Yankees sign John Van Benschoten

Via Baseball America, the Yankees have signed former Pirates’ first rounder John Van Benschoten to a minor league contract. JVB led Division I with 31 homers as an outfielder in 2001, so when Pirates drafted him 8th overall that year (three spots after the Rangers took Mark Teixeira), they naturally stuck him on the mound. Makes sense, right? Sure, he closed for Kent State, but back then the Pirates were the only team that liked him better on the mound.

JVB went on to be named the team’s top prospect in 2003 and 2004, and thrice appeared on BA’s Top 100 Prospects list. He managed to make it to the big leagues in 2004, and has posted a 9.20 ERA in 90 IP spread out among several stints in Pittsburgh. Among pitchers with at least 75 career innings, that is the worst ERA in the history. I’m not kidding. He’s also had surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff in both arms.

Who knows, maybe they’re putting a bat back in his hands?

Open Thread: The Lord takes the mound

Mariano Rivera threw his first bullpen of the 2010 season today, tossing 21 pitches to Frankie Cervelli early this morning. Everything went nice and easy for Mo, as it tends to do. He essentially makes his own schedule in Spring Training, not traveling for road games or anything like that, so he’ll likely make his debut in a week or two.

Here’s your open thread for the night. The Knicks are the only local team in action, but you’ve also got House and 24. Enjoy the thread.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

A-Rod to cooperate with Galea investigators

So much for that quiet Spring Training. After his name surfaced in newspaper reports this morning, Alex Rodriguez confirmed today that he will meet with federal authorities to discuss his involvement in an ongoing investigation into a Canadian doctor arrested on drug charges in October. Anthony Galea, a Toronto-based sports specialist, is suspected of supplying HGH and other performance-enhancing drugs from Canada into the United States, but so far, the nature of his ties to A-Rod remain unknown.

According to various reports, Mark Lindsay, the chiropractor who oversaw A-Rod’s rehab from hip surgery last year, has close ties to both BALCO and Galea, and authorities are probably curious to find out if A-Rod wants more. Lindsay has also treated Chien-Ming Wang.

At camp today, A-Rod could not comment on his association with Galea due to the ongoing investigation. “I can’t really get into that,” he said to reporters. “You’ll know within time all at the same time.”

The Yankees, in a statement, attempted to distance themselves from the latest PED controversy to descend upon A-Rod at Spring Training. “The New York Yankees have not been contacted with regard to an investigation of Dr. Tony Galea,” the team said. “The Yankees never authorized Dr. Tony Galea to treat Alex Rodriguez, nor do we have any knowledge of any such treatment. The Yankees authorized Dr. Marc Philippon to operate on Alex and oversee his rehabilitation. At the request of Dr. Philippon, we also authorized Dr. Mark Lindsay to supervise the daily rehabilitation program established by Dr. Philippon. We will continue to monitor the situation.” Ben Shpigel of The Times reported, however, that team executives are annoyed that A-Rod’s name would surface in yet another PED investigation just one year after the latest controversy.

For what it’s worth, Jose Reyes was questioned in this investigation as well. Reyes spent time this winter with Galea and has closer ties to him than A-Rod appears to. Yet, nothing came of that questioning, and I expect the same result here. Call me naïve, but I can’t imagine A-Rod would have been foolish enough to get himself involved in another PED scandal since the last one broke a year ago.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Yanks make up for draft slots with international signings

While the Yankees farm system does not rank among the best in the league, it has certainly improved over the past few years. It got into such bad shape in the first place because in addition to picking in the 25 to 30 range every year, the Yankees also sign free agents, sometimes costing them first-round picks, and otherwise trade young talent for veterans. There is one place where the Yankees can still tap talent, though. The international market brings no draft order restrictions, so teams are free to bid on any player they want. As Ben Badler of Baseball America shows, the Yankees have more top-30 international signees than any other team in baseball.

The obvious caveat here, which is obvious when looking under the Notable Prospects section for the Yanks, is that the prospect doesn’t necessarily have to be in the system today. Badler counts players signed by the organization, regardless of whether they were subsequently traded. As Badler also notes, the Yankees have already seen production from two of their notable international signees. Arodys Vizcaino and Jose Tabata (along with international signee Melky Cabrera) have turned into Javy Vazquez, Xavier Nady, and Damaso Marte.

2010 RAB Fantasy Baseball League

Update (4:07pm): And now the second league is full.

Update (3:58pm): Here’s the info for the second league, it’s identical to the first. The ID and password to sign up is included when you click the link.

Update (3:25pm): We have a commish for a second league, so it’s being created now. I’ll add the League ID and password here once it’s ready.

Update (3:10pm): The league is full, but I still haven’t had anyone email about being the commish of a second, alternate league.

3:00pm: It’s time, once again to form the RAB Fantasy Baseball League. You can see the league setting here, but note that I did change the maximum number of moves per week to eight (rather than no max) to keep people for swapping pitchers in and out to pile up W and K. Make sure you read the settings before signing up, because everything you need to know is in there, including the draft date and time. If you want in, then find the league on Yahoo! using the ID# and stuff, and join in. But people, only join if you’re serious, I plan on making this a keeper league.

Because I gave those in the league last year first dibs on spots, there’s only four left (out of 20. Yes, 20). If someone is willing to be the commissioner of a second league with the same settings, email me.

The Early Season Grind

For whatever reason, the Yankees haven’t been a very good team early in the season lately. Last year they went just 12-10 in April, but 91-49 the rest of the way. If you go back three years, the Yankees are 35-39 in April but 251-161 from May on. It’s frustrating, and no one can seem to figure it out what’s causing this. We’ve just come to accept it.

In his blog post today, Buster Olney examined each American League team’s schedule in the early going. The Yanks have the third toughest schedule in the early going (according to Buster), thanks to 12 straight games against teams that finished .500 or better last season to start the campaign. Just 19 of their first 41 games will be played in the Bronx, and given their recent historical suckiness in April, it’s really not all that hard to envision a scenario in which the Yanks are under .500 on May 1st.

Of course, there’s two sides to every coin. The rough April (and part of May) means that June through September will be much kinder. The Yanks will play just three games against a team that finished over .500 last year (the Phillies) from May 28th through June 25th of this season, and 11 of their first 17 games in September are against some perennial doormats. With fewer games against the better teams in the league in the second half, that means winning streaks stay alive longer, and losing streaks don’t last very long.

A good start is always nice, and yes games in April count just as much as games in August and September, but the Yanks are going to face a tough part of the schedule at some point, and I like that they’ll do it in April. More than likely, they would have stumbled to a .500 or so record in that month, but now it’ll come with the reassurance of knowing that they’ll have a chance to build some serious momentum in the second half and go on into the playoffs with the head of steam like last year. Oh sure, it’ll give the talking heads a lot to … uh … talk about.

“They’re complacent!”

“The starters are worn down from last year!”

“They miss Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon!”

I can see all the headlines now, but it’ll just be the usual MSM gibberish. The important thing is that the toughest part of the schedule will be behind them, and they’ll have a chance to make the rest of the league pay once the team hits their stride. Now, just imagine if they get off to a hot start…

Lining a pitch up the middle is not progress

Curtis Granderson can help a ball club in a number of ways. He can play a solid center field. He can hit for power. He can get on base at an above-average clip, and afterward he can motor around the bases. But as we learned in 2009, the mere ability to do something doesn’t necessarily bring results. Granderson can get on base at an above-average clip, but in 2009 he didn’t. Since he’s done it before, we don’t say that he can’t, but rather that he didn’t. In the same way, just because he hasn’t hit lefties well in the past doesn’t mean he can’t.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

It appears that questions about Granderson’s ability to hit lefties will surround him this spring. We’ve already heard stories about him working with Kevin Long on ways to better approach lefty pitchers. Those are encouraging, but far from a sign that Granderson will put his woes behind him. Still, that won’t stop certain newspapers from taking one small detail and making a huge deal out of it. Apparently, according to the NY Post, hitting a line drive in batting practice off Kei Igawa represents progress. Oh, the crazy storylines of the spring.

I agree with SG’s statement that Granderson will probably never hit well against lefties, but that he can certainly outperform his career numbers to this point. One aspect of splits that often goes unmentioned is the small sample they provide. Granderson has come to bat 2,896 times in his career, but only 24 percent of those have come against lefties. That leaves his total at 685, or just under a full season’s worth of plate appearances. We don’t judge a player based on a single year of his career, so why would we judge Granderson based on one year’s worth of data?

Because of this small sample against lefties, we need to regress the figures in order to get a better idea of Granderson’s true skill against lefties. Thankfully, Matt Klaassen of FanGraphs already did the calculation, which adds 1,000 plate appearance of league average splits to Granderson’s existing 685 PA. If Granderson hits to his CHONE projected .359 wOBA, we can expect that to be .374 against righties and .311 against lefties. That .311 number is still below average, and it’s even blow the .323 wOBA he posted against lefties in 2008. It is, however, a bit more optimistic than CAIRO, which pegs him at .299 against lefties, and certainly better than his .266 career wOBA split.

Deliberate and focussed practice could help Granderson even further against lefties. Again, echoing SG, we can’t really expect Granderson to make leaps in his split figures, but it’s certainly possible. We saw such a transformation first hand in Paul O’Neill. While in Cincinnati O’Neill hit lefties poorly, routinely posting OPS numbers in the .500 range. Even in his first year with the Yankees he struggled against lefties. But then, at age 31, he came around, posting OPS numbers in the .700 range or better for the next five seasons. We might set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting Granderson to make the same transformation, but we know that it is certainly possible.

The discussion of Granderson’s skills and results against lefties reminds me of what a good all-around player he is. We’re not questioning his defense, his speed, or his ability to get on base. Instead, we’re focussed on his performance in fewer than a quarter of his plate appearances. I think we’ll all be satisfied with his performance in the other 75 percent, and maybe even a bit more satisfied with that 25 percent sample.