Wednesday Night Open Thread

According to agent Marc Kligman, switch-pitcher Pat Venditte signed a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training with the Athletics today. He became a minor league free agent after the season. Venditte, 29, spent parts of the last seven seasons in the Yankees’ farm system, where he had a 2.46 ERA with a 10.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 384.2 innings. He’s famous because he throws with both arms, but his stuff is fringy from both sides, especially since he had right shoulder surgery in 2012. Maybe the A’s will give Venditte a chance. That would be neat. I am kinda curious to see him. Venditte is from the Colter Bean class of relievers though, a guy with great minor league numbers but not the stuff to hack it in MLB.

Here is your open thread for the night. The Rangers, Knicks, and Nets are all playing, plus there’s bound to be some college basketball on somewhere. Talk about those games, Venditte, or anything else right here.

2014 Season Review: Chris Young and the Extra Outfielders

Oh Eury. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Oh Eury. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

As is the case every season, the Yankees cycled through several extra players in the outfield in 2014 to help cover for injuries and soak up spare innings in September. There weren’t as many random outfielders as their were random infielders, but there were more than I realized. Here’s the group.

Chris Young

After he was released by the Mets at midseason, the Yankees grabbed Young off the scrap heap, stashed him in Triple-A for a week, then called him up when rosters expanded in September. The idea was to add some depth because Carlos Beltran‘s elbow kept barking, and also potentially add some right-handed pop to a lineup almost devoid of it. I closed the post about the signing with this:

Maybe he’ll hit a random big homer or something.

In his sixth game as a Yankee, Young did this:

Random big homer! That was actually the second homerun in a stretch of three homers in three games for Young, who put his struggles with the Mets behind him and gave the Yankees a very nice month of September. He hit .282/.354/.521 (146 wRC+) with three homeruns and a stolen base in 78 plate appearances. Young was playing left field on an everyday basis by the end of the month due to injuries elsewhere in the outfield. The Yankees hit the scrap heap lottery.

Young credited since-fired hitting coach Kevin Long with helping him break some bad habits — “I’ve been able to find some things here that can carry me for years to come,” he said to Dan Barbarisi in September — so there’s at least some chance the improvement was real and not just a small sample fluke. The Yankees obvious think it’s real — they re-signed Young to a one-year contract earlier this month to serve as the team’s fourth outfielder next year. Brian Cashman said the club’s analytical department pushed to bring Young back.

For the final month of the 2014 season, Young gave the Yankees a nice shot in the arm. He hit some clutch homers — he hit an extra-innings go ahead homer against the Orioles the day after the walk-off shot (video), but the bullpen blew the lead — and played some nice defense as well. It wasn’t enough to get New York into the postseason, but Young as a positive contributor during his brief time in pinstripes.

Zoilo Almonte

Almonte was the team’s classic up-and-down outfielder this summer. He spent most of the year with Triple-A Scranton, where he hit .261/.311/.437 (103 wRC+) with 18 homeruns in 105 games. The Yankees called Zoilo up three different times through the season to help fill in for injuries, though he still only managed to appear in 13 games. He went 5-for-36 (.139) with one very long solo homer (video).

Rather than come back up when rosters expanded in September, the Yankees designated Almonte for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Young. Zoilo cleared waivers and became a minor league free agent after the season. He’s since hooked on with the Braves on a Major League contract. Despite all his power production in the minors (74 homers since 2010), Almonte was never going to get much of a chance with the Yankees. He had a 39 wRC+ with the big league team in 149 plate appearances the last two years.

Antoan Richardson

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Man, talk about random. The Yankees signed Richardson as a minor league free agent last winter and he put up a nice .271/.380/.364 (114 wRC+) batting line with three homers and 26 steals in 27 attempts with Triple-A Scranton before being a surprise September call-up. The Yankees called him up to serve as their designated pinch-runner and, sure enough, he went 5-for-5 in steal attempts. He did get picked off first once and was also doubled off first when he put his head down and kept running on a fly ball, perhaps forgetting the number of outs. Richardson did have one nice series in Baltimore by going 4-for-10. His time in pinstripes ended with five hits in 16 at-bats (.313) and those five steals. The team dropped him from the 40-man roster after the season and he’s since become a free agent.

Fun Fact: Richardson scored the run on Derek Jeter‘s walk-off single in his final home game at Yankee Stadium. Jose Pirela led the inning off with a single and Richardson came on to pinch-run. Brett Gardner bunted him up to second and Jeter took care of the rest.

Eury Perez

September acquisitions are rare, but the Yankees claimed Perez off waivers from the Nationals on September 22nd, after Washington designated him for assignment to clear 40-man roster space for a waiver claim of their own (Pedro Florimon from the Twins). Perez hit .311/.372/.406 (119 wRC+) with one homer and 20 steals in 23 attempts for the Nats’ Triple-A affiliate before spending the final few days of the season in New York. He played sparingly, going 2-for-10 with three strikeouts at the plate. Perez saw time in right and center field and remains on the 40-man. Seems like he’ll fill the Almonte role of up-and-down outfielder in 2015.

Prospect Profile: Jordan Foley

(Robert Pimpsner)
(Robert Pimpsner)

Jordan Foley | RHP

Background
Foley was born and raised in The Colony, a suburb of Dallas, and he played baseball at The Colony High School. (The name of the city is literally The Colony.) He was not very highly regarded out of his school — Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Foley as the 112th best prospect in Texas for the 2011 draft — and opted to follow through on his commitment to Central Michigan after the Yankees made him their 26th round pick (809th overall).

As a freshman with the Chippewas, Foley had an ugly 8.20 ERA with more walks (34) than strikeouts (25) in 37.1 innings spread across six starts and seven relief appearances. He moved into the rotation full-time as a sophomore and was much better, pitching to a 3.08 ERA with 90 strikeouts and 44 walks in 15 starts and 90.2 innings. After the season, Foley had a 3.00 ERA with 34 strikeouts and ten walks in 27 innings for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks of the Cape Cod League.

Foley had another strong season as a junior this spring, throwing 97.2 innings across 15 starts with a 3.69 ERA. He struck out 81 and cut his walk total down to 28. Baseball America (no subs. req’d) ranked Foley as the 128th best prospect in the 2014 draft class while Keith Law (subs. req’d) did not rank him among his top 100 draft prospects. The Yankees selected Foley again, this time in the fifth round with the 152nd overall pick. He signed quickly for a straight slot $317,500 bonus.

Pro Debut
After a quick tune-up appearance with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Yankees, Foley was bumped up to Short Season Staten Island, where he had a 4.46 ERA (3.15 FIP) in 34.1 innings. He made five starts and six relief appearances as pair of the team’s tandem-starter system. Foley allowed just one homer and posted an excellent strikeout rate (9.70 K/9 and 24.8 K%) with a workable walk rate (3.67 BB/9 and 9.4 BB%).

Scouting Report
The first thing everyone seems to talk about with Foley his unconventional follow through. His leg kick and everything else is fairly standard, but he has a big head whack after releasing the ball and it’s not the prettiest thing you’ll ever see on the mound. Check it out:

Foley struggles to repeat that delivery and it’s why his command is spotty at best and many project him as a reliever down the road. You don’t see many starters with a delivery like that throwing 100+ pitches every fifth day. Despite the delivery, Foley hasn’t had any injury problems since getting to Central Michigan.

Foley has a classic pitcher’s frame at 6-foot-4 and 215 lbs., and he sits in the 90-94 range while touching 96-97 as a starter with his four-seam fastball. He hit 96-97 more regularly when working out of the bullpen this past summer. Foley is one of the rare pitchers who comes to pro ball with a splitter — he uses the mid-80s offering as a changeup to combat left-handers. A promising low-80s slider rounds out his repertoire.

2015 Outlook
Because he’s not as refined as many college pitchers, I expect Foley to open next season in the Low-A Charleston rotation, and he just might stay there all year and focus on repeating his delivery and improving his location. If he does that, he can move up to High-A Tampa in 2016 and get on the fast track. I would be very surprised if Foley opened 2015 with Tampa unless he’s moved into the bullpen full-time, and it’s way too early in his career to do that.

My Take
I like Foley and was pleasantly surprised the Yankees were able to get him in the fifth round. He was considered more of a third rounder heading into the draft. That delivery is kinda scary and I’m not sure he’ll be able to start long-term without some serious cleanup, but he has a nice power repertoire — I dig the splitter, it’s a devastating pitch when thrown properly — that misses bats and the control issues are a little easier to stomach in short one-inning relief outings. I think Foley has a chance to be an impact high-strikeout reliever down the line.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Brandon McCarthy

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

For the umpteenth consecutive offseason, the Yankees need to add a starter to their rotation this winter, preferably two. Ivan Nova (elbow) won’t be back until at least May while CC Sabathia (knee), Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), and Michael Pineda (shoulder) will all carry injury concerns heading into 2015. Shane Greene and David Phelps are nice pitchers I would rather see penciled in as the sixth and seventh starters rather than numbers four and five.

Earlier this month we heard the Yankees were planning to “aggressively” pursue re-signing right-hander Brandon McCarthy, which makes total sense. He was excellent during his brief time in pinstripes, pitching to a 2.89 ERA (3.22 FIP) in 14 starts and 90.1 innings, and usually that’s enough to get a guy a new contract. McCarthy is arguably the fourth best free agent starter on the market behind Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields though, making him a popular second tier target. Stint in pinstripes aside, is McCarthy actually worth pursuing? Let’s look.

A Quick Note About Performance

During his year and a half with the Diamondbacks, McCarthy was bad. Just … bad. I don’t know how else to put it. He made 40 starts and threw 244.2 innings with Arizona and had a 4.75 ERA and 3.78 FIP. That’s bad. If you allow more than one run for every two innings pitched over that many innings, it’s bad. You really have to squint your eyes and adore the peripherals to ignore the fact that lots of runs were being scored against McCarthy. That is the pitcher’s job at the end the day. Keep runs off the board. Style points don’t matter.

McCarthy reinvented himself as a sinker/cutter pitcher with the Athletics way back in the day — this story has already been told a million times, no need to repeat it here — and he had a 3.29 ERA and 3.22 FIP in 43 starts and 281.2 innings with Oakland during the 2011-12 seasons. That looks an awful lot like the numbers he put during his short time in the Bronx, no? The same FIP and the ERA difference could be sample size noise or the result of the decline in offense around baseball. Or both!

I think it’s important to note here that, within the last few years, a lot of players joined the D’Backs and got worse and/or left the D’Backs and got better. That’s part of the reason GM Kevin Towers was fired in September. Players who are/were thriving elsewhere stunk with Arizona. McCarthy falls into that group. So does Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Martin Prado, Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer, and a bunch of others. It’s happened often enough that it has to be something more than a coincidence at this point.

Change In Stuff & Pitch Selection

Now let’s get down to the nuts and bolts. As you know, McCarthy said the D’Backs did not let him throw his cutter during his time there but the Yankees, who are as cutter-happy as any organization in baseball, allowed him to throw it. It’s easy to attribute his success in New York to the return of his cutter, except that’s not really what happened. Here’s a table from our Season Review post:

% Cutters % Sinkers % Curves % Four-Seamers
2011-12 with A’s 41.3% 36.1% 18.9% 3.7%
2013-14 with D’Backs 23.6% 49.2% 20.1% 7.1%
2014 with Yankees 18.8% 36.0% 20.9% 24.2%

McCarthy only threw 10.3% cutters with the D’Backs before the trade this past season, so yes, he did technically throw more cutters with the Yankees this year. But compared to last season (34.6%) he actually threw fewer. He did throw more sinkers with Arizona, which jibes with the alleged “no cutters” policy, and his curveball usage has remained approximately the same over the years.

It’s possible there is some PitchFX weirdness going on here, particularly during McCarthy’s time with the Yankees. Maybe the system misclassified some cutters as four-seamers — cutters are usually misclassified as sliders and vice versa — and boy, that would explain a lot. Maybe McCarthy actually did throw more straight four-seam fastballs in New York. That could have led to his increased effectiveness as well. I’ve always thought having multiple fastballs was a good foundation for success despite having zero evidence to support it. Just one of those things I believe.

Anyway, here’s something else from our Season Review post. McCarthy added a frickin’ ton of velocity — across the board, not just the fastball(s) — this past summer:

Brandon McCarthy velocity

That’s not a slight uptick in velocity. McCarthy added 3.2 mph to his average curveball velocity, 2.0 mph to his sinker, and 1.5 mph to his cutter from 2013 to 2014. That’s substantial and who in the world knows if it will last next year. We’ll get into McCarthy’s injury history and offseason workout routine in a bit, but adding roughly two miles an hour to your arsenal across the board at age 31 is not something that happens all that often.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a second to look at the effectiveness of McCarthy’s individual pitches over the years. I’m not going to lump this together by team or whatever, I want see what happened each year because a pitcher’s stuff does change over time. Guys add movement and lose velocity, stuff like that, often unintentionally. It’s unavoidable. The innings build up and the arm can’t do what it once did. Here are the swing-and-miss rates and ground ball rates of McCarthy’s individual pitches over the years (via Brooks Baseball):

CT Whiff% CT GB% SNK Whiff% SNK GB% CB Whiff% CB GB% FB Whiff% FB GB%
2011 12.9% 38.0% 4.0% 53.5% 9.6% 54.5% 5.0% 0.0%
2012 10.2% 35.1% 4.3% 41.4% 9.9% 48.1% 1.9% 40.0%
2013 8.0% 37.7% 4.5% 58.2% 7.9% 54.3% 11.6% 33.3%
2014 8.6% 44.4% 8.4% 59.1% 11.4% 54.5% 14.6% 39.4%
MLB AVG 9.7% 43.0% 5.4% 49.5% 11.1% 48.7% 6.9% 37.9%

That table isn’t as messy as I expected. Phew. It’s best to read each column top to bottom, don’t try reading across each row.

McCarthy had four pitches that were above-average at getting ground balls this past season and three that were above-average at getting swings and misses. That is really, really good. You’ll be quite successful if you can do that. In the past though, only the sinker and curveball were reliably above-average at getting ground balls and McCarthy’s best swing-and-miss pitch was his cutter … until he got to Arizona.

Whiff rates and grounder rates tend to stabilize very quickly, within the first 100-150 pitches of each individual pitch, a level McCarthy has easily cleared the last four years. There’s no sample size issue this year. The improvement in McCarthy’s swing-and-miss and ground ball rates seem to be tied directly to his uptick in velocity. More velocity means more swings and misses, that’s been analyzed and correlated to death. The same is not necessarily true for ground balls overall, but it could be for McCarthy given the movement on his pitches.

This brings us back to where we were before: is McCarthy going to sustain this improved velocity? Normally the answer would be no, a 31-year-old pitcher with McCarthy’s of injury history won’t continue throwing this hard, but there might be other factors in play here, specifically his health. I’ll get into that in a bit, I promise. The other question is can he remain effective even if the velocity isn’t here to stay? I don’t see why not, velocity isn’t everything, but at the end of the day we’re not going to know the answer to either of those questions until he actually gets back on a mound in 2015 and pitches.

The Ugly Injury History

McCarthy’s injury history is scary as hell. It’s almost all shoulder problems too, which are extra scary. McCarthy nearly died after being hit in the head by a line drive in September 2012 — he needed emergency surgery for a epidural hemorrhage, a brain contusion, and a skull fracture — but, as serious as that was, it was a fluke injury and he has since made a full recovery. The shoulder problems are chronic.

From 2007-13, McCarthy visited the disabled list at least once each season with some kind of arm injury. Again, most of them shoulder problems. Here’s the list:

  • 2007: Stress fracture in his shoulder, missed 31 days.
  • 2008: Forearm/elbow tightness and inflammation, missed 157 days.
  • 2009: Stress fracture in his shoulder, missed 88 days.
  • 2010: Stress fracture in his shoulder, missed 172 days.
  • 2011: Stress fracture in his shoulder, missed 45 days.
  • 2012: Shoulder soreness/strain, missed 86 days.
  • 2013: Shoulder soreness, missed 63 days.
  • 2014: Healthy!

Like I said, scary. Scary scary scary. But the good news is McCarthy stayed healthy in 2014 — he threw 200 innings on the nose between the Yankees and D’Backs after never throwing more than 170.2 innings in a season — and it has now been three full years since he last suffered a stress fracture in his shoulder. Soreness and strains keep you off the mound just as well, but “stress fracture” just sounds scarier. Maybe I have that backwards and the soreness and strains are the bigger issue. I’m not a doctor, I just play one on a blog.

In an effort to stay healthy this past season, McCarthy changed up his offseason routine last winter and focused on getting stronger. “I spent a lot of time in the off-season working on that, doing everything I could to get to a place where I was as strong as I could be physically and mentally,” he said to Nick Piecoro in Spring Training. “That’s shown up early. I feel like myself again. With that, in games I’m sharper, more focused, and the results kind of follow that. Now it’s just staying in that same place.”

The new offseason routine apparently worked, because McCarthy stayed healthy all season and he came out throwing much harder than ever before. There is a tangible reason behind the improved health and velocity. It’s not like he kept doing what he doing before but suddenly stayed healthy and started throwing harder this past summer. Remember when the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett? Almost all the talk at the time was about how much of an injury risk he was, yet Burnett stayed healthy and has thrown at least 185 innings in each of the last seven years. Injury prone pitchers can suddenly become durable, even after age 30.

Contract Estimates

Let’s defer to people a lot smarter than me for what it might take to sign Mr. McCarthy this winter:

Jon Heyman reported last week that McCarthy is waiting to see what Lester, Scherzer, and Shields get before signing himself. I’m sure he’d sign quickly if a team makes him a nice offer, but waiting to see what those three get isn’t a bad strategy. It’s not like the pitching market will dry up completely once those guys sign, and McCarthy would only make himself that much more valuable by being the best available starter later in the offseason.

Given what we’ve seen early this offseason as well as the last two or three offseasons, I’m guessing the first team to step forward and offer that third guaranteed year will get McCarthy. A deal that long can be scary for a pitcher with his injury history, so the team would either have to be very desperate or very comfortable with his medicals. The Yankees had McCarthy for a few weeks this year and got to see his work ethic and that sort of stuff firsthand. That matters. It doesn’t hurt that they had plenty of time to review his medicals and various routines either.

If the Yankees are serious about avoided long-term contracts this offseason — we’ve already seen reports to the contrary and it’s not even Thanksgiving, so who knows — they’re unlikely to find a better pitcher on a short-term contract that McCarthy. There are major concerns about his injury history and legitimate questions about whether the velocity uptick is a long-term thing, but good luck finding a non-elite pitcher without some kind of question marks. That the Yankees are planning to “aggressively” pursue McCarthy tells me they are comfortable with the medicals, and that’s a necessary step one for bringing him back to New York.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

If you had any doubt the relief pitcher market would be insane this offseason, left-hander Zach Duke signed a three-year deal worth $15M with the White Sox today. He was awesome this past season after reinventing himself as a sidearmer (2.45 ERA and 2.14 FIP), but this is the same Zach Duke who had a 6.03 ERA (4.20 FIP) last year and a 5.32 ERA (4.49 FIP) from 2010-13. If one great year gets Duke that contract, David Robertson and Andrew Miller are going to get paaaid.

Anyways, here is the nightly open thread. The Knicks, Devils, and Islanders are all playing, and I’m sure there’s some college basketball on somewhere. Feel free to talk about those games, the bullpen market, or anything else right here.