Open Thread: Indianapolis in the middle of winter?

Last year, RAB was excited to attend its first Winter Meetings. Not only is it the biggest off-season event in baseball, but it was also in Las Vegas. That meant plenty of off-hours entertainment. It didn’t work out too well for me — I got cleaned out playing Blackjack — but it was still fun to be out there with the people we normally cover from afar.

We’re headed to the Winter Meetings again this year, and by we I mean me. Big thanks to Kevin at YES for hooking this up. We still won’t be breaking any big news — hey, you’ve gotta be in the business for a while to do anything like that. But I’ll be mingling, talking to people who perhaps know things I don’t. Even though the Yanks won’t be the center of attention this year, it still figures to be a good time.

Also, I will try to remember to videotape Ozzie Guillen’s Q&A session, just in case he says something memorably crazy.

Is there anything you’d like to see from us coverage-wise from out there?

And with that, here’s your open thread for the evening. I assume most will be watching New England – New Orleans. I’ll be hoping that House turns it around. The show has not been up to part this season.

Roundup: World Series shares, Grapefruit League action, drafting Holliday, Caray fired

To end the workday, a lot of small stories with nothing quite worth its own post. We’ll have a site announcement coming up in the Open Thread at 7 p.m. Meanwhile, the news from around baseball:

Average MLB salary just under $3 million

Despite a nationwide recession, MLB salaries went up again in 2009. Although the 2.4 percent increase was the lowest since 2004, baseball players are still doing quite well for themselves as the average MLB salary is $2.93 million a year. The Yanks were far and away the most generous team as the average Yankee earns $7.66 million a season. This year marked the 11th straight season in which the Yanks led that list. Six of the top eight teams — New York, Boston, St. Louis, the Dodgers, the Angels and the Phillies — made the playoffs with only the Mets and Tigers missing a post in the October dance.

Yanks take home $365K each in World Series share

A few months ago, I speculated that the Yankees, if they won the World Series, would earn the highest per-player share in postseason history, and that reality has come to pass. MLB unveiled the Yanks’ World Series shares today, and each person who earns a full share will take home a bonus of $365,052.73. According to the press release, the Yanks have awarded 46 full shares, 12.25 partial shares and 2 cash awards, and for some of those young kids who made the league minimum this year, their salaries just doubled. Postseason shares are awarded from 60 percent of the gate from the first three games of the Division Series and 60 percent of the gate receipts from Games 1-4 of the AL and NLCS and the World Series.

The Yankees aren’t the only players enjoying a rich and lucrative postseason. The Phillies, World Series runners-up, will earn $265,357.50 per full share, and even the chokers get some money. The Red Sox will each earn $28,263.28 for getting swept by Los Angeles. The Angels, in a very classy move, voted to give Nick Adenhart’s family a full playoff share totaling $138,000.

Yanks announce 2010 Grapefruit League schedule

With pitchers and catchers just 79 days away, the Yankees have unveiled their 2010 Spring Training schedule. Pitchers and catchers will report on Feb. 17, and games begin with an afternoon affair against the Pirates on March 3. The Yankees will match up against the Phillies five times during the Grapefruit League and will play all AL East teams except the Red Sox. As a Spring Training finale on April 3, the Big League club will take on a roster of Minor League prospects. If you have a chance to get to some Spring Training games, check out the action. It’s always a lot of fun. Tickets go on sale next month.

For some reason, doesn’t yet have the full schedule up on the Yanks’ official site. But Marc Carig has it as his blog. So just head on over for a full list of the games.

TBS fists Chip Caray out of a job

With more than a little glee, Richard Sandomir of The Times reports that TBS and Chip Caray will part ways prior to the 2010 baseball season. Caray came under fire from, well, just about anyone who watched baseball this October for his terrible announcing and play-by-play job. Sandomir highlights a particularly egregious example. While calling what Sandomir termed “an obvious lineout,” Caray announced it as such: “Line drive. Base hit. Caught out there. The runner tags. Throw to the plate. On target. And in time! A double play!” He won’t be missed.

Yanks ‘considered’ drafting Holliday in 1998

In a piece yesterday, Anthony McCarron noted that the Yanks thought about drafting Matt Holliday in 1998. They opted against making such a move due to Holliday’s football commitment to Oklahoma State. McCarron notes that the Yanks went with Drew Henson, another football/baseball high school star, but the comparison isn’t really apt. Holliday fell to the seventh round due to signability concerns, the Yanks drafted Henson in the third round that year. What the Yanks should not do, however, is rectify a 11-year-old mistake by signing Holliday this winter.

Jeter named SI’s Sportsman of the Year

We first heard about this over the weekend, but now it’s official: Sports Illustrated named Derek Jeter their 2009 Sportsman of the Year. Amazingly, Jeter becomes the first Yankee to win the award in the 56 years they’ve been handing it out. Not only did Jetes lead the Yanks their 27th World Championship, but he also passed Lou Gehrig for first place on the team’s all-time hit list. Congrats to the Cap’n, maybe an MVP will be next.

Olney: Matsui’s marketability not a factor

Baseball teams dream of signing players who pay for themselves. It’s a rarity, of course, but a player like Hideki Matsui, as the Yankees learned over the past seven years, brings with him marketing opportunities from Japan which help off-set a portion of his contract. Because the Yankees generate revenue just from having Matsui on the team, they’re essentially getting a discount on him. That has to be an important factor in the Yankees’ decision on whether to bring him back, right?

As Ben noted, the Yankees could lose an estimated $15 million if Matsui signs elsewhere. I can’t verify the accuracy of that number, so let’s use it merely as a rough starting point. If the Yankees would lose $15 million by letting Matsui go, they could theoretically pay him $15 million per season and break even. Yet, apparently that will not factor into their decision, notes Buster Olney on Twitter.

Heard this: Matsui’s attraction as a marketable asset is no factor for the Yankees. It is about getting the right player at the right price.

I agree that the Yankees should look first for the right player. That’s the most important consideration of all. If they feel that Matsui isn’t the right player for the 2010 lineup, then his marketability should not be a factor. No one wants to lose the $15 million, but the Yankees have to consider what’s best for the team first.

If Matsui is the right player to hold down the DH spot in 2010, however, marketability should certainly play a role. If the Yankees get an essential $15 million bonus for having Matsui on the team, that should play into his salary. Not that he should get the whole $15 million. There are other factors involved, notably the luxury tax. Then there’s the idea of market value, and with quite a few DHs on the market and not too many free DH slots, Matsui’s market could resemble Bobby Abreu’s from last year.

So yes, Buster is right — and obviously so — that the Yankees want the right player at the right price. I’m just not sure that Matsui’s marketability will be “no factor” in the decision. It might not factor into whether or not he’s the right player, but if the Yankees decide he is, it will certainly factor into the price they pay for him.

Looking at Robbie Cano’s baserunning

Cano sliding into homeI was originally planning to put together a post looking at the Yankees’ baserunning in 2009 as a team, but once I started digging deeper and deeper, I found some really interesting stuff about Robinson Cano, so I decided to give him his own post. Don’t worry, the team-centric baserunning post will be up before long, but let’s take a look at the Yanks’ second baseman first.

As you probably already know, Cano is an atrocious basestealer. He was successful on just 5 of his 12 stolen base attempts in 2009, and for his career he’s just 17 for 38, a ghastly 44.7% success rate (break-even is 72-75%, depending on who you ask). This isn’t anything new either. Following an 11 for 13 debut as a sprightly 18-year-old in the rookie level Gulf Coast League, Cano stole just 11 bases in 19 attempts (57.9%) in the final 434 games of his minor league career. For a young and athletic middle infielder, the guy isn’t very good at swiping bases.

Baseball Prospectus has a stat for pretty much everything, including baserunning. Equivalent Stolen Base Runs (EqSBR for short) measures the “number of theoretical runs contributed by a baserunner above what would be expected given the number and quality of their baserunning opportunities,” which in English means it’s how many runs above average a player’s steals are. It’s not based on just bulk stolen base numbers, it factors in the game situation (a steal in a one-run game is greater than a steal in a ten-run game, a steal of third is better than a steal of second, etc.) while adjusting for park, batter handedness, the whole nine.

In 2009, Cano’s basestealing was worth -2.06 runs, which is pretty bad. In 2008 it was worth -1.49 runs, which is better, but still bad. In 2007 it was worth -1.21 runs, and in 2006 it was worth -0.72 runs. So not only is Cano’s basestealing so bad that it’s costing the Yankees runs, but it’s gotten progressively worse in each of his four full seasons. That’s not an encouraging trend for a guy still in his mid-20’s at an up-the-middle position, but stealing bases is just one piece of the baserunning pie.

BP’s Equivalent Base Running Runs stat (EqBRR) encompasses all forms of baserunning, including steals, advancing on balls in play, moving up on wild pitches, stuff like that. It’s actually the sum of EqSBR and four other similar stats, but we’ll get to that in a minute. What’s important right now is how valuable Cano’s overall baserunning has been throughout his career.

This year Cano finished with +0.4 EqBRR, the first full season in which his baserunning has been beneficial to the team. Last year he was at -0.7 runs, the year before it was -2.2 runs, and in 2006 it was -3.4 runs. Do you see what’s going on here? Let’s plot this out…

Cano's baserunning graph(click any image in this post for a larger view)

Well isn’t that cool. Despite getting worse and worse each year when it comes to stealing bases, Cano’s overall baserunning has actually gotten better as his career has progressed. Five years of engineering school allows me to deduce that Cano must have improved in the other aspects of baserunning (that’s the yellow line) for this to be possible (how’s that for analysis?). Remember when I said EqBRR is the sum of five other stats? Well let’s break it down into those individual components to see where the improvement actually is.

Cano's baserunning chart

Everything in the chart is in runs, and I spared you the five-letter acronyms and just wrote out what each stat considers. There’s a stat for advancements made on groundballs to infielders (“Grounders”), sac flies (“Balls In Air”), base hits (“Hits”), and pretty much everything else (“Other”). “Stolen Bases” is just EqSBR. If you’re that interested, head over to BP’s glossary and you’ll find everything you need.

As you can see, the improvement in Cano’s overall baserunning comes from an improvement in his ability to take the extra base on sacrifice flies and base hits. Remember, these stats adjust for game situation and stuff, so Cano’s probably doing a better job of picking his spots as well. The slight dip in “Hits” this year isn’t much of a concern, because right now we have nothing to suggest it’s more than just a statistical blip. I’m thinking it might have something to do with the New Stadium; maybe he was being a little cautious not knowing what kind of bounces to expect.

Overall, Cano’s gone from costing the team nearly two runs (1.68, to be exact) on the bases in those situations (sac flies and hits) back in 2006 to adding nearly two runs (1.87, to be exact, again) to the team’s ledger in 2009. That’s a 3.54 run swing, which more than a third of a win. Considering how something so simple and easy to overlook as advancing on a wild pitch or going from first-to-third on a single can be, it’s quite an improvement. I’m not going to attempt to figure out what brought about this improvement, but I think we have to acknowledge that spending so much time around smart and veteran baserunners like Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, and Alex Rodriguez has probably helped.

Whether or not this improvement continues or plateaus or even regresses remains to be seen, but right now the data is encouraging. And by no means am I making Cano out to be some great baserunner. In fact, the +0.4 runs his baserunning was worth last year is pretty negligible, he’s basically par for the course. That, however, is much better than costing the team runs on the bases, like he had been doing in years past. All I really want to do was point out that there’s been a definite improvement in his non-stolen base baserunning ability, and as far as I know, it’s going completely under-the-radar.

Obviously, pure speed is a big help when it comes to baserunning, but instincts and the ability to read pitchers also play a big part in running the bases. Cano’s not a burner, he never has been, but the data suggests that as he’s gained experience in the big leagues, he’s gotten better at taking the extra base on sac flies and base hits. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on as he enters his prime.

Now, if they could only get him to stop trying to steal bases…

Photo Credit: Reuters

Fan Confidence Poll: November 30th, 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

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Winter Ball Updates

There’s about a month left in the seasons of the various Caribbean leagues, then comes the dry spell until pitchers and catchers…

Dominican Winter League
Abe Almonte: 12 G, 3 for 11 (.273), 6 R, 2 RBI, 4 BB, 3 K, 1 SB
Juan Miranda: 9 G, 16 for 33 (.485), 7 R, 4 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 SB – suffered a minor injury after former teammate Matt Carson ran into his arm while trying to beat out a grounder, but he’s fine and has been playing recently
Eduardo Nunez: 2 G, 1 for 4 (.250), 1 R, 1 BB
Wilkins Arias: 17 G, 12.2 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 4 BB, 13 K
Ivan Nova: 5 G, 4 GS, 25.2 IP, 17 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 17 K – he’s done for the near … not an injury, just shut down
Jon Ortiz: 6 G, 4 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K

Mexican Pacific League
Walt Ibarra: 23 G, 12 for 41 (.293), 8 R, 1 2B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 13 K, 1 SB
Jorge Vazquez: 13 G, 13 for 47 (.283), 7 G, 1 2B, 4 HR, 1 RBI, 8 BB, 12 K – looks like he’s a three true outcomes kinda guy

Puerto Rican League
Amaury Sanit: 5 G, 4.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K

Venezuelan Winter League
Frankie Cervelli: 6 G, 3 for 14 (.214), 3 R, 1 2B, 3 BB, 4 K – I guess an OBP-heavy .675 OPS I good … (I keed, I keed)
Reegie Corona: 26 G, 24 for 68 (.353), 19 R, 10 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 14 BB, 13 K, 2 SB, 1 CS – well done
Jesus Montero: 9 G, 3 for 26 (.115), 2 R, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K – not playing, but he’s not injured
Luis Nunez: 12 G, 9 for 36 (.250), 1 R, 1 2B, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 5 K
Romulo Sanchez: 18 G, 21.2 IP, 16 H, 15 R, 12 ER, 15 BB, 28 K
Josh Schmidt: 10 G, 8 GS, 40.1 IP, 36 H, 23 R, 16 ER, 14 BB, 38 K – he’s at 124 IP this year, nearly double his previous career high
Pat Venditte: 7 G, 9.1 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 7 K
Eric Wordekemper: 5 G, 1 GS, 8.1 IP, 12 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 5BB, 3 K

Here’s a clip of Eladio Moronta, the 20-year-old centerfielder the Yanks gave $570,000 earlier this week (thanks to Andy in Sunny Daytona for passing it along).