watching Spring Training games on TV was nothing more than a pipe dream. Pretty crazy how far we’ve come. In case you’re wondering, Javy Vazquez is on the bump, and Joe Girardi is trotting the A+ lineup out there. I like the looks of that.

If you’re watching on, then go ahead and talk about the game here. If not, then use this sucker as an open thread. The Rangers play the Islanders in a game that means nothing since both teams have been all but eliminated from playoff contention, and then you’ve got the 7-63 Nets on YES. Enjoy the thread.

Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP

Yankees release Malec, eight others

The Yankees released nine minor league players yesterday, including their 16th round pick in 2005, Chris Malec. A cancer survivor who had his battle chronicled by Jerry Crasnick, Malec was never a great prospect but rather a rock solid organizational soldier. Drafted as contact oriented middle infielder, he moved to the corner infield spots in 2007 and sacrificed contact ability for more power. He leaves the Yankees after 512 minor league games, hitting .285-.380-.392 with more walks (230) than strikeouts (215). After five years in the organization, I’m sad to see him do.

Seth Fortenberry, Mike Lyon, Julian Arballo, Isaac Harrow, Griffin Bailey, Buck Afenir, Dan Miller, and Paul Heidler were the other players who were released. Meh.

Sherman: Hughes will be the fifth starter

Phil Hughes, says Joel Sherman today in the Post, will be the Yankees’ fifth starter out of Spring Training. The team isn’t ready to make an official announcement, but the move has been all but decided since February. The job, says Sherman, was Phil’s to lose this March, and although Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves have pitched well during Grapefruit League action, Hughes, 23, has thrown as he needed to do in order to secure that final rotation spot.

Sherman offers up an extended take on the Yanks’ thinking:

But this was never a numbers contest. If so, Alfredo Aceves and Sergio Mitre, both of whom statistically have outpitched Hughes, would still be in the mix. This was more about projection. The Yanks like Mitre and, especially, Aceves. But they view both as back-end starters who already have reached their ceilings.

They envision Hughes as a No. 3 starter or better depending on his ability to keep the aggressiveness he showed last year out of the bullpen while honing what, until this point, had been an unappetizing changeup. Thus, Yankee officials were elated Monday despite the poor overall line by how far Hughes’ changeup had advanced, both in its deception and his trust in deploying it.

The homers they saw more as a function of the wind and Hughes’ still gaining arm strength. His fastball was mainly 89-91 mph, and the Yanks anticipate several mph more over the next few weeks. If that comes along with the changeup, the Yanks really may have a No. 3 starter in the No. 5 spot in 2010. But, just as vital, they also may have a No. 3 starter in the No. 3 spot in 2011 should Andy Pettitte retire and Javier Vazquez leave as a free agent.

Now, I’ve been turning the news in Sherman’s column over in my mind all day, and I can’t come to terms with it. I’m a Phil Hughes guy, and I truly think he needs to have a chance to start. But this leaves Joba dangling in the wind. It throws into the Yanks’ ability to develop pitchers and their patience with young arms into doubt, and it makes me wonder just what the team accomplished after three years of highly-publicized Joba Rules. It doesn’t make sense.

Joba, just 24, hasn’t been bad as a Major League starter. Over 43 starts, many of which were limited by the Yanks’ overly cautious approach, he has thrown 221.2 innings and has struck out 206. His 101 walks are on the high side, but as one of the younger starters in the league, he has done the job admirably enough.

The problem though has been in the way the Yanks have kept the kid gloves on. A full 17 of Joba’s Major League starts were shorter than 15 outs. In some of those outings, Joba was just bad; in one, he left after getting struck by the ball; but by and large, the Yankees pulled him due to an innings limit or a pitch limit or some kind of limit. They kept the leash on for a very, very long time.

Now, we hear that the Yankees are ready to end that experiment for now. Sherman sees Chamberlain in the eighth inning with Aceves and Mitre serving as the team’s sixth and seventh starters should the need arise. Just yesterday, I decried such a move. The Yanks should, if not going with Chamberlain in the rotation, have him log innings at AAA. The team has toyed with Joba for so long that he has finally escaped the innings limit, but now they’re going to take him out of the rotation entirely. Who’s steering this ship anyway?

Maybe Sherman is wrong. Maybe his reading of the tea leaves will have been for naught, and the Yankees will surprise all of the B-Jobber analysts who want Joba in the bullpen. Maybe the Yankees will wake up and determine that, after three years of experiments, Joba’s year to dazzle — or fail — without any sort of limit is 2010.

I’m not too optimistic though, and I have to wonder if the Yankees should begin to think about ways to maximize Joba’s value through other avenues. If they’re not willing to let him take his lumps in the rotation as a 24-year-old pitching behind four others good enough to be staff aces, then cut bait and trade him. As early as 2011, the Yankees will need starters who don’t have innings limits, and these constant bullpen/rotation back-and-forths need to end. Joba’s role in 2010 shouldn’t involve rooting for an injury to another starter or waiting for Hughes to reach an inevitable innings cap. He should be starting. Period.

Link dump: Dead money, regressing starters, standing room

Some lunch time links while we make you wait another two hours for something on the fifth starter situation.

The Mets are shopping Gary Matthews Jr.


Teams that are paying money to other teams

At FanGraphs, Steve Sommer takes a look at teams that are sending 10 percent or more of their overall payroll to other teams. The Blue Jays lead the way at $16 million, or 23 percent of their payroll. In pure dollar terms, though, the Dodgers are paying out the most, $16.6 million. You can check out the whole list here. The Yankees are only shelling out $4.5 million in that regard, a mere 2 percent of overall payroll.

The year-after effect for young starters

At ESPN’s TMI blog, Tango examines young pitchers who break out and then regress the following year. Clayton Kershaw, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, and Felix Hernandez qualify this year, and Tango warns that they could regress just like their predecessors. Check out the accompanying table for more recent examples. Also keep this in mind when you think about Joba Chamberlain. He pitched excellently in the rotation in 2008, but pitched markedly worse in 2009. To that end, Zack Greinke had a 5.80 ERA in the season following his breakout, in which he posted a 3.97 ERA.

Does wOBA undervalue Ichiro?

Jeff Sullivan at Lookout landing takes on the question and makes many fine points. To my mind, this is the best way to argue with stats. To categorically dismiss them is foolish. We can learn plenty by a player’s results. We can learn a lot more by thinking, in specific terms, what the stat might not be telling us.

Everything you need to know about Standing Room Only tickets

Ross at NYY Stadium Insider writes at length about the Standing Room Only tickets the Yankees have offered for the 2010 season. If you’re thinking about getting these slightly cheaper tickets, definitely read over his post.

Other links

I found a lot worth reading, so…