Sickels’ Top 20 Yankee Prospects

Over at Minor League Ball, John Sickels posted his list of the top 20 Yankee prospects, led of course of Jesus Montero. Austin Romine, Manny Banuelos, Zach McAllister, and Slade Heathcott round out the top five, and frankly you could list those guys in any order and I wouldn’t argue it too much. Very interchangable.

I’m sorry to see Sickels has seemingly closed the book on Andrew Brackman‘s career as a starter after just 19 pro starts, but to each his own. Also, folks it’s Hoffmann, H-O-F-F-M-A-N-N. Two n’s. Spelling a guy’s name right is just a common courtesy.

Report: Marlon Byrd lands in Chicago

Via MLBTR, the Cubs have agreed to sign free agent outfielder Marlon Byrd to three freaking year deal. Joe stated his case against Byrd just last night, so it’s good to see this leftfield option come off the board. Three years, really?

Johnny Damon‘s market just got that much smaller.

Yet another Curtis Granderson interview

Scoop Jackson sat down with Curtis Granderson, the Yanks’ new centerfielder or leftfielder, depending on which side of the fence you sit on. Scoop really seems to push the “how will you handle the pressure, how will you deal with the media” crap, but C-Grizzie pretty much blows it off. Check it out, the more you read about Granderson, the more you like him.

By the Decade: Saves but not by Mo

As the decade draws to a close in just over 14 hours, we continue our Yankees By the Decade retrospective with a move beyond the offense. We start off the look at our pitchers with the easiest of the easiest. Clearly, the reliever of the decade — or the century or all time — is Mariano Rivera. The man saved 397 games for the Yanks and was simply the best.

Mo, however, wasn’t the only pitcher to record a save for the Yanks from 2000-2009. In fact, Yankee pitchers not named Mariano recorded 77 saves throughout the decade. Who were these pitchers who stole saves from Mo and what exactly were their stories? Let’s take a look.

Player Saves
Mariano Rivera 397
Steve Karsay 12
Ramiro Mendoza 10
Kyle Farnsworth 7
Tom Gordon 6
Mike Stanton 6
Juan Acevedo 6
Philip Hughes 3
Jose Veras 3
Phil Coke 2
Edwar Ramirez 2
Tanyon Sturtze 2
Jeff Weaver 2
Dwight Gooden 2
Alfredo Aceves 1
Brian Bruney 1
Joba Chamberlain 1
David Robertson 1
Chien-Ming Wang 1
Scott Proctor 1
Paul Quantrill 1
Orlando Hernandez 1
Chris Hammond 1
Dan Miceli 1
Jeff Nelson 1
Brian Boehringer 1
Todd Erdos 1
Jason Grimsley 1
Total 474

For the most part, these non-Rivera relievers who notched a save this decade were interlopers. They were the three-inning guys who protected a big lead. Take, for example, Orlando Hernandez. He pitched the final four innings of the Yanks’ 11-5 win over the Mets on June 28, 2002 for his save of the decade. Meanwhile, Chien-Ming Wang, the Yanks’ erstwhile, ace recorded a save on June 3, 2006 when he recorded two outs in the tenth on a night when Mariano Rivera was simply unavailable.

But beyond these one-off guys, the relievers called upon in unlikely situations, a handful of Yankee pitchers recorded a handful of saves. Why wasn’t Mariano available? The leader in non-Mariano saves this decade was Steve Karsay. The one-and-done set-up man who made 78 appearances in 2002 stepped in that year in late August and early September when Mo was on the shelf with a shoulder injury. Karsay had stepped in earlier that year when groin and shoulder trouble shelved the Yanks’ closer. He blew four saves, threw 88.1 innings and never pitched effectively in the Majors again.

Another trio of set-up men — Ramiro Mendoza, Kyle Fansworth and Tom Gordon — stepped in on nights when Rivera couldn’t go. Mendoza notched 10 saves combined two seasons earlier this decade, and Gordon picked up six over his two-year stint with the Yanks. Even unreliable Krazy Kyle managed to get three outs in the ninth with a Yankee lead in tact.

For many, the name Juan Acevedo may raise an eyebrow. Who was this pitcher who nailed down six saves while making just 25 appearances for the Yankees? Well, he came on the scene in 2003 with a stellar Spring Training. With Rivera out for April with a groin injury, Acevedo stepped in and was flat-out awful. He saved five games in April but ended the month with an 8.10 ERA. He picked up another save in a 17-inning affair on June 1, 2003 but found himself bound for Toronto after the Yanks released him and his 7.71 ERA.

In the end, for ten years, Mariano Rivera was simply there. He saved 397 games and blew just 40 for a 90.1 save percentage. He appeared in 651 games for the Yanks and finished 589 of them. He threw 713.1 innings and recorded 669 strike outs while walking just 137 batters all decade. His ERA+ was 214. For the Yankees and for all of baseball, he is truly the closer of the decade. In ten years, we may have to see who else gets saves for the Yankees, but this year, this decade, it’s all Mariano.

Left field closing arguments: Marlon Byrd

This is the second in our final series on what the Yankees might do with left field. Check out the original left field post for a quick primer on what we’re looking for. Yesterday we examined Reed Johnson. Today will be the final discussion for Marlon Byrd.

Did Marlon Byrd mature as a hitter during his years in Texas, or did he just take advantage of a hitter friendly ballpark? That’s the question any interested team will have to answer. It’s also one we cannot answer with certainty until we see Byrd in new digs. This is the main reason I want to see the Yankees stay away from him.

It is uncommon for a player to suddenly start hitting for power at age 29. It certainly can happen, and it has happened, but when it does it’s unexpected. While power is said to be the last tool to develop, it usually doesn’t take eight professional seasons to do so. But that’s the case for Byrd, who was drafted in 1999 and who first broke a .450 SLG in 2007. Since that power surge coincided with his move to Texas, we can view it with a skeptical eye. Rangers Ballpark at Arlington is, after all, one of the most hitter friendly parks in the majors.

Byrd spent his first full major league season, 2003, with the Phillies, hitting .303/.366/.418 over 553 plate appearances. That’s an excellent line, especially for a 25-year-old center fielder. The next year, however, wouldn’t be nearly as good. Byrd could not sustain his .363 BABIP, and saw his numbers fall to .228/.287/.321in 378 plate appearances. The Phillies optioned him to AAA Scranton in mid-June, but he didn’t show much improvement. From August 1, his recall date, through the end of the season he basically remained the same.

In 2005 the Nationals traded Endy Chavez for Byrd, and saw middling results: a .318 OBP and .380 SLG in 244 PA in 2005, and a .317 OBP and .350 SLG in 228 PA in 2006. The Nats released him after the season, and he signed on with Texas. That’s when his numbers started to surge.

At first it seemed like a 2003 repeat. Byrd hit .307/.355/.459 in 454 PA for the Rangers in 2007, but had a .370 BABIP. But instead of crashing down to earth, as he did in 2004, Byrd followed up his 2007 campaign with a career year in 2008. He hit .298/.380/.462 in 462 PA, increasing his ISO from .152 to .164, and raising his walk rate from 6.5 to 10.2 percent. At the same time, his BABIP fell to .332. That earned him a more regular playing time in 2009.

While his BABIP fell yet again, this time to .315, Byrd again turned in a quality season. His OBP was a bit low, .329, mostly because he nearly halved his walk rate. But his ISO once again jumped, this time to .196, by far a career high. He hit 20 home runs, doubling his previous career high, and hit 43 doubles, also a career high by 15. That he did it over 599 PA makes it even more impressive.

All the while, Byrd has seemingly played good defense. As with most players his UZR fluctuates, but over his career he’s a 0.0 UZR center fielder and a positive in the corners. That’s a major consideration for the Yankees. They might also like his platoon splits, which are almost nonexistent. Over his career he’s about even against lefties and righties — though in 2009 he actually had a reverse split.

Still, that his power surge came in Texas should raise concern in his ability to do it in other ballparks. Yankee Stadium typically suppresses right handed power, which would offset Byrd’s greatest strength, his rising power numbers. Byrd also isn’t the first center fielder who saw a power surge in Texas. Gary Matthews Jr. posted an ISO of over .180 in each of his three years in Texas, a mark he hadn’t come close to previously, and one which he hasn’t approached in Los Angeles. Unsurprisingly, he played the same seasons — age 29, 30, and 31 — in Texas as Byrd.

In his mailbag yesterday ESPN’s Buster Olney described Byrd as “the pre-eminent outfield target” on the free agent market. He won’t get a Matthews type deal, but there could be a team — say, the Cubs — who will pay him more than other teams are willing. That’s why I don’t expect the Yankees to get involved. At this point there is no reason to give a player like Byrd more than one year, and if really is the “preeminent” outfielder still available, he’ll probably get at least two. That just doesn’t fit with what the Yanks have done so far this off-season.

So now, whenever a rumor surfaces involving Byrd and the Yankees, we can refer back to this post and its comments. Have your final say now.

Photo credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America

Open Thread: The other side of the lake

A reader sent this in over the weekend. It’s a free movie about the National High School Championship in Japan, which couldn’t come at a better time given tonight’s lack of entertainment. The Rangers, Devils, Knicks, and Nets are in action (the latter against each other), so check that out after watching the above flick. Enjoy the open thread.

Why it’s not a good idea to bet on the Yankees

If you were to bet $100 on one team, every game for the past decade, who do you think would have paid out the most? Since the Yankees had the decade’s best winning percentage, they’re an easy first choice. Yet they’re not even close. In fact, they’re one of the worst teams to bet on. You can thank the oddsmakers for that. If you’d bet $100 on every Yanks game this decade, you’d have lost $5,233. Mets bettors would have fared worse, losing $6,151.

Covers.com notes the best and worst bets of the decade in each sport, and the worst bet in the majors might come as a surprise. It actually has me wondering what is more cursed: the Cubs franchise or the Cubs bettors. Had you bet $100 on every game of theirs this decade, you would have lost $16,276. The winners, apparently, bet on the Angels. Anyone who bet $100 on each of their games would have won $10,888. The Marlins, Twins, A’s, Giants, Cardinals, and Rangers also finished in the positive.

All of this illustrates exactly why I don’t bet on baseball.