Archive for Brandon Laird

Jul
11

The Brandon Laird Option

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(Photo Credit: Flickr user paul.hadsall via Creative Commons license)

Alex Rodriguez will miss the next month or so after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee today, leaving the Yankees will a huge hole in their lineup. Even though he hasn’t been hitting for power, A-Rod was still very productive from the cleanup spot, hitting .333/.387/.417 in 93 plate appearances since his last homerun. The Yankees can replace his stats (they may luck out and find someone to match that production but the odds are against it), though they won’t replace the way his presence impacts the game. Alex is one of those rare players that changes the game from the on-deck circle, and no backup infield does that.

Reports over the weekend indicated that the Yankees prefer to replace A-Rod from within, but they’ll at least kick the tires on outside options. The most popular trade candidate seems to be Aramis Ramirez, but he’s a complete non-option. He can definitely hit, no doubt (.298/.346/.497), but his contract says his $16M club option for 2012 turns into a player option if he’s traded. That’s a total deal breaker, there’s no reason for the Yankees to take that on for a six-week stopgap. More realistic options include Melvin Mora and Kevin Kouzmanoff, but they’re not guaranteed to outperform the guys already have in the organization.

The obvious in-house replacement is Eduardo Nunez, who did a fine job filling in for Derek Jeter a few weeks ago. The team has already indicated that he’ll get the bulk of the playing time in A-Rod’s absence, but there is one other option: Brandon Laird. Gerald’s little brother is already on the 40-man roster and is having an okay but not great season at Triple-A. He’s hitting .268/.297/.418 overall with ten homers, though it’s worth noting that he’s been playing better of late: .299/.325/.470 in his last 243 plate appearances, .292/.320/.503 in his last 153 plate appearances, and .311/.321/.584 in his last 78 plate appearances. No, he’s doesn’t walk much, but that’s life.

Laird does his best work against southpaws, tagging them for a .300/.337/.525 line this year (.258/.284/.383 vs. RHP) with a similar platoon split through his career. Not only does have a plethora of experience at third base, but he’s also played plenty of first base and the Yankees have had him dabble in left field over the last ten months or so. It’s probably not a coincidence that his first career game in right field came two days ago. Laird won’t win any Gold Gloves, but he won’t embarrass himself and should make all the routine plays, just not the spectacular onces. My guess is that with a full season’s worth of playing time, he’d probably be 5-10 runs below average with the glove. Not awful, but his bat is good enough that he should be better than replacement level.

For all intents and purposes, this is why the Yankees protected Laird from the Rule 5 Draft last winter. He’ll never ever ever be a starter on this team (barring disaster, anyway), so he serves two purposes: trade bait and an injury fill-in. If he performs well enough at the latter, maybe he snags a bench job for a while. There’s no doubt he’s better than Ramiro Pena, especially offensively, so the Yankees could swap the two and use Laird two or three times a week, primarily against lefties. That way Nunez could spell Jeter and Robinson Cano (or even get a day off himself) without completely sacrificing offense. He’d also be the fifth outfielder and backup first baseman as well.

This is exactly the kind of situation teams carry players like Laird, to fill a temporary hole on the big league roster. ZiPS projected a .250/.297/.424 batting line at big league level before the season, which would be a minor miracle in my eyes. The minor league equivalency of his Triple-A performance is .234/.261/.355 overall and .268/.285/.398 over his last 243 plate appearances. That’s a .295 wOBA or so, and maybe optimal usage (i.e. limited exposure to righties) gets him up to a .310-.315 wOBA, basically league average. I’d rather give Laird a chance to do that than stick with Pena, who we all know will be awful. Sorry Ramiro, nothing personal.

This isn’t quite a long-term fill-in situation but it’s not short-term either, let’s call it medium-term. It’s the perfect chance to try Laird out and see what the kid can do. If he flops, then fine, the Yankees will have essentially lost nothing because his replacement (Pena) is also terrible. If mean really, if not now, then when? Come Thursday (when the games start back up), there are two moves I want to see: Pena down and A-Rod to the disabled list, replaced by Laird and (I guess) Chris Dickerson. Nunez gets the majority of the playing time but Laird sees semi-regular at-bats against lefties. The bench would be the non-useless quartet of Laird/Nunez, Dickerson, Andruw Jones, and Frankie Cervelli. This is why they put Laird on the 40-man during the offseason, to use him in spots like this.

Categories : Bench
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Via Chad Jennings, the Yankees have optioned Andrew Brackman, Brandon Laird, Melky Mesa, Kevin Russo, Steve Garrison, and Ryan Pope to various levels of the minor leagues. All six guys are on the 40-man roster, and the actual level they were assigned to isn’t important. They’re just paper moves for the time being. By my count, there’s still 40 players in camp, but that doesn’t count the injured Frankie Cervelli, Reegie Corona, and Colin Curtis.

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(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

The focus this spring is on the final two rotation spots, but that’s not the only position battle in Yankees camp. There is also a competition for the final spot on the bench. The main contestants, it seems, are Eric Chavez, Ronnie Belliard, Brandon Laird, Justin Maxwell, and Greg Golson. Each player brings something different to the table, so the Yankees will have options. In fact, it is exactly that — options, but in a different sense — that might keep the best of the lot in AAA to start the season.

Usually when a player is drafted twice, his position improves the second time around. Not so with Laird. The Indians took him in the 27th round of the 2005 draft. Then, when he entered two years later, the Yankees took him in the same round. He signed the second time and played the rest of the season in the rookie Gulf Coast League, where he produced unsurprisingly solid numbers. But it wasn’t until 2010 that he’d really break out.

Despite playing in a home park that hitters typically hate, Laird produced incredible power numbers in AA Trenton, slugging 23 homers to go along with his 22 doubles. The end result was a .291/.355/.523 line and a late-season promotion to AAA. It also opened the Yankees’ eyes a bit. Knowing that he probably wouldn’t fit at third base — the team is set there for a number of years, after all — they decided to have him try the outfield in the Arizona Fall League. He enters camp this year as a guy who can play first, third, and the corner outfield positions. That makes him more versatile than a number of other 25th spot contestants.

When you see Laird’s breakout and then read stories like the one Marc Carig published this morning, it’s tough not to root for Laird. He is much improved on defense, and he could very well have the best bat of the guys competing for that spot. The problem, of course, is that the Yankees don’t necessarily want to pigeonhole him as a utility guy just yet. That’s probably the only role he can fill on this team, unless his bat takes another big step forward this year. The best option, then, is to send him down to AAA and let him get regular reps. He can provide depth in case of injury or ineffectiveness, and he might be a useful chip at the trade deadline.

If the Yankees were picking the 25th roster spot based on versatility and production potential, I’d have to think Laird would get the nod. He can play more positions than Eric Chavez, and he has a better bat than Belliard and Golson, and probably Maxwell, too. But since the Yankees have options, and since he’s young and potentially valuable down the road, they’ll most likely preserve their depth and go with someone else in the 25th spot. Meanwhile, Laird can get more reps, especially in the outfield, which will go towards building his value as a bench player or a trade chip.

Make no mistake: the Yankees have a valuable player in Laird. It just doesn’t seem as though this is his year to break camp with the team. If he continues hitting like he did last year, he’ll get his share of shots. But this year the Yankees will be better served by letting Laird play every day and taking someone else in a spot that might account for 150 PA during the course of a season.

Categories : Bench
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Don’t the Yankees know that 4pm ET on a Friday is no time to break news? After announcing that Larry Rothschild will be the new pitching coach, the following minor league news made the rounds…

  • Dellin Betances, Brandon Laird, and Ryan Pope were all added to the 40-man roster, protecting them from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. I thought that George Kontos would get protected as well, but the Yankees must feel that he isn’t capable of sticking on a big league team’s 25-man roster for a full season yet. He, along with Craig Heyer and Lance Pendleton, are candidates to be selected.
  • The Yanks acquired minor league outfielder Cody Johnson from the Braves in exchange for cash considerations. Johnson, 22, was the 24th overall pick in the 2006 draft but it hasn’t clicked yet. He’s got big time power (career .233 ISO) but is a whiff machine (39.0% strikeout rate), and in fact 49.9% of his 1,813 career plate appearances have ended with a homer, walk, or strikeout. Three true outcomes FTW. Johnson is likely to begin 2011 with Double-A Trenton.
Categories : Minors, Transactions
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Baseball America posted their list of the top 20 prospects in the Double-A Eastern League today, and four Yankee farmhands made the list: Andrew Brackman at #5, Brandon Laird at #11, Hector Noesi at #16, and Austin Romine at #20. Brackman trailed only Domonic Brown (Phillies), Zach Britton (Orioles), Kyle Drabek (Blue Jays), and Brandon Belt (Giants). Manny Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify, and David Adams‘ injury took him out of contention.

In the subscriber only scouting reports, they note that Brackman got better as the season went along, with his fastball going “from 89-92 mph to 93-95 in the middle innings of August starts.” They also say he can drop his curve in for strikes or bury it in the dirt for swings-and-misses, but the changeup needs work. Laird is said to have a knack for getting the fat part of the bat on the ball, an aggressive approach, and good power. He’s “adequate at third, with enough arm and solid hands but below-average range and speed,” and could end up at first.

Noesi’s best pitch is the old number one, a fastball that he manipulates by “adding and subtracting velocity from it, putting it where he wants despite its solid life and showing the ability to pitch to both sides of the plate.” They have his two-seamer at 88-92, and the four seamer up to 96. His changeup is a fringe pitch, but he also throws a slider and curve, with the latter showing more promise. As for Romine, whose stock took a hit after a rough second half, “he still has four average or better tools and the chance to succeed Jorge Posada as the Yankees’ catcher.” He has a strong but slightly inaccurate arm and overall profiles as a strong defender. Offensively, they say his “swing gets long and he’s not selective to fully tap into his plus raw power, but scouts project him as an average home run hitter.” They do note his ability to use the entire field.

The last list Yankee fans have to worry about is the Triple-A International League, which comes out on Tuesday. Jesus Montero is a lock for a top three or four spot, and chances are Ivan Nova will make the cut as well. Personal fave Eduardo Nunez will likely make an appearance as well.

Categories : Asides, Minors
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Another week has gone by, so it’s time for another mailbag. This week we’re going to talk about Brandon Laird and his future role with the Yankees, the great Robbie Cano vs. Dustin Pedroia debate, replacing the … ugh … Core Four (hate that term, why do we have to come up with nicknames for everything?), waiver trades, and PitchFX. If you want to send in a question, and I highly encourage you to do so, just use the Submit A Tip box under The Montero Watch in the sidebar.

Kevin asks: If the Yankees can get Brandon Laird to fake it in the corner outfield spots, could he become Eric Hinske 2.0 for the team?

There’s two big differences between Laird and Hinske. The first one is obvious; Laird’s a righthanded batter, Hinske’s a lefty. It might not sound like much but it is significant, especially when he would be calling the New Stadium home. Being a lefty batter opens up more possibilities for platoon situations and matchups and all that. The right side of a platoon always gets the shaft, that guy gets about a third of the playing time or so. So right off the bat, Laird’s at a disadvantage.

The other difference between the two is plate discipline. Laird’s career high in walks is 40, which he set with Low-A Charleston in 2008. He’s at 38 right now, so he’ll assuredly eclipse that total this season. Meanwhile, Hinske never walked fewer than 40 times in his minor league career, and he did that as a 20-year-old playing 74 games in a short season league. Hinske’s career minor league IsoD (Isolated Discipline, it’s just OBP minus AVG and tell us how much a batter gets on base on something other than hitss) is .095, Laird’s is .058.

Remember, plate discipline doesn’t just mean taking walks, in fact that’s just a byproduct. The real advantage of being disciplined at the plate is getting in favorable counts and better pitches to hit, because a hit is always better than a walk. Hinske has a significant advantage in that department compared to Laird, who is known for his power, not necessarily his eye.

Getting back to the question, yeah, I think Laird can be some kind of super sub for the Yankees, filling in at the four corner spots. How valuable is that though, when he’ll get maybe two starts a week? If that’s his ultimate ceiling with the Yanks, which is very possible considering the players entrenched in those spots in the big leagues, then his biggest value to the team is as a trade chip. Don’t keep him around to come off the bench, trade him while his stock is high and maximize the asset.

Steve O. asks: In my conversation with Angelo the other day about Cano vs. Pedroia, it got me thinking that although Pedroia benefits a lot from Fenway, he is still an outstanding player. My question is: considering all factors including offense, defense, age, contract, etc, who would you rather have: Robinson Cano or Dustin Pedroia (the latest injury notwithstanding)? I would stick with Cano, but the gap between the two players isn’t as big as some people make it seem. Thanks guys. Excellent job with the mailbag.

Well, age isn’t much of a factor here, just to get it out of the way. Cano is ten months older, which isn’t all that significant. I wouldn’t consider that a dealbreaker or anything.

Obviously they’re different players offensively. Cano is a super high batting average/over the fence power guy, Pedroia is more of an on-base/gap power guy. It’s absolutely true that Pedroia benefits from Fenway Park (career .385 wOBA at homer, .341 on the road) while Cano hits wherever you stick him (.353 at home, .356 on the road). I’d feel more confident about the Yanks’ second baseman going forward offensively.

It’s not all that close on defense, however. Cano’s career UZR at second is -30.5, Pedroia’s is +24.6. Robbie has definitely improved over the last few years, and the numbers bear that out, but he’s still not on Pedroia’s level. Is it enough of a difference to make up the gap in offense? No probably not, because you can’t make the other team hit the ball to second. You can guarantee a player three plate appearances per game though.

Pedroia is signed for the next four years at a total of $33.5M while Cano was/will be paid $54M over that same chunk of his career, though that would require a pair of rather expensive options to be picked up by the Yanks in 2012 and 2013. It’s not fair to compare the contracts since each player signed their extension at different points of their career and in different economic climates. Obviously Pedroia’s a better bang for the buck, no disputing that.

I think that through their prime seasons, basically age 27-32 or so, they could both average around 5.0 WAR per season, perhaps a bit more. I’d feel safer with Cano though, since the game comes much more naturally to him. You don’t have to worry about him throwing out his back with a giant from the heels swing. They’re both excellent, excellent players and I would happily take either on my team, I just feel more comfortable with Cano going forward. Perhaps that’s my bias, but too bad, it’s my site and you asked.

Corey asks: Do you think we’ll ever see a “Core Four” that has meant so much to the Yankees in our lifetime?

I do not. We’re talking about a Hall of Fame shortstop, a borderline Hall of Fame catcher, a borderline Hall of Fame starting pitcher, and the greatest reliever to ever live. What they’ve meant to the team, both on the field and off it, is something that I can’t ever see being replicated. We’ll see great cores in the future, no doubt, but nothing like that. Hell, Nick Swisher, Robbie Cano, CC Sabathia, and Phil Hughes is a rather fantastic “Core Four” as well, and we’re still leaving out Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

But those four guys doing what they did for that long and at those positions … I can’t ever see it being done again. If Brian Cashman or any future GM tries to replicate that success, he’s wasting his time. We’re talking about a monumental amount of luck for four players of that caliber to come up with the same team at the same time.

Anonymous asks: Could you explain the process of waiver trades?

After July 31st, any player on a 40-man roster has to go through trade waivers to be traded. Minor leaguers not on the 40-man roster are home free. These trade waivers are completely revocable, meaning if another team claims a player, his original team can pull him back and keep him with no consequence. You can put up to seven players on waivers per day, and every team will put basically their entire roster on waivers in August. Part of it is to hide players. If the Yanks are interested in dealing say, Brett Gardner, and his name popped up on the waive wire with six other Yankees, no one will figure out what’s up.

Anyway, once a player goes on waivers, one of two things happens: he either gets claimed, or he goes unclaimed. If he goes unclaimed, the team is free to trade him to any other team out there. If he’s claimed, then they can only trade him to the team that claims him, that’s it. If they try to put the player through waivers again, they are irrevocable, meaning the claiming team gets him (and his entire contract) no matter what. When the White Sox claimed Alex Rios last year, the Jays could only trade him to Chicago, but they decided to let them take the player and the full $50M+ left on his contract instead. They also had the option to pull him back and keep him.

I’m terrible at explaining things, so here’s another primer that explains the process better than I did. That’s probably easier to understand. Just remember, a player has to be on the 40-man roster before Sept. 1st to be eligible for the postseason roster.

HyShai asks: Two questions: 1) Who does the pitch selection and location on Pitch Fx and Gameday, is it a person or computer? It seems near impossible to tell the location of a pitch unless you’re ¬†standing right there (with the angles of the cameras being off centered). How would a computer get the location correct?

This article explains it well, but basically it’s a series of cameras that take high speed photographs of the ball in flight, and those are used to calculate things like velocity, acceleration (or really, deceleration), spin angle, all of those nerdy physics’ properties. That can then be used to calculate trajectory, horizontal and vertical movement, break, etc., and then that is used to classify the pitches. There are mistakes, but not as many as you think. The classification has been improving each year as they work out the kinks as well.

I’m not sure how exactly the system determines the location of the ball out in space, but I assume it uses some kind of reference point and measures off that. MLB Advanced Media is responsible for collecting all the data, which you can find here.

2) It seems that a huge part of a pitcher’s success is how well he hides the ball in delivery (CC supposed to be great at this), and there is no method currently used to measure this, statwise. ¬†Is there something in development? Maybe measuring at how many feet the batter picks up the ball etc. Thanks.

Deception is definitely a big part of a pitcher’s success. The later a batter picks up the ball as it’s being pitched, the less likely he is to hit it. CC Sabathia is good at this because he has that little hesitation with his arm behind his body before he goes to the plate. J.A. Happ is another guy known for having a ton of deception in his delivery. Ivan Nova is on the opposite end of the spectrum, he’s known for having very little deception in his delivery, making it easier for batter to pick up the ball out of his hand.

I’m not sure how this could be measured statistically, but I’m sure someone has/will try. Perhaps you could look at each pitch individually and measure the amount of time between when the instant when you can clearly see the white of the ball in the pitcher’s hand and the instant when it crosses the plate or something. This would be very interesting to see, but the general rule of thumb is the longer you hide the ball, the better.

Categories : Mailbag
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Via Marc Carig, Yanks’ prospect Brandon Laird was arrested (along with his brother, Tigers’ catcher Gerald Laird) at U.S. Airways Arena in Phoenix following last night’s Suns-Celtics game. Gerald was cited with assaulting a security guard, Brandon with disorderly conduct following a brawl in the lounge area of the arena. A third person was also arrested.

Laird is (at least) the fourth Yankee farmhand to get in trouble for beatin’ someone down within the last three years, joining George Kontos, Austin Krum, and J.B. Cox. Hey, at least they aren’t stealing laptops from schools.

Categories : Asides, Minors
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