Archive for Brandon McCarthy
When the Yankees swung what was essentially a minor trade to add Brandon McCarthy two weeks ago, it was easy to scoff at the deal. The big right-hander had a 5.01 ERA and a 1.23 HR/9 at the time of the trade, numbers that weren’t any better than the 4.89 ERA and 1.59 HR/9 Nuno put up in his 14 starts, especially considering the difference in leagues. The Yankees desperately needed pitching and it appeared they acquired a band-aid, not a difference maker.
The 31-year-old McCarthy came with a track record though, something Nuno lacked. He pitched to a 3.29 ERA (3.22 FIP) with the Athletics from 2011-12, and while some of that is certainly related to pitching in the spacious O.co Coliseum, McCarthy also famously reinvented himself as a sinker-cutter pitcher after delving into sabermetrics. “I didn’t want to suck anymore,” he told Eddie Matz last April, so his focus shifted to limiting walks and keeping the ball on the ground. The cutter and sinker better allowed him to do that.
McCarthy signed a two-year contract worth $18M with the Diamondbacks during the 2012-13 offseason and, for whatever reason, Arizona asked him to shelve the cutter. This isn’t completely unheard of, there are a few cutter averse teams out there (the Orioles took it away from top prospect Dylan Bundy even though it is his best pitch), but it is weird. “It wasn’t something I totally agreed with,” McCarthy told Josh Thomson over the weekend, but I guess if the employer tells the employee to do something, he does it. Here is his pitch selection over the last few years:
|Cutter||Sinker||Curve||Four-Seam + Changeup|
|2011-12 with Athletics||41.3%||36.1%||18.9%||3.7%|
|2013-14 with D’Backs||23.6%||49.2%||20.1%||7.1%|
|2014 with Yankees||18.5%||52.5%||15.0%||14.0%|
There was a definite change in pitch selection when McCarthy joined the Diamondbacks. He had almost a 50/50 split between the cutter and sinker while in Oakland but was throwing roughly twice as many sinkers as cutters in Arizona. Obviously his sample size with the Yankees is two starts and that’s nothing, but it’s worth noting he threw more cutters in those two starts (37 total) than he did in his final eight starts with the D’Backs combined (36). The pitch was nonexistent during the end of his tenure with Arizona.
“I feel like myself again. [The D'Backs] didn’t want me throwing it any more. They wanted more sinkers away, but I feel like I need that pitch to be successful,” said McCarthy to John Harper over the weekend. “The Yankees came to me right away and said, ‘We need to bring the cutter back into play.’ They obviously looked back and saw, ‘when he’s good he was throwing cutters. When he’s not, he wasn’t.’ I was glad to hear it because I was going to tell them that anyway. It’s been frustrating because I felt like I’ve been throwing better this season than any other year.”
The Yankees had some insight into McCarthy before the trade even though he’s never played with anyone on the current roster or under someone on the coaching staff. Minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson held the same role with the Athletics while McCarthy was there, and in fact he once told Susan Slusser that McCarthy’s cutter grip was unlike anything he’d seen before. Patterson works with the team’s pitching prospects but I’m sure he was consulted before the trade given their existing relationship. It’d be foolish not to ask his opinion.
McCarthy does not need the cutter to be a put-away pitch or any kind of dominant offering, it just has to be another option. Something to bust lefties inside and something to keep hitters off the sinker. A different look, basically. McCarthy does need the pitch to be more than an average at best pitcher though. He clearly believes that, if nothing else. The cutter gives him another weapon and it’s hard to believe the D’Backs took it away from him in the first place. The Yankees are very smart to let McCarthy use his cut fastball and reintroducing that pitch might have landed them an above-average pitcher at a journeyman price.
Got ten questions and nine answers for you this week. The best way to send us anything is through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar. We get a ton of questions each week, so don’t take it personally if we don’t get to yours.
Vinny asks: Obviously he’d have to get his at-bats at DH at the expense of Carlos Beltran, but would you target Justin Morneau at the trade deadline? What would it take to get him?
Morneau, 33, is hitting .312/.345/.502 (119 wRC+) with 13 homers this year, his first with the Rockies. He’s actually hit better on the road (127 wRC+) than at Coors Field (109 wRC+). Morneau has big left-handed pull power and he’d fit wonderfully in Yankee Stadium, plus he’s always been a high contact hitter (10.6 K% this year). The Yankees need righty power more than lefty power at this point, but you take what you can get. The issue is Morneau’s contract — he’s signed for $6.75M next year and I’m not sure where they’d play him unless Beltran or Mark Teixeira went down with long-term injury. It took an okay big leaguer (Nate Schierholtz) and two prospects to get a year and half of Hunter Pence, which seems like a decent trade comp for Morneau. I’m just not sure where the Yankees would play him (unless Beltran has his elbow surgery).
Paul asks: Does St. Louis have any spare pieces the Yankees could deal for since they will need a catcher with Yadier Molina on the shelf for a while?
The Cardinals have a really deep farm system and lots to give up for a interim catcher, whether it be a stopgap like Frankie Cervelli or more of a long-term solution like John Ryan Murphy. Cervelli’s trade value is tiny as an injury prone out of options catcher. George Kottaras is roughly as valuable overall and he’s on waivers every other week (St. Louis actually claimed him right after the Molina injury). Murphy for someone like Randal Grichuk or Steven Piscotty would make a ton of sense for the Yankees since they could stick either player in right field immediately, but I’m guessing the Cardinals would balk, definitely on Piscotty. I get the sense the Cards will just ride this one out with what they have, maybe swing a nothing for a Cervelli type trade. Nothing more.
Jeb asks: Assuming the Yankees fold, would a trade of Jacoby Ellsbury to the Mariners be out of the question? If not, what would you guess the trade would look like?
I don’t think the Yankees would trade him, but, even if they were open to it, a deal like this would hinge entirely on Seattle’s financials and their willingness to take on that contract. This isn’t a salary dump in my opinion, Ellsbury is too good of a player to eat money to move him in a trade. The Yankees would be trading an impact two-way player, someone who is a standout center field defender and top notch leadoff man, so the return would be pretty big. I’d ask for Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, and a very good prospect as a third piece. I don’t even like Franklin all that much (Danny Espinosa without the defense!) and Walker has been battling shoulder issues all season, so that package might even be a little light. An Ellsbury trade doesn’t seem likely at all.
Danny asks: Do you know if Luis Severino has an innings limit this year? At the time of his AA promotion, he’s at 88.1 IP for the year, which is double what he pitched last year.
I’m sure he does. He is only 20, after all. Severino threw 64.1 innings in the Dominican Summer League in 2012 and 44 official innings last year. That doesn’t include all the time he spent in Extended Spring Training, however. (He made his official season debut in late-June, so he was in ExST for a while.) I have absolutely no idea how many innings he could have thrown there, but he “real” innings total for last season might be closer to 80-90. If so, that would put him in line for 120 or so this year. So he’s got another month or so before being shut down, more or less.
Joe asks: With the lack of any impact talent from the draft and Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Rafael DePaula, Manny Banuelos and Tyler Austin regressing (although I still think Austin ends up a solid ML player) and the Eric Jagielo, Jose Campos, and Abi Avelino injuries, would you say the system is having another down year or do you like the progress of others enough to offset this? Is this a top 15 or 20 system?
Nah, I don’t think this is another down year. Williams and Austin have disappointed and Heathcott and Campos have serious injuries, sure, but the Jagielo (oblique) and Avelino (quad) injuries were just muscle strains. Nothing structural like Heathcott’s shoulder/knee. Aaron Judge and Severino have emerged as top 50-ish prospects while Jagielo, Ian Clarkin, and Gary Sanchez are having good years. Dante Bichette Jr. has rebounded well, Jake Cave has built on last year’s breakout, and guys like Jorge Mateo, Alex Palma, and Leonardo Molina all make their domestic debuts. Has it been a great year? No. But I don’t think this is a down year. If anything, it’s a normal year. Some good, some bad, lots in the middle. I think the system is in the 11-20 range among the 30 teams right now, probably closer to 13-17 if you want a tighter range.
Ryan asks: Would best case scenario for Peter O’Brien be Mark Trumbo? With offense in short supply around the league, there has to be a spot for him somewhere if he continues to hit for this kind of power.
Yeah, that sounds about right. It is worth noting that when Trumbo was O’Brien’s age, he was hitting .299/.366/.575 (133 wRC+) with 36 homers at Triple-A, with better strikeout (21.2%) and walk (9.2%) rates than O’Brien has now (24.5% and 4.6%, respectively) in Double-A. O’Brien’s right-handed power is very real — I seem to remember Keith Law rating it a 70 on the 20-80 scale recently and 70 power is no joke, but I can’t find the link — but I’m not going to lie to you, I am very skeptical about whether O’Brien will be able to tap into that power at the big league level given the holes in his swing and his general lack of plate discipline. Keep giving him chances, of course. Everyone should be thrilled if he turns into Trumbo.
Mark asks: At what point do we know if Shane Greene is the real deal? I know two starts is a ridiculously small sample, but he sure would be a nice find in a bleak (to this point) season. Thanks in advance.
The stuff is the legit, right? You can see that from watching him. PitchFX says Greene has averaged 93.9 mph with his sinker and 87.8 mph with his slider, which will play anywhere. The only question is whether he will continue to command it well enough to be successful. I don’t think we can put a number on this, X starts or Y innings before knowing if he’s the real deal. Greene is going to hit a rough patch at some point, it’s inevitable, and his ability to adjust will determine if he’s the real deal. I will say that I feel far better about his chances of remaining in the rotation long-term because of the quality of his stuff than I did Chase Whitley, with all due respect. Whitley did have a nice little run there and that shouldn’t be forgotten. Greene’s stuff is more built to last.
Tom asks: With Masahiro Tanaka out for a while, could they flip Brandon McCarthy prior to the deadline if they fall further back (another good start or two and I’d think they could end up with something even better than Vidal Nuno)? Is there a restriction on trading a player recently acquired? (time limit? player approval?)
Darrin asks: With the health of CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda in indefinite question and Hiroki Kuroda‘s retirement coming sooner rather than later, if McCarthy pitches well would you be in favor of the Yankees signing him to a short term deal (1 year+option, 2 years) this offseason? He would cost less than some of the high dollar FA guys, although I wouldn’t mind another elite pitcher as well. Yanks need to fill several rotation spots.
Going to lump these two together. The Yankees could flip McCarthy at the deadline, there are no restrictions. The Red Sox acquired Adam LaRoche just before the 2009 trade deadline and traded him away nine days later. I don’t think they would get anything more than Nuno in return, however. There are a ton of teams looking for another starter and no one bit on McCarthy when he was with the Diamondbacks. If anything, they’d get a player similar to Nuno in return, nothing better.
As for re-signing McCarthy, that depends on how he performs in the second half, obviously. His long history of shoulder trouble is scary, so that will have to be considered. If McCarthy pitches well down the stretch and he’s open to a short-term contract, then sure, bring him back. The Yankees are going to need pitching and he’s a solid option for the middle to back of the rotation. As we’ve seen this year, there is no such thing as too much pitching. There will always been room for him. McCarthy is on a two-year, $15.5M contract right now and I wouldn’t go any higher than that after the season. Maybe even offer less since he’s two years older and not as good as he was the last time he was a free agent. Two years and $12M instead?
Austin asks: I’m glad to see that Bernie Williams is going to be honored with a plaque in Monument Park next year, but I think he deserves a larger footnote to the ‘Core Four’ discussion. From 1995 – 2002 he slashed .321/.406/.531 and averaged 5.2 bWAR. How does Bernie stack up with center fielders of his era?
I hate the Core Four (the term, not the players) because it completely ignores Bernie for no other reason than because Core Five doesn’t rhyme. It is pretty disrespectful to the guy who was the best all-around hitter on the team during the dynasty years. Anyway, Bernie’s peak was basically 1994-2002, so a strong nine years. Let’s stretch it out and call his era 1990-2005. I’m not sure where else to cut it off. Here is the center field WAR leaderboard during that period (full list):
No, WAR isn’t perfect, but it’s fine for an exercise like this. Plus it’s easy to search. Griffey being at the top should be no surprise. It’s definitely Griffey (big gap) Lofton (moderate gap) everyone else among center fielders of the era. There’s a decent-sized gap between Bernie and the number six player, Steve Finley (43.7 WAR and 107 OPS+). You could argue that, offensively, Williams was the third best center fielder behind Junior and Edmonds. His defense lagged behind the other guys and that costs him, but I don’t see any shame in being the fifth best overall center fielder in an era with Griffey, Lofton, Edmonds, and Andruw. All five of those guys are borderline Hall of Famers at worst.
Even though it is not really the halfway point of the season, there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. This week we’ll hand out some simple, straightforward, and totally subjective grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. We’ve already covered the catchers, infielders, and outfielders, so now let’s move on to the rotation.
Masahiro Tanaka — Grade A
I didn’t think it would be possible for Tanaka to meet, nevermind exceed expectations after the Yankees invested $175M in the 25-year-old right-hander this winter. A contract (and release fee) like that comes with ace-sized expectations and given everything he had to adjust to — five-day pitching schedule, new hitters, tougher parks, new culture, etc. — I didn’t think there was any chance he would pitch that well right away. I didn’t think he’d be bad, he’d be really good but there would be an adjustment period, right? How could there not be?
Well, there wasn’t. Tanaka showed up to Spring Training on the first day and looked like he had been wearing pinstripes for years. The transition was seamless, or at least he made it appear that way. He was all business from day one, embracing the five-day schedule and the new workout routines (remember all the running early in camp?). Tanaka was the position player of Hideki Matsui. The guy who fit in so well, so soon that it was like he was born to wear pinstripes.
Tanaka lived up to the hype on the field, of course. That’s most important. He has thrown 129.1 innings in 18 starts, and among the 45 AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, Tanaka ranks third with a 2.51 ERA, third with 4.1 bWAR,, fourth with a 3.7% walk rate, fourth with a 7.1 K/BB ratio, fifth with a 26.6% strikeout rate, sixth with 3.2 fWAR, tenth with a 3.07 FIP, and 20th with a 45.9% ground ball rate. The only negative in his game is the long ball; he’ll give up some dingers (1.04 HR/9 and 14.4 HR/FB%). It’s a minor nuisance. Other than that though, Tanaka was one of the five best starting pitchers in the league in the first half.
Unfortunately, Tanaka suffered a partially torn elbow ligament in what was scheduled to be his second to last start before the All-Star break. Three doctors recommended he rehab the injury rather than undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, so Tanaka received a platelet-rich plasma injection earlier this week and is currently resting before starting a throwing program. The expectation is that he will be able to return to the rotation later in the year, but surgery will remain a possibility if the rehab is less than perfect. It sucks but it is what it is. Tanaka managed to exceed expectations before the injury. What a stud.
CC Sabathia — Grade F
I was optimistic about Sabathia’s chances of rebounding this year, though I didn’t have much to base that on other than blind faith and Sabathia’s track record. I’m not even talking about getting back to being an ace. Just being a solid mid-rotation workhorse would have been plenty good enough for me. Instead, Sabathia gave the team a 5.28 ERA (4.79 FIP) in eight starts and 46 innings before going down with a degenerative knee condition. A stem cell procedure apparently did not work and now he’s facing the possibility of microfracture surgery, which could be career-threatening.
Rather than shake off the career worst 2013 season, Sabathia got worse and added in a serious injury this year. Not good. I mean, if you really want to squint your eyes and find a silver lining, know that his strikeout (9.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%) and walk (1.96 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%) rates were outstanding. That … really doesn’t make me feel much better at all. Maybe an incomplete would be a more appropriate grade given the injury (which might have led to the poor performance), but eight starts is one-fourth of the season. That’s not insignificant.
Anyway, Sabathia’s knee injury is very serious and remember, he’s only 33. We’re not talking about some guy approaching 40 here. Sabathia is still relatively young and an ultra-competitive type who leaves everything on the field — remember when he started four games in 12 days for the Brewers on the eve of his free agency? You’re kidding yourself if you think he’s just going to walk away from the game because of the knee injury — and now there’s a chance he may never pitch again. Like, for real.
Hiroki Kuroda — Grade C
There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Kuroda coming into the season, specifically his age (39) and brutal finish to the 2013 season. The Yankees re-signed him though, and while he has not pitched as well as he did the last two years, Kuroda has given the team innings every fifth day and is the only Opening Day rotation member not to come down with an injury. His 4.10 ERA (3.91 FIP) can be split up into a 4.62 ERA (3.75 FIP) in his first eight starts and 48.2 innings and a 3.72 ERA (4.02 FIP) in his last eleven starts and 67.2 innings, if you choose.
With Tanaka and everyone else going down with injuries — for weeks too, these aren’t 15 days on the disabled list and you’re good to go type of injuries — the Yankees need Kuroda to remain that reliable innings eater in the second half. Actually, they need him to be better than that, which is a problem because of his late-season fades. The Yankees absolutely can not afford that this year, not if they want to contend. Kuroda is currently the staff ace by default and the team needs him to reverse his recent trends and be better in the second half than he was in the first.
Michael Pineda — Grade D
It was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it? Two years after the trade that brought him to New York, Pineda was finally healthy enough to help the Yankees, and he started the year by pitching to a 1.83 ERA (2.73 FIP) in four starts and 19.2 innings. He was an ace! An ace on a very strict pitch count (no more than 94 pitches or six full innings in his four starts), but an ace nonetheless. The Yankees were finally getting some kind of return on the trade and it was glorious.
Then it all came to a crashing halt in Fenway Park in late-April. Two starts after the internet caught him with a glob of pine tar on his hand, Pineda was caught with an even bigger glob of pine tar on his neck. Red Sox manager John Farrell did not let it slide this time. He alerted the umpires and Pineda was ejected and eventually suspended ten games. While serving the suspension, he suffered a back/shoulder muscle injury and has been sidelined since. He just started throwing off a mound last week (after the #obligatorysetback). Given his recent history, there’s no possible way the Yankees could count on Pineda to return to help the rotation in the second half. If he does come back, it’s a bonus. But man, those 19.2 innings were pretty awesome, weren’t they?
Ivan Nova — incomplete
I went back and forth between giving Nova an F or an incomplete. He did make four starts this year, after all. Four terrible starts, with 40 base-runners and an 8.27 ERA (6.91 FIP) in 20.2 innings. But he also blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery in late-April. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming the elbow contributed to his poor performance and that he was never really healthy this year. I don’t know, an F just seems too harsh for a guy that barely pitched before his elbow ligament snapped. Maybe I’m being too kind.
The Yankees lost Nova for the season and that’s a pretty significant blow. Not just for this year either, the timing of the injury means he will start next season on the disabled list and the team won’t really know what to expect from him. This is an injury that impacts two seasons, not only one. This was supposed to be the year for Nova to build on his strong second half of 2013 and stop the up and down nonsense, establishing himself as a no-doubt big league starter. That won’t happen.
David Phelps — Grade B
Once the injuries started to strike, Phelps worked his way into the rotation and has remained there ever since. He’s pitched to a 3.94 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 89 total innings, including a 3.96 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 13 starts and 77.1 innings since moving into the rotation. The Yankees have also been able to count on Phelps for innings — he’s thrown at least five full innings in all 13 starts (even before he was fully stretched out) and at least six full innings eight times in his last ten starts. That’s been much-needed.
There were some questions about Phelps and his ultimate role coming into the season — remember, he missed most of the second half last season with a pair of forearm strains — but things worked themselves out and he’s become one of the team’s three most reliable pitchers in the wake of the injuries. He’s been a godsend. You can’t ask anything more of a sixth starter. Now the Yankees need Phelps to keep it up in the second half. He’s in the rotation for good.
Chase Whitley — Grade C
It was definitely a tale of two first halves for Whitley. He came up following all the injuries and was outstanding in his first seven starts, posting a 2.56 ERA (2.75 FIP) in 28.2 innings. Considering he was a full-time reliever as recently as last July and the rotation was in total disarray, getting that kind of production out of Whitley was a minor miracle. The Yankees needed it desperately.
Then everything came crashing to a halt one night in Toronto last month, when the Blue Jays punished Whitley for eight runs in 3.1 innings. It wasn’t just a bump in the road either. He has a 9.43 ERA (6.14 FIP) in 21 innings since. (That includes two scoreless innings in relief.) After allowing eleven runs on 44 base-runners (one homer) in his first seven starts, Whitley has allowed 20 runs on 40 base-runners (five homers) in his last four starts. Those first seven starts were so good that I’m not going to go any lower than a C, especially since we’re talking about a guy who had never started regularly until this year. All things considered, Whitley’s been a plus even if he’ll only be a reliever going forward. He helped much more than I thought he would as a starter.
Vidal Nuno — Grade D
Nuno was actually the first guy to be pulled out of the bullpen and stuck in the rotation, but that had more to do with timing than anything. He was the only one rested and able to make a spot start because of a doubleheader in April, and he lined up perfectly to replace Nova after he blew out his elbow. That’s all. Nuno had a 5.42 ERA (5.18 FIP) in 78 total innings for the Yankees, including a 4.89 ERA (4.86 FIP) in 14 starts and 73.2 innings before being traded away two weeks ago. There were some good starts mixed in there and more than a few duds as well.
These two both joined the rotation last week. I mean literally. Greene made his first career start last Monday and McCarthy made his first start in pinstripes on Wednesday. Throw in Greene’s second start last Saturday and they’ve combined to allow six run (three earned) in 20.1 innings. They also have a combined 57.1% ground ball rate, which is pretty awesome even if it is a super small sample. Greene’s mid-90s sinker and upper-80s slider make me think he has more rotation staying power than either Nuno or Whitley, but, either way, we’ll see plenty more of these two in the second half.
* * *
Any time a team loses four of its five Opening Day rotation members, including three within the first six weeks of the season, they’re going to be scrambling for pitching. No team has enough depth to go nine starters deep. The Yankees have been able to tread water thanks to Phelps and some timely outings from Whitley and Nuno, who have since been replaced by McCarthy and Greene. The team clearly needs another starter in the wake of Tanaka’s injury and, frankly, they could have used another starter before that. This is a patchwork staff held together by Kuroda, Phelps, and McCarthy at the moment, and there’s no telling how much longer the duct tape will hold.
The Yankees have added some much-needed rotation help, and it came very cheap. The team announced they have acquired right-hander Brandon McCarthy from the Diamondbacks in exchange for lefty Vidal Nuno. Buster Olney says Arizona will pay half of the $4.1M owed to McCarthy through the end of the season. The Yankees will pay the $1M assignment bonus in his contract.
Arizona comes into today with baseball’s worst record at 36-53, and GM Kevin Towers has made it clear in recent days that they will look to deal veterans for young players in the coming weeks. The D’Backs traded lefty reliever Joe Thatcher and outfielder Tony Campana to the Angels just yesterday. I’d expect them to make more moves before the trade deadline. McCarthy is due to become a free agent after the season, so this is a pure rental for the Yankees. It seems like a salary dump for the D’Backs more than anything.
“Quality stuff. Pounds the strike zone. Lots of ground balls, which helps at our Stadium,” said Brian Cashman to Joel Sherman when asked about the deal. “[David] Huff was better than we had and McCarthy was better than what we had, so we improve when we can.”
McCarthy, who turns 31 tomorrow, has a 5.01 ERA and 3.79 FIP in 18 starts and 109.1 innings this year. Homeruns have been a big problem (1.23 HR/9 and 20.0 HR/FB%) and that doesn’t figure to change in Yankee Stadium, but his strikeout (7.63 K/9 and 20.0 K%), walk (1.64 BB/9 and 4.3 BB%) and ground ball (55.3%) rates are all solid. Clearly the Yankees are hoping his .345 BABIP and 66.7% strand rate return to his career norms (.296 and 70.5%, respectively) and he pitches closer to his FIP than ERA the rest of the season.
I wrote about McCarthy as a possible trade target just the other day. He is going to give up some homers, that’s inevitable, but the D’Backs are one the few clubs with a worse team defense (.669 defensive efficiency) than the Yankees (.682), so New York’s porous infield and all their shifts might actually be an upgrade for him. Either way, Nuno set the bar rather low (5.42 ERA and 5.15 FIP). All McCarthy has to do is chew up innings every fifth day to be an upgrade, and that’s not necessarily a guarantee given his worrisome injury history. Here’s a wrote I few days ago:
The biggest concern with McCarthy, by far, is his injury history. He has stayed healthy this season but has otherwise visited the disabled list with a shoulder problem at least once every year from 2007-13. Only once since 2006 has McCarthy thrown more 135 innings in a season (180.2 in in 2011) and this year he is already at 104 innings. Maybe he’ll stay healthy, but, given his history, you have to think a disabled list stint is coming at some point.
Nuno, 26, opened the season as the long man and was initially pushed into the rotation by Ivan Nova‘s elbow injury in April. He remained a starter as CC Sabathia (knee) and Michael Pineda (shoulder) went down with their injuries. The Yankees plucked Nuno out of an independent league a few years ago, got about a hundred replacement level innings out of him, then turned him into a half-season of McCarthy. Not bad at all.
McCarthy last started on Thursday and, according to Dan Barbarisi, he told reporters in Arizona he will start for the Yankees on Wednesday. In that case the Yankees will need someone to make Nuno’s scheduled start tomorrow. Bruce Billings, who is currently in the clubhouse after being scratched from last night’s start with Triple-A Scranton, will not make that start according to Joe Girardi. He’s there to help the bullpen. Shane Greene is scheduled to start for Triple-A tomorrow and seems like the obvious choice to make the spot start. Masahiro Tanaka can then start on Tuesday on normal rest.
I think it’s important to note that while McCarthy figures to be an upgrade over Nuno, perhaps a substantial one, this move alone won’t put the Yankees over the top. It can’t be their only move if they truly want to contend. They need help at third base and in right field, plus another reliever to ease the burden on Dellin Betances and Adam Warren would help as well. Another starter shouldn’t be off the table either. Sabathia and Pineda aren’t coming back any time soon and Chase Whitley has hit the wall and hard. The Yankees got better today, but hopefully the McCarthy trade is not the only move they make.
Despite their recent stretch of poor play (putting it nicely), the Yankees remain in the postseason hunt because every other team stinks too. The AL East is especially bad. The Yankees have lost nine of their last eleven games yet they remain 4.5 games back of the division lead with 79 games to play. They’re five games back of the second wildcard spot. Those deficits are far from insurmountable at this point of the summer, but they will need help to get back into the race and fast.
Because so many teams are within striking distance of a playoff berth, there aren’t many sellers out there this time of the year. One club that has at least acknowledged the likelihood of selling is the Diamondbacks, who come into today with the worst record in baseball at 35-41. “Based on the last couple of years of being a .500 club and this year with the injuries we have and our record, we have to look at being more open-minded of moving some contracts and some veteran players for younger players,” said GM Kevin Towers to Nick Piecoro recently.
Towers spent a year in the Yankees front office and he is reportedly very close friends with Brian Cashman, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easier to make a trade. They’ve gotten together for eleven trades over the years and most are very minor, Bernie Castro for Kevin Reese stuff. Their most recent sweep was Juan Miranda for Scottie Allen in November 2010, their most notable swap probably D’Angelo Jimenez for Jay Witasick in June 2011. Let’s see what pitchers Arizona can offer the Yankees in the coming weeks.
Tomorrow Next week we’ll tackle the position players.
RHP Brandon McCarthy
The 30-year-old McCarthy is a sabermetrics darling, and you really need to be open-minded to look beyond his 2-10 record and 5.11 ERA. He also owns a 7-21 record with a 4.78 ERA since signing with the D’Backs prior to last year. High school Mike Axisa would have said no way to McCarthy based on that.
Behind the record and ERA are some promising core pitching skills, however. McCarthy has a 3.81 FIP during his two years in the desert and this season it’s a 3.88 FIP with his best strikeout (7.53 K/9 and 19.7 K%) and ground ball (55.6%) rates in years. He also never walks anyone (1.56 BB/9 and 4.1 BB%). During his resurgent “hey this guy is a good pitcher now” years with the Athletics from 2011-12, McCarthy had a 3.22 FIP, a 6.26 K/9 (16.9 K%), a 1.57 BB/9 (4.2 BB%), and a 44.3% ground ball rate.
The biggest difference between Oakland McCarthy and Arizona McCarthy is the long ball — he had a 0.69 HR/9 (7.1 HR/FB%) with the A’s and has a 1.05 HR/9 (14.4 HR/FB%) with the D’Backs. A lot of that is the difference in ballparks. The O.co Coliseum is a tough place to hit homers and Chase Field is not. It’s pretty simple. McCarthy has compensated for the less friendly home park by throwing more sinking fastballs and staying away from his cutter. Here is the breakdown of his arsenal:
The changeup is just a show-me pitch and because McCarthy throws so few four-seam fastballs, I wouldn’t get too excited about that astronomical swing-and-miss rate. (Whiff+ and GB+ are like ERA+, but with swing-and-miss and ground ball rates for individual pitches.) The sinker is clearly his bread-and-butter and it’s an above-average pitch both in terms of getting whiffs and ground balls. Is a guy who relies so heavily on his sinker a good fit for the Yankees’ infield defense?
The biggest concern with McCarthy, by far, is his injury history. He has stayed healthy this season but has otherwise visited the disabled list with a shoulder problem at least once every year from 2007-13. Only once since 2006 has McCarthy thrown more 135 innings in a season (180.2 in in 2011) and this year he is already at 104 innings. Maybe he’ll stay healthy, but, given his history, you have to think a disabled list stint is coming at some point.
McCarthy is owed approximately $5.1M through the end of the season and will become a free agent this winter, so he’s a pure rental. The fact that he limits walks, keeps the ball on the ground, and is familiar with pitching in a hitter’s park are pluses. The below league average strikeout rate (remember, he’s facing pitchers too) and scary injury history are negatives. McCarthy is an upgrade over Vidal Nuno (and Chase Whitley) and would probably come cheaper than Jason Hammel, another mid-rotation guy with injury issues.
LHP Wade Miley
Unlike McCarthy, Miley would not be a rental pickup. The 27-year-old is in his third pre-arbitration year and will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2017. Usually rebuilding clubs don’t trade a guy like that, but Buster Olney (subs. req’d) recently mentioned many teams are looking to land Doug Fister types — unheralded but effective pitchers with years of control remaining. (The Tigers stole Fister from the Mariners when he was in his second pre-arbitration year.) Miley may fit that bill.
Through 18 starts and 113.1 innings this season, Miley has a 4.61 ERA (4.13 FIP). He posted a 3.33 ERA (3.15 FIP) during his first full season in 2012 and followed it up with a 3.55 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 2013, so he is trending in the wrong direction. Miley’s strikeout rate (8.42 K/9 and 22.5 K%) is a career best and both his walk (2.70 BB/9 and 7.2 BB%) and ground ball rates (48.0%) are right at his career norms, so the problem has been the homerun. He went from 0.65 HR/9 (6.9 HR/FB%) in 2012 to 0.93 HR/9 (12.5 HR/FB%) in 2013 to 1.35 HR/9 (16.8 HR/FB%) this year. When he misses his spot, it tends to get hit a long way.
Miley has been very durable throughout his career, throwing 190+ innings in each of the last two seasons and at least 150 innings every year since 2010, when he was just a kid in A-ball. He has all but shelved his curveball this year — it was his top secondary pitch during his excellent rookie campaign two years ago — and is now more of a slider guy. Here is his pitch breakdown:
The curveball is a non-factor but otherwise Miley uses two fastballs interchangeably and has a well-above-average slider in terms of getting both swings and misses and ground balls. That pitch is why he’s in the big leagues and why left-handed batters have mustered only a 2.88 wOBA against him in his career. Like Fister, there’s nothing flashy about Miley’s pitch mix, no huge fastball or anything like that, but he has four distinct pitches and can make the ball move. Add in his durability and left-handedness and you’ve got a guy who figures to spend a very long time in the league.
The original Fister trade is not the perfect deal to reference because he had one extra year of team control, but it can give us something of an idea of what it would take to land Miley. The Tigers sent four players to Seattle for Fister (and replacement level reliever David Pauley):
- Third baseman Francisco Martinez, who was in Double-A at the time and considered the fourth best prospect in Detroit’s system by Baseball America.
- Left-hander Charlie Furbush, who had made his MLB debut earlier that season and been ranked as the team’s 26th best prospect in Baseball America.
- Right-hander Chance Ruffin, who was Detroit’s supplemental first round pick the previous year. He actually zoomed to the big leagues and made his debut with the Tigers right before the trade.
- Platoon outfielder Casper Wells, who had about a year in MLB at the time.
In hindsight, the Tigers gave up very little. Furbush has settled in as quality left-handed reliever but Martinez, Wells, and Ruffin all flamed out. At the time though? Wowza. Detroit traded one of their top prospects, their supplemental first round pick from the year before, plus two cheap and potentially useful MLB pieces. Imagine if the Yankees were to trade, say, Greg Bird, Ian Clarkin, Jose Ramirez, and Zoilo Almonte for someone like Miley. Fans would probably riot. That’s not an unreasonable package though.
Miley’s increasing propensity to give up the long ball is a definite concern, but there is plenty to like here. He’s young, he’s under team control for three more years, he’s never been hurt, he’s left-handed, and he has a true starter’s repertoire. Miley is essentially a finished product — yes, I know every player is always looking to improve, but it’s not like they have to teach him a changeup or something — the Yankees could just plug into the rotation and let him go. Even if you think the Yankees have no business being buyers at the deadline, this is someone they should consider acquiring anyway because he’ll also be able to help in the coming years.
Every team can use another reliever, including the Yankees. They’ve had to ride Dellin Betances and Adam Warren pretty hard in recent weeks, partly because Shawn Kelley has been shaky as hell since coming off the disabled list. Closer Addison Reed (4.15 ERA And 4.57 FIP) has been amazingly homer prone (2.08 HR/9 and 18.2 HR/FB%), which is not exactly a good quality for a late-inning reliever. Brad Ziegler (2.34 ERA and 3.52 FIP) is a sinker and ground ball machine (67.2%) who needs a good infield defense to be not awful. Both Oliver Perez (.302 wOBA) and Joe Thatcher (.285 wOBA) are serviceable matchup lefties.
Ziegler ($5M) and Perez ($2.5M) are both already under contract for next season while Reed is in his final pre-arbitration year. His arbitration raises figure to be significant because he’ll finish the year with 100+ career saves, significant enough that he might be a non-tender candidate as soon as this winter. Thatcher will be a free agent after the season. Meh. Not really much to see here.
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The rest of Arizona’s pitching staff is pretty unappealing. Bronson Arroyo is currently on the disabled list with an elbow injury and others like Josh Collmenter, Mike Bolsinger, and Chase Anderson barely move the needle. Trevor Cahill was so bad that he’s currently pitching (not particularly well, either) in the minors. If the D’Backs had more good pitchers, they’d be winning more games.
I think McCarthy is a lock to be traded before the deadline for pretty obvious reasons. He makes good money and he’ll be a free agent after the season. That’s exactly the type of player a bad team moves at the deadline. Miley is a different situation though — the D’Backs won’t have any trouble holding onto him if they don’t get an offer they like. The Yankees or any other team would have to pry him loose. Both he and McCarthy make some sense for New York if they’re serious about adding help before the deadline and making a run at a postseason berth.
If you haven’t headed over to our Depth Chart page in a while, you might not have noticed that as of right now, the Yankees currently sport a five-man pitching rotation of…
If you’re optimistic, you can say Michael Pineda will take Warren’s spot sometime in June. If not, then I don’t know what to tell you. Either way, that’s not a championship-caliber rotation. The Yankees have some work to do this winter, and for the most part I think the pitching plan involves waiting for Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte to declare their love of pinstripes and sign nice little one-year deals to rejoin the team in 2013. That would be ideal.
What if that doesn’t happen though? It doesn’t take much effort to envision a scenario in which Kuroda decides to return to Japan and Pettitte decides to stay home with the wife and kids. The Yankees would really be in a bad spot if that happened because … well … look at that rotation above. Luckily this free agent class offers some solid rotation options, so the Yankees would have plenty of alternatives if things don’t go according to plan. Some of those options are better fits than others, however.
The undisputed best pitcher on the market, Greinke is probably looking at a contract worth $120M+ across five or six years. Matt Cain type of money. Fair or not, the Yankees are concerned about how the 29-year-old would fit in New York though. Greinke met with Brian Cashman face-to-face during the 2010 Winter Meetings in an effort to convince him that he wanted to pitch in the Big Apple, but no dice. Cashman wasn’t having any of it. There isn’t a team in baseball that couldn’t use a pitcher of this caliber in their rotation, but the combination of asking price and other concerns make Greinke almost a non-option for the Yankees.
There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t want their team to take a one-year flier on Haren this offseason. He’s been an ace-caliber pitcher for the last half-decade or so and he’s still relatively young (turned 32 in September), which is all you could ask for from a free agent. That said, there are major red flags here. Haren has battled back trouble through the years and they caused him to hit the DL for the first time in his career this season, plus his fastball velocity has been declining for years.
The Angels were trying to trade Haren before having to make a decision about his option last Friday, but ultimately they came up with nothing and had to decline the net $12M deal ($15.5M option with a $3.5M buyout). The combination of the Cubs pulling out of the Haren-for-Carlos Marmol trade talks and the fact that no other club made a viable trade offer makes me think his medicals are looking pretty grim. You also have to look at it this way: if Haren is looking for a one-year, “re-establish my value” contract, why would he come to New York? A fly ball heavy pitcher in a small stadium in the AL East is no way to rebuild value. The Yankees should look into him because of his track record, but I don’t see Haren as a slam dunk no-brainer they should go all out to sign. Lots of risk here.
I’m a pretty big Anibal Sanchez fan and I consider him the best non-Greinke free agent pitching option this winter. He offers the best combination of youth (28), performance (3.70 ERA and 3.40 FIP since 2010), and durability (major shoulder surgery in 2008, but 195+ innings in each of the last three years). Sanchez made a brief cameo in the AL this season following his trade to the Tigers and he handled himself well, plus he impressed in his three postseason starts. Not the sexiest name but a rock solid pitcher. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about an appropriate contract, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a team gets an aggressive and offers the A.J. Burnett/John Lackey contract (five years and $82.5M). I highly doubt the Yankees would offer that much, but Sanchez would be my first target if Pettitte and Kuroda decline to come back.
Keith Law said it best this weekend: “It’s time to accept that this is almost certainly what Jackson is going to be. He looks like an ace, holding mid-90s velocity or better for 100 pitches, but just turned in another season of good-not-great performance, this time entirely in the National League.” There’s nothing wrong with that at all, especially at age 29 and with his track record of durability (180+ innings in five straight years). I’m just not expecting Jackson to get any better even though he’s yet to hit 30. He would be my number two target behind Sanchez if Kuroda and Pettitte don’t come back, number three if Haren’s back checks out okay.
Kyle Lohse & Ryan Dempster
Lohse is going to get a significant contract this winter, maybe the biggest behind Greinke, but I wouldn’t touch either him or Dempster unless they’re willing to come real cheap. They’re two guys who have had most (all?) of their success in the NL and don’t operate with much margin for error. It’s also worth noting that Lohse received a qualifying offer from the Cardinals and would require draft pick compensation. Solid pitchers for sure, but not guys I would consider impact additions for the Yankees.
Jeremy Guthrie, Brandon McCarthy & Shaun Marcum
All three have their warts, but all three have some kind of track record of success in the AL. Guthrie is probably the safest bet while McCarthy is both the riskiest (very long injury history) and has the highest upside. Marcum’s kind of the in the middle. I prefer any of those three to Lohse and Dempster and would consider them solid additions on one-year contracts. Anything more than that is really pushing it.
Because he doesn’t really fit anywhere else, I’m going to mention Carlos Villanueva here. I’m a big fan (perhaps too big), but I like him best as a sixth starter/swingman. I wouldn’t want the Yankees to sign him with the idea of him making 30 starts and throwing 200 innings. I can’t see how anyone could expect him to do that in 2013.
Francisco Liriano, Joe Blanton, Joe Saunders, Scott Feldman & Roberto Hernandez
I wouldn’t trust any of these guys with a starting spot, at least not right out of the chute in Spring Training. To be honest, Liriano is the only one who is remotely intriguing to me. He’s still on the right side of 30 and has a year of ace-caliber performance in the not-too-distant past to his credit (2010). I consider guys like Jeff Francis, Erik Bedard, Scott Baker, Kevin Correia, Dustin Moseley, and Jason Marquis to be minor league contract only options for the Yankees. This is the bottom of the pitching barrel right here, but thankfully there are plenty of other options out there.
Yesterday I took a look at Gio Gonzalez, the Athletics left-hander that might be on the trade market and of interest to the Yankees. Today I’m going to follow up and look at some other members of Oakland’s rotation, since apparently everyone on their roster other than Jemile Weeks is available. I am leaving Dallas Braden out of this post because a) he’s insufferable, b) he’s rehabbing from major shoulder surgery, and c) he’s a soft-tossing, fly ball machine. Not exactly an ideal fit for Yankee Stadium. Here are three other guys in Oaktown’s starting staff…
In terms of raw talent and upside, Anderson is best pitcher on the Athletics’ roster. Unfortunately, he just can’t stay on the field. He missed half of the 2010 season due to a flexor strain and inflammation in his left elbow, then hit the DL with more inflammation this past June before eventually having Tommy John surgery in mid-July. He’s expected back at midsummer, but since control is the last thing to come back after elbow reconstruction, he’s unlikely to be 100% back to normal until Opening Day 2013.
When right, the 23-year-old southpaw (24 in February) can throw strikes (2.23 BB/9) and generate a ton of ground balls (career 53.5%) with a pair of low-90′s fastballs (two- and four-seamer) while missing bats with a devastating low-80′s slider. His strikeout rate (6.94 K/9 with 6.9% swings-and-misses) in 371 big league innings isn’t great, but his minor league numbers (9.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9) and raw stuff suggest he could improve with better health and more experience. Anderson is locked up through 2013 at a reasonable price ($8.5M plus club options for 2014 and 2015), but he’s very risky. The upside is considerable though.
Cahill, 24 in March, broke out in 2010 thanks in part to a .236 BABIP-fueled 2.97 ERA across 196.2 IP. His 4.19 FIP told a much more accurate story, and sure enough, the righty pitched to a 4.10 FIP in 2011 and saw his ERA climb to 4.16 thanks to a much more normal .302 BABIP. He still got a ton of grounders (56% in 2010, 55.9% in 2011), though his strikeout and walk rates climbed more than one full event per nine innings to 6.37 K/9 and 3.55 BB/9 this past season.
A sinkerball specialist, Cahill gets opponents to beat the ball into the ground with a two-seamer right around 90 mph. He backs it up with a low-80′s changeup and a high-70′s curve, and will occasionally mix in a slider. Cahill is signed through 2015 ($28.7M) with club options for 2016 and 2017, so his contract situation is favorable. He has the potential to beef up his strikeout rate (9.9 K/9 in the minors), but he doesn’t really have that go-to offspeed pitch and instead relies on that two-seamer to get outs, one way or the other.
Do you know who led the American League in FIP in 2011? It wasn’t CC Sabathia (2nd) or Justin Verlander (4th). It was McCarthy. The 28-year-old right-hander returned to the big leagues with the A’s after missing most of the 2009 and 2010 seasons with stress fractures in his throwing shoulder. Sure enough, he spent about seven weeks on the shelf this summer with another stress fracture in that shoulder, though he still made it to the mound for 170.2 stellar innings.
McCarthy spoke to FanGraphs’ Ryan Campbell (part one, part two) recently about how he’s reinvented himself following his injuries, specifically by lowering his arm slot, scrapping his curveball, and adding a two-seamer and cutter to go along with a four-seamer and slider. It really is a must read; I can’t recommend it enough. McCarthy misses a few more bats (6.49 K/9 and 7.7% swings-and-miss) with his new approach, and he drastically improved his ground ball (46.7% after years around 35%) and walk (1.32 BB/9 after years north of 3.00) rates. That helped cut down on the homers (as did Oakland’s park) and prolonged at-bats, allowing him to throw fewer pitches per inning and more innings per start.
MLBTR projects a bargain bin salary of $2.6M for McCarthy in 2012, his fourth and final time through arbitration as a Super Two player. He’s risky just because the healthy of his shoulder is such a gigantic question mark, but the cost shouldn’t be exorbitant since you’re only trading for one year of him. I’m a fan, much more than I am of Gonzalez, Anderson, and Cahill in terms of expected production vs. cost (both salary and acquisition). As an added bonus, McCarthy is must-follow on Twitter, one of the few interesting baseball players out there.