Thursday Night Open Thread

Buster Olney (subs. req’d) continued his look at the top ten players at each position yesterday with second base. Robinson Cano sits in the top spot because of course. He is far and away the best second basemen in baseball and has been for about five years now. The Yankees don’t have a player on the list because they don’t have a second baseman at the moment. If the season started today, I’m guessing Martin Prado would be at third and Jose Pirela at second. Thankfully there’s still three months of offseason to find an upgrade.

This is your open thread for the night. The Thursday NFL game is the Chiefs and Raiders, plus I’m sure there’s college basketball on somewhere. None of the local basketball or hockey teams are playing. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.

Yankees add Austin, Burawa, Pinder, Williams to 40-man roster; sell Zelous Wheeler’s right to team in Japan

Bye Zelous. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Bye Zelous. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees have added outfielder Tyler Austin, right-hander Danny Burawa, right-hander Branden Pinder, and outfielder Mason Williams to the 40-man roster, the team announced. Today was the deadline to set the 40-man for the Rule 5 Draft and all four players would have been eligible. The Yankees have also sold utility man Zelous Wheeler‘s rights to the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. There are currently 38 players on the 40-man roster, meaning New York can select up to two players in the Rule 5 Draft.

Adding Austin to the 40-man was the only no-brainer of the bunch. He had a huge second half with Double-A Trenton this summer and continued to rake in the Arizona Fall League. He played through a bone bruise in his wrist almost all of last year and again earlier this year, but it appears he’s over it and had gotten back to where he was when he was one of the team’s top prospects a year or two ago. Austin figures to open the 2015 season with Triple-A Scranton and could get called up at some point. If nothing else, he should be a September call-up.

Burawa is a pure reliever and has some of the nastiest stuff in the system with a mid-to-high-90s fastball and a vicious slider. He does have control problems (13.2% walk rate the last two years) and had to be demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Trenton this summer, but the Yankees have had some success figuring these guys out, with Shane Greene being a primary example. Pinder is another pure reliever whose stuff isn’t as electric as Burawa’s, but he had an excellent season in 2014. He is primarily a fastball-slider guy. Both Burawa and Pinder are expected to open 2015 with the RailRiders and could make their MLB debuts later in the season.

Williams both is and isn’t a surprising addition to the 40-man roster. Surprising because he’s been flat out terrible for two years running now — he hit .223/.290/.304 (66 wRC+) in 563 plate appearances with the Thunder this past season — and there are reports of major maturity and work ethic issues. Those guys usually aren’t rewarded with 40-man spots. It’s unsurprising because Williams is a top flight defender in center field and has high-end tools. He was arguably the organization’s top prospect two years ago. The Yankees are obviously hoping he grows up a bit and unlocks some of his potential.

Among the players the Yankees opted not to protect from the Rule 5 Draft are first baseman Kyle Roller, left-hander Matt Tracy, and right-handers Mark Montgomery and Zach Nuding. All three pitchers could get selected. Montgomery’s stuff has gone backwards the last two years but his slider still misses bats. Nuding throws hard and Tracy is both breathing and left-handed. As a reminder, any player selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on his new team’s active 25-man roster all season, or be placed on waivers and offered back to his old team before going to the minors.

As for Wheeler, the Yankees didn’t sell his rights to Rakuten — Masahiro Tanaka‘s former team — without his knowledge or out of the blue. Almost always in these situations, the player asked the team for permission to pursue a job overseas and has a contract lined up with a new club. Wheeler presumably did that and the Yankees let him go as a courtesy while also pocketing a little extra cash. Win-win for everyone.

Update: The Yankees received $350,000 for Wheeler’s rights, according to Mark Feinsand.

2014 Season Review: Miscellaneous Arms

Claiborne. (Alex Goodlett/Getty)
Claiborne. (Alex Goodlett/Getty)

Thirty-three different players pitched in at least one game for the Yankees this past season — including Dean Anna! — the second most in baseball behind the Rangers, who somehow trotted 40 different players out to the mound. That’s the most pitchers the Yankees have used in a single-season in their history, five more than the previous record set back in 2011. Injuries, ineffectiveness, and more contributed to that.

We’ve already reviewed most of those 33 pitchers, either individually or in groups, but there are still some stray arms running around out there. Here is the final pitching review of the 2014 season. (We still have some other players and personnel to cover, but the season review series will be over soon.)

Preston Claiborne

Remember how bad Claiborne was in Spring Training? He allowed nine runs and 14 hits (!) in only 5.2 Grapefruit League innings and looked as bad as the stats, as hitters where taking very comfortable swings against him. There was some speculation the Yankees would drop Claiborne from the 40-man roster if space was needed, but that never happened. He didn’t win a bullpen job in camp (duh) and opened the season with Triple-A Scranton.

The 26-year-old Claiborne actually threw more innings in the big leagues (21) than he did with the RailRiders (20.1) in 2014. That’s because he missed roughly eight weeks in the middle of the summer after separating his shoulder. Claiborne went up and down a few times and had a perfectly acceptable 3.00 ERA (3.66 FIP) with the MLB club, though he put 34 men on base in those 21 innings and both his strikeout (6.86 K/9 and 16.7 K%) and walk (4.29 BB/9 and 10.4 BB%) rates were underwhelming. There’s also this:

Brooksbaseball-ChartClaiborne’s velocity — on all his pitches, not just the fastball — has been gradually declining since he broke into the big leagues last May. He started his MLB career with those nine scoreless innings and 19.1 walk-less innings last year, but he hasn’t been the same since the middle of last June or so, pitching to a 5.05 ERA (4.61 FIP) with a 17.7% strikeout rate and a 9.7% walk rate in 51.2 innings since that first career walk. Claiborne is firmly in generic up-and-down reliever territory.

Matt Daley

It’s obvious the Yankees liked something about Daley at some point. They first signed him to a minor league contract back during the 2011-12 offseason, when he was recovering from serious shoulder surgery. The Yankees rehabbed him for the entire 2012 season, re-signed him that offseason, then watched him post a 2.02 ERA (1.88 FIP) in 53.1 innings at three minor league levels in 2013 before giving him a September call-up. Daley struck out eight, walked zero, and allowed just two hits in six scoreless innings for the MLB club. He was the pitcher who replaced Mariano Rivera after Mo’s emotional farewell at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees non-tendered the 32-year-old Daley last offseason only to bring him back on yet another minor league contract. The Queens native spend most of the year with Triple-A Scranton, where he had a 4.54 ERA (3.86 FIP) with excellent strikeout (12.11 K/9 and 30.0 K%) and walk (2.02 BB/9 and 5.0 BB%) numbers in 35.2 innings. The Yankees called him up a few times and he had a 5.02 ERA (6.82 FIP) in 14.1 innings. Daley’s soft-tossing ways resulted in a lot of hard contact, several long homers (2.51 HR/9!), few strikeouts (6.28 K/9 and 15.9 K%), and too many walks (3.77 BB/9 and 9.5 BB%). He allowed six runs in 1.1 innings in his first appearance, threw 10.1 scoreless innings in his next eight appearances, then allowed at least one run in each of his final four appearances. The Yankees released Daley on September 1st to make 40-man roster space for other call-ups. Such is life.

Jose Ramirez

I was very excited about Ramirez coming into the season. The Yankees finally decided to pull the plug on him as a starter due to his ongoing injury problems, and his upper-90s fastball coupled with his knockout changeup and occasionally devastating slider made him an intriguing short reliever. The potential for dominance is there. Maybe not Dellin Betances level dominance, but dominance.

Ramirez. (Presswire)
Ramirez. (Presswire)

Ramirez, 24, missed all of Spring Training with an oblique injury and didn’t make his season debut with Triple-A Scranton until May 7th. He spent a month with the RailRiders before being called up to the big league team in early-June, replacing Claiborne on the roster. Ramirez made eight appearances with the Yankees, allowed runs in five of them, walked a batter in six of them, and took the loss in two of them. He allowed six runs (5.40 ERA) with ten strikeouts (9.00 K/9 and 20.4 K%) and seven walks (7.00 B/9 and 14.3 BB%) in 10 innings before being sent back to Triple-A in early-July.

After returning to the RailRiders, Ramirez made only two appearances before getting hurt and missing the rest of the season. I can’t find any information about the nature of the injury, but he’s dealt with it all over the years. Shoulder, elbow, oblique, you name it. Ramirez had a 1.46 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 12.1 total innings in Triple-A. The 2015 season will be Ramirez’s final minor league option year, so he’ll give it another go and hope to stay healthy so he can prove his worth at the MLB level.

Jim Miller

Like 2013, Miller spent most of 2014 with Triple-A Scranton, where he had a 3.30 ERA (3.10 FIP) in 57.1 innings. The Yankees called him up in early-July, he made two appearances with the team, and allowed six runs on seven hits and two walks in 2.2 innings. Three of those seven hits left the yard. On July 10th, he entered the seventh inning of a game against the Indians with the Yankees down one run. He then allowed five runs in 1.2 innings to put the game out of reach. The Yankees designated Miller for assignment the next day and released him in late-August to clear a roster spot for the RailRiders.

Chaz Roe

The Yankees had a pitcher named Chaz Roe this year. They acquired Chaz Roe on August 31st from the Marlins, where Chaz Roe had spent the season with their Triple-A affiliate. Chaz Roe once had a ridiculous beard:

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Colorado Rockies

Chaz Roe appeared in three games with the Yankees. Chaz Roe allowed two runs in his first appearance, walked the only batter he faced in his second appearance, and allowed one run in his third appearance. The Yankees designated Chaz Roe for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot when Masahiro Tanaka was activated off the 60-day DL at the end of the season. Chaz Roe’s tenure in pinstripes ended with three runs allowed in two innings. Chaz Roe, y’all.

Badler: Yankees sign Colombian outfielder Bryan Emery

3:41pm: Emery received a $500,000 signing bonus, according to Jesse Sanchez. So with the tax it’s a total cost of $1M to the Yankees. They’ve now spent approximately $28.5M total on international players during the 2014-15 signing period (that we know of).

12:37pm: According to Ben Badler, the Yankees have signed 16-year-old Colombian outfielder Bryan Emery. Emery is the latest addition to the team’s massive international spending spree that includes at least 22 players and over $26M in bonuses and penalties. Kiley McDaniel says Emery received a six-figure bonus — it will be taxed at 100% because the club is over their spending pool — after asking for seven figures a few months ago.

Baseball America and MLB.com ranked Emery as the 23rd and 29th best international prospect this summer, respectively. He’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 195 lbs., and was a switch-hitter who recently abandoned hitting right-handed according to Badler. “He’s strong and generates easy, explosive power … a simplified hitting approach and a cleaner setup (has helped) him stay more direct to the ball,” wrote Badler.

MLB.com’s free scouting report provides 20-80 scouting grades and some more information:

Scouting Grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 50 | Run: 55 | Arm: 60 | Field: 60

One of the top outfielders in this year’s class, Emery can play center field, but he could end up in right field because of his overall skill set.

Scouts like Emery’s athletic body and how he covers ground in the outfield. He’s also impressed evaluators with his throwing arm, which is projected to be above average in the future.

Emery has international experience on his resume and is not afraid of playing in the spotlight. Scouts have been impressed with his mature demeanor and positive attitude. From Colombia, Emery trains in Nigua, Dominican Republic, with Ivan Noboa.

The Yankees signed ten of the top 30 international prospects this summer according to both Baseball America and MLB.com. Because they exceeded their spending pool, they will not be able to sign a player for more than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. The Yankees put all their eggs in the 2014-15 basket.

Nineteen-year-old Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada is the (latest) prize of the international market and will reportedly command a signing bonus of $30M to $40M. If he is unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control before next June 15th, the Yankees will be able to offer him any amount and it will count towards the current signing period. After that date, they’ll only be able to offer him $300,000. Moncada would be one hell of a cherry on top of what is already a spectacular international haul.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Brett Anderson

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are expected to cast a wide net as they search for pitching this offseason because that’s what they do every offseason. They consider every option, act on what they feel are the best options, and move forward. The team will reportedly steer clear of big names like James Shields, Jon Lester, and Max Scherzer this winter, at least depending on which report you want to believe, leaving them to pick from second and third tier options.

One of those second or third tier pitching options also happens to be the youngest free agent on the market: 26-year-old left-hander Brett Anderson. He won’t turn 27 until February, right before Spring Training. The Rockies declined his $12M club option earlier this month and so far only the Royals and Astros have been in contact with his agent, according to Andy McCullough and Evan Drellich. The Yankees have not yet been connected to Anderson this offseason but they did try to trade for him both last winter and at this summer’s trade deadline, so they could circle back and try to sign him this offseason. Let’s see what he has to offer.

The Long List of Injuries

Unfortunately, we have to start here. Anderson broke into the big leagues very young and managed to accrue six full years of service time while throwing only 494 innings, including only 206.1 over the last four seasons. He’s been hurt. A lot. Here’s the list of injuries that required a DL stint:

  • 2010: Elbow strain (missed 30 games) and then elbow inflammation (46 games).
  • 2011: Tommy John surgery (102 games).
  • 2012: Recovery from Tommy John surgery (120 games) and oblique strain (14 games).
  • 2013: Stress fracture in right foot (102 games).
  • 2014: Surgery for a fractured finger (83 games) and surgery to repair a bulging disc in his lower back (49 games).

Anderson has had some other minor day-to-day stuff over the years — missed a start with a blister in 2009, missed a start with back spasms in 2013, etc. — but those are the big injuries. It’s worth noting his finger was broken this year when he was hit by a pitch because the NL is dumb and doesn’t have the DH, so that one is sort of a fluke. I guess the other good news is that his arm has been healthy since he returned from Tommy John surgery in 2012, and because of all these injuries, he doesn’t have a ton of innings on that arm. But still, that is a ton of injuries.

Excellent When Healthy

So why bother with a pitcher as injury prone as Anderson? Because he’s been very good when he has been healthy. He posted a 4.06 ERA (3.69 FIP) in 30 starts and 175.1 innings as a 21-year-old his rookie year since 2009, and in the five seasons since, Anderson has a 3.56 ERA (3.41 FIP) in 318.2 innings around all the injuries. That includes a 2.91 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 43.1 innings for the Rockies this past summer.

Anderson is not a high strikeout pitcher by any means. He has a career 7.03 K/9 (18.6%), which is decidedly below-average, and his best strikeout season (9.27 K/9 and 23.0 K%) came when the Athletics stuck him in the bullpen in 2013. Anderson succeeds by being a ground ball pitcher who limits walks. His 55.4% career ground ball rate is the 12th highest among the 192 pitchers who have thrown at least 400 innings since 2009. Over the last three years he has a 61.4% grounder rate.

In his nearly 500 career innings, Anderson has a 2.42 BB/9 (6.4 BB%) walk rate that has been as low as 1.76 BB/9 (4.7 BB%) in a single season (112.1 innings in 2010). Last year with the Athletics he had an uncharacteristically high 4.23 BB/9 (10.5 BB%), but that rebounded to 2.70 BB/9 (7.2 BB%) this past season even though three of his 13 walks were intentional. Nothing fancy here — Anderson throws strikes and keeps the ball on the ground.

The Yankees have stealthily put together a high strikeout, low walk, moderately high ground ball pitching staff the last few years. Since the start of 2012, the team’s staff has the fourth highest strikeout rate (21.4%), lowest walk rate (6.9%), and 15th highest ground ball rate (44.6%) in baseball. They’ve combined an average ground ball rate with excellent walk and strikeout numbers. Anderson brings everything but the strikeouts, though his repertoire suggests there are more strikeouts hiding in there.

The Stuff

Anderson is a three-pitch pitcher trapped in a five-pitch pitcher’s body. He does throw five distinct pitches, but he relies so much on his two fastballs (four-seamer and sinker) and slider than his changeup and curveball are nothing more than show-me pitches at this point. Here’s a quick breakdown of his average velocity and pitch usage throughout his career (via Brooks Baseball):

FB% FBv SNK% SNKv SL% SLv CB% CBv CH% CHv
2009 50.5% 93.2 2.8% 92.0 32.7% 84.2 5.7% 77.6 8.3% 84.6
2010 42.3% 93.5 9.2% 91.9 30.5% 84.7 9.6% 78.8 8.4% 85.0
2011 30.9% 92.3 14.8% 91.3 40.0% 81.6 8.4% 75.9 5.8% 83.5
2012 28.7% 93.0 21.0% 91.5 32.6% 82.9 11.9% 77.7 5.0% 85.1
2013 34.5% 93.6 21.0% 92.6 32.7% 83.6 7.6% 77.9 4.3% 85.8
2014 25.1% 91.4 24.9% 90.6 33.3% 81.5 9.4% 75.2 5.8% 83.5

There’s a lot going on in there, but, most importantly: holy moly that’s a lot of sliders. Among those 192 pitchers who have thrown at least 400 innings since 2009, only Luke Gregerson (55.8%!) has thrown a higher percentage of sliders than Anderson. All those sliders sure help explain the Tommy John surgery earlier in his career. Throwing that many breaking balls at that age is no good for the elbow.

Aside from the slider business, the table also shows that Anderson has gradually thrown more and more sinkers over the years — explains why his 2012-14 ground ball rate is higher than his career rate, as mentioned earlier — and that he’s throwing his changeup less than ever. He’ll throw a handful of curveballs each start but nothing more. He’s going to get you out with four-seamers, sinkers, and sliders primarily.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a second to actually see what these pitches actually look like. I assume the four-seamer looks like every other four-seamer in baseball history, so here’s a clip with a bunch of sliders, one changeup (0:10 mark), and one sinker (0:35 mark):

That slider is something else. If I could throw a slider like that, I’d probably throw it one out of everything three pitches until my elbow exploded too. It makes you wonder why his career strikeout rate is only 18.6%. Maybe Anderson simply gets too many quick balls in play on the ground that doesn’t have the opportunity to bury hitters — both righties and lefties, as you saw in the video — with the slider in two-strike counts? I dunno.

Anyway, here is how Anderson’s four-seamer, sinker, and slider have done at generating swings and misses and ground balls over the years. I’m not too concerned with the curveball and changeup since they aren’t among his main offerings. These are his money-makers.

FB Whiff% FB GB% SNK Whiff% SNK GB% SL Whiff% SL GB%
2009 5.0% 41.2% 2.6% 60.0% 14.7% 70.3%
2010 4.4% 41.8% 5.2% 60.0% 15.2% 66.0%
2011 4.5% 34.2% 6.2% 71.4% 10.2% 68.9%
2012 3.5% 16.4% 4.8% 69.7% 17.0% 55.9%
2013 3.9% 40.8% 7.7% 81.8% 16.3% 74.2%
2014 3.6% 69.2% 4.7% 67.4% 16.8% 60.8%
MLB AVG 6.9% 37.9% 5.4% 49.5% 15.2% 43.9%

Hitters seem to have had little trouble getting a bat on Anderson’s four-seamer, which is perhaps why he’s started throwing more sinkers in recent years. the swing-and-miss rate on his slider isn’t as sky high as I expected but it is still above-average, especially these last three years. All three pitches are far, far better than the MLB average when it comes to getting a ground ball. That’s not a surprise given his career grounder rate.

So yeah, it does seem like Anderson’s career strikeout rate is so low because hitters don’t have much trouble putting his fastballs in play. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, quick ground balls are a good way to be efficient, but sometimes a pitcher needs a strikeout more than a ground ball. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a history of improving strikeout rates, mostly by ratcheting up breaking ball usage a notch, but I’m not sure how many more sliders Anderson can realistically throw. He could maybe change his pitch selection and throw more sliders early in the count.

Anderson’s stuff is good. He has a heavy sinker hitters can’t lift in the air and that’s a real weapon in tiny Yankee Stadium. His slider misses bats even though it doesn’t show up in his overall strikeout numbers. There’s plenty to work with here. Stuff and performance really isn’t Anderson’s issue. It’s staying on the field.

Contract Estimates

Given the injury history, it’s clear Anderson is a one-year contract guy at this point. I would be very surprised if someone guaranteed him multiple years at this point, even if he is only 26. Here are some contract estimates:

I know it’s cool to say there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal but I don’t really buy that. We all lived through the Kevin Youkilis era, right? That was a bad one-year deal. Anderson’s injury history means there is a chance of getting zero return on the contract and that money (and the associated luxury tax) will just be flushed away for nothing.

That said, those contract estimates seem sensible to me, mostly because he’s still so very young and actually has some upside to offer. There’s no way the Yankees or whoever else signs Anderson could count on him for 200 or even 150 innings next year. I think you’d have to hope for 100 innings and take anything else after that as a huge bonus, especially if he pitches like he’s capable of pitching.

The Yankees already have a ton of injury risk in their rotation and I’m not sure it makes sense to double down on that risk and add someone like Anderson. He’d be better as the second pitching addition — re-sign Brandon McCarthy to shore up the staff and then bring in Anderson as the upside lottery ticket/depth guy to be the fifth starter, for example. I’m intrigued and think Anderson is a nice roll of the dice guy. But he couldn’t be the only pitching addition New York makes.