Mailbag: Hanley, Arodys, Nova, Brackman, Ortiz

Six questions today, half of which have to do with players not even on the Yankees. Remember to the use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send in some questions.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user SD Dirk via Creative Commons license)

Keane asks: If Hanley went on the block would you be interested?

Of course, players like Hanley Ramirez are rare. He’s having an absolutely brutal year, coming into today at almost exactly replacement level (0.1 fWAR) thanks to a .280 wOBA and a -3.5 UZR, but that kind of talent at that age (28 after the season) are almost never available in trades. There’s something like three and a half years and $60M left on his contract, so he’s making big boy money and any teams that pursues him would have to really investigate him to figure out why he’s fallen off so much. He’s hitting a lot more ground balls than he used to, which explains the power drop off, and he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone as well.

Buster Olney talked to various executives about Ramirez and posted the results yesterday (Insider req’d), and it wasn’t pretty. MLBTR has a nice little recap, but the general idea is that Hanley needs an attitude adjustment and has to take his conditioning more seriously. It’s pretty generic and stereotypical stuff, the kind of stuff you don’t hear when a white player struggles. It’s just the way it is. Is anyone questioning Jason Bay’s attitude and work ethic? Adam Dunn? Dan Uggla? Nope, nope, and nope. Anyway, I would certainly be interested in Hanley even though I’m not 100% sure where he’d play (he’s never been much of a shortstop), but talent and production like that is hard to pass up. Obviously he requires a thorough evaluation first just to see if he’s fixable.

Ryan asks: The Vazquez/Logan for Vizcaino/Dunn trade we know is terrible (although defensible at the time), but I am curious how Vizcaino is doing? Where would he rank in the system had he not been traded. (Would be nice to have Dunn instead of Logan right now)

Arodys Vizcaino is having a very nice year in the Atlanta’s system, and in fact he was just named to the World Team for the Futures Game. He’s struck out 64 and walked just 18 in 66 innings mostly with their High-A affiliate, but he was recently promoted to Double-A. Vizcaino also missed some time in April with back trouble, which is not the first time he had that (back issues limited him to just ten starts for Short Season Staten Island in 2009). If he was still Yankees’ property and had progressed the same way, I probably would have had him third on my pre-draft top 30 prospects list.

Tommy asks: What ever happened with Juan Paniagua? News reports stated that the Yankees signed him to a $1.1 MM contract in the beginning of March, but I haven’t heard anything since.

He and Rafael DePaula are waiting on visas, that’s all. Both guys had been investigated and suspended for age and identify fraud reasons, and the people at immigration don’t appreciate that. It’s entirely possible they never actually get visas.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Marianee O'Leary via Creative Commons license)

Ryan asks: Seems like every time Nova’s rotation spot is in jeopardy, he runs off a few good starts in a row. I know a big problem coming into the year was turning a lineup over 2 and 3 times. He seems to be going deeper and deeper into games lately, so how is he faring against lineups the 2nd and 3rd time through?

From B-Ref

First Time: 1.45 K/BB, 96 sOPS+
Second Time: 1.44 K/BB, 112 sOPS+
Third Time: 1.09 K/BB, 88 sOPS+
Fourth Time: 3.00 K/BB, 120 sOPS (just eight batters faced)

sOPS+ is the opposing batters’ OPS relative to league average in that situation. Although his K/BB ratio is the same the first and second times through the order, opponents are hitting Nova more the second time around due in part to a .327 BABIP (.253 the first time through). The K/BB is the big number for me the third time around, and it’s worth noting that batters have drawn more more total walks against him the third time through in fewer plate appearances. Once they’ve seen him twice already, the element of surprise is gone.

Nova’s done a much, much better job of pitching deep into games this year (though we didn’t have a huge sample of starts last year), and last time out against the Reds we saw him complete eight full innings for the first time in his career. It’s not a coincidence that Ivan was mixing four pitches in that start compared to his usual fastball-curveball heavy approach. He’s not going to have all four pitches working every time out, but hopefully he continues with that approach just to keep hitters guessing.

Lou asks: In reading the DOTFs it appears that Brackman has been shifted to the bull pen. Is this the case? Have the Yankees decided he could possibly help the bull pen in 2011, or is this more of a change to try and get him back on track?

Yep, he’s in the bullpen, and at this point I’m pretty sure it’s just an attempt to get him back to pitching effectively. Andrew Brackman‘s been absolutely brutal this year and it hasn’t been much better since the demotion to the bullpen, almost like he’s back at square one. The control has completely deteriorated, back to 2009 levels. I can’t imagine his confidence is all that high, and they just had to try something to get him going. He still has one more minor league option for next season, but the clock is ticking.

John asks: David Ortiz is a free agent at the end of the year and the Yankees could use an upgrade at DH. His bat would look great in the middle of the Yankees order, especially in Yankee Stadium. Perhaps it’s an unlikely marriage, but do you think the Yankees may/should pursue Big Papi for 2012?

Man, I sure hope not. There’s no doubt he’s killing the ball this year (.421 wOBA), but he’s going to want a multi-year contract and he’ll be 36 this winter. That has bad news written all over it. Ortiz and his agent could point to Adam Dunn as a starting point for negotiations or perhaps Jorge Posada‘s contract, since he was the same age at the time of the signing and was coming off a similarly huge year. Signing him would strike me as a classic George Steinbrenner move, locking up an old, nonathletic player with no defensive value through his decline years just because he’s got a clutch reputation and is coming off a great year. Ortiz is having a huge dead cat bounce year, but I’d rather let the Red Sox be on the hook for his age 36, 37, and 38 seasons.

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Lessons learned from pitching prospects

Billy Beane put it best when he said, paraphrased, that you need three pitching prospects in order to get one major league starter. One will get hurt, one will backslide, and one will succeed. This is precisely why, in RAB’s halcyon days, we so strongly argued that the Yankees should keep Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain. If they traded the wrong one, they could end up with nothing to show for their top three prospects. Keeping all three, however, gave them a good chance at having a young, cost-controlled pitcher in the rotation, which allows the further benefit of spending money elsewhere.

With the Yankees’ big three, it didn’t quite work out the way Beane described it. There were successes, injuries, and backslides, but those results were scattered among the three. Both Chamberlain and Hughes have gotten hurt, and, to a degree, have backslid — though, before news of Joba’s season-ending elbow injury, it was more that he backslid and that Hughes got hurt. Ian Kennedy backslid in ways, got hurt, and then succeeded, albeit in an environment dramatically different than that of the Yankees. There are still chances for Hughes, and even Joba, to succeed, but it’s still pretty clear that these guys followed Beane’s axiom.

At this point, the development of these three is behind us. Kennedy is finding success elsewhere, and while Hughes and Joba could still succeed to degrees, I’m not sure it’s particularly likely at this point. This shouldn’t be surprising, since it is the nature of pitchers. There’s a reason for TINSTAPP — there is no such thing as a pitching prospect. There are only pitchers. They all develop at different paces, and they’re all susceptible to the same pitfalls. WIth so much attrition among pitchers, teams absolutely need a block of high-end prospects if they’re going to get even one from the group.

This is relevant to the Yankees now, just as it was four years ago. They have a new trio of top pitching prospects in Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman. Right away, it appears that they’re going to take a different tack with this new group than they did with the Big Three. Brian Cashman made that relatively clear yesterday, when he said there were no plans to bring them up as relievers to help patch a spotty bullpen. Chances are, they also won’t call upon them to help in the rotation, either. That is, unless they display a certain degree of readiness.

The situation the Yankees face now is somewhat similar to the 2007 season. They were a bit more pitching starved then, as was evident when they called up Chase Wright to take a few starts. Eventually, though, they went to Hughes, despite him having made just a couple of starts at AAA, and despite him having pitched a career high 146 innings in 2006, after just 86.1 in 2005. His injury appeared to be a freak one, but he was never quite the same after that. He had a few good appearances, including a season-saving one in relief during the ALDS, but in 2008 he completely lost it. There might not be a causal link here, but I’m sure that the experience has the Yankees preferring to err on the side of caution nonetheless — especially when you consider the other two.

Both Chamberlain and Kennedy came up in the 2007 season as well. Chamberlain was so completely dominant as a starter in A and AA ball that the Yankees thought he could help save their spotty bullpen. He was nearing his innings limit anyway, so rather than have him make a few more starts in the minors and pack it up in September, the Yankees decided to have him finish his workload in relief. Of course, we know that a starter’s workload is different from a reliever’s, and perhaps bringing him to his innings limit in high-leverage situations in the majors wasn’t the best idea. It did help them make the playoffs in 2007, though. It also excited a fanbase, inciting the starter-reliever debate that still hasn’t died. (And will be reignited as Joba rehabs from surgery.) Kennedy’s debut was less of a big deal, but his good, if lucky, September performances gave him a rotation spot out of the chute in 2008, an experience from which the Yankees have clearly learned.

This time around, the Yankees are going to let the prospects speak for themselves, rather than let team necessity dictate their development paths. I’m certain that if the Yankees brought Dellin Betances into Joba’s old role that he’d succeed. He throws gas and has shown a propensity to miss bats. He might have control troubles, but as David Robertson has shown, if you can strike guys out you can often mask those troubles. And yes, many starters have come up as relievers before breaking into the rotation. At the same time, we can’t just use a blanket statement like that to make and examine decisions. If a pitcher isn’t developmentally ready to start in the bigs, will relieving in the bigs help excel that development? Or will it just prepare him for life in the bullpen? These are all questions that have to be asked of individual pitchers, and cannot be determined by a rule of thumb.

The good news is that the Yankees have three top-flight pitchers in their minor league system who, if developed fully, can help the team for years to come. Of course, chances are that only one will help. The others will make the bigs, maybe, and maybe even show signs of greatness. But the chances are great that one will backslide, one will get hurt, and one will succeed. The only way to find out which is which, though, is to let them continue developing their games. It will hurt the 2011 team for sure. But it stands to help the future Yankees to a greater degree.

Mailbag: Aceves, Farm System, Texeira, Maholm

Six questions today, covering topics from the farm system to potential draft picks to trade targets. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go if you want to send in any questions…

Aceves is the good looking one. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Matthew asks: The success of Al Aceves in Boston got me thinking about how he got away from the Yanks. Shouldn’t he have had an option left? Did the Yanks let him go simply for the sake of a 40-man slot? Thanks!

Aceves had two minor league options left. He’s been good but not great for the Red Sox (2.60 ERA but a 5.34 FIP), though the longer he stays healthy, the more his non-tender looks like a total blunder on the Yankees’ part. Maybe the medical staff didn’t evaluate his back properly, maybe Brian Cashman misread his willingness to sign a minor league deal, maybe Randy Levine stepped in, we don’t know. I do know that it wasn’t a 40-man roster issue, he was non-tendered in early December when the Yankees had something like eight spots open.

Mo asks: What would you rate the farm system up to this point this year? I feel like its sucking in comparison to last year’s great run…

It was going to be tough to repeat last year’s success, almost everything went right in 2010. This year is much more normal, in that some things are going right (Ramon Flores, pre-brawl Slade Heathcott, J.R. Murphy), some are going wrong (Adam Warren‘s walks, Jesus Montero‘s lack of power, High-A Tampa’s everything), and some guys have gotten hurt (Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances with the blisters, Graham Stoneburner’s neck). It feels like a down year compared to last season, but there isn’t an overwhelming amount of injuries or guys have down years, so overall it’s been pretty positive. An average year, really. That said, we’re seven weeks into the minor league season, so it’s tough for things to change much in one direction or the other. It’s still a top ten system.

Drew asks: Now that Kanekoa Texeira has been DFA’d, I think the Yankees should pick him up, I know the K/9 is down and his BB/9 are up but man does he throw hard. I think Rothschild could fix him. Agree?

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Heh, to say the strikeout rate is down would be an understatement, he hasn’t struck out any of 35 batters he’s faced this season. Texeira doesn’t throw that hard, PitchFX has him at 89-91 this year, which is down a little from last year. I’m sure most of you remember that he was in the Yankees organization for a while, coming over from the White Sox in the Nick Swisher trade before the Mariners took him in last year’s Rule 5 Draft. He ended up in Kansas City on a waiver claim last summer.

Anyway, he’s a sinker-slider guy that gets ground balls but not an absurd amount of them (51.9% career), and lefties hit him pretty hard. Texeira’s a fine up-and-down kind of reliever, better use of a 40-man roster spot than Amaury Sanit, but he’s not much more than that. Maybe Rothschild could fix him, but I’m not sure what he could do.

Matt asks: I was just wondering what you thought about Kyle Winkler. Most mock drafts and draft boards I’ve seen him at about 40, and he is probably rising. He’s so close to the Yankees that it’s possible that he drops, so what do you think?

Winkler, a right-hander at Texas Christian, has stepped in as the staff ace following Matt Purke’s struggles, and has struck out 96 while walking just 13 in 85.1 IP this year (1.48 ERA). The stuff is legit (sits 91-94 with the fastball, low-80’s slider, and a changeup) and he commands it well, and pretty much the only knock is his size (listed at 5-foot-11, 205 lbs.). Winkler is expected to go somewhere in the sandwich round or early second round, and he seems like Damon Oppenheimer’s kind of guy because he’s got command and pitched well in the Cape Cod League a few summers ago. He wouldn’t be a bad pick for the Yankees with their first selection (51st overall), but I’m not much of a college righty kind of guy unless we’re talking about the truly elite.

Matt asks: Andrew Brackman is not off to the best of starts down in Scranton. He’s already 25 so isn’t this almost a make or break year for him? Can you see him in a relief role?

I wouldn’t call it a make or break year, not at all. At the end of the day, who really cares how old a guy is when he debuts as long as he’s contributing positively? They don’t check I.D.’s on the mound, as the old saying goes. Brackman’s struggled this year (6.00 FIP), no doubt about it, but if he keeps struggling then they can option him back to the minors next year and keep working on it. He won’t run out of options until 2013 at the earliest. There would have be a lot of improvement over the next month or two for Brackman to be a relief option at this point, he’s got to show he’s move beyond the struggles and there are also some guys ahead of him on the relief pitcher call-up depth chart.

Yeah, Maholm is the guy that struck out Billy Crystal a few years ago. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Bryan asks: What are the chances the Yanks pursue Paul Maholm if the Pirates make him available? He’s got a pretty good ground ball rate at 52% and also has a good xFIP at 3.77. Would he be worth a crack for the right price?

I’ve never really been much of a Maholm fan at all because he doesn’t miss any bats (6.23 K/9 this year is a career high by a decent margin) and his walk rates aren’t anything special (3.67 BB/9 this year, 3.08 career). Starting pitchers with sub-2.00 K/BB ratios in the American League have a hard time being anything better than average, historically. Then again, average doesn’t mean bad and he could probably help the Yankees. Maholm is in the last year of his contract ($5.75M salary with a $9.75M option for 2012 will be bought out for $750,000) and could give some innings, but I would hope the Yankees don’t bend over backwards to acquire him. They need another high-end pitcher, not another back-end filler type.

Also, while ground balls are preferable because they don’t turn into homeruns, we have to remember that the Yankees’ infield defense isn’t all that great. Mark Teixeira is fine at first, but Derek Jeter has the range of a potted plant, Alex Rodriguez is comfortably below average, and Robinson Cano has been playing with his defensive head up his ass this year.

Stephan asks: Tim Norton-seems like he’s legit. I’ve seen a little about him and his rehab around the web, but what are your thoughts? He’s gotta get a promotion soon(ish) right?

He’s legit in that he’s a potential relief option, but he’s no future closer or anything great like that. Norton’s an older guy (turns 28 on Monday) that was slowed by some major arm issues, but he’s obviously healthy now and doing a fine job of missing bats (14.5 K/9) and throwing strikes (2.9 BB/9) in Double-A. NoMaas interviewed him a few weeks ago, and I recommend reading for info about his stuff, back story, etc. It’s going to take more than 51 dominant innings (dating back to last season) for Norton to really start forcing the organization’s hand, but he’s definitely put himself on the map. A promotion to Triple-A will certainly be in the cards at some point this summer.

The Yankees remaining pitching depth

In today’s game it is the rarest of feats for a team to last an entire season using only five starters. It’s not even common to see a team use only six. Pitching depth has become an important aspect for any contending team. That puts the Yankees in a tough position. They came into spring training with two open rotation spots and few arms to fill them. What would happen if someone didn’t work out? Worse, what would happen if someone got hurt?

The Yankees got the answer to the latter question pretty quickly. Phil Hughes hit the DL after three terrible starts. Thankfully, the Yankees did have a surprise replacement in Bartolo Colon. That has worked out well so far, as have the other two non-household names in the rotation: Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova. But sometimes it feels as though the Yankees’ rotation is held together by CC Sabathia and some duct tape. What will happen, then, when they need a seventh starter?

Yesterday one of the depth options, Kevin Millwood, left the fray. That doesn’t represent a huge loss, since the Yankees reportedly weren’t impressed with his stuff. Still, he was a veteran option who could have stepped in if the Yankees needed an extra starter. They’ll have to move onto the next guy. Here’s who we could see in the case that Garcia, Colon, Nova, or even Burnett becomes a problem down the line.

Carlos Silva

(Morry Gash/AP)

Signed to a minor league contract last month, Silva just threw his first extended spring training start on Saturday. He’s still a little ways off, which is fine. The rotation is going well right now, and barring injury they probably won’t need someone for at least another two or three turns through the rotation. Silva pitched well for the Cubs last season — under Larry Rothschild’s tutelage — with a 4.22 ERA and 3.75 FIP. At this point in his career he’s not going to dazzle anyone, but he can definitely serve a purpose in the back of the rotation. As long as the Yankees don’t need another starter in the next two weeks, I presume he’s first in line when that need does arise.

David Phelps

He got some hype this winter as the Yankees tried to build the staff, but there was no realistic way he was making the Opening Day roster. A rough spring made that took away unrealistic chances. His 2011 season has been ho-hum so far, a 4.15 ERA in 30.1 innings. A couple of short outings at the start of the season depress his numbers a bit, but it’s not as though he’s been dominant since. His maturity as a prospect and his good control will probably put him next in line for a call-up.

Adam Warren

I was surprised to see Warren start with the AAA team, but he’s made a fair run of it his first five starts. That is, he’s experienced good results. The inputs — specifically his 17:13 K/BB ratio — haven’t been that encouraging. He’s also a fly ball guy, which makes him more of a liability at Yankee Stadium. Again, the stat sheet looks fine, but given his lack of experience (just 84.1 innings above A-ball), his current profile as a fly ball guy, and his spotty control, I’m not sure he’s taking the shuttle to the Bronx this year unless there is a major catastrophe.

Andrew Brackman

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

At some point this season Brackman figures to make a Bronx appearance. Whether that’s as a starter or in relief remains the question. His first four starts at AAA haven’t been great, as he’s been a bit wild at times. The Yankees clearly want to get him more experience in the minors, so I assume he wouldn’t get the call until mid-June at the earliest. Even that might be stretching it. He’s in line for sure, but he doesn’t appear to be near the front.

Hector Noesi

Sitting in the bullpen rather than pitching didn’t help Noesi’s case. He’s on the 40-man roster and because of that he’ll always be near the front of the line. But he will probably need some more work if he’s going to take a spot in the rotation, even if temporarily. Clearly, he was an emergency-only option during his brief sting with the team earlier in the year.

D.J. Mitchell

I don’t think he’s much of an option, but he’s at AAA so he at least gets a mention. A two-pitch guy without much of an out pitch, he’s probably bullpen-bound anyway.

Schaeffer Hall, Craig Heyer, Manny Banuelos

They’re all off to good starts in AA, but I doubt they’re ahead of any of the AAA guys, except maybe Mitchell. Maybe later in the season they’ll move up a level and get a longer look, but until then I doubt the Yankees think about adding any of them to the 40-man and then the active roster.

Mailbag: Angelini, Brackman, Insurance, CC

This week we’re going to tackle Carmen Angelini‘s future, Andrew Brackman‘s innings, contract insurance, and CC Sabathia‘s fWAR. Remember to use the Submit A Tip form in the sidebar to send in your questions.

Marc asks: Would it be insane to try Carmen Angelini on the mound? He clearly isn’t going to make it as a position player and the Yankees should exhaust all options after giving the kid a cool million.

Show off that arm, Carmen. (Photo Credit: Bill Lyons, Staten Island Advance)

I was pretty high on Angelini back in the day, but the kid just didn’t hit at all (.270 wOBA in almost 900 plate appearances in Low-A and below) and then missed the entire 2010 season after having hip surgery. He seemed like a lost cause at that point, a waste of $1M, so I was understandably surprised when he popped up in the High-A Tampa box score last night. I’m pretty sure the Yankees don’t think of him as much more than an organizational player at this point, since they bumped him up a level after a year off when he didn’t hit a lick at the lower levels. He’s just filling out a roster; guys that can legitimately play shortstop are more uncommon than I think most of us realize.

When he was drafted, the scouting report on Angelini said that he had a strong arm for a shortstop, but it wasn’t a “wow” arm. Not the kind of arm that makes you think he could pitch. That’s not to say it isn’t worth a shot, maybe he builds up arm strength with a throwing program or proves to be a control freak. Position player-to-pitcher conversions don’t work very often, but at some point it’ll given him a better chance at the success than what he’s doing now. I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean isn’t insane.

Dee asks: What’s the reasoning behind putting Brackman in the 5th rotation spot in the SWB rotation? Do you think it could be an indication of limiting his innings somewhat in the first half of the season so that he could provide the big league team with more innings in the later part of the season either out of the rotation or bullpen? Does Brackman have a projected innings limit this year?

Andrew Brackman threw 140.2 IP last year after throwing 106.2 IP the year before, so he should be good for 170 IP or so this year. Remember, he’s older than your typical prospect (already 25), so they could probably push the innings envelope a little more with him. That 170 number is more than enough for what they’ll (presumably) need him for this summer, which is a spot starter or reliever. All five of the guys in the Triple-A rotation are in pretty good shape when it comes to innings limits this season, so that’s not much of a concern.

I wouldn’t read much (if anything) into the order of the minor league rotations. There could be something we don’t know about in play here; maybe he got a blister and needed more time off, maybe his throwing schedule in Major League Spring Training didn’t line up exactly with the work being done in minor league camp. Remember, Brackman’s the low man on the totem pole in terms of Triple-A experience, so it could be a seniority thing. Who knows.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

eyerishyank asks: One thing I have always wondered about is insurance on contracts. Did Carl Pavano really cost the Yanks 40 mil or did insurance pick up a lot of that tab? Some guys I understand cannot get insurance, but can most guys? I would love to understand better how insurance mitigates risk with baseball contracts to help evaluate the “real risk” involved in some of these deals.

Insurance on baseball contracts is like insurance on everything else; the insurance company evaluates the risk and then decides whether or not to proceed and provide coverage. I have no idea if the Yankees had insurance on Pavano’s contract, but he wasn’t exactly a beacon of health before coming to New York, so it’s not safe to assume they did. Information about insurance doesn’t get reported all that often, but I’m sure it’s something teams pursue for every contract, especially pitchers. The problem is that if you don’t use it, you don’t get your money back, and if you do use it, the price in the future goes up. Those bastards.

Charlie asks: Hey guys I just thought this was kind of cool, if all goes well in CC’s next start he will have accumulated 50 WAR for his career. According to Fangraphs he is as 49.9 right now.

This was sent five days ago, before Sabathia shut out the Twins for seven innings on Tuesday. That effort was worth 0.3 fWAR, so his career total now sits at 50.2 fWAR. Players within 5.0 fWAR of CC (in either direction) include Tommy John (47.1), Don Sutton (47.8), Jimmy Key (47.9), Orel Hershiser (48.5), Dave Stieb (49.5), Ron Guidry (50.6), Tom Seaver (52.2), and Phil Niekro (52.8). Here’s the career fWAR list if you’re interested, but remember the data only goes back to 1980 or so. Sabathia’s got a whole lot of career left ahead of him, so he’s going to zoom up the list over the next few seasons.