Down and away wasn’t working for Marte

The seventh inning wasn’t supposed to happen like that. As Mike noted earlier, it was a trial by fire of sorts for Chan Ho Park. He failed in his initial assignment, though it’s likely he gets another chance in the near future. Maybe not in the next two games, but we’ll certainly see Chop in the seventh, and perhaps the eighth, again soon. His command just wasn’t there last night. It happens to the best of them.

With David Ortiz coming to the plate, Joe Girardi made the predictable move and called for his lefty, Damaso Marte. Just a few days removed from a “cranky” shoulder, Marte was pronounced in full health for Opening Day. Clearly, he would enter the game to face Ortiz if an appropriate situation arose. This seemed like it. Runner on second, two outs, tie game. As we saw, though, the sequence didn’t go well. Let’s take this pitch by pitch.

Pitch 1

As you can see, Jorge sets up low and away for the slider. Marte missed big time, overthrowing the pitch and sending it well to Jorge’s left and in the dirt. Still, it’s just one pitch. The runner on third rather than second doesn’t much matter, unless Marte has another wild pitch in him.

Pitch 2

It looks like Posada wanted the same pitch, same spot. He set up, and Marte missed again, though not nearly as badly. It wasn’t encouraging, though, that Marte missed with two straight sliders. That’s supposed to be his money pitch against lefties. The idea is to get Ortiz to misread it as a fastball and then give one of those long, loping swings and miss.

Pitch 3

Finally, Jorge calls for a fastball. He sets up low and away, even though Ortiz has had problems on the inside pitch over the past year or so. Marte unleashed one, missing his spot by a decent amount. This is where the pitch ended up.

Ortiz circa 2006 puts that pitch onto the Mass Turnpike. It was right around his waist and at a spot he could get his arms extended. Marte reached back and slung it at 93, which was probably his only saving grace. If that cranky shoulder caused him to hold back on his velocity, Ortiz might have been able to do more with it. Then again, maybe it was Ortiz’s slow bat rather than the pitch speed that caused the swing and miss.

Pitch 4

Again, setting up low and away. Posada and Marte had a plan here, though again I’m not sure I get it, considering Ortiz’s trouble with inside pitches. ESPN didn’t show Jorge giving the sign. Marte threw fastball, though maybe Jorge called for a slider. In any case, Marte threw one upstairs and Jorge couldn’t compensate.

I honestly hope that was a cross-up, because if not it reflects even more poorly on Jorge. Yes, the pitch was nowhere near the setup, but he still has to catch that. It’s more understandable, of course, if Jorge was expecting slider low and away and got fastball upstairs.

Pitch 5

Just for good measure, another low-away setup:

Apparently Jorge did call for fastball this time, because the pitch was even higher than the previous one. This time he caught it. Not that it mattered. It was ball four, and Ortiz isn’t the type to sprint around and take the extra base.

For reference, here’s where each pitch ended up:

That brought on Joba, who recorded the final out in the seventh before pitching his own sloppy eighth inning. Hopefully these were just some early season jitters. The bullpen looked like crap last night, and we all know that they’re better than that.

Spring Training Health Report: Everyone’s okay

The Yankees suffered a rash of minor injuries in the final week of camp, but they’ll have everyone available when the season begins tomorrow night. To put it succinctly, Jorge Posada‘s stiff neck is fine, Nick Johnson‘s bruised knee is better, Damaso Marte‘s shoulder isn’t cranky, and Al Aceves lower back is a-okay. Frankie Cervelli‘s sore hamstring is good to go as well, and he’ll be available off the bench. Thankfully everyone’s healthy, and the Yanks can start the season with everyone intact.

Marte has a “cranky” left shoulder

Via Marc Carig, lefty setup man Damaso Marte what he called a “cranky” shoulder, though he thinks he’ll miss two or three days at the most. The problem, or course, is that Marte had a shoulder issue last year that he classified as minor, yet he ended up missing four months. If he has to hit the disabled list for any length of time, you can all but guarantee that Boone Logan will make the roster.

Past Trade Review: Cashman’s Top 5 Blunders

Yesterday I listed Brian Cashman’s three most lopsided trades. Those, of course, all fell in his favor. Yet he’s not immune from the bad trade. His blunders aren’t as great as his successes — it’s tough to make up the wins he gained by acquiring Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu, and Nick Swisher — but he’s still lost on a number of deals. Here are the trades that cost the Yankees the most in terms of WAR.

(Note: Since many of the deals happened before 2002, I’ll use the historical WAR database to determine the values.)

Mike Lowell

When thinking about Cashman’s worst trades, the first that came to mind was Mike Lowell. In 1999 he shipped Lowell to Florida for a package that featured Ed Yarnall, long coveted by the Yankees. Chances are Lowell wouldn’t have gotten the 339 plate appearances he did for the Marlins in 1999, because Scott Brosius would have been coming off a career year. Still, we can’t try to figure out when a player’s clock would have started. We’re still going with first six years, though his 339 plate appearances indicate that he’d have a seventh year before free agency.

From 1999 through 2005 Lowell was worth 16.4 WAR. Ed Yarnall was worth 0.3 in 1999 and -0.3 in 2000, leaving his overall WAR at zero. Mark J. Johnson was worth -0.6, and Todd Noel never made the majors. This certainly ranks as Cashman’s biggest blunder.

Loss: 17 WAR

Photo credit: Alan Diaz/AP

Damaso Marte

Not even a half season after signing him as a free agent, the Yankees traded lefty reliever Damaso Marte to the Pirates for Enrique Wilson. Apparently he hit well against Pedro Martinez, which is a perfectly acceptable reason to make a trade. Sarcasm aside, I don’t remember much of this trade, and so it likely went uncriticized in the press. Marte, at the time, had pitched just 8.2 major league innings. Upon his call-up to the Pirates he got hit around a bit in 36.1 innings and was worth 0 WAR. That would quickly change.

Over the next six years Marte was worth 7.9 WAR. Wilson actually cost the Yankees wins, as he was worth -2.2 WAR. It seems odd that such a minor trade would carry double-digit win implications, but this was the case with Wilson and Marte.

Loss: 10.1 WAR

Photo credit: Steve Nesius/AP

Ted Lilly

Thankfully, Ted Lilly was the only player of note the Yankees traded for Jeff Weaver. I remember the concern at the time that trading John-Ford Griffin could come back to bite them. He had hit very well at Staten Island during his debut in 2001, and was having a fairly decent, Austin Jackson-like surge upon his promotion to AA in 2002. He was also the No. 76 prospect in the game headed into that season. Yet it was Lilly whom the Yankees could have used in the following years.

As we well know, Ted Lilly qualified for free agency after the 2006 season. From the point the Yankees traded him in 2002 he was worth 9.7 WAR. Weaver, during his season and a half with the Yankees, was worth 1.1 WAR. That breaks down to 1.4 WAR in the second half of 2002 and -0.3 WAR in 2003. They still had him under team control for a few years, but instead packaged him in a deal for Kevin Brown. Brown was worth 2.5 wins in 2005, but -0.9 in 2004. Even if we count that, which we won’t, it doesn’t come close to balancing out Lilly’s 9.7 WAR.

Loss: 8.6 WAR

Photo credit: Ben Margot/AP

Nick Johnson, Randy Choate, Juan Rivera

After the losses of David Wells, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees clearly had to reload their rotation. One measure they took was to acquire Javy Vazquez from the Expos. He didn’t come cheap, of course. At the time he was just 28 years old and was coming off four straight seasons pitching more than 200 innings. It cost the Yankees Nick Johnson, who was blocked by Jason Giambi, Juan Rivera, and Randy Choate. Considering the Yankees kept Vazquez for just one year, it certainly cost them.

During his sole pinstriped season Vazquez was worth 2.3 WAR. He added another 4.6 WAR over the next two seasons, the terms of his contract with the Yankees. They traded him for Randy Johnson, who was worth 5.8 WAR as a Yankee. That helps soften the blow, but doesn’t completely erase it (especially since we’re not counting it). Johnson currently has nine years’ of service time, so he would have been eligible for free agency after the 2006 season. From 2004 through 2006 he was worth 8.9 WAR. Juan Rivera would have been under team control through 2008, during which time he produced 1.8 WAR for the Expos and Angels. I have no idea how long Choate would have been under control, but he was 0.4 in 2004, -0.4 in 2005, and 0.0 in 2006 and 2007, so he’s a wash in any case.

Loss: 8.4 WAR

Photo credit: H. Rumph, Jr./AP

Ramon Ramirez

In 2005 the Yankees desperately needed rotation help. It seemed everyone was getting hurt. They turned to an unknown minor league lifer named Aaron Small to fill a spot, and right around the trade deadline they acquired Shawn Chacon from the Rockies in exchange for two relievers, Eduardo Sierra and Ramon Ramirez. Having been solidly in my blogging days, I researched these guys but didn’t find much. The need, at the time, for starting pitching was too great to think about two minor league relievers.

Fortunately, Chacon helped the Yankees make the playoffs that year. Unfortunately, that was about the extent of his value to the team. Meanwhile, Ramirez pitched well for the Rockies, Royals, and Red Sox following the trade. He has been worth 4.0 WAR in his four major league seasons. Chacon helped enormously with his 2.7 WAR in 2005, but negated much of that with a -1.2 number in 2006, making his total 1.5. That’s only a 3.5 WAR loss, so no big deal, right? The problem is that Ramirez is still under team control for three more years, and could continue to widen that gap.

Loss: 3.5 WAR and counting

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

2010 Season Preview: Set up for success

Building a bullpen is a far from an exact science. After enjoying the left-right tandem of Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson in front of Mariano Rivera during the late-90’s, the Yankees stumbled through the overpaid (Steve Karsay, Kyle Farnsworth), the overworked (Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Scott Proctor, Luis Vizcaino), and the overmatched (Tanyon Sturtze, Juan Acevedo) before going back to the drawing board. They left the overpriced retreads in the past, and instead began hoarding interchangeable (and cheap) relievers with good stuff. Now in it’s third year, the bullpen plan has yielded some long-term pieces, and allowed the team to bring in establish veterans to fill in the gaps rather than carry the torch.

Joe Girardi will have his choice of relievers to use in the late innings this season, perhaps led by the soon to be 25-year-old David Robertson. Part of the epiphany draft of 2006 that has already produced five big leaguers, three pieces of trade bait, and one other player on the team’s 40-man roster, Robertson came into his own once he was called up from Triple-A Scranton for good last May. After getting his feet wet by striking out four batters and allowing just one hit in his first four innings following his callup, Robertson struck out 15 of the next 34 batters he faced, and by the end of August he was sporting a 13.28 K/9 and an ERA around 3.50 (3.28 FIP).

Because of the depth in the bullpen, Robertson was routinely used in the 6th and 7th inning of close games and to finish off contests when the team had a bit more of a cushion. He led the American League with a 12.98 K/9 (min. 40 IP), and only twelve AL relievers bested his 3.05 FIP. Although he appeared in only five games during the postseason, Robertson escaped a bases loaded, no out situation against the Twins in Game Two of the ALDS, and won Game Two of the ALCS with an inning-plus of scoreless relief.

The biggest negative about Robertson’s game is that he can get a little too liberal with walks, though his 4.7 BB/9 last year was a full walk worse than his 3.6 minor league mark. It’s worth noting that he did cut his walk rate down to just three batters per nine after July 24th last year, covering his final 21 innings (out of 43.2 total, so basically half his season workload). Robertson’s strikeout rate is right in line with his minor league performance, though his .347 BABIP in 2009 was pretty high, so maybe his .226 batting average against stands to come down some. He also shows a reverse split (3.70 FIP vs. RHB, 2.74 vs. LHB), which is always pretty nifty.

Here’s what the projection systems say…

That’s a quality relief pitcher right there. The walks are still high because of his limited big league track record, but the strikeouts are through the roof as well. As a fly ball pitcher, Robertson will always be a bit homer prone, though that’s hopefully something that can be improved with age. The projected performance is better than what most teams have available for their 8th inning, but there’s a chance K-Rob won’t be anything more than a 7th inning guy in the Bronx this year.

After pitchers and catchers showed up for work in Tampa, the Yankees jumped all over an undervalued free agent and signed 36-year-old Chan Ho Park to a one year deal worth just over a million bucks. A middling starter for most of his career, Park has posted a 3.29 ERA (3.70 FIP) with a 7.55 K/9 and a 2.30 K/BB ratio in over 120 innings as a reliever in the last two years. His velocity clearly plays up in relief, and last year he stranded all but four of the 21 runners he inherited (81%). Let’s look at the projections…

Park’s projections are a little screwy because of the time he spent as a starter in recent years, but rest assured, the Yankees will use him exclusively in relief (unless there’s a meltdown of biblical proportions in the rotation). Even if Park were to pitch to his projection, the Yankees could deploy him in low leverage situations or easily boot him off the roster. However, I suspect Park will outperform his projection, and will likely fill a role similar to what Al Aceves provided in 2009.

In addition to Robertson and Park, the Yankees also carry one of the game’s best lefty relievers in their bullpen. After battling shoulder trouble and general ineffectiveness early in his stint in pinstripes, Damaso Marte proved his worth and showed everyone what he was capable towards the end of 2009 and into the playoffs. He posted a 5.62 ERA after coming off the disabled list in mid-August, but that’s misleading because four of the five runs he allowed came in one disastrous outing. Overall, he had a 2.58 FIP and a 7.88 K/9 after returning, and went on to be nearly perfect in the postseason, retiring all but the first two men he faced.

At 35-years-old and a veteran of 540 big league appearances, Marte has proven to be death to lefthanders. He’s held them to a .197-.294-.287 batting line against during his career, and was even better than that in 2009 (.120-.214-.280). If he stays healthy, which is admittedly far from a given (shoulders are scary), Marte will be a major weapon in a division that features such lefty mashers as Adam Lind, Nick Markakis, Carlos Pena, and the corpse of David Ortiz. His performance against righties has improved as his career has progressed, but with guys like Robertson and Park aboard, Girardi shouldn’t have to deploy him against hitters of the opposite hand too often.

Let’s see what the five freely available projection systems have in story for Damaso…

Clearly, the projections see Marte working primarily as a lefty specialist, hence the low innings totals but relatively high number of appearances. Much like every other pitcher, limiting Marte to specific and specialized situations will only increase his effectiveness. At $4M, he’s the sixth highest paid pitcher on the team and most expensive non-Mo reliever, so he’ll be expected to pitch more than capably in whatever capacity he’s used.

The Yankees head into the 2010 season with a three-headed monster at the back of their bullpen, and that doesn’t even include Aceves or the loser of the Phil Hughes/Joba Chamberlain fifth starter battle. It’s clear that the team views Robertson as a long-term fixture, maybe even a future closer, while Park is just a short-term fill in, the product of a market inefficiency. Marte is under contract for at least the next two years, but contract status is a mere formality. All three of those guys are capable of handling late inning duties by themselves, yet the Yankees have the luxury of being able to deploy all three.

Photo Credits: Marte via Tony Gutierrez, AP; Robertson via Matt Slocum, AP; Park via Kathy Willens, AP

Marte leaves game after getting hit by comebacker

Update (4:37pm): Marte’s fine, just a bruise. He was working out after the game. Phew.

2:31pm: Via Sweeny Murti, Damaso Marte left today’s game after taking a Ryan Howard line drive to the back. The Yanks’ primary lefty reliever allowed two hits and a homer to the first three batters he faced before Howard ended his day. It was Marte’s first action of the spring, and if he misses any time, it’s unlikely he’ll to be ready for Opening Day. Boone Logan‘s chances of making the team just went up big time.

Mo & Marte to take the mound on Tuesday

Via Chad Jennings, Mariano Rivera and Damaso Marte will make their long awaited Spring Training debuts on Tuesday night against the Astros. The last time we saw those two on the mound, they were busy recording the final seven outs of Game Six of the World Series. Chan Ho Park, meanwhile, will throw live batting practice later today before getting into a game later this week.

Those three will probably get about eight innings in before the season starts, which is pretty normal for veteran relievers. Mo won’t travel at all, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Marte and Park didn’t either.