World Series Preview: Phillies Starters

We’ve previewed the Yankees along with their opponents through the ALDS and ALCS. Instead of re-re-rehashing all of that, we’re going to stick with just the opponents this time.

The Phillies haven’t officially announced their full World Series rotation yet, but they have said that trade deadline pickup Cliff Lee will get the ball in Game One. Earlier today Jon Heyman said the team is leaning towards starting Pedro Martinez in Game Two and Cole Hamels in Game Three, before bringing Lee back on short rest in Games Four and Seven. That leaves Games Five and Six still up in the air.

As a team, the Philadelphia starters have put up a 3.11 ERA (3.69 FIP) this postseason, second only to Yanks. Their 6.71 K/9 in October mirrors their 6.87 regular season mark, however they’ve excelled at avoiding the free pass (1.47 BB/9) despite throwing 4.09 pitches per batter, well above the Major League average of 3.80. The Phillies’ rotation has certainly gotten the job done this postseason, so let’s meet the cast of characters.

Cliff Lee
The 2009 edition of the World Series really couldn’t start with a better pitching matchup. You’ve got the last two American League Cy Young Award winners, two former Cleveland Indians that have since moved on to greener pastures. Unlike CC Sabathia, who’s career progressed year after year in textbook fashion, Lee has had his ups and downs. While Sabathia was busy winning the Cy in 2007, Lee was struggling so badly that he was sent back to the minors.

However, Lee has been as good as any pitcher in baseball the last two years, and 75% of that time was spent in the big boy league. In his three postseason starts (the first three of his career), Lee’s recorded 73 of 81 possible outs, and put just 17 runners on base. As good as Sabathia has been in his three postseason starts, Cliff Lee’s actually been better. Of course, Sabathia didn’t get to pitch in the AAAA League, but you can only pitch against the competition you’re scheduled to face.

If you want a reason to be optimistic, then you should know that some of the Yankee regulars have really, really good numbers against Lee in their careers. Derek Jeter‘s hit .407-.467-.519 in his career off Lee, Mark Teixeira .391-.462-.696, A-Rod .333-.450-.733, Jorge Posada .286-.273-.667, and Nick Swisher .333-.458-.444. These aren’t the biggest of sample sizes (all around 25 at-bats), but it’s what we got.

Pedro Martinez
Pedro is certainly no stranger to the Yankees, and vice versa. Now, this obviously isn’t the same Pedro Martinez that tore apart baseball a decade ago, but he’s still been effective for the Phillies. His strong, but abbreviated, regular season was propped up by an unsustainably high 83.7% strand rate (league average is 71.9%), something a patient and powerful team like the Yankees could correct in a hurry.

In his one playoff start, Pedro held the Dodgers to just two hits and zero runs in seven innings, but got just four swinging strikes out of 87 pitches. He’s a contact pitcher with extreme fly-ball tendencies (0.67 GB/FB), and again, that plays right into the Yankees’ strengths.

As a Yankee fan, I hope and pray we see Pedro start Game Two of the World Series. Not because I want to chant “Who’s Your Daddy?” or anything like that, but because he’s probably the least equipped member of the Phightin’s rotation to combat the Yankees.

Cole Hamels
Last year’s Philadelphia playoff hero suffered through a down season in 2009, but upon further inspection, you can see that his performance really didn’t drop off all that much. Check it out:

2008 2009
K/9 7.76 7.81
BB/9 2.10 2.00
HR/9 1.11 1.12
GB/FB 1.02 1.04
Contact Rate 76.9% 75.2%
1st Pitch Strikes 61.6% 60.7%
FIP 3.72 3.72
tRA 4.63 4.51

Well look at that, everything’s practically identical!

So why was Hamels’ ERA nearly a run and a quarter higher this year than last? Well, most of it has to do with a unluckiness. His BABIP was 55 pts higher this year, and he stranded about 4% fewer runners as well. More balls dropping in means more runs cross the plate, it’s that simple. The Phillies as a team went from a +14.8 UZR/150 to just +5.8 this year, so Hamels was working with a lesser defense. The peripherals indicate that the lefty from San Diego who was drafted one spot after Nick Swisher in 2002 is still a world class pitcher.

After all that, why does it appear that the Phillies will push Hamels back to Game Three instead of getting him out there as early as possible? Well, Hamels was considerably worse on the road this year, so they probably want him pitching in the comfort of home. Just check out the splits. At home he’s Yovani Gallardo, on the road he’s Mike Pelfrey.

Hamels has made three starts already this postseason, one against Colorado and two against the Dodgers. Opponents have tagged him for a .328-.344-.672 batting line in 14.2 IP, and the damage is pretty spread out. It’s not like one clunker did him in. Ironically enough, the best of those three starts came on the road. Go figure.

Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ
Both Blanton and Happ have made one start each for the Phillies this postseason; Blanton was on the hook for the loss in Game Four of the NLCS until Jimmy Rollins walked off, and Happ lasted just three innings in Game Three of the NLDS. Blanton’s made a pair of long relief appearances this postseason, and Happ’s done the LOOGY thing a few times.

Blanton, Swisher’s roommate in Oakland, has made four starts against the Bombers over the years, and they pretty much owned him: 20 runs in 22 IP and an .814 OPS against. Happ made one start in the Bronx earlier this year, holding the Matsui and Posada-less Yanks to two runs over six innings. Unless he’s needed in long relief at some point early in the series, I suspect Blanton would get a World Series start if needed. Happ hasn’t thrown more than 76 pitches in a month, and he just might not be physically up to making a start in the playoffs.

Outside of Cliff Lee, the Phillies don’t have a pitcher that they can count on for a quality start. None of the above guys feature above average velocity, and it’s been proven time and time again that power pitching wins in the playoffs. Sure, Hamels has a chance to be great, but he’s been mediocre in the playoffs and can’t be expected to shut down the best offense in the majors.

Pettitte: ‘I wasn’t real happy with the contract’

This probably comes as little surprise to Yankee fans, but Andy Pettitte, in an interview with the L.A. Times today expressed his displeasure with the way his off-season negotiations with the Yankees ended up last winter. The veteran lefty made it clear that he wanted to return to the Yanks, but Brian Cashman and the New York brass, concerned about Pettitte’s shoulder strength, offered him a low base salary with high incentives. Although Pettitte stands to earn nearly $10 million total this year, he felt slighted by the Yanks over the winter. He is, however, over it. “I think everybody knows I wasn’t real happy with the contract,” Pettitte said. “But I wanted to take it and come back here and have a chance to do this. It’s nice to have things work out the way you think they’re going to work out. This is what I was kind of hoping for.”

The Yankees and Pettitte will probably engage in a similar dance this off-season but with a few different assumptions. Pettitte has certainly earned himself a higher base salary for 2010, and I’m sure the Yankees will keep the door open for Number 46 if he wants to return. I wonder, though, if Pettitte might retire if the Yankees win the World Series. Five rings fills up a hand.

RAB on the radio

I’m going to be on The Sports Show Live with Joey H. tonight at 9:30pm ET, talking about the Yanks and the World Series and all that fun stuff. Click here to listen in.

Open Thread: Who have been the most valuable Yankees? (Part III)

A third of the way through the season, I took at look at which players were contributing the most the Yankees in terms of wins over replacement, or WAR. We’ve been using that stat for a while, so I’m sure you’ve all seen it. It encompasses offense and defense relative to position, so it’s usefulness is apparent.

Two-thirds of the way through the season I checked back in, and found that for the most part, there wasn’t much movement up top. Now that the regular season is over, let’s take a look one more time at which players were most valuable to the team in 2009. First, the pitchers:

Top Five Pitchers

  1. CC Sabathia, 6.0 WAR
  2. Andy Pettitte, 3.3
  3. AJ Burnett, 3.1
  4. Phil Hughes, 2.2
  5. Mariano Rivera, 2.0

For comparison’s sake, Zack Greinke was far and away the most valuable pitcher in baseball this year at 9.4 WAR (Justin Verlander and Tim Lincecum tied for second at 8.2 WAR). The last time a pitcher was that dominant was 2004, when Randy Johnson picked up 9.9 WAR. It’s pretty amazing to think that Phil Hughes was more valuable than Mo this year, though Phil did get a boost from his half-dozen starts. Joba Chamberlain (1.5) and Al Aceves (1.2) were the only other pitchers in the staff worth over a win. You can see the team’s full leaderboard here.

As a whole, the Yankee pitching staff was worth a total of 18.6 WAR, good for fifth best in the AL.

Top Five Position Players

  1. Derek Jeter, 7.4 WAR
  2. Mark Teixeira, 5.2
  3. Alex Rodriguez, 4.6
  4. Robinson Cano, 4.3
  5. Jorge Posada, 4.0

The most valuable position player in the game this year was … wait for it … Ben Zobrist at 8.5 WAR. Albert Pujols was right behind him (8.4), and Joe Mauer behind him (8.2). Those three plus Chase Utley were the only players in baseball this year more valuable than the Cap’n. Nick Swisher wasn’t too far behind Posada at 3.7 WAR, but after that it dropped off a bit. Here’s the team leaderboard.

Yankee position players were far and away the most valuable in the league this year, clocking in at a collective 38.3 WAR. Tampa Bay was second at 34.1, and no other team cracked the 30 WAR plateau. That’s domination, homes.

* * *

Here’s your open thread for the evening. The Eagles and Redskins are your Monday night game, and you’ve also got the Rangers and Islanders in action in separate contests as well. Feel free to talk about whatever you like, just make sure you follow the guidelines and be cool to each other.

Oh, and there’s not going to be a DotF tonight. Surprise plays the late game, so I’m going to just recap it tomorrow with tomorrow’s game. If you must know what happened, here’s the league scoreboard.

Yanks met with Chapman during Game Six

While the current Yankees were busy clinching a trip to the World Series last night, a potential future Yankee was busy meeting with GM Brian Cashman and several club officials. Cuban southpaw Aroldis Chapman attended Game Six as a fan (and as a “guest of the team“), and apparently at some point sat down with the braintrust and had what Jorge Arangure called “good conversations.” For what it’s worth, Chapman has already spoken to the Mets at CitiField.

Now that Yusei Kikuchi is staying in Japan, Chapman is easily the most coveted amateur player in the world. Speculation is that he’ll get $40-60MM, but I bet he “settles” for closer to $20M. Signing a completely unproven pitcher to that kind of cash could be career suicide.

Yanks take ratings cake locally and nationally as Senators bet on cheese

Around America, Sunday night is generally reserved for football. So it was with a little trepidation that FOX aired Game 6 of the ALCS up against a popular New York Giants/Arizona Cardinals game. Although were a disappointment in New Jersey, the ALCS was not. Nationally, the game drew in an 11.4 rating with a 18 share while the NFL contest drew a 10.4 in a 16 share. In New York, nearly 40 percent of all TVs in use on Sunday night were tuned to the Yankee game. That’s popularity, and you can bet that ESPN is awfully happy not to have to air Monday Night Football against a Game 7 tonight.

Meanwhile, in other World Series-related news, New York’s Senate representatives have bet with Pennsylvania’s Senators over the outcome of the World Series. At stake is, as David M. Herszenhorn reports, some cheese. If the Yankees win the Series, Bob Casey and Arlen Specter will send some Philly cheesesteaks New York’s way, and if the Phillies win, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand will ship some New York cheesecake to Philadelphia. Here’s to some cheesesteaks for the Senators from the great state of New York.

Rethinking Santana and Sabathia, again

In the winter of 2007-2008, when River Ave. Blues was still in its blog infancy, the hot topic of the Hot Stove League was Johan Santana. The Twins were gearing up to trade their lefty ace, and the Yankees were deeply involved in the negotiations.

As the winter dragged on, we staked out a position deemed extreme by many — but not Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman. “Save the Big Three,” we proclaimed, as it became clear that any Johan Santana deal would probably include some combination of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy along with other top prospects or Major League contributors. The money, we argued, would be better spent on CC Sabathia a year later when the big man hit free agency. Plus, we reasoned, the Yanks wouldn’t have to pay twice for CC, first in prospects and then in dollars, as they would for Santana.

When all was said and done that winter, our position held the day, but it was not without controversy. Throughout 2008 and even into 2009, a debate raged among Yankee fans over that non-trade, and when the Yanks missed the playoffs in 2008 for the first time since 1994, Cashman and the anti-trade faction received its fair share of criticism.

Yet, last winter, the pieces fell into place. The Yanks landed CC Sabathia, and this year, that signing has paid off in a big way. CC took home MVP honors after the ALCS, and after posting tremendous numbers this season, Sabathia has powered his way through three playoff starts. It’s been wine and roses for the Yanks and CC this year.

With the Yanks gearing up to face the Phillies in the World Series, let’s take a look at how those pieces from the Santana trade are doing. I’m going to assume that the most popular iteration of the trade — Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Melky Cabrera for Johan Santana — would have gotten the deal done. The Yanks probably would have thrown in a fourth lesser prospect as well.

Phil Hughes
Still just 23 years old, Hughes has been one of the most heralded young arms in recent Yankee history. He made his debut in 2007 and threw admirably as one of the youngest starters in the league. His 2008, however, was a complete wash. He started the season 0-4 with an ERA of 9.00 and then missed May, June, July and August with a variety of injuries. By the end of 2008, Yankee fans were wondering about the hype, and many rued not trading Hughes when his stock was high.

This year, though, has been an utter revelation for Yankee fans and Phil Hughes. He made a few spot starts in place of Chien-Ming Wang and flashed some decent stuff, but the youngster really came into his own upon moving into the bullpen. As the 8th inning bridge to Mariano, Hughes went 5-1 with a 1.44 ERA in 44 games. In 51.1 innings, he walked just 13 and struck out 65. He put up a 22.7 RAR and a 2.2 WAR out of the bullpen, and without Hughes in the 8th, the Yanks’ season would have played out much differently.

Melky Cabrera
For Melky, 2008 was a setback. He was the subject of many trade rumors and didn’t play well at all. He hit .249/.301/.341 and lost his starting job to Brett Gardner by early August. This year, though, with increased competition from Gardner, Melky responded in turn. Although he faded a bit down the stretch, Melky hit .274/.336/.416 with a career-best in home runs (13), doubles (28) and OPS+ (97). In the ALCS, he went 9 for 23 with four RBI and three walks. At 25, Melky has 2148 Major League plate appearances under his belt and could yet turn into an adequate offensive outfielder.

Ian Kennedy
Similar to Hughes, Kennedy had a terrible 2008. He also went 0-4 with a gaudy 8.17 ERA and found himself demoted after not pitching poorly. To make matters worse, he flashed an attitude unappreciated by many in New York. This year, he had a strong start at AAA but came down with an aneurysm in his arm. He made a triumphant return to the Majors and threw an inning against Anaheim in mid-September. He is currently throwing in the Arizona Fall League where he has allowed five earned runs in 11.1 innings but has a 13:1 K:BB ratio. He will probably factor into the Yanks’ 2010 plans.

Johan Santana
The centerpiece of the deal landed in New York after all but in Queens and not the Bronx. He has been a bright spot amidst a dismal Mets team. With the Mets, he has gone 29-16 in 59 starts. He has a 2.79 ERA in the NL and has struck 352 while walking 109 in 401 innings. His K/9 IP in the NL is 1.6 strike outs lower than it was in the AL. This season, his velocity started trending downward, and he missed the final six weeks of the season after undergoing surgery to remove bone chips in his arm. The Mets still owe him at least $98.5 million over the next four seasons or $118 million over five.

Late last week, Cashman spoke with John Harper of the Daily News about this very topic. “When we added David Cone from Toronto,” Cashman said “we were a piece away at the time. But when Santana became available, in my opinion we weren’t a piece away yet. So I told ownership, ‘Listen, six months really isn’t a long time to wait – though it turned out to be a long time for me, to be honest – and if we can have the patience and discipline, I can’t guarantee you we’ll be able to get Sabathia, but think about what our organization will look like if we can add him and keep these other assets.'”

And so today, those assets are still in place. The Yankees are playing the World Series with CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera primed to contribute. Although Ian Kennedy hasn’t yet been what we expected and Melky has hit some development roadblocks over the last few years, the Yankees are right where they expected to be when Cashman turned down the Santana offer. I certainly think it’s worked out nicely for them. Do you?