Wednesday Night Open Thread

At the GM Meetings earlier today, MLB announced the launch of Pitch Smart, which is a “series of practical, age-appropriate guidelines to help parents, players and coaches avoid overuse injuries and foster long, healthy careers for youth pitchers.” The website includes things like rest guidelines for pitchers in different age groups, a list of frequently asked questions, and other resources that may help cut down on the number of elbow injuries and Tommy John surgeries. Good job by MLB putting this together. Hopefully it actually makes a difference.

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks and Nets are both playing, plus Game One of the All-Star Series in Japan will be replayed on MLB Network at 9 pm ET. I won’t spoil the outcome of the game for the few of you who managed to go through the entire day without seeing it, but here’s the box score if you’re interested. Have at it.

2014 Season Review: Kuroda’s Final Season?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Just as we all expected, the only pitcher from the Opening Day rotation to avoid the disabled list this past season was the 39-year-old who had an abysmal end to the 2013 season. Hiroki Kuroda was, once again, the rock in Joe Girardi‘s rotation, taking the ball every fifth day as CC Sabathia (knee), Ivan Nova (elbow), Michael Pineda (shoulder), and eventually Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) went down with injuries. Even the replacements were getting hurt, like David Phelps (elbow).

Kuroda’s first two years with the Yankees followed a similar blueprint. He was excellent from Opening Day through about mid-August before falling off down the stretch, mostly due to fatigue. It got to the point where Kuroda had to stop throwing his usual between-starts bullpen sessions to stay fresh in September. The late-season fade was much more severe in 2013 than 2012, which is why Kuroda was more of a question mark coming into 2014.

This past season though, Kuroda started out slowly and finished strong. It was the exact opposite of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He had a 4.62 ERA (3.75 FIP) in his first eight starts and a 3.41 ERA (3.56 FIP) in his final 24 starts this summer, which worked out to a 3.71 ERA (3.60 FIP) overall. His usual slow September instead featured a 2.81 ERA (2.73 FIP) and was his strongest month of the season. In fact, let’s take a second to look at Kuroda’s monthly splits:

I Split W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP WP BF WHIP SO9 SO/W
April/March 2 2 5.28 5 5 29.0 34 19 17 4 6 18 0 1 125 1.379 5.6 3.00
May 2 1 4.00 6 6 36.0 41 21 16 5 5 31 2 2 158 1.278 7.8 6.20
June 1 2 3.52 5 5 30.2 24 12 12 2 9 18 0 0 119 1.076 5.3 2.00
July 2 2 3.38 6 6 40.0 39 16 15 4 7 26 3 6 167 1.150 5.9 3.71
August 2 1 3.45 5 5 31.1 24 12 12 1 8 19 1 4 126 1.021 5.5 2.38
Sept/Oct 2 1 2.81 5 5 32.0 29 11 10 4 0 34 1 0 125 0.906 9.6 34.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/11/2014.

Kuroda was better in May than he was in April, better in June than he was in May, and better in July than he was in June. August was a slight bump in the road, but Kuroda was then better in September than he was in July or August. He just got better and better as the season progressed, which is the exact opposite of what you’d normally expect from a veteran starter pushing 40, especially one who had stumbled to the finish the last two years.

Although he did get better as the season went along, Kuroda was not as good as he was from 2012-13 this past season. He was a little more shaky and his best starts were merely very good, not outstanding. According to Game Score, Kuroda’s two best starts of the season came in September, when he held the Red Sox to one run in seven innings on the 3rd (73 Game Score) and the Orioles to two runs in eight innings on the 25th (77 Game Score). Only two starts with a 73+ Game Score after having eight in both 2012 and 2013.

Kuroda recorded an out in the eighth inning in only two of his 32 starts after doing it in six of 32 starts last year and in eight of 33 starts the year before. He was still a workhorse who threw 199 total innings, the 18th most in the league, but he averaged only 6.22 innings per start, down a touch from 6.29 innings per start last year and 6.66 innings per start the year before. Again, Kuroda was still very good this past season, he was just not quite as good as he was his first two years in pinstripes.

Because he’s considered retirement in each of the last two winters and slipped a bit performance-wise this year, I and I think a lot of other people assumed this would be Kuroda’s final season. He’s a prideful guy and seems like the type who would retire before going through an ugly disaster year. If that is the case, Kuroda’s final start with the Yankees was overshadowed because it was also Derek Jeter‘s final home game, a game he won with a walk-off single. Girardi said he wanted to send Kuroda back out for the ninth inning in that game so he could get one last ovation from the Yankee Stadium faithful, but Kuroda declined.

“I was really grateful when he approached me to do that. But yesterday was meant for Jeter, so I didn’t want to take anything from him,” said Kuroda to Wally Matthews the next day. Girardi summed up Kuroda’s tenure in pinstripes by telling Matthews “Hiro’s meant a lot to our organization as well and has been a really good Yankee and a really good role model as well … Obviously he’s pitched well enough to pitch again if he wants. But that’s up to him. There comes a point in your life sometimes you say, enough’s enough.”

There’s still no word on whether Kuroda will play or retire next season, and even if he decides to play again, there’s no guarantee he will return to the Yankees. He could decide to pitch closer to his family’s home in Los Angeles, or he could return home for one final season in Japan. Either way, Kuroda was once again a very important part of the rotation, and the Yankees needed him more than ever this year due to the injuries. If this is it for him, I will miss watching him pitch and I greatly appreciate what he did these last three years. Baseball needs more people like Kuroda.

An appreciation of simple, unchanging jerseys

No interlocking NY on Ruth's jersey, one of the few changes in Yankees uniforms through the years.
No interlocking NY on Ruth’s jersey, one of the few changes in Yankees uniforms through the years.

Aside from a few league-wide holiday exceptions, you know what jerseys the Yankees will wear game in and game out. They’re the jerseys they’ve worn as long as most of us have been alive. Even before our time, the design hasn’t change much.

Contrast this to nearly every other team in baseball.

Just across town, the Mets have six different jerseys, with four different caps. They’ve even made changes to their home jerseys for the 2015 season. Yes, there are games where they wear those digital camouflage jerseys. It’s hard not to feel embarrassed for them.

(And yes, I understand that the Mets and Padres have donned camo uniforms for military appreciation events. The thought is there. The execution, not so much.)

The Twins also recently changed home jerseys. The new jerseys don’t look bad, but they don’t look like much of an upgrade. As you might imagine, Twins fans aren’t in love with the change. Some of that is disliking change in general — we got that around these parts lately. But it’s hard to see the point of this uniform change.

The Twins and the Mets are far from the worst offenders. The San Diego Padres have changed their primary uniforms — not including all their alternates — 12 times in their 45-year history.

My apologies for even bringing this up, but there were the sleeveless jerseys in the 90s and 00s. No teams still wear those, do they? Sheesh.

The idea of classic, unchanging jerseys crossed my mind when watching the Jets play the Steelers this week. It seems that NFL teams go through uniform changes every year, but the Steelers have stayed consistent for decades. Yes, they have the throwback bumblebee jersey, but they come out once a year and are a nice homage to a different era. How many other teams have stuck with the same jerseys throughout the years?

The point of this is that there really is no point. I appreciate that a Yankees jersey I buy now will continue to be the jersey they wear on the field next year, 10 years from now, and presumably until baseball dies out. Buy an authentic one, and it’ll almost always be someone’s jersey.

Just another perk of being a Yankees fan, I guess. We don’t have to worry about the team introducing some embarrassing alternate jersey.

Yankees sign lefty Jose De Paula to one-year deal

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

The Yankees have signed left-hander Jose DePaula to a one-year contract, the team announced. Joel Sherman says De Paula will earn $510,000 at the MLB level and $175,000 in the minors, and confirmed he has one minor league option remaining. The Giants designated De Paula for assignment in June and he became a minor league free agent after the season. The Yankees now have 36 players on the 40-man roster.

“He is a hard-throwing lefty. He can be a starter if he stays healthy. He has been a Four-A guy to this point, but he does have upside,” said one executive to Sherman.

De Paula, 26, spent last season in Triple-A with the Giants, where he had a 4.21 ERA (4.36 FIP) in 51.1 innings spread across ten starts and six relief appearances. His season ended in late-July due to an oblique strain. He had a 3.86 ERA (2.57 FIP) in 74.2 Double-A innings as a starter with the Padres in 2013 while battling shoulder tendinitis. San Francisco claimed him off waivers from San Diego last winter. Here are De Paula’s career stats:

Year Age AgeDif Tm Lev Aff ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2007 19 0.1 Padres FRk SDP 2.44 14 13 66.1 52 27 18 0 21 78 1.101 7.1 0.0 2.8 10.6 3.71
2008 20 -0.2 Padres Rk SDP 3.57 13 13 53.0 61 30 21 2 9 56 1.321 10.4 0.3 1.5 9.5 6.22
2009 21 -0.3 Eugene A- SDP 2.79 2 2 9.2 9 4 3 0 2 10 1.138 8.4 0.0 1.9 9.3 5.00
2010 22 0.4 Fort Wayne A SDP 3.27 20 14 85.1 71 33 31 7 20 69 1.066 7.5 0.7 2.1 7.3 3.45
2011 23 -0.2 Lake Elsinore A+ SDP 5.22 26 23 112.0 129 81 65 4 37 87 1.482 10.4 0.3 3.0 7.0 2.35
2013 25 0.5 San Antonio AA SDP 3.86 14 14 74.2 84 42 32 3 11 57 1.272 10.1 0.4 1.3 6.9 5.18
2014 26 -0.8 Fresno AAA SFG 4.21 16 10 51.1 55 28 24 5 16 41 1.383 9.6 0.9 2.8 7.2 2.56
7 Seasons 3.86 105 89 452.1 461 245 194 21 116 398 1.276 9.2 0.4 2.3 7.9 3.43
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/12/2014.

De Paula spent the entire 2012 season on the restricted list after it was revealed he was older than originally believed. Baseball America ranked him as the 26th best prospect in the Giants’ system in their 2014 Prospect Handbook, calling him a potential back-end starter who could pitch in any number of roles. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report:

DePaula works at 90-91 mph with an easy arm action and plenty of late tailing, sinking action, topping out near 95. Control never has been an issue, and scouts regard his secondary pitches as average to a tick above. He throws a mid-70s curveball with plus rotation and big vertical break. He has gained feel for his changeup in recent years, and the mid-80s pitch shows enough fade to be effective.

The Yankees obviously like De Paula quite a bit if they put him on the 40-man roster — he’s never pitched in MLB and would have been eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in December had they signed him to a minor league deal — though it remains to be seen whether they will continue to let him start or try him in the bullpen. Low cost, left-handed, has an option left … makes sense to me. Adding cheap pitching depth is never a bad move.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Chase Headley

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees both do and do not have a third baseman for next season. Yes, Alex Rodriguez, the team’s starting third baseman from 2004 through 2013-ish is under contract and has finished serving his suspension, but the Yankees are not counting on him to play the field at all.  “Nobody here expects him to play third,” said one team official flatly to Jeff Passan. A-Rod is 39 years old and he’s played 44 games over the last two years. It would be foolish to count on him playing the field.

So yes, the Yankees have a third baseman. But they don’t, really, so they’re out looking for one this winter. They got lucky with Yangervis Solarte for a few months this past season but probably don’t want to try that again. Brian Cashman confirmed the team has had a “brief conversation” with Chase Headley, who was so very rock solid for the Yankees after being acquired at midseason, but is a free agent with plenty of suitors. The Red Sox, Giants, and White Sox are also reportedly looking for help at the hot corner. Does bringing Headley back actually make sense though? Let’s look.

The Defense

Let’s start with Headley’s defense at third because it’ll be nice and easy. We saw him for two months this past season and he was outstanding at third base, legitimately Gold Glove caliber. He had range, first step quickness, a strong arm, the works. It was no aberration either. He’s been this good for a while and various defensive stats back it up:

Innings at 3B DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2010 1407.2 14 16.5 14 -0.2
2011 895.1 1 -3.8 -8 -9.0
2012 1397.0 -3 7.3 10 -6.3
2013 1235.0 5 7.0 7 -8.1
2014 1082.2 13 20.9 17 3.2

I honestly have no idea what’s going on with FRAA, the preferred defensive metric over at Baseball Prospectus. When three of the systems are pointing in one direction and the fourth is pointing in other, I’m going to throw out the fourth and stick with the other three. FRAA saying Headley has consistently been a below-average fielder throughout his career doesn’t pass the sniff test at all. Weird.

Anyway, since becoming a full-time third baseman back in 2010 — the Padres had him play a bunch of left field earlier in his career because they had Kevin Kouzmanoff at third — Headley has been solidly above-average in the field most years. He looked great at third base this year and the numbers agree. That’s good enough for me. I have no trouble accepting Headley as an asset in the field whatsoever. He’s very good.

That’s at third base. First base is a bit of a different story. (He hasn’t played left field since 2009 and I don’t think he’s going to do it again anytime soon.) The Yankees stuck him there for a few games this season and he looked inexperienced, to put it nicely. He looked inexperienced because he was inexperienced — prior to coming to New York, Headley had a grand total of three career innings at first base in his career. One inning in 2009 and two in 2012. Zero in the minors. Yet the Yankees were comfortable enough to stick him over there for 54 innings late in the season and he made the best of it. He’s a third baseman first and foremost. That part is clear.

The Up And Down (And Up Again) Offense

I’ve liked Headley for a really long time, dating back to his college days at Tennessee. He was a switch-hitter with power and patience coming up through the minors and early on in his career, and I thought he’d be a star-caliber hitter during his peak years if he ever got out of spacious Petco Park. That hasn’t happened, though Headley did have a huge year back in 2012 (145 wRC+) while playing in Petco. Here’s how his career has shaken out offensively (he became a regular at age 25):


Source: FanGraphsChase Headley

Headley progressively got better once he became a full-time player, peaked in 2012, and has progressively gotten worse since. He’s never actually been a below-average hitter though. Not as a regular. At worst he was an average hitter, once you adjust for ballpark and the offensive environment around the league and all that. There’s nothing sexy about being average, but average would be an upgrade for the Yankees, sadly.

As you know, Headley was much more productive with the Yankees after the trade than he was with the Padres before the trade this past year. He hit .229/.296/.355 (90 wRC+) with seven homers in 307 plate appearances for San Diego before hitting .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers in 224 plate appearances for New York. Explaining why Headley’s offense improved after the trade is a bit tricky and it isn’t all park-related.

Obviously we aren’t dealing with the biggest of samples, and I’m sure there’s a psychological component we can’t account for. Headley went from being The Man in the lineup in a terrible hitter’s park to being just another guy on a team with a good home park for hitters. Let’s look at his plate discipline and batted ball numbers to see what’s going on there:

PA GB% FB% LD% HR/FB% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
’10 674 46.1% 36.0% 17.9% 6.4% 27.6% 61.1% 44.0% 80.0%
’11 439 45.8% 32.3% 21.9% 4.3% 25.2% 62.5% 42.4% 79.9%
’12 699 48.5% 32.1% 19.5% 21.4% 25.7% 67.2% 44.5% 74.7%
’13 600 46.1% 31.3% 22.6% 10.9% 28.1% 67.2% 45.9% 74.3%
’14 – SD 307 39.3% 34.0% 26.7% 10.0% 27.6% 61.9% 44.0% 78.3%
’14 – NY 224 42.6% 29.1% 28.4% 14.6% 23.6% 61.6% 40.9% 82.4%

Plate discipline and batted ball stats are among the quickest to stabilize in baseball — they usually settle in around the 200-250 plate appearance mark, which Headley cleared in pinstripes. His HR/FB% increased after the trade and that makes perfect sense given Yankee Stadium. For whatever reason he swung at fewer pitches with the Yankees, both inside and outside the zone, and he made more contact when he did swing. Improved selectivity? The Yankees and former hitting coach Kevin Long do preach patience, after all. It’s not just about drawing walks, it’s also about swinging at better pitches.

Anyway, Headley’s offensive performance ticked up after the trade and that’s why we’re talking about the Yankees possibly re-signing him. If he came over and didn’t hit a lick, I don’t think anyone would want him back regardless of his defense. The real Headley is probably somewhere between the 90 wRC+ he put up with the Padres and the 121 wRC+ he put up with the Yankees in 2014. (For what it’s worth, Steamer projects a 112 wRC+ in 2015.) Considering the Yankees have gotten an 87 wRC+ out of their third baseman the last two years, I find it hard to think Headley won’t be an upgrade going forward. On both sides of the ball too. At the plate and in the field.

Durability Concerns

Headley has been on the disabled three times in his career and two involved fluke injuries. He missed six weeks after breaking his pinky sliding into a base in 2011, then he missed four weeks after breaking his thumb sliding into a base in 2013. Maybe he needs to spend more time on sliding drills in Spring Training or something. The third DL stint was for a calf strain this past season. He returned after the minimum 15 days.

That stuff really isn’t much of a concern. None of them are chronic injuries or anything. Headley’s back is a bit a concern even though it’s never sidelined him for more than a week, nevermind sent him to the DL. He missed a few days at the very start of Spring Training in 2012 with lower back stiffness, then missed one game with the same problem that May. More lower back stiffness sidelined him for seven days in August 2013. This past June, Headley missed four games and received an epidural to deal with a herniated disc.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Back injuries never really get better, they just get more manageable. They affect everything too. Hitting, fielding, running, walking, sitting in the dugout … I’m not kidding when I say everything. The epidural seemed to do the trick and Headley was both healthy — he did miss a few games after taking that Jake McGee fastball to the chin, another fluke injury — and very productive after the epidural. In fact, Cashman cited Headley’s improved “hit velo” after the procedure as a reason for making the trade.

Headley will turn 31 next May, so he’s not old but he’s not a spring chicken either. Any sort of back problem is a red flag, especially when it’s slowly progressed from stiffness to a herniated disc that required an epidural. Is that enough of a reason to not sign Headley at all? Maybe, if the medicals don’t check out well. The Yankees did have him around for a few weeks, so they do know something about his injury history firsthand, which can only help them make a better decision. I don’t know how much of a red flag the back is, but I do know it’s not something that can be ignored.

Contract Estimates

I am absolutely terrible at estimating free agent contracts. Especially ones for everyday players. I’ll hit on the occasional bench player or reliever from time to time, often enough to keep me guessing, but I’m really bad at it overall. So let’s look at some other kinda sorta informed Headley contract estimations from around the web:

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: Four years at $14M per season ($56M total).
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d): Three or four years at $13M to $14M per season.
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): Three years at $9M per season ($27M total).

Bowden has been weirdly excellent at predicting free agent contracts the last few offseasons, so I figured it was worth it to include him here. I think he’s a bit off with Headley though. A three or four-year deal at $14M or so per season seems much more likely than a deal that only pays him $9M per year.

A four-year contract worth $46M is right in line with the contracts signed by Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson the last two winters, for reference. I think Headley has similar value as those two, though the shape of his production is different. He’s some offense and a lot of defense. Swisher and Granderson were a lot of offense and some defense. Maybe that means he won’t get four years and $56M since offense pays a lot more than defense, even nowadays.

In Conclusion

In a nutshell, Headley offers one positive (his defense) and two negatives (declining offense and bad back). His offense did improve after joining the Yankees for whatever reason and that wasn’t completely unexpected. And, again, Headley has never been a below-average hitter since becoming a regular. Even at his worst, he’s been league average. A league average hitter with above-average defense is a very good player and a big upgrade for the Yankees. It basically comes down to how comfortable the team is with the health of his back.

The Yankees have a clear need at third base in the short-term. Their top third base prospects are Eric Jagielo and Miguel Andujar, who figure to open next season with Double-A Trenton and High-A Tampa, respectively. There are also some questions about whether Jagielo will stick at the hot corner long-term. Point is, the Yankees need a third baseman in 2015 as well as 2016 and probably 2017 as well. Counting on prospects who are several years away is no way to operate. Wait until they’re knocking on the door before worrying where they fit.

Unlike Pablo Sandoval, who seems destined for a five or six-year contract at $16M+ per season, Headley figures to come on a shorter contract that is more payroll friendly. He fills an obvious positional need and will greatly improve the team’s awful infield defense while improving the offense to a lesser extent. Considering Sandoval and Headley are the only no doubt third basemen on the free agent market both this year and next — the best free agent third basemen next winter will be David Freese, Aramis Ramirez, and Juan Uribe, assuming Adrian Beltre’s option vests — it makes sense for the Yankees to push their chips into the middle of the table and plug a potentially long-standing hole this winter.

Joe Girardi finishes sixth in Manager of the Year voting

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Former Yankees manager and current Orioles manager Buck Showalter was named the AL Manager of the Year on Tuesday night, the BBWAA announced. He joins Tony La Russa as the only managers to win the award with three different teams. Showalter received 25 of the 30 first place votes and finished with 132 points.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia finished a distant second (61 points) and Royals skipper Ned Yost finished third (41 points) in the voting. Joe Girardi received one token third place vote and finished tied for sixth with Athletics manager Bob Melvin. Lloyd McClendon of the Mariners and Terry Francona of the Indians also received votes. The full voting results are at the BBWAA’s site.

Dellin Betances finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting on Monday. The Yankees don’t have any finalists for the Cy Young or MVP awards, but there’s always some bottom of the ballot weirdness. I’m sure a few New York players will get random votes.

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.