Tuesday Night Open Thread

Happy Veterans Day to all of your veterans out there. I’m just some idiot blogger, but I have some brave family and friends who have served in the military, and I thank them as well as every other veteran for their service. It’s people like you that let people like me be, well, idiot bloggers.

Here is your open thread for the night. The three local hockey clubs are playing tonight, so talk about those games, the Hal Steinbrenner interview in the video above, or anything else right here.

2014 Season Review: The Closer

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I don’t envy whomever will replace Derek Jeter next season. That’s going to be a tough job. Remember when Tino Martinez was getting booed in 1996 simply because he wasn’t Don Mattingly and had the audacity to not hit like .350 in the first few weeks of the season? That’s what it’ll be like for Jeter’s replacement, only about ten times worse.

And yet, as bad as that will be, I think replacing Mariano Rivera this past season was a more difficult task. Why? Because a closer’s failures are far more memorable than a shortstops. If a position player boots a grounder or strikes out with the bases loaded, it sucks, but we move on quickly because another batter steps to the plate. But if a closer fails? Forget it. The failure stews overnight and into the next day. Into his next appearance whenever that may be, really.

Replacing Rivera this summer was not going to be easy but David Robertson did it seamlessly. If he would have come out of gate and blown, say, three of his first six save chances in April — which Mo did when he replaced John Wetteland in 1997, by the way — there would have been questions for weeks and months about whether he was the right guy for the job. Fair or not, those questions were going to be asked and they tend to linger. That’s the nature of the job. The ninth inning has taken on a mind of its own.

Instead of creating questions, Robertson nailed down his first nine save chances of the season and didn’t blow a game until late-May. At one point from early-June through late-August, he successfully converted 22 consecutive saves, the second longest such streak by any pitcher in 2014. (Huston Street saved 23 straight to start the year.) Robertson saved 39 games in 44 opportunities, an 88.6% conversation rate that bests Rivera’s in 2014 (86.3%) and from 2011-14 (87.5%).

Did Robertson have some major meltdowns? Oh yeah. Of course. That’s inevitable regardless of role. He turned a 5-4 lead into a 6-5 loss by serving up a two-run walk-off homer to Adam Dunn on May 23rd for his first blown save. The Twins managed to score five runs in two-thirds of an inning against Robertson on June 1st. He allowed a three-run homer to Chris Carter in the ninth inning of a tie game on August 19th. Robertson blew two crucial saves against the Orioles in the final weeks of the season, one of which set up Jeter’s walk-off single in his final home game. Relievers are going to give up runs. We just remember when the closer gives up runs the most.

Saves are the name of the game for closers — managers, including Joe Girardi, literally manage games around the stat these days — but there are far better ways to measure a reliever’s effectiveness. After all, protecting a one-run lead in Fenway Park is much different than being handed a three-run lead in sleepy Target Field, for example. I can feel the difference when I’m sitting at home and watching on television, so you know the guys on the mound can feel the difference too.

Thankfully, Leverage Index gives us a better idea of just how important each situation is. Robertson didn’t just lead all qualified relievers with an average 2.07 Leverage Index when entering the game (gmLI) in 2014, it was the highest gmLI by any reliever in the last three seasons. You have to go back to 2011 to find someone with a higher gmLI (Jordan Walden and Chris Perez were at 2.11 and 2.08 in 2011, respectively). Only five pitchers — well, technically four pitchers and five instances — had a higher gmLI in an individual season over the last ten years. Keep in mind that a 1.5 gmLI is considered high-leverage. So 2.07 is way up there.

Robertson was pitching in incredibly important and pressure-packed innings all summer because the Yankees never score runs. They rarely blow games open. They won 84 games this past season and all 84 were by one-run. That’s a made up fact that feels true. Robertson pitched in all those tight situations and performed like he has since breaking out in 2011:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% LOB% Whiff%
2011 66.0 1.08 1.84 36.8% 12.9% 46.3% 2.3% 89.8% 10.8%
2012 60.2 2.67 2.48 32.7% 7.7% 44.9% 9.6% 81.5% 9.9%
2013 66.1 2.04 2.61 29.4% 6.9% 50.9% 10.6% 87.5% 9.6%
2014 64.1 3.08 2.68 37.1% 8.9% 44.2% 15.6% 77.7% 11.9%

Robertson did have his highest ERA in the last four years in 2014, mostly because he a bit more homer prone and wasn’t quite as Houdini-ish as he has been in the past. His strikeout and swing-and-miss rates were outstanding — during a 33-appearance stretch from late-April through late-July, Robertson struck out 66 of 139 batters faced (47.5%) in 34.2 innings (17.13 K/9) — and both his walk and ground ball numbers were in line with recent years. There’s a little fluctuation year-to-year but that’s normal. Bottom line, Robertson was outstanding yet again.

Replacing Mariano Rivera figured to be a daunting task but Robertson made it look easy. He stepped right into the higher profile role and continued to be one of the very best relievers in the game. A lot of things went wrong with the Yankees this season, but the ninth inning was not one of them. I truly hope this was not Robertson’s final season in pinstripes, but, if it was, it was one hell of a swan song. Going from a low-profile 17th round draft pick to replacing Rivera and closing for the New York Yankees is some kind of story.

Cashman Speaks: Robertson, Kuroda, Headley, Young, Injuries, Coaches

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The GM Meetings started in Phoenix yesterday and among the items on this year’s agenda are reviews of the new home plate collision rule and the pace of game rule changes being tested in the Arizona Fall League. The league will also conduct their annual umpire evaluations. There’s a lot of official business that goes on at the GM Meetings and they aren’t as hot stove-y as the Winter Meetings in December.

That said, when you have all 30 GMs plus a bunch of agents in one place, talks do happen and the ground work for a lot of deals is laid. In fact, the three-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York five years ago was first broached at the GM Meetings. Brian Cashman arrived in Phoenix yesterday and spoke to reporters about a bunch of topics, some of them actually interesting. Here’s a recap, courtesy of Wally Matthews, Ken Davidoff, Mark, Feinsand, Barry Bloom, and Brendan Kuty.

  • On possibly re-signing David Robertson: “I would have no clue what his market value’s going to be. Certainly they would have an idea. They turned down the qualifying offer based on a lot of parameters, I’m sure, some of which have been discussions they’ve already had in the window that they’ve had the chance to have discussions. So it’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell … We have not had any level of conversation about expectations of a multi-year deal. For whatever reason, they never presented anything to us, nor did we to them.”
  • On Robertson, the pitcher: “The one thing we do have a feel for is how good of a player he is, how good of a person he is, how great of a competitor he is. In the New York environment, he’s not afraid. He checks every box off. He came in behind Mariano Rivera. (It was a) seamless transition. That’s certainly no easy task. All those things obviously went into our level of comfort, despite being a reliever, of offering (the qualifying offer). Great deal of respect and obviously we’ll engage him now in the marketplace.”
  • On next year’s closer: “Right now, we don’t have to name a closer for 2015 yet. Let’s wait and see how the negotiations take with David before I start trying to worry about who that is going to have to be. We’ll have somebody closing games out in 2015. We hope whoever it is is the best candidate possible. We have some people you can give that opportunity to if we’re forced to internally, but let’s wait and see where the conversations take with David first and go from there.”
  • On Hiroki Kuroda‘s future: “I’ve talked to his agent. Kuroda’s process is he takes the early portion of the winter to relax and get his mind clear, and then at some point, kicks in about making a decision about playing — playing in the states, playing in Japan. I think he’s probably still going through that mental cleansing process. But I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play. Let him make a decision first and foremost. We’ll see what kind of money we have and all those things. But I think anybody looking for a starter should have an interest in Hiroki Kuroda.”
  • On possibly re-signing Chase Headley: “We’ve had a brief conversation. Chase is on our radar, but I think he’ll be on a lot of radars just like Robertson, just like (Brandon) McCarthy. These guys have all put themselves in a position to have successful conversations this winter. We’ll be a part of the process, whether we’re the ones they re-up with or not, I can’t predict. We’re certainly looking forward to continuing the dialogue.”
  • On re-signing Chris Young: “(Analysts) Steve Martone and Mike Fishman pushed for me to sign Chris. They felt, from an analytical standpoint, his year wasn’t as bad as it played out, that there was a potential bounce-back situation with it. We signed him up on what we think is a fair-market value, fourth-outfielder type contract. We wanted a right-handed bat with power, which doesn’t exist much in the game anymore, it seems like. He fit that category. Our coaches are comfortable with him, he played well in the small sample that we had him in September, so he certainly earned the right to come back, and I’m glad that we both were able to find common ground.”
  • On Stephen Drew and the shortstop market: “I don’t think this past season reflects what (Drew’s) true ability is. Stephen is someone that we’ll have a conversation with. Scott Boras has been in touch, we’ll stay in touch and see where it takes us … I think it’s a limited market, and I say limited in terms of availability or acquisition cost. To me, I would describe the shortstop market as limited. It’s a limited market. We’re going to talk with the available free agents, and we’ll talk as well, trade with other teams.”
  • On the outfield: “I think right now, we’re kind of settled in the outfield unless something surprising happens in the case of a trade, which I wouldn’t anticipate. So I think we’re currently pretty well set with our outfield. Obviously we have a desire to get younger as a team.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s health: “Tanaka’s a question mark. Typically, the problems occur in the throwing program, when they get back on the mound in the rehab process. If you can get through that, and the rehab games, he should be okay. Obviously, he got through two Major League starts. So that gives us hope. But there’s no guarantee.”
  • On Carlos Beltran‘s elbow: “I have no concern about Beltran’s health, (though) we probably should have had him have the surgery early on. Unfortunately, the health issue came up and we chose the route that let him fight through it and have him fight through it. In hindsight, we probably should have let him have the surgery early on. But he’s a tough guy.”
  • On CC Sabathia: “Sabathia’s supposed to be fine. He had a knee cleanup. It’s just really, can he ever regain pitching at the front end of the rotation versus what we saw in the last year and a half? But he’ll be healthy.”
  • On the coaching staff: Cashman said they are still in the process of interviewing candidates for both the hitting coach and first base coach jobs. They have not made anyone an offer for either position yet. It’s been one month and one day since Kevin Long and Mick Kelleher were fired.

A quick two questions about a RAB daily email digest

In the next week or so we plan to redo our subscribe by email option. We have about 1,500 subscribers on the current list, which is powered by Feedburner and is frankly a mess. We plan to make this something that even daily visitors will want to receive.

If you have a moment, can you please answer these two questions? It’ll take just a second, and it will allow us to create a daily email that doesn’t suck.

Scouting The Trade Market: Elvis Andrus

(Sarah Glenn/Getty)
(Sarah Glenn/Getty)

For the first time in two decades, the Yankees are looking for a shortstop this offseason. Derek Jeter has retired and the club doesn’t have an in-house replacement, not unless you count Brendan Ryan. I sure don’t. The free agent market has some imperfect shortstop options and, when he arrived at the GM Meetings in Phoenix yesterday, Brian Cashman also acknowledged the trade market is thin.

“I think it’s a limited market, and I say limited in terms of availability or acquisition cost. To me, I would describe the shortstop market as limited,” said Cashman to Adam Rubin and Mark Feinsand yesterday. “It’s a limited market. We’re going to talk with the available free agents, and we’ll talk as well, trade with other teams.”

Both Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman reported yesterday that the Yankees have some level of interest in Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, and that makes sense. He’s a true shortstop and he’s a big-ish name. That’s the kind of player usually connected to the Yankees. Texas has a bevy of young middle infielders — their MLB-readiness is up for debate, of course — in Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor, and Luis Sardinas, so Andrus could be the odd man out. But does he actually make sense for the Yankees? Let’s look.

Declining Offense

Six years ago, Andrus skipped right over Triple-A and broke into MLB as a 20-year-old. His .267/.329/.373 (81 wRC+) batting line that year was comfortably below-average but also understandable because, well, he was a 20-year-old shortstop who skipped Triple-A. Andrus hit .265/.342/.301 (75 wRC+) with zero homers (in Texas!) in 674 plate appearances as a sophomore in 2010. A .342 OBP is pretty awesome but he had no power at all. On the bright side, he stole 33 and 32 bases in those first two seasons.

Andrus took what looked to be a big step forward in 2011 and then again in 2012. He hit .279/.347/.361 (93 wRC+) with 37 steals in 2011 and followed that up with .286/.349/.378 (97 wRC+) line with a career-low 21 steals in 2012. Remember, Andrus was still only 23 years old in 2012, and he was nearly a league-average hitter at the MLB level. It sure looked like his offense was starting to coming around those two years, but then this happened:


Source: FanGraphsElvis Andrus

Instead of building on those strong 2011-12 seasons, Andrus has gone backwards these last two years. By a lot too. He hit .271/.328/.331 (79 wRC+) last season and more or less matched it with a .263/.314/.333 (79 wRC+) line this past season. That he stole 42 and then 27 bases is almost an afterthought. Andrus hit .267/.321/.332 (79 wRC+) in the very not small sample of 1,383 plate appearances during his age 24-25 seasons. That’s bad. Baaad.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that Andrus showed similar plate discipline and had a similar batted ball profile in his uber-disappointing 2013-14 seasons as in his apparent breakout 2011-12 seasons. If the plate discipline and batted ball numbers change significantly, it would suggest a decline (or improvement if you’re going the other way) in his underlying skills. But that isn’t the case:

PA GB% FB% LD% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
2011-12 1,376 56.5% 21.0% 22.5% 22.6% 53.9% 39.4% 88.1%
2013-14 1,383 57.5% 21.7% 20.9% 21.6% 54.5% 38.4% 86.4%

So Andrus was more or less the same type of hitter from 2011-12 as he was in 2013-14. He had the same level of plate discipline and was still a ground ball machine, yet the results were significantly worse. Is he simply not as strong and thus the quality of his contract deteriorated? It is worth noting his walk rate has declined in each of the last four years, going from 9.5% in 2010 to 8.4% in 2011 to 8.0% in 2012 to 7.4% in 2013 to 6.7% in 2014. That’s happened despite a relatively tiny increase in his out-of-zone swing rate (O-Swing%) and no change in his strikeout rate (career 13.5%).

Something weird is going on here. Andrus went from the verge of being a league-average contributor to one of the worst hitters in baseball. He’s a career .272/.335/.345 (84 wRC+) hitter in just short of 4,000 plate appearances now. Literally the only reason to think he’ll improve going forward is his age. That’s it. There are red flags aplenty.

Declining Defense Too

Even though he’s never been much of a hitter — the stolen bases are nice, but that’s about it — Andrus has been worthy of a regular lineup spot because he played some real slick defense at shortstop. That isn’t the case anymore, at least if the various stats are to be believed. To a table of great import:

Innings at SS DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2009 1,238.0 15 11.9 4 1.0
2010 1,291.1 -7 1.5 2 2.8
2011 1,261.1 7 7.5 9 2.6
2012 1,333.0 8 8.3 4 3.0
2013 1,288.2 11 4.6 3 -5.2
2014 1,309.1 -13 -4.2 -7 -7.8

Obligatory: One year sample sizes of defensive stats really suck!

I simply can’t take defensive stats at face value. I look at all of them and use them directionally. Forget about the exact values. The four main systems say Andrus was above-average as rookie in 2009, so chances are he was pretty good in the field. How much above-average? Who cares. Above-average is enough for me.

The four systems agree Andrus was generally above-average from 2009-2012 — there’s a little hiccup in 2010 — before slipping these last two years. That’s a big problem! He doesn’t hit anymore and now his defense stinks? That sounds like either the league has flat-out caught up to Andrus or there’s a work ethic problem. Andrus did show up to camp overweight this spring after all, and last month he told Gerry Fraley it won’t happen again:

Keeping to his late-season vow to get in better condition, Andrus has dropped about 10 pounds since the end of the season and wants to cut another 10. That would put him at about 195 pounds. He was up to 216 pounds in September and was uncomfortable with the extra weight.

“I’m going to look like 2009 again,” said Andrus, referring to his rookie season.

That’s great. Andrus knows his conditioning was a problem and he’s going to correct it. It’s very possible that will improve his defense next year and get it back to 2009-12 levels simply because he’ll be lighter on his feet and a bit more athletic. From what I can find, he didn’t show up to camp overweight last year, so these seems like an isolated incident. Either way, the declining the defense and recent conditioning issues are another set of red flags.

Durability

The offense is declining and his defense isn’t what it once was, but Andrus deserves major props for staying on the field, especially while playing such a demanding position. He has never once been on the disabled list and he’s played at least 145 games in each of his six MLB seasons. It’s at least 150 games in each of the last four seasons and at least 156 games in each of the last three seasons as well. Only Alexei Ramirez has played more games at shortstop since 2009 (929 vs. 882). Andrus’ ability to stay healthy and on the field is a major plus.

That Contract

Alright, here’s where it gets messy. The Rangers signed Andrus to an eight-year extension worth $120M two years ago … and it finally kicks in next season. He’ll make $15M annually from 2015-20 before a slight drop to $14M in both 2021 and 2022. His contract also includes a $15M vesting option for 2023 that is based on plate appearance totals in seasons that are very far away. Too far away to worry about.

Point is, Andrus has $120M in guaranteed money coming to him over the next eight seasons, all while his offensive numbers have nose-dived and his defense has slipped. I know he’s only 26, but yikes. The Rangers gave him that contract in April 2013, right after his best offensive season. It’s very safe to say Texas was expecting him to continue developing at least as a hitter, if not defensively as well. Instead, the exact opposite has happened.

Let’s Think About This For A Second

So, after all of that, here is a quick recap of the facts:

  • The Yankees have some level of interest in Andrus but we don’t know if the Rangers are open to moving him.
  • Andrus has taken an enormous step back offensively these last two seasons and his defense isn’t what it once was.
  • Andrus is insanely durable. The guy rarely misses a game.
  • Andrus is owed $120M through the 2022 season.

There’s a lot of negative there and I don’t think the second half of the first bullet point should be overlooked. We don’t know if the Rangers are interested in trading Andrus. And you know what? If they were willing to trade him, it would be something of a red flag. Obviously they were pretty confident he would continue to improve as a player just two years ago, otherwise they wouldn’t have given Andrus that contract. But if they were open to moving him now, before the extension begins, isn’t that a bad sign? It could mean they want to cut bait before his value crashes further.

It isn’t quite that simple — Texas could get blown away with an offer and trade Andrus even if they love him and think he’ll be great going forward — but there is some truth there. Twenty-six-year-old shortstops (real shortstops I mean, not Eduardo Nunez-esque “shortstops”) are a super-hot commodity and teams usually don’t give those guys away. If the Rangers trade Andrus and are willing to eat some of his contract to make it happen, that would be an enormous red flag for me. It’s the whole “what do they know that we don’t?” thing.

There have been 54 $100M+ contracts in baseball history and, off the top my head, only four of them were traded with $100M still left to be paid: Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. A-Rod was a special case because he was the best player in baseball at the time of the trade and his former team (the Rangers, coincidentally) simply couldn’t afford him anymore. Fielder, Crawford, and Gonzalez were all dumped because their former teams wanted out of bad investments. Andrus would clearly fall in the latter category at this point.

The Yankees need a shortstop, both short and long-term, and it makes sense they would have interest in Andrus. There’s nothing wrong with making your analysts run some numbers, getting on the horn with your pro scouts, and having a little sit down with the staff to discuss a player who potentially fills a need. It’s simply due diligence. That said, there’s a lot reasons to dislike Andrus, specifically his declining production and massive contract. This isn’t some kinda of cheap flier, remember. It’s the kind of contract the Yankees (and every other team) should avoid, really.

Yankees to play exhibition game at Nationals Park to end Spring Training

The Yankees will close out Spring Training next year with an exhibition game at Nationals Park on Saturday, April 4th, the team announced. Neat. They’ll make the quick stop in D.C. on their way up from Tampa before opening the 2015 regular season at home against the Blue Jays on April 6th. The full Spring Training schedule is right here.

Monday Night Open Thread

Here’s a great little piece of open thread fodder: long-time RAB reader Jeff Fleishman interviewed Aaron Small. In addition to his time with the Yankees, Small also discussed what he’s been doing since he retired, the start of his career, and all sorts of other stuff. Make sure you check it out.

This is your open thread for the night. Panthers and Eagles are the Monday Night Football game, plus the Devils and Knicks are playing as well. Talk about those games, the Small interview, or anything else right here.

Site Note: In case you haven’t noticed, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is gone. If you want to send us anything — mailbag questions, links, etc. — there’s an email button below the YES Network video widget in the sidebar. The email address is riveraveblues (at) gmail (dot) com.