Open Thread: Photos from Cooperstown

HOF 2009 World Series display

Did you miss me? In case you hadn’t noticed, I was away from RAB the last three days, checking out the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I had never been there before, so everything was new to me. We spent basically all day Monday in the HOF and the museum, and you can see all the pics I took here. As you’re scrolling through the slideshow, be sure to click “Show Info” in the top right corner to get the description of what each pic is.

What you see above is the Hall’s 2009 World Series display. It consists of Andy Pettitte’s ALCS jersey, Hideki Matsui’s World Series Game 6 bat, Mo’s hat, Johnny Damon’s double-steal spikes, A-Rod’s WS Game 6 spikes, Suzyn Waldman’s Game 6 scorecard, Jose Molina’s and Jorge Posada’s masks, the ball CC Sabathia threw for the first pitch of the series, and tons of other stuff. Eventually the 2009 WS ring will join the ’98, ’99, and ’00 rings in the giant display case.

Babe Ruth had his own room in the Hall, which basically told his life story and chronicled all of his baseball exploits. It contained the story about how he was found, his old glove,  his famed “called shot” bat (it’s the one on the left), an old Christmas card, and not to mention his bowling ball and various golf trophies (who knew?). Oh, and of course they had his lockerJoe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Lou Gehrig all had their own displays as well.

Another room had more recent milestones, with each team getting it’s own locker. The Yanks’ locker featured Matsui’s bat from his grand slam against the Twins in 2003, Derek Jeter’s spikes from when he passed Lou Gehrig’s as the team’s all-time hit leader, a shovel they used to break ground on the New Stadium, Mike Mussina’s hat from his 20th win, Mo’s hat from his 400th save, A-Rod’s helmet from his 500th homer, and Aaron Boone’s bat from Game 7 of 2003 ALCS. Among the other miscellaneous items displayed throughout the museum, there was the 1996 World Series trophy, one of Don Mattingly’s Gold Gloves, a 1973 ticket booth from Yankee Stadium, Melky’s helmet from his cycle, Curtis Granderson’s jersey from when he went 20-20-20-20, and the lineup card from the team’s record breaking 112th win in 1998.

The hands down coolest item on display was Ted Williams’ strikezone. Each ball tells you what he hit on pitches to that spot. I guess you had to keep the ball down, or else. Well, Honus Wagner’s hat and flip down shades were pretty badass too. If you scroll through my Twitter feed, you’ll find a couple other pics as well. Hope you enjoy ‘em, the trip was a blast.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. Both the Isles and Knicks are in action, but talk about whatever you want.

How many wins would Matt Holliday add in 2010?

The Yankees’ only lineup weakness exists in left field. Matt Holliday, an All-Star left fielder, remains on the market, mostly because no team has met his current contract demands. It seems the two match up perfectly, yet the Yankees have stated that they will not sign Holliday. Since the team made their budget the theme of the off-season, we can see clearly that in no way could Holliday fit into any budget of around $200 million. But are the Yankees really going to let money get in the way of a perfect match?

Maybe the match isn’t so perfect after all. Dave Cameron at FanGraphs discussed the topic from the lens of marginal value added. Maybe, he argues, the Yankees will stay away from Holliday not because he’s too expensive, but because his salary would not justify the improvement his addition would bring to the Yankees. After all, as Cameron explains, the Yankees are already a near-100-win team on paper. So, when considering Holliday (or the recently signed Jason Bay), the Yankees need to wonder exactly how much they benefit the team.

They are at the other end of the win curve, and it doesn’t make much sense to spend a lot of money there either. The marginal value of the 101st, 102nd, and 103rd win in terms of playoff odds is really quite small. And that’s approximately the upgrade that Holliday would represent over the current production that Gardner offers in left field.

Cameron’s analysis falls short in two areas. First, the strength of the team once it does make the playoffs. The Yankees might win 100 games with or without Holliday, but once the playoffs roll around they need all the ammunition they can muster. Holliday’s value inflates in that situation. Second, it doesn’t take into account future considerations. Maybe Holliday’s marginal value on the Yankees doesn’t project to much for the 2010 season, but that could significantly increase in future years as the roster changes.

Still, I’m sure the marginal value factor plays a large part in the Yankees’ decision making process. If they really do covet the 2010-2011 free agent class, then perhaps they’ll find an even better left field fit in that market. In that case they can avoid signing Holliday this season and a player who provides more marginal value for their 2011 team. It means they’d get more for their money, which, as we’ve discussed many times, is the business ideal.

By the Deki-ade: Left field strengths

Throughout the latter half of the 1990s, the Yankees won without a true left field solution. They used Tim Raines and Chad Curtis, Ricky Ledee and Shane Spencer to try to fill the hole. It was not until 2003 with the arrival of Hideki Matsui that the Yankees had a true left field solution.

Now, as the Aughts came to a close, the Yankees’ left field position is again up for grabs. Johnny Damon is gone, and someone will step in to fill the hole. That is a concern for other posts. Today, as we continue our Yankees By the Decade retrospective, we come to toast the left fielders. The table below is those who made at least 10 appearances in left from 2000-2009.

Hideki Matsui 2080 605 122 8 82 357 265 18 9 293 54 .291 .371 .475
Johnny Damon 974 293 61 6 35 146 109 1 2 142 12 .301 .372 .484
Melky Cabrera 569 157 32 3 11 64 58 2 3 65 14 .276 .345 .401
Chuck Knoblauch 424 104 14 2 7 27 45 1 8 52 9 .245 .329 .337
Rondell White 410 101 19 0 12 55 21 1 7 75 9 .246 .292 .380
Shane Spencer 387 106 22 1 14 67 26 1 3 76 8 .274 .320 .444
David Justice 201 67 13 0 17 42 25 1 1 25 1 .333 .406 .652
Xavier Nady 176 47 8 0 9 30 11 1 4 39 5 .267 .323 .466
Tony Womack 160 36 0 1 0 7 7 0 0 22 1 .225 .256 .237
Juan Rivera 160 38 12 0 2 15 9 1 0 21 10 .237 .275 .350
Ricky Ledee 148 41 11 1 6 27 22 2 1 28 6 .277 .370 .486
Luis Polonia 57 17 3 0 1 4 7 0 0 3 1 .298 .375 .404
Brett Gardner 56 8 1 0 0 6 4 0 1 17 0 .143 .210 .161
Ruben Sierra 51 17 8 1 0 9 2 1 0 9 1 .333 .358 .529
Karim Garcia 46 18 1 0 3 5 2 0 0 10 1 .391 .417 .609
Glenallen Hill 41 15 1 0 5 10 2 0 0 8 1 .366 .395 .756
Ryan Thompson 34 8 1 0 1 7 5 0 0 9 0 .235 .333 .353
Bubba Crosby 31 8 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 5 0 .258 .281 .355
Jerry Hairston 27 4 1 0 2 3 3 0 0 3 0 .148 .233 .407
Clay Bellinger 21 2 0 1 1 3 1 0 0 6 0 .095 .136 .333
Gerald Williams 16 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 7 0 .062 .118 .062
Totals 6303 1743 346 25 214 912 649 30 42 977 137 0.277 0.346 0.441

By virtue of playing time alone, Hideki Matsui is the left fielder of the decade. For a few years from 2003-2007, before his knees gave out, Matsui brought stability to the spot and man, did he hit. Over his 2080 left field at-bats, he hit .291/.371/.475 with 82 home runs and 357 RBIs.

Even with this gaudy counting stats, I’m a little hesitant to flat-out proclaim Matsui the best of the decade. The simple truth is that Matsui’s fielding in left was, for five years, atrocious. He never once put up a UZR better than -1.6, and his combined left field UZR for his time in the Bronx was -57.8. Without Matsui’s big bat, the Yanks would have been in deep trouble in left.

For the 2000s, though, the trend for the Yanks in left focused around a big bat with less emphasis on fielding. Johnny Damon, the successor to Matsui in left, put up nearly identical numbers to Matsui. He hit .301/.372/.484 and sported a better OPS out of left than Matsui did. For the first two seasons, Damon put up positive UZR totals in left, but in 2009, that figure dipped to -9.2. It was ugly for sure.

Before these two stalwarts of the late 2000s, the Yankees tried everyone. The Rondell White era was a misguided attempt to plug a hole left by the end of the Paul O’Neill era. Never able to stay healthy, White signed a multi-year deal with the Yanks, put up some atrocious numbers and was traded for Bubba Trammell. The two-year, $10-million deal White signed was one of the worst of the early 00s.

As the early years of the decade wore on, others came and went. The Yankees tried to put Chuck Knoblauch in the left field spot in 2001 after he couldn’t throw from second to first. They tried Melky Cabrera when Matsui went down with an injury in 2006. They even gave Ruben Sierra 51 at bats in the field during the mid-decade years.

Now, though, the era of Matsui and Damon is over. The Yanks’ DH went west, and the Yanks’ incumbent left field is trying to find some team willing to overpay him in both years and dollars. Maybe Damon will return; maybe Brett Gardner will fill the void. For the Yanks, that left field hole is nothing new, and as the decade ends, we will be Matsui, the man who received just 33 percent of all Yankee LF at-bats, as the position’s best.

Francesa: Mets on verge of signing Bay

According to WFAN’s Mike Francesa, the Mets are going to announce the signing of Jason Bay after the slugger takes his physical this weekend. Bay has been sitting on the Mets’ offer for weeks, hoping for a better one from Seattle. Why then does this matter for the Yankees? With Bay nearly on board in Queens, the Mets are no longer an option for Johnny Damon, and the free agent’s choices are slowly dwindling. My money is still on a Bronx return for Johnny but on the Yanks’ terms.

The greatness of Mariano

We don’t need numbers to know that Mariano Rivera is in a class by himself. We see it every season, every month, every game, every save. We see it as that cutter darts in and out to hitters, as another bat shatters, as another game ends at the hands of the Sandman. But, hey, the numbers look pretty amazing by themselves.

This morning on Twitter, a few baseball analysts found themselves tossing out some Mariano Rivera numbers, and since more people will read this article in the next hour than will see most of those Twitter posts, let’s delve in. Colin Wyers of The Hardball Times started things off with a note on relievers. Over the last 15 seasons, the average pitcher would, he said, “typically convert 70% of 1-run saves, 86% of 2-run saves and 94% of 3-run saves.” Overall, based on the frequency of each type of save, Wyers found that an average pitcher saves 82 percent of all games.

Cork Gains from Rays Index jumped into the fray as well. His number is simply awe-inspiring. Rivera has converted all nine of the save situations in which he enters the game with the tying run on base. The average closer converts in that situation 55 percent; the average reliever escapes with the lead just 22 percent of the time.

On the one hand, these numbers underscore how many overvalue relievers. If an average pitcher can save 94 percent of all three-run games, what is the incremental win value of adding a pitcher who can save 96 percent? 98 percent? Unless that pitcher is the best of the best when it comes to closing, a team will be paying far too much for far too little.

Sky Kalkman, an unabashed Mariano Rivera lover, picked on this thread. Since inheriting the closer role in 1997, Rivera has averaged 40 saves and 4.5 blown saves. The average reliever over that span would have 36.5 saves and eight blown saves. Over the last five seasons, Mo has been even better, averaging 38 saves and just 2.8 blown saves. The average reliever would have 33.5 saves and around seven or eight blown games.

In terms of wins, Kalkman estimates Mariano’s numbers at 3.25 wins above average and around 4.25 wins above replacement over the last half decade. He knocks that down a tad based on the belief that the Yanks would win some of those games blown by the average reliever. At Baseball Projection, Sean Smith offers up a similar take. Mariano Rivera’s career WAR is 49.9, and his average WAR over the last five years is 3.36.

So where does that leave Rivera? On Smith’s all-time pitcher WAR list, Mo is 76th overall with only a bunch of Hall of Fame starters in front of him. Other than Dennis Eckersley, a hybrid starter/reliever, Rivera is the highest ranked relief-only pitcher on the list. He truly is in a class by himself.

In a way, as I said before, we know all of this because we see it. But in another way, it helps underscore why Yankee fans are so obsessed with The Eighth Inning. At some point, Mariano Rivera will retire. He turned 40 a month ago and won’t be able to keep this up forever. Then, the Yankees will began the long process of replacing an all-time great. Maybe that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes. Maybe it will fall on some other young stud pitcher asked to don the mantle of Mariano. It will not be easy, and we shouldn’t expect greatness from Rivera’s heir.

In the end, I’m going to do what I always do. I’m going to sit back, watch and love Mariano Rivera for what he brings to the table every day. His greatness as a one-pitch, three-out pitcher who just gets the job done may never be surpassed, and we shouldn’t expect it from the next Yankee closer whoever that might be and whenever he inherits the job.

Could a ‘tight’ 2010 budget lead to wild spending in 2011?

In case you haven’t heard Brian Cashman say it often enough, the Yankees have a budget this season. He hasn’t revealed the exact number, though context clues have most pegging it at roughly $200 million. That leaves very little wiggle room this off-season, meaning we can forget about any more big names. It strikes me as odd, though, that the Yankees plan to hold back this off-season. There has to be some big picture aspect to this restraint, right?

Cashman has made clear his admiration of the 2010-2011 free agent class, noting its superiority over this year’s market. Consistent with that, the Yankees have signed just one free agent, and for a reasonable $5.75 million, one-year contract. They might add another, but expect that price to be even lower. In other words, the Yankees have used this free agent class to fill out their roster. To take care of their larger concerns they have worked two trades, one of which involves a player whose contract expires after the season.

It appears that the Yankees will bide their time (“[to] the extent acquiring Granderson and Vazquez can be called biding one’s time,” says Craig) and wait for a more robust free agent market. Even then, however, signing more than one free agent would likely involve expanding payroll well above the $200 million mark. The Yankees currently have $140 million committed to nine players, and that doesn’t count Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera. Assuming they bring back both, Jeter at $20 million and Mo at $15, then they’re at $175 million for 11 players.

Almost certainly the Yankees will sign a starter, with Cliff Lee as the presumed frontrunner. That will cost $20 million or more. If Hughes and Chamberlain prove themselves in the rotation this season the Yanks could fill out the rotation relatively cheaply, but then again both pitchers will enter their first arbitration years, making them slightly more expensive. Then there’s the left field situation. Maybe Gardner proves himself this season and allows the Yankees to fill LF cheaply in 2011. But if he doesn’t, and if Jamie Hoffman doesn’t turn into Dan Uggla, the Yanks could look to Carl Crawford of Jayson Werth, costing them another $12 to $15 million per season.

So is this off-season’s budgetary restraint just a precursor to wild spending in the future? It appears possible. The Yankees have a ton of money committed to their 2011 team already, and have a few holes to fill. They obviously like the free agents on the market next year, and to make a run at more than one would mean to put the budget well over $200 million. With the way the team looks heading into this season, I quite like the idea of restraint now and wild spending later. It perfectly fits the Yanks mantra of win now, win later.

Report: Everyone too expensive for Yanks’ LF hole

As the Yankees have seemingly wrapped up their major off-season shopping list — Andy Pettitte, an outfielder, a DH and another starter — the team has found itself somewhat down an outfielder. Although content to stick Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner in center field to start the 2009 season, baseball commentators and fans in New York expect the team to find someone better to fill the left field spot this year. Maybe it’s because Johnny Damon was so good offensively in left; maybe it’s because a few big-name outfielder remain. Either way, left field looms.

Except a funny thing happened on the way to Spring Training: Everyone is too expensive for the Yanks in left. We know that the team and Johnny Damon probably could have come to terms on a two-year deal at an annual salary of less than $10 million, but Damon wanted more. We heard the Yanks were interested in Mark DeRosa, but he has nearly officially agreed to a two-year deal believed to be worth around $12million with the Giants that is too expensive for the Yanks.

Beyond Damon and DeRosa, a few other names have surfaced. The Yanks could look at Jermaine Dye, but Jon Heyman warns us that the team is not interested. He too is probably too expensive. Even Xavier Nady, a free agent recovering from his second Tommy John Surgery, is too expensive for the Yanks, according to Bryan Hoch. On the open market, Matt Holliday and, to a much lesser extent, Jason Bay loom large in left, but the Yanks have shown no interest at all in landing these two players. Plus, if Nady, Dye, Damon and DeRosa are too expensive, Holliday and Bay are off the charts.

So what’s going on here? Are the Yankees really looking to reign in their free-spending ways? Are they coming off a World Series win, their highest-rated season on the YES Network, with a tighter wallet? For now — and I stress the “for now” aspect of it — that seems to be the case. But why?

Simply put, for the Yankees, left field isn’t a priority. Fans of the Bombers may want to see multi-millionaire future Hall of Famers at every position. They may want to see the Yanks nab the best guys on the open market year after the year, but that’s now how Brian Cashman acts. He’s content to have Hall of Famers at third, short and catcher. He’s happy with his All Star first baseman and center fielder, his on-base machine DH, his slugging second baseman, his fun-loving, power-hitting right fielder. With those pieces in place and a pitching staff, one through five, that matches up on paper with the best of them, the Yankees do not need to spend on a left fielder.

That doesn’t, however, mean that they won’t get involved with the right player when the prices come down. Chris at iYankees has continually professed that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Yanks were working to sign Holliday quietly. I don’t think the team will go that far. I do, however, expect them to keep Scott Boras’ number on speed dial. As Johnny Damon finds that his services aren’t needed elsewhere, as left field spots around the league fill up, the Yanks will grab the last man standing for a deal on their terms.

In the end, if they have to go to war with Brett Gardner and Jamie Hoffmann, they can. But when someone else at the right price is playing left field in April, I certainly won’t be surprised.