Halladay out of the AL East a temporary relief

Over the past four seasons, Roy Halladay has started 18 games against the Yankees, including 12 over the past two. In those 124 innings he’s struck out 84 Yankees and walked just 20, allowing 13 home runs and 38 runs, 34 earned, overall. That gives him an ERA of 2.47 and a FIP of 3.69, against his four-year rates of a 3.11 ERA and 3.26 FIP. Clearly, the Yankees are glad to have Halladay out of the division. His numbers, however, appear to be a bit out of line.

Photo credit: AP/Bill Kostroun)

The Yankees have scored more runs than any other team in the AL over the past four years, leading the league three times. How is it, then, that Halladay has performed better against them than he has against the rest of the league? The difference is quite large, over a half run per nine innings. Over the same, admittedly small, 124-inning sample, he would have allowed 43 runs to the rest of the league, and keeping with the same earned-to-unearned run ratio he would have allowed 48.

The easy, abstract narrative is that Halladay rises to the occasion. When facing the Orioles and the Royals he’s merely among the league’s best pitchers. When facing the very best offensive team in the American League, Halladay turns into something greater, a man without peer. Or, if we want to turn the narrative to the Yankees’ hitters, we can say that they beat up on weak pitchers, but show their true colors when facing the best. Either way, there’s not much evidence to substantiate such claims.

The Red Sox have sported formidable lineups over the past four years, and have contended with the Yankees in each season. They haven’t scored quite as many runs, but they’re still near the top. As against the Yankees, Halladay started 18 games against the Red Sox, and lasted two more innings. Yet his ERA, 3.64, and FIP, 4.12, are substantially higher — not only higher than the Yankees, but higher than his performance against the league. That distribution makes sense. While Halladay ranks among the best, he still probably faces more trouble from better teams. But still, not the Yankees.

The claim of the Yankees faltering against stronger competition is true, but it’s no more true for the Yankees than with any other team. Again, we expect that they’ll beat up on the weaker competition and struggle against the stronger. As we saw in the 2009 breakdowns, the Yankees fare all over the place against the league’s best pitchers. We also know that these performances come in small samples, and can fluctuate greatly from year to year. For instances, we saw Jon Lester absolutely dominate the Yankees in 2008 before they tattooed him in 2009.

That’s not to say that neither of those factors play into the results we’ve seen. Maybe Halladay does come into starts against the Yankees a bit more focussed than normal. Maybe the Yankees are a bit intimidated by him and take swing of a slightly lesser quality. Combine that with the low predictive value of short sample size numbers, and it’s not as difficult to understand why the Yankees performed worse against Halladay.

Another consideration lies in the FIP/ERA discrepancies. There’s an enormous gap when Halladay faces the Yankees, about 1.22 runs. Over the much larger four-year sample, 7.5 times larger than the one against the Yankees, Halladay’s ERA and FIP are separated by just 0.25 runs. As Halladay pitches more and more innings against the Yankees, I’d expect that discrepancy to lessen, moving Halladay’s numbers against the Yankees more in line with his career, or at least recent, rates — perhaps even higher, because of the Yankees’ potent offense. Similarly, I’d expect his numbers against the Red Sox to fall, though perhaps not all the way to his recent rates because, again, the Sox sport a better than average offense.

The good news for the Yankees is that they’ll be facing pitchers of a lesser quality than Halladay in 2010. As Kevin Long said, “It became a joke. Sometimes it felt as if he was out there on one day’s rest just to face us.” Chances are the Blue Jays won’t deliberately line up Halladay’s replacement to pitch against the Yankees whenever possible. Instead, the workload will be spread normally across the entire rotation. It means more of lesser pitchers, and it should improve the Yankees’ performance against the Blue Jays in 2010.

From Toronto’s view, however, that’s just fine. They made the trade knowing what they were giving up when facing the best of the AL East. The idea, so they hope, is to eventually replace Halladay with Kyle Drabek while upgrading the rest of their rotation, while improving their offense with Brett Wallace. The balance of power might shift a few years down the road, but for 2010 the Yankees should see something of an improvement against the Jays.

Open Thread: Spring Training TV Schedule

Yearning for some Yankees baseball? I know I am, so you can imagine how excited I was when I headed over to the official site earlier today, only to found out the TV schedule for Spring Training games had been released. 15 of the 32 games are being televised, far more than I remember them showing in the past. All but three home games will be on the tube. But hey, I’m not complaining.

Here’s the list of televised games. All times are Eastern and all games are on YES unless otherwise noted…

Wednesday, March 3rd: 1:05pm vs. Pirates (Spring Opener)
Friday, March 5th: 1:05pm vs. Rays
Saturday, March 6th: 1:05pm vs. Blue Jays (My9)
Monday, March 8th: 1:05pm vs. Phillies (split squad)
Tuesday, March 9th: 1:05pm vs. Pirates
Thursday, March 11th: 7:05pm vs. Braves
Saturday, March 13th: 1:05pm vs. Orioles (split squad) (My9)
Thursday, March 18th: 7:05pm vs. Rays
Friday, March 19th: 1:05pm vs. Tigers (split squad)
Sunday, March 21st: 1:05pm vs. Tigers
Monday, March 22nd: 1:05pm @ Phillies (YES/ESPN)
Sunday, March 28th: 1:05pm vs. Tigers
Tuesday, March 30th: 7:05pm vs. Blue Jays (split squad)
Wednesday, March 31st: 1:05pm vs. Twins (YES/ESPN)
Friday, April 2nd: 1:05pm vs. Orioles (YES/ESPN)

So right off the bat, three of the Yanks’ first four spring games are on TV. That’s awesome. All but one of the broadcasted games is a home game, which makes sense since I’m sure they don’t want to lug the YES cameras around and stuff. Even the one away game is against the Phillies in Clearwater, a half-hour away.

That April 2nd game is their last one of the exhibition season, but the Yanks will play their prospects in the Future Stars Game the next day. Apparently that won’t be on TV, and I’d like the know why not. The next day, the Yanks will be in Boston for Opening Day. Oh boy, baseball’s almost here.

Here’s tonight’s open thread. The Nets are playing, and the highlight of the Olympics is USA facing Canada in hockey, which you can watch on 7pm ET on MSNBC . Enjoy.

Meet the new Boss, not nearly the same as the old Boss

In what has become something of a Yankee Spring Training rite of passage these days, Hall Steinbrenner met with manager Joe Girardi yesterday, and the meeting was a very quite and cordial one. As Bryan Hoch reports, Hal didn’t stop to say much to the media and simply stopped by to talk to his manager. Then, he left. “When Hal comes down, the conversations are very meaningful. They’re right to the point and we talk a lot of baseball. It’s great,” Girardi said. “I feel like we’re always on the same page. He’s very open. The conversations are usually very constructive.”

The media still picks up these stories because, even though George has been out of the picture for a while now, it’s such a radical change from the way the Yanks operated from the early 1970s through the mid-2000s. Hal lets his baseball people run baseball ops and his business people run the business side of the franchise. He doesn’t overstep his bounds, and his employees don’t manage or play with the threat of the Boss looming over them. It is no coincidence that the team has improved as George has ceded power. The Yankee U, meanwhile, today pondered whether or not the Steinbrenner family would sell the team after George passes and if it would matter — interesting questions, indeed.

What the Good Book says: Yankee pitchers

With the arrival of Baseball Prospectus 2010 at my doorstep on Friday, I spent some time yesterday look at the Yankee hitters and how PECOTA projects them to perform this season. While these are rough estimates of the team’s performance, they’re indicative of the trends many experts expect to see emerge from the Bronx.

After highlighting the Yanks’ offense yesterday, I’m going to look at the pitchers today. For the starters, I’ll present W-L, IP, K, BB, ERA and SIERA projections. For more on SIERA, read through the five-part explanation at BP or Joe’s introduction from the 17th. Let’s dive in.

CC Sabathia — 15-10, 219 IP, 183 K, 55 BB, 3.66 ERA, 3.58 SIERA
As expected, the Baseball Prospectus experts highlight Sabathia’s workload. He’s a horse who “works deep into games.” He has “handled it before and seems a safe bet to do again.” He’s projected to start 32 games this year, and his win-total projections seem to be a handful on the low side. I’d expect nothing but a good season from CC this year.

A.J. Burnett — 11-11, 193 IP, 175 K, 81 BB, 4.57 ERA, 3.85 SIERA
PECOTA is always bearish on pitchers, and Burnett’s line here is no exception. If the Yanks’ second starter is pitching to a .500 record and a 4.57 ERA, the team might be in trouble. BP calls “the biggest triumph of his season” the fact that he stayed healthy and focuses on the disparities between what we call Good A.J. and Bad A.J. Depending upon how one characterizes it, Good A.J.’s ERA is more than five runs per game lower than Bad A.J.’s. He’ll probably soon be greatly overpaid.

Andy Pettitte — 10-11, 180 IP, 116 K, 64 BB, 4.70 ERA, 4.58 SIERA
BP’s final sentence on Andy Pettitte sums up my expectations for Andy’s 2010 campaign. “Pettitte seems a safe bet to give the Yankees another year of solid if unspectacular keep-’em-in-the-game pitching.” He’ll turn 38 this year, and his velocity has begun to dip as any 38 year old pitcher’s does. I always wonder if this is the year that age and a cranky elbow keep Pettitte down, but the Yanks have the depth to weather that happening.

Javier Vazquez — 14-11, 203 IP, 180 K, 54 BB, 3.85 ERA, 3.47 SIERA
I have him listed as the Yanks’ fourth starter, but if he duplicates his PECOTA projection, he would be in line to serve as the Yanks’ second starter this season. BP predicts an uptick in home runs allowed, but he’s a good bet for a lot of innings and a good number of strike outs. As BP says, at the price it cost the Yanks to land him, his return to the AL was a risk “very much worth taking.”

Joba Chamberlain — 9-10, 159 IP, 150 K, 67 BB, 4.45 ERA, 3.75 SIERA
When it comes to Joba Chamberlain, whoever wrote BP’s capsule reviews did not mince words. “What a mess,” they say. “It’s possible that no pitcher in the history of baseball has suffered through as many team-inflicted head games as Chamerlain has.” As I wrote on Friday, I find that to be a load of poppycock. It’s the media’s fault, although the Yanks shoulder some of the blame. BP expects Joba to wind up in bullpen with the arrival of Javier Vazquez, but someone has to hold down the fifth starter job. It’s Joba’s to lose.

Phil Hughes — 7-5, 103 IP, 90 K, 41 BB, 4.07 ERA, 3.90 SIERA
PECOTA has a problem with young pitchers who don’t have a long record of Major League pitching and have been wildly inconsistent. The system projects just 19 starts and 34 appearances for Hughes, but unless he gets injured or the Yanks pigeonhole him into the bullpen, he’ll far exceed 103 innings this year. The Yanks need Hughes to be more than a one-inning pitcher at this point in his career, and where he ends up out of Spring Training is anyone’s guess.

Mariano Rivera — 4-3, 57 IP, 54 K, 15 BB, 3.53 ERA, 3.19 SIERA
When it comes to Mariano Rivera and PECOTA, I just sit back and laugh. The Good Book has him pegged for 22 saves in 58 games. Rivera’s career low in saves is 28, and the BP Experts freely admit the problematic projection. In the past, they have termed Rivera to be “otherworldy,” and they note that he has “shut down everyone else, so why not Father Time?” At some point, he’ll decline or he’ll just retire. That point probably won’t be now.

Beyond those pitchers, it’s not really worth delving into the projections. BP likes Damaso Marte‘s chances for a rebound year and David Robertson‘s role as a potential set-up guy while PECOTA is cool on departed Yankees Phil Coke and Brian Bruney or Chien-Ming Wang‘s chances of recovery. The bullpen remains a bit volatile for now, but that’s the way the Yankees like it. They have enough young arms to plug the gap.

I personally have never been too in love with the way PECOTA projects pitchers across the board. The system seems to consistently underproject the top starters, and I’m not just saying that because the Yanks’ pitching numbers aren’t as stellar as we would like to be. There’s a certain volatility in projecting pitchers because they can be so injury-prone and much of what they do depends upon the defense behind him. Still, this is food for thought on a Sunday afternoon in February.

On Jeter and his improved defense

One week after profiling Jesus Montero and his work to improve his defense, Anthony McCarron did the same with Yankees’ captain Derek Jeter. After the infamous dinner with Brian Cashman, Jeter began working out with Jason Riley at The Athletes Compound, about 30 miles from Jeter’s Tampa home. They worked specifically on his range and quickness, because evaluators still considered his hands and arm to be elite. The result: Jeter’s UZR improved by almost 15 runs from 2007-2008, then another seven from 2008-2009.

The whole article is a must read, but the most interesting part was when Riley indicated that Jeter “had a commitment to play 8-to-10 more years, maybe not all at shortstop, but he wants to play that long.” That was prior to the 2008 season, which still means Jeter plans to be playing at age 41 or so. Whether or not Riley was speaking hyperbolically remains to be seen, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Happy Birthday to us!

Hard to believe it’s been this long already, but RAB turned three years old on Saturday.  We share a birthday with Yankee farmhand Jason Hirsh, former Yankee cult hero Shane Spencer, former Yankee draft pick Donzell McDonald, Livan Hernandez, and some kid named Verlander.

A big thanks goes out to your guys, our readers. You make it all worth it, and RAB wouldn’t be where it is without you. The last year in particular has been overwhelming. Ben, Joe, and myself are all stunned by how much the site has grown in that time. Of course, when the team we cover wins the World Series, the positive vibe tends to trickle down. It was a great year all around in Yankeeland, and we’re looking forward to doing it again in 2010.

Open Thread: An Ace In Action

CC Sabathia threw his first bullpen of the 2010 campaign today, tossing 35 pitches off one of the Tampa mounds to Jorge Posada. After a career high 266.1 IP last season, Sabathia took a grand total of three weeks off this winter before he started throwing again. “I can’t take too much time off or my arm just gets in a funk,” said CC, who was playing catch three times a week by early December. Dude is just a horse, but it good to see the Yanks scale back a bit and take it easy on the big guy.

Meanwhile, Joe Girardi indicated that Sabathia is likely to be followed in the rotation by A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Javy Vazquez, in that order. Obviously, this is completely unsurprising. Looking at the schedule, I’m guessing the rotation will shake out like this during the first few weeks of the season:

April 4th: Sabathia
April 5th: OFF
April 6th: Burnett
April 7th: Pettitte
April 8th: OFF
April 9th: Vazquez
April 10th: Sabathia
April 11th: Burnett
April 12th: OFF
April 13th: Pettitte (home opener)
April 14th: Vazquez
April 15th: Sabathia
April 16th: Burnett
April 17th: 5th Starter

The Yanks can skip the fifth starter’s spot the first two times through the rotation without starting anyone on short rest of anything like that. Pettitte would get the nod for the home opener, something he’s more than qualified for. The first two weeks of the season were laid out pretty neatly this year, thankfully.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. The Knicks are playing, plus there’s the Olympics, so have at it.

Photo Credit: Bryan Hoch, MLB.com