League Notes: Pace-of-Play, Strike Zone, London, Revenue Sharing, Security

Changes to the clock may be coming in 2016. (Presswire)
Changes to the clock may be coming in 2016. (Presswire)

With Spring Training approaching and negotiations for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement soon to commence, we’re going to start hearing about a lot of league-wide issues in the coming weeks. Last week we learned the trade deadline has been moved back (one day) and that there is some momentum for the DH being adopted in the NL. Here are some more league notes.

More pace-of-play changes coming

According to Joel Sherman, more rule changes to improve pace-of-play are in the works. Nothing is final but MLB and the MLBPA are working towards an agreement. The two sides are discussing two items in particular: speeding up pitching changes and reducing the time between innings. The latter is kind of a big deal because it cuts into commercial time.

In a nutshell, MLB wants managers to walk to the mound and signal for a pitching change more quickly. It’s possible there will be a time limit for making a pitching change. They want to cut down on stall tactics, basically. As for the time between innings, Sherman says the between-innings clock will be reduced from 2:25 to 2:05 for non-nationally televised games. Kinda surprised the league and owners are okay with that.

The average time of game dropped from three hours and two minutes in 2014 to two hours and 56 minutes in 2015 thanks to the new pace-of-play measures. The between-innings clock was installed and batters were forced to keep one foot in the batter’s box between pitches. I don’t think pace-of-play is a huge problem, but it can be improved. The goal is to reduce downtime within games and I’m all for it.

MLB investigating whether to raise the strike zone

In an effort to combat the continually dropping strike zone, MLB is investigating whether to raise the bottom of the zone from the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the kneecap, reports Ronald Blum. Jon Roegele’s done some great work in recent years studying the strike zone. The bottom of the zone dropped each year from 2009-14 before leveling off in 2015.

“I’m not in a position to predict whether it’s going to happen or not,” said commissioner Rob Manfred to Blum. “I think that the interest in the topic is really driven by the fact that if you look over time there has been a movement down of the strike zone, largely as a result of the way we evaluate the strike zone with umpires.”

Offense has been declining for years — it did tick up ever so slightly in 2015 — and raising the bottom of the zone slightly could help change that. Not only are more low pitches being called strikes, but hitters have to protect against those pitches now, and it’s really tough to drive a low pitch with authority. Any change in the zone has to be collectively bargained, so if they do makes adjustments, we probably won’t see them until 2017 at the earliest.

MLB looking to play games in London in 2017

The league is currently looking at the possibility of playing regular season games in London during the 2017 season, reports Blum. “We are very interested in playing there, and we’re working hard on that one. I don’t think it will be an opener because of the weather issues. It would be later in the season,” said Manfred. “We haven’t really settled on teams, and I don’t want to speculate about that. Obviously, we want to make as good a first impression in Europe as we possibly can.”

Olympic Stadium, which was built for the 2012 London Olympics, would be the site of potential MLB games. The facility is currently being renovated and will have a seating capacity of 54,000 when it re-opens later this year. In recent years MLB has played regular season games in Japan, Puerto Rico, and Australia, and Manfred has made globalizing the game a priority. And anytime there is talk of playing overseas, there’s the potential for the Yankees to be involved given their immense popularity.

Olympic Stadium in London. (Presswire)
Olympic Stadium in London. (Presswire)

Revenue sharing a contentious topic in CBA talks

The current CBA expires December 1st, and, at the owners’ meetings last week, MLB spent time preparing a bargaining strategy for the revenue sharing system, reports Blum. It’s said to be a contentious issue because several big market teams are not happy with the way small market teams appear to be using their revenue sharing dollars. Negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA about the new CBA have not yet begun. They’re expected to start during Spring Training.

“You try to be creative about how you address their concerns, and you re-emphasize to people that we have a democratic process and we have to move forward as a whole at the end of the day,” said Manfred. “(Revenue sharing) helped produce tremendous competitive balance in our sport, and I think as of a result of those two realizations, it’s less controversial among the clubs than it probably was 20 years ago.”

The Yankees are among the largest contributors to revenue sharing — Forbes says they paid $95M into the system in 2014 — and while the team hasn’t been vocal about their unhappiness with the system, they are trying to get under the luxury tax threshold, which would trigger some revenue sharing rebates. The Marlins are most often cited as a club that receives revenue sharing payments but doesn’t put all the money back into the team.

Homeland Security meets with MLB over safety concerns

During the owners’ meetings last week, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met with the owners to discuss ways they can make ballparks even safer, reports Blum. MLB mandated metal detectors at all 30 ballparks last year, which made getting inside a total pain in the ass. “Our space outside the stadium is pretty cramped, but we’re going to do what we’re asked to do,” said Hal Steinbrenner.

Marlins president David Samson told Blum that Johnson informed the owners they could drastically improve security by not allowing fans to bring in bags, eliminating concession workers, checking cars parked in nearby lots, and limiting traffic around the ballpark, all of which is hilariously unrealistic. I understand the concern, I do, but man, I’ve never felt unsafe at a stadium. I don’t want to go to games and feel like I’m at an airport. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound as though any additional security measures will be put in place this coming season.

Prospect Profile: Drew Finley

(San Diego Union Tribune)
(San Diego Union Tribune)

Drew Finley | RHP

Background
Finley is from San Diego and his father David is a lifelong baseball man. He was a two-time All-American in college and played two years of pro ball before getting into scouting. He’s worked for the Padres, Marlins, and Red Sox — he was a special assistant to the GM and director of player personnel in Boston — before joining the Dodgers, his current team.

The junior Finley attended baseball powerhouse Rancho Bernando High School, which has produced Hank Blalock, Cole Hamels, and Alex Jackson (6th overall pick in 2014), among others. Finley had a 0.81 ERA with 131 strikeouts in 86 innings last spring, and he also threw a school record 20-strikeout game in April. Keith Law and Baseball America (both subs. req’d) ranked Finley as the 26th and 60th best prospect in the 2015 draft class, respectively.

The Yankees selected Finley with their third round pick, the 92nd overall selection. He signed relatively quickly for a $950,000 bonus that was well above the $626,000 slot recommendation. The extra draft pool space came from second rounder Jeff Degano, who signed a below slot deal.

Pro Debut
After signing, Finley was assigned to the team’s new rookie ball affiliate, the Pulaski Yankees. He had a 3.94 ERA (6.58 FIP) in 12 starts and 32 innings — he was limited to three innings per start — with a good strikeout rate (27.2%) but shockingly high walk (12.6%) and homer (2.53 HR/9) rates. Finley allowed six homers in his first 15.1 innings and only two in his final 16.2 innings, which I guess is the good news. The Yankees didn’t bother to send Finley to Instructional League in the fall after he threw 118 total innings between high school and pro ball in 2015. They sent him home to rest.

Scouting Report
Finley, 19, has good size at 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs., and, as you’d expect from someone who grew up around the game, he’s very advanced for his age. His fastball regularly sits in the 88-92 mph range and he spots it to both sides of the plate. The expectation is Finley will add velocity as he matures and gets under a pro throwing program.

Finley’s bread and butter is a sharp 12-to-6 curveball he can throw for a strike or bury in the dirt for swings and misses. Here’s some video, first from behind the plate and then from a traditional television broadcast outfield camera:

Interestingly, Keith Law (subs. req’d) mentioned Trackman (i.e. PitchFX) data at the 2014 Area Code Games measured Finley’s fastball extension and curveball spin rate among the best in the draft class. Jonathan Mayo has some data showing Finley’s fastball spin rate was among the highest measured as well. Spin rate correlates very well to swing-and-miss rate.

Finley also throws a solid changeup with fade away from left-handed hitters. He can throw all three of his pitches for strikes and has very good feel for his craft. His delivery is relatively effortless as well, pointing towards future above-average command. Finley is not an ace in the making. He’s an advanced high schooler with three pitches who looks like a very safe bet to pitch in the middle of a rotation for a long time. (Safe bet being a relative term, of course.)

2016 Outlook
Over the last few years the Yankees have had their most advanced high school draftees begin their first full pro ball season in Extended Spring Training before bumping them up to Low-A Charleston in May. That’s what they did with Ian Clarkin two years ago, and you can even go as far back as Slade Heathcott and John Ryan Murphy in 2010. They started the year in ExST before being moved up to the RiverDogs in May. I think that might be the plan for Finley in 2016. He’s really advanced for his age and he threw plenty of innings last year, so his workload situation is in good shape. Low-A ball will be a nice test for him this year.

My Take
I’m a really big Finley guy. I thought he was a borderline first round talent heading into the draft and I was thrilled when the Yankees were able to get him in the third round. The walks and homers with Pulaski were a bit disconcerting, but Finley was at the end of a long season and in his first taste of pro ball, so I’ll cut him some slack. I don’t think the Yankees will or should move Finley has aggressively as they did Luis Severino, but he is advanced and he should be a pretty quick mover by high school pitcher standards. I’m excited to watch Finley develop and believe he could be one of the better pitching prospects in the game in a year or two.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Tim Lincecum

(Mike McGinnis/Getty)
(Mike McGinnis/Getty)

This is the time of the offseason when teams begin to bargain hunt and look for that low cost free agent to fill out the roster. The Yankees have added players like Brian Roberts, Raul Ibanez, and Eric Chavez later in the offseason for this reason the last few years. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s the nature of the beast.

The Yankees tend to target former stars with this moves, and one former star who remains available as a free agent is two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum. He’s no longer the pitcher he once was, but he’s still relative young (31) and his track record is as good as it gets, and that will surely land him a job at some point reasonably soon. Should the Yankees be interested? Let’s dive in.

The Performance

Lincecum’s career is hard to believe. He’s played eight full seasons in the big leagues now, and the first four were outstanding. It’s among the best four-year stretches in modern history. The last four seasons have been a total disaster though. Everything went south as soon as Lincecum turned 28. Look at this:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 bWAR fWAR
2008-11 881.2 2.81 2.81 26.9% 8.7% 47.1% 0.55 23.3 23.1
2012-15 615.2 4.68 4.08 21.6% 10.0% 45.9% 1.02 -2.7 3.1

How? How in the world does that happen? Lincecum went from a 2.74 ERA (3.21 FIP) in 2011 to a 5.18 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 2012. He owned a career 2.98 ERA (137 ERA+) following that 2011 season. That has since climbed to a 3.61 ERA (107 ERA+). Man. That’s nuts.

Anyway, last season was Lincecum’s least bad season of his four recent bad seasons. He had a 4.13 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 76.1 innings, his lowest ERA since 2011, though his strikeout (18.5%), walk (11.4%), and grounder (44.3%) rates were career worsts. You can’t help but look at this and cringe (his K% has also declined every year since 2008):

Tim Lincecum strikeoutsThere is no silver lining here. Lincecum was very bad last season, he’s been very bad for four seasons now, and there is nothing to indicate a return to form is coming. The Lincecum of 2008-11, the guy who was one of the most dominant and exciting pitchers in the world, is long gone. He doesn’t exist anymore. CC Sabathia has been great more recently than Lincecum. Sad but true. Check the stats if you don’t believe me.

The Stuff

People have been talking about the decline of Lincecum’s stuff for four years now, so it’s no secret. Velocity isn’t everything, we all know that by now, but it’s not nothing either. A 94-95 mph fastball is much different than an 87-88 mph fastball. It changes everything. Lincecum had the 94-95 mph heater back in the day. Now he has a fastball you could catch with your teeth.

Tim Lincecum velocity

Woof. That’s scary. Lincecum is not a big guy (he’s listed at 5-foot-7 and 170 lbs.) and he still has that max effort tornado delivery, which may have taken a physical toll over the years. Deliveries like that usually aren’t built to last. Look at Dontrelle Willis and Hideo Nomo. They had wild, twisty deliveries too, and they were both done as above-average pitchers by their late-20s as well.

Lincecum and the Giants were not oblivious to his declining stuff the last few years. They did alter his pitch selection, specifically by getting him to stay away from his four-seamer and emphasize his sinker and split-finger fastball. During that great 2011 season he threw 38.1% four-seamers, 14.9% sinkers, and 15.7% splitters. Last year it was 23.3% four-seamers, 25.2% sinkers, and 24.1% splitters. Yes, Lincecum threw more splitters than four-seamers in 2015.

The change in pitch selection hasn’t help a whole lot, though who knows, maybe Lincecum would have performed even worse without leaning on the sinker and split-finger. Here’s some video from last season so you can get an idea of what Lincecum is working with these days:

The electricity is gone. That sucks. I hate watching great players lose their greatness. The last four seasons have given us plenty of evidence — both statistical and the eye test — that Lincecum is little more than a replacement level starter at this point of his career. He crashed hard a few years back and I’m not sure why you’d expect any sort of significant rebound at this point.

Injury History

Despite his decline in stuff and performance, Lincecum has never had any kind of significant arm injury. The only arm problems he’s ever had were contusions (forearm in 2015, shoulder in 2010) due to batted balls, and a blister in 2013. The blister sidelined him for ten days in Spring Training. Put any 31-year-old pitcher in an MRI tube and you’ll find something scary, but Lincecum’s arm is structurally sound.

His hip, however, is not. Lincecum had surgery in September to repair a torn labrum and impingement in his left hip. It’s the same procedure Alex Rodriguez had back in 2013. Heck, the same doctor (Dr. Philippon in Colorado) operated on both A-Rod and Lincecum. Lincecum’s rehab is reportedly going well, and he’ll throw for teams in early-February to show he’s healthy, according to Jon Heyman.

“He’s throwing every day and says he’s doing great. He’s got no instability in his hip, and he’s enthusiastic about his progress,” said agent Rick Thurman to John Shea. Physical therapist Brad Schoenthaler added Lincecum is “doing great. He looks really strong. His hip pain and compensation patterns have cleared up. Everything’s coming back a lot quicker than we expected.”

Surgery to repair torn labrums and impingements in the hip is fairly new — they’ve gotten better at detecting these injuries, hence the uptick in recent years — and not many pitchers have had it. Jason Isringhausen was one of the first to have his hip repaired this way back in the day and he came back fine, with no loss of stuff or effectiveness. Brett Myers had it towards the very end of his career. That’s pretty much it. We don’t have much data on the long-term impact of the procedure on moundsmen.

Contract Projections

FanGraphs was the only site to give a contract estimate for Lincecum this offseason, and their crowdsourcing results spit out a one-year contract worth $6M. That’s the going rate for veteran reclamation project starters these days. Think Henderson Alvarez ($4.25M), Rich Hill ($6M), Kyle Kendrick ($5.5M), Aaron Harang ($5M), and Chris Capuano ($5M). They’ve all signed for similar amounts the last two offseasons. Lincecum is in that group now.

Keep in mind Lincecum has already made a ton of money in his career. The Giants paid him $89M over the last five seasons alone. He is presumably in a situation where he doesn’t need to chase every last dollar and can instead look for the best opportunity to get his career back on track. Lincecum is still only 31. I doubt his goal is to simply hang on. He wants to put himself in position to have a strong second phase of his career.

Wrapping Up

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

I have no interest in Lincecum as a starter. There’s no reason to think he will provide value in that role in 2016, even with a healthy hip. He’s been too bad for too long now. I do think Lincecum is interesting as a reliever, however. He hasn’t relieved much in his career but limiting him to one time through the lineup and letting him focus on his two best pitches could do the trick.

Lincecum has shown throughout his career that he’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so he might feel right at home in the bullpen. He’s pitched in high pressure games, he’s pitched in the World Series, he’s pitched for a team with championship expectations. He’s excelled in those situations. I don’t think there is any question about Lincecum’s toughness and competitiveness.

The question is about his stuff and whether he can get big league hitters out consistently. I’m guessing plenty of teams would take a flier on Lincecum as a reliever, which makes me think there’s close to no chance he comes to New York. Why would he come to tiny Yankee Stadium to try to rebuild value when he could go to a more favorable ballpark, especially if the Giants would take him back? He’s a rock star in San Francisco.

The Yankees have three open bullpen spots right now and more than enough internal candidates. Lincecum would be, at best, their fourth option out of the bullpen. I like the idea of using him in the Adam Warren role, as a guy who can go two innings at a time, if necessary. Whether Lincecum is open to that is another matter. I don’t like him much as a starter these days, but as a reliever he could be an interesting gamble. Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t seem like a good fit for Lincecum personally. Not at this point of his career.

Cotillo: Yankees sign Carlos Corporan to minor league deal

(Rick Yeatts/Getty)
(Rick Yeatts/Getty)

According to Chris Cotillo, the Yankees have signed catcher Carlos Corporan to a minor league contract. I assume he received an invitation to big league Spring Training. Corporan joins Eddy Rodriguez and Sebastian Valle as upper level backstops the Yankees have signed to minor league deals this winter.

Corporan, 32, is a career .218/.280/.342 (69 wRC+) hitter in 232 big league games with the Brewers, Astros, and Rangers. Like most catchers the Yankees have acquired in recent years, Corporan is a pitch-framing extraordinaire and has a reputation for being a strong defender behind the dish. That’s his thing. He’s a classic defense first backup.

In all likelihood Corporan will compete with Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine for the backup catcher’s job in Spring Training, and that could go in any direction. Sanchez seems like the favorite, but sending him down for a few weeks to work on his defense would be entirely justifiable, plus another 35 days or so in the minors delays his free agency by a year.

Romine is out of options and has been outrighted before, meaning if he doesn’t make the team, he’ll have to go through waivers and can elect free agency if he clears. I imagine he would do that and look for a better opportunity. I know I would. Realistically, the only way Romine stays with the Yankees beyond Opening Day is by making the team or getting hurt and landing on the DL.

It’s possible Sanchez could be the backup with Corporan in Triple-A. Or Corporan could be the backup with Sanchez in Triple-A. Or Romine could be the backup with Sanchez and Corporan in Triple-A. Lots of possibilities here. The Yankees have been emphasizing youth over the last 15 months, so I think Sanchez will get the backup job. Corporan is just insurance in case things don’t go as planned.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Make sure you check out this post by Jeff Sullivan on what might be the beginning of the end for pitch-framing. There seems to be some evidence umpires are aware of the emergence of framing as a valuable and sought after skill, and have made some adjustments to eliminate those extra strikes. Several of the game’s top pitch-framers saw their numbers take a big hit last season, including Brian McCann. Interesting stuff.

This is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils all have games this evening, plus there’s some college hoops on the schedule as well. Talk about those games, the decline in pitch-framing, or anything else right here.

Luis Torrens is “healthy and ready” for Spring Training following shoulder surgery

(SI Advance)
(SI Advance)

Catcher prospect Luis Torrens is “healthy and ready” for Spring Training following shoulder surgery last year, Brian Cashman confirmed to George King (subs. req’d). Torrens missed the entire 2015 season after having surgery last March to repair a torn labrum. He went into last season as the No. 6 prospect in the system, in my opinion.

“He is healthy and ready, full bore, for Spring Training,” said Cashman. Farm system head Gary Denbo told King that Torrens spent his down year taking English classes and hitting the weight room. He was healthy enough to perform some baseball activities (hitting, throwing, etc.) late in Instructional League back in September and October.

Torrens, who is still only 19, missed two months during the 2014 season with a shoulder strain. He started the year with Low-A Charleston, played nine games, got hurt, then joined Short Season Staten Island once he got healthy. Torrens hit .270/.327/.405 (115 wRC+) with the Baby Bombers as one of the youngest players in NY-Penn League. He had a 21-game hitting streak at one point.

The Yankees signed Torrens for $1.3M out of Venezuela in July 2012. He was mostly an infielder as an amateur who moved to catcher full-time after signing. Torrens received a ton of praise for his baseball aptitude soon after signing and he was getting rave reviews for his progress behind the plate in 2014. He took to the position very quickly.

It goes without saying shoulder surgery is very serious for a catcher. A lot of defensive value is tied up in the arm. (Torrens has thrown out 41% of base-stealers in his career.) I’m glad to hear Torrens was healthy enough to work out at Instructs and will be “full bore” for camp. He’s one of the best all-around prospects in the system when healthy.

Cashman confirms Yankees unlikely to start the season with a six-man rotation

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

With each passing year, there is more and more talk the Yankees may use a six-man rotation going forward. Maybe not all season, but part of the season. The team went to great lengths to give their starters extra rest whenever possible last summer — Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi made 63 of their 107 starts with extra rest (59%) — and I’m sure that will be the case this coming season too.

At the moment, the Yankees intend to start the 2016 season with a normal five-man rotation, Brian Cashman confirmed to Bryan Hoch. “Right now, it’s more likely that we go the conventional route and have five starters,” said the GM. “And whoever is the loser out of that battle for five spots would potentially be a long man in the ‘pen, waiting in the wings. But who knows? We’ll have to wait and see.”

The April schedule includes a ton of off-days, as usual, so the Yankees will be able to give their starters plenty of extra rest without jumping through too many hoops early in the season. In fact, whoever starts Opening Day will be able to make each of his first four (and five of his first six) starts on extra rest thanks to scheduled off-days. I assume Tanaka will get the ball on Opening Day, but we’ll see.

Here is a real quick and dirty tentative rotation schedule for April. The Yankees must be looking forward to all those early-season off-days this year. Check this out:

April rotation schedule

The Yankees will be able to have their starter on extra rest 16 times (!) in the first 20 games. They won’t have to use a starter on normal rest until April 17th, the 12th game of the year. And doesn’t that April 27th game sure look like the perfect time to use a spot sixth starter? It would give the rest of the rotation two extra days of rest before their next starts thanks to the off-day on the 28th.

That all looks pretty good to me. Tanaka is coming off surgery to remove a bone spur, so the Yankees will want to take it easy on him early next year. Eovaldi’s season ended early due to an elbow issue as well. Sabathia’s knee flared up again in September and Pineda hasn’t pitched a full season since 2011. Luis Severino figures to be the other starter and he’ll be on some sort of innings limit. The Yankees have good reason to want to give these guys extra rest.

Of course, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. The Yankees have to get through Spring Training with five healthy starters before they can start mapping out rotation schedules and possible dates to use a sixth starter. “I think if you can give guys extra rest, that’s always a benefit,” added Cashman. “But theory and practicality, that’s where the rubber meets the road. We have a long way to get to before that really is a legitimate option or not.”

I’m sure we’ll hear more about the possibility of a six-man rotation in the coming weeks. It’s unavoidable. It’s what people talk about when there’s nothing else to talk about. That talk will only grow louder if the Yankees do manage to trade Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller for a starter in the coming weeks. I don’t think it’ll happen, but you never know. No one expected Alex Rodriguez to become a Yankee on this date in 2004, right? Right.