Friday Night Open Thread

Sorry for the tardiness, but here’s your open thread for the evening. The Devils, Islanders, and Nets are all in action, plus you can come hang out with me at MLBTR. Anything goes, so have fun.

Phil v. Joba (2010)

As Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes have risen through the Yankee system, they have been dazzled and disappointed at times. Such are the ways of young pitching prospects, and the two will head into Spring Training battling for the same spot in the starting rotation. The loser will, in all likelihood, start the season in the bullpen if not the Triple A rotation, and due to his ability to throw more innings in 2010, Joba will be the incumbent while Phil has an uphill battle if he wants to start in the Bronx this April.

For the Yankees, having two live and highly-regarded arms is hardly a problem; 29 other teams would die to have this problem. For fans watching these two mature into Major League pitchers, it’s always entertaining to see how the two stack up against each other, and today at The Yankee U, Moshe Mandel did just that. He asked a bunch of prospect writers — including our very own Mike Axisa — which of the two was the bigger prospect. Joba seems to have won by a hair, and the jury is still out as to which of the two will be the better Major Leaguer.

Denzel Washington knows his Yankees

How does he stack up against CC Sabathia? We start winding down another work week with a clip from last night’s Jay Leno Show.*

With a glove slap to Sam Borden for the video link.

*RAB in no way endorses Jay Leno, nor his rumored takeover of Conan O’Brien.

RAB Live Chat

Previewing MLB 10: The Show

It seems like every year, baseball games get better and better. Back in the day we had a tremendous selection. Nintendo featured RBI Baseball and Baseball Simulator 1.000, two excellent titles, plus the playable Bases Loaded. (Though I was always partial to Base Wars.) Super Nintendo brought Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball, one of my favorite all-time baseball games. But with the introduction of the Sony Playstation, it seemed like baseball games slid in quality. Developer 989 Studios, a division of Sony, produced their MLB series, which I found unplayable. In order to finish a game in a reasonable amount of time I had to reduce to six innings, and that screwed over my players as they raced for stat tiles. Triple Play Baseball was kind of fun, but it still didn’t catch my attention.

Then came Playstation 2 and MVP Baseball — though it was nothing more than a rebranding of EA’s Triple Play series. Everything changed. The gameplay went faster, so you could play a full nine innings in a reasonable amount of time. The pitching system was better, too, making for a more fun game all-around. Then came the 2K series. For the 2006 season MLB/MLBPA granted 2K an exclusive (non-Sony) license to develop games. I loved the 2K6 game, though it seems like the game degenerated every year from there on. I got 2K8, but didn’t enjoy it at all. Thankfully, the Sony replacement for their MLB series, The Show, progressively got better and better. In 2009 it blew the 2K game out of the water.

As the season approaches, so does the release date for MLB 10: The Show. GameDaily has an early preview, and it looks pretty damn cool. The article starts off talking about the extras, like the Road to The Show feature and Home Run Derby mode, but I’m more interested in the actual game play. After all, that’s what the game’s all about, right?

According to GD, we should see some significant improvements in this year’s version.

The developers added 1,250 new gameplay animations, 1,000 presentation animations and 400 personalized pitcher and batter animations.

To me, animations can make or break a game. My biggest complaint with older Madden versions was that poor animations led to unrealistic gameplay. More animations means the computer can more accurately identify the most realistic option. It might not be as relevant in a baseball, where the main animation issues arise when there’s one defender chasing down a ball, as in football, where all 22 men are in constant motion, but it still matters in terms of playability.

Another excellent improvement: base running. Maybe it’s just me and my lack of skill with a controller, but I had a terrible time running the bases in MLB 09. Any improvement on that front would be greatly appreciated.

The game comes out on March 2, with a deserving player gracing the box.

Check out the article for more information on changes in MLB 10: The Show. This video also provides a quick, cursory rundown.

The best 3-4 combo in the game

The Yankees made two key changes from 2008 to 2009. First, they upgraded the pitching staff, adding two strikeout guys to the rotation. Second, they upgraded the middle of their order from merely good to world-beating powerhouse. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez ranked among the best 3-4 combinations in baseball last season, and with A-Rod back to full health they could be in for an even bigger season in 2010. Watching them come to the plate every two innings or so should be a joy.

Are A-Rod and Tex the best 3-4 combo in the game? The staff at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch try to answer the question. Their team has quite a combo itself in Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Most of them, however, concede the title to A-Rod and Tex — though as expected they emphasize RBI and power numbers. So, before we determine the best 3-4 hitters in the game, we should establish what makes a good 3-4 combo.

Power plays a large part in the middle of any order. The 3-4 hitters are expected to drive in runs, and doubles and home runs perform that task efficiently. They also need to possess on-base skills. Since even the best power guys hit for extra bases in fewer than 1/6 of their plate appearances, and since they also hit near the top of the order, they need to get on base to give the lower guys a chance to drive them in. Plus, more men on base means turning over the lineup more frequently, which means more plate appearances for the 3-4 hitters.

A note on the expectation of 3-4 hitters to drive in runs. This does not mean that RBI accurately measures a No. 3 or No. 4 hitter. In fact, it’s a pretty crappy measure. RBI for this hitters depend almost exclusively on production from the top of the lineup. For example, Skip Schumaker and Colby Rasmus most frequently hit ahead of Albert Pujols last season. Schumaker posted a solid .364 OBP, but Rasmus was well below average at .307. That combo wasn’t nearly on base as much as Jeter and Damon, with their .406 and .365 OBPs. Teixeira and A-Rod simply had more opportunities than Pujols and, later, Holliday.

(Though give Pujols credit here. Despite having a far inferior top of the order, he still drove in more runs than Teixeira. Such is the greatness of El Hombre.)

When measuring the value of a 3-4 combo, we should look for sheer offensive production. I’m not sure I’d even adjust any of the numbers for park, position, or anything else, though I’m open to arguments to the contrary. Again, we’re looking for the most productive, most dominant 3-4 combo. Position doesn’t much matter in this case. It might have effects on the rest of the line up — i.e., players at power positions can hit further down in the order and elongate the lineup — but we’re just concentrating on the 3-4 hitters.

As I work through this, I realize that we’re facing two questions right now. First is of the best 3-4 combination in 2009. The other is of the best 3-4 combination in theory. In other words, if everyone involved has a good year, which combination will produce at the highest level? Let’s take the first, easier question first. We can accomplish that by looking at the players’ times on base and extra base hits. Why counting stats? Because when you’re measuring the most productive players, time in the lineup counts. And, again, I don’t want to use WAR here, because it counts defense and makes positional adjustments.

A-Rod obviously gets dinged here for making only 535 plate appearances. I think this helps illustrate the point I'm making here. Yes, his .286/.402/.532 line is quite excellent, but he missed all of April and the Yankees lineup suffered for it.

We'll skip Pujols and Holliday for now, since Holliday got in only 270 plate appearances in St. Louis.

On-Base XBH
Mark Teixeira 259 85
Alex Rodriguez 187 48
On-Base XBH
Chase Utley 249 63
Ryan Howard 247 86

While this duo did outperform Tex and A-Rod during the 2009 regular season, I’m sure a healthy season from A-Rod would even them, and perhaps put the Yankees ahead. Extrapolating A-Rod’s numbers by 25 percent jibes with this. But, make no mistake, in 2009 the Philly duo was more productive.

On-Base XBH
Ryan Braun 260 77
Prince Fielder 287 84

Without a doubt, Braun and Fielder were the most productive 2009 3-4 combination. While Teixeira reigns as the best No. 3 hitter in this group — though Pujols as a No. 3 hitter is clearly superior — Fielder destroys the competition for the cleanup spot. Placed back to back in a batting order, they were unmatched in 2009.

Projecting the best 3-4 combination presents a bit more difficult task. Not only do we have to project numbers, but we also have to project health. It’s no simple task, and I see no easy way to accomplish it. We could average production over the past three years, or we could average together the available projection systems. If anyone wants to take on that task, be my guest. I’ll post it as an addendum to this post.

Using completely unscientific methods, I have a hard time seeing any combination dethroning Braun an Fielder. Not only were they the most productive 3-4 combination in 2009, but they did it at age 25. True, we can expect some fluctuation in their numbers this season, but the same is true of all players. Since they’re both in their physical peaks, however, we shouldn’t count on any significant downward trend.

That’s not to dismiss A-Rod/Tex, Pujols/Holliday, or Utley/Howard. All four combinations produce at an elite level, and a career year out of any one player could tip the balance in 2010. Again, based on my completely unscientific weighing of past numbers, here’s how I’d rank them.

1. Braun – Fielder

Tremendous hitters, and only 26 years old in 2010. Could easily produce another monster year.

2. Pujols – Holliday

Pujols is the best hitter in baseball, and Holliday has posted some excellent seasons (and also killed the ball upon arrival in St. Louis). Even if he falls back to his 2008 numbers, Pujols should be enough to carry the group.

3. Teixeira – Rodriguez

A healthy season from A-Rod could put him in Pujols territory. Combine that with the beast that is Teixeira, and you have a powerhouse that rivals Ortiz-Ramirez of the mid-00s.

4. Utley – Howard

The lowest of this crew is still among the best in baseball. Teixeira has outproduced Utley, and a healthy A-Rod can go toe to toe with Howard.

Another group of not-too-shabby 3-4 combinations: Mauer/Morneau, Beltran/Wright, Kemp/Ramirez, Martinez/Youkilis.

Photo credits: Braun (AP Photo/Jeff Curry), Fielder (AP Photo/Michael Conroy), Pujols (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File), Holliday (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson), Teixeira (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams), Rodriguez (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi), Utley (AP Photo/Eric Gay), Howard (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Who wants a fringy starter?

The Yankees have reached the point this winter where they’re searching for one last piece. Not a major piece but rather a complementary one, an outfielder who can provide an alternative, if need be, to Brett Gardner. With just 41 days left until pitchers and catchers, the Yankees can take their time and let the market develop — and perhaps let Johnny Damon‘s asking price fall into their range. But, until then, we’ll continue to speculate.

For the most part we’ve focused on free agent acquisitions, mainly because we’ve discussed trade options and haven’t found much. But things change as Spring Training nears. The Yankees acquired Javy Vazquez, and now might trade one of their pitchers. Does that open up any new possibilities?

While it’s possible that the Yankees could trade Sergio Mitre or Chad Gaudin to a second-tier team for outfield fodder, but if they want to do so they’ll have to be patient. A number of starting pitchers remain on the free agent market — including Jarrod Washburn, Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland, and Doug Davis — who are similar to the Yankees’ duo. As we near Spring Training and their prices come down, they’ll begin to fill out team’s rotations. Unless a number of them continue holding out for more money, Gaudin and Mitre will probably remain fallback options.

The one scenario where the Yankees could unload Mitre is in a salary dump. The problem there lies in finding a team that matches up. How many teams would trade a moderately priced outfielder for Mitre? What if they added a fringy prospect to go along with the fringy starter? When discussing plans for the outfield, Brian Cashman said, “It might not just be a free agent. It could Come via trade.” Unless the Yankees plan to deal prospects and not one of their surplus pitchers, I’m not sure there’s an obvious match.

As the Yankees continue to wait, we’ll continue to wonder. From everything Cashman has said lately, the team does seek a right-handed outfield bat. Tired as the subject has gotten, it’s the last item left on the team’s agenda. They’re taking their time, as they should. It’s best at this point to wait for the right player, not the easiest to acquire.