Mailbag: Matsui, Noesi, Montero, Banuelos

Just a heads up, we’re getting lots and lots of Joba Chamberlain-related questions into the inbox. So much so that I might do a Joba-specific mailbag on Monday, once the dust settles and we’re all thinking clearly. Plus I just didn’t have enough time to do one for today. So anyway, here is this week’s mailbag. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions, as always.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user rburtzel via Creative Commons license)

Daniel asks: Do you think Matsui has anything left as bench bat and part-time DH? By the trade deadline, the A’s should be even further back and might want to shed the remaining ~ $2M or so on his deal. With his current level of production, can’t imagine it’d take much more than a C level prospect no?

You have to remove the name when talking about guys like this, because Hideki Matsui‘s status as a True Yankee™ will certainly create biases and cloud judgment. Do the Yankees have a need for a left-handed hitting, part-time designated hitter/bench bat? Not, not really. They already have one in Jorge Posada. Here, look…

Posada in 2011: .203/.311/.366, .303 wOBA, 87 wRC+
Nameless Player: .215/.265/.337, .264 wOBA, 65 wRC+

Posada vs. RHP in 2011: .234/.331/.435, .342 wOBA, 114 wRC+
Nameless Player vs. RHP: .210/.267/.297, .249 wOBA, 55 wRC+

Posada with RISP in 2011: .171/.356/.257, .290 wOBA, 78 wRC+
Nameless Player with RISP: .209/.280/.302, .243 wOBA, 51 wRC+

The triple-slash and wOBA numbers are FYI more than anything, wRC+ is the most important number there because it’s park adjusted. There’s an obvious difference between Yankee Stadium and Whatever They’re Calling It These Days Coliseum. I don’t put much stock in performance with runners with scoring position, so that’s there for those that do more than anything.

In addition to just the overall offense, at least Posada is a switch-hitter, and there’s a tiny bit of value in that even though he’s been brutal (-16 wRC+ … -16!) against lefties this year. He can also play catcher in an emergency, which is more defensive value that Nameless Player provides. In reality, neither of these players should be on the Yankees’ roster, but one is and apparently it’s going to take a minor miracle to get him off it. Adding a second player like that doesn’t make sense to me, regardless of how little he makes or how easy it would be to acquire or what he did in the past.

Dan asks: I thought Hector Noesi was supposed to be a fastball-changeup guy? (“He backs [the fastball] up with quality changeup, his second best offering, and he also throws both a slider and a curveball.” From Mike’s prospect profile) So far in the majors he’s throwing a ton of sliders, and a decent amount of curveballs. Only 6 changeups in 71 pitches Tuesday night, and about 7% coming into the night. What’s the dealio?

Hey, I’m not the only one that said that. From Baseball America’s write-up of the Yankees’ top ten prospects before the season (subs. req’d)…

He pounds the zone with an 89-93 mph fastball, reaching as high as 96. His maintains his velocity deep into games, and his fastball has some run and tail. Noesi’s No. 2 pitch is a changeup with similar action, though he doesn’t quite command it like his fastball. His curveball and slider remain below-average offerings, but he flashes the ability to spin the ball.

Remember, we’re talking about a ridiculously small sample size. Noesi’s faced 58 batters and thrown 204 pitches in the big leagues, which is nothing. Here’s the breakdown of those 204 pitches: 107 fastballs, 61 sliders, 14 curves, and 14 changeups. That adds up to 196, and the missing eight pitches were part of intentional walks. He’s faced 29 righties and 29 righties, so it’s not a platoon thing (changeups are used primarily against batters of the opposite hand).

I honestly don’t know what the deal is, but I suspect it’s more of a fluke than anything given the number of batters faced and overall pitches we’re talking about. Pitchers typical go with their two best offerings in relief, maybe he felt the slider was a better swing-and-miss pitch at the time? Maybe Russell Martin (who’s caught all 204 of those pitches) just hasn’t called it enough and Noesi’s too rookie-ish to shake him off?

Ross asks: When will we get to see Montero in the Bronx? This Cervelli experiment has run its course. If we’re going to accept mediocre defense, we can at least have a bat in the lineup for when the bottom half of the order gets on base. Would there be any takers on the trade market for Cervelli?

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

I think we’ve reached the point where Jesus Montero could be called up literally any day now. If it happened today, I would not be surprised. It’s bad enough that Frankie Cervelli can’t throw anyone out (he’s gunned down 11 of the last 84 that have tried to steal off him, 13.1%), but now he’s gotten into the habit of throwing the ball into center field and giving runners an extra base. It’s not just some annoying problem anymore, it’s in the scouting report and teams are exploiting it.

Despite his general awfulness, I’m certain that Cervelli has some value on the trade market. He’s cheap and young, and the position itself is pretty much a wasteland these days. The Giants are looking for catching help following Buster Posey’s injury, the Pirates are as well with Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder on the shelf. I’m not saying there’s a trade match between the Yankees and either of those clubs, but there are teams out there looking for catching.

J.R. asks: I know that Banuelos has had control problems in the minors, but I’m wondering how he has done against lefties. With both an innings cap coming up (not sure what you would guess it is) and the need for a LOOGY, would it make sense to put him in the pen for August and September (maybe even October)? It wouldn’t really hurt his development and would give him major league experience.

I’m glad someone asked this because Banuelos is not exactly an ideal LOOGY candidate. Here’s the numbers, first…

vs. LHB in 2011: 14.1 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 7 BB, 15 K, 1.22 GB/FB
vs. RHB in 2011: 36.1 IP, 37 H, 17 R, 15 ER, 22 BB, 30 K, 1.27 GB/FB

vs. LHB in 2009-2010: 34.1 IP, 27 H, 12 BB, 30 K, 4.15 FIP, 5.04 xFIP
vs. RHB in 2009-2010: 139.33, 116 H, 40 BB, 151 K, 2.54 FIP, 3.99 xFIP

The 2009-2010 numbers are park adjusted, courtesy of the minor league splits database at Driveline Mechanics. The numbers from this year come right from his player page. First of all, this does a great job of showing you just how relatively inexperienced Banuelos is. He’s faced a total of 485 batters in the last 32 months. For some perspective, CC Sabathia has faced 424 batters this year alone.

Secondly, Banuelos has a reverse split. Not necessarily this year, but from 2009-2010 and as a whole from 2009 through today. Why? Because he’s a fastball-changeup pitcher (with a great changeup), and changeups (as I said earlier) are used primarily against batters of the opposite hand. Banuelos’ best pitch doesn’t help him at all against lefties; he’s got to use his fastball and curveball (easily his third best pitch) to get those guys out.

Just because a pitcher throws left-handed doesn’t mean he’s a LOOGY candidate. Banuelos projects as a starter long-term because he can neutralize right-handed batters with that changeup, but he’s still got to work on improving the rest of his repertoire and his command, especially this year. The Yankees have other LOOGY options in house, namely Randy Flores, and there are always guys like Jerry Blevins and David Purcey on waivers. Given the complete debacle of Joba Chamberlain’s development, I’d rather not see the team turn another high-end pitching prospect into a reliever for the big league club then try to turn him back into a starter long-term. I honestly have very little faith in it being done in a way that won’t hurt Banuelos’ long-term development/future.

An old friend lands in Oakland

While we waited out our server problems and the Cliff Lee news, the A’s picked up an old Yankee friend of ours. Hideki Matsui and Oakland came to terms on a one-year deal believed to be worth just south of $5 million. He’ll be introduced at the Coliseum later today.

Matsui left New York after winning the 2009 World Series MVP, and he turned in a solid 1.9-win season for the Angels last year. He hit .274/.361/.459 with 21 home runs in 554 plate appearances and even managed to survive 123 innings in left field. While the signing could be a good one for the A’s, Matsui is moving to a home stadium where left-handed batters hit just .241/.325/.349 with just 32 home runs in 2549 plate appearances last year. Playing out his age 37 season in a pitcher’s park, Matsui could very well see his production fall off the table in 2011. Buyer beware.

Checking in with former Yankees

Contrary to popular belief, the Yankees aren’t the only team trying to acquire players at the winter meetings. In fact, some other teams are even trying to acquire players that played for the Yanks at one time or another. Jon Lane at rounded up the latest on some former Bombers, including Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, and Kerry Wood. One former Yank he did not mention is Tom Gordon, who I’ve seen in the halls in the few times. Flash lives in the area and does some broadcasting work for MLB Network Radio, but Gordon Edes says the 43 year old is trying to find a team willing to take a chance on him. He hasn’t appeared in a game since early-May 2009, so I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were him. Still kinda cool to see him hanging around though.

Was Nick Johnson really the wrong choice?

A post this morning on Baseball Time in Arlington got me thinking about the DH situation. There were four big DH free agents heading into the offseason — Nick Johnson, Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero, and Jim Thome — and it looks like the Yankees made the wrong choice. Nick Johnson is out for the year and is providing the team no value. Meanwhile the other three remain healthy. Throughout the season I’ve seen fans complain about the team picking Johnson over Matsui, since it was such an obvious mistake. Yet when I looked at it, the result isn’t so obvious.

Johnson has been out since early May, having produced 0.1 WAR before hurting his wrist. That’s not a great return on $5.5 million. Matsui has been healthy enough to accumulate 411 PA, more than four times the number Johnson managed. Yet Matsui has produced an identical 0.1 WAR. In other words, while Matsui has stayed healthy he hasn’t done much to help his team. Hell, even Juan Miranda has produced 0.1 WAR this season.

The big winner among the foursome is obviously Vlad, who has produced 2.1 WAR despite a recent downturn. Yet Jim Thome, in 212 fewer plate appearances, has produced 1.8 WAR. If the Yanks were looking for a left-handed DH, he gets the hindsight award for the pick I’d endorse.

Former Yankees on Opening Day

On Sunday night we got to see the new Yankees in action. Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson batted in the starting lineup, while Chan Ho Park pitched two thirds of an inning out of the bullpen. But what about the guys they replaced? Here’s a rundown of how former Yankees fared in their new team debuts.

Hideki Matsui: 2 for 4

Photo credit: Jae C. Hong/AP

Matsui made an impresion in his Angels debut. With runners on first and second with two out during a tie-game in the fifth, Matsui singled to right field to give the Angels a lead. That chased Twins starter Scott Baker from the game. Then, with the Angels holding a one-run lead in the eighth, Matsui led off the inning with a 401 foot home run to center field. Kendry Morales followed with a shot down the left field line, sealing the Opening Day victory for the Angels.

Johnny Damon: 2 for 5

In his first at-bat as a Tiger Johnny Damon grounded out to second. No big deal. In his second at-bat he flied out to right. He was facing Zack Greinke, so again, it wouldn’t have mattered if Damon went 0 for 4. He didn’t, though. Leading off the sixth, he singled to right off Greinke, advanced on a Magglio Ordonez single, and then scored on a third straight single, this one by Miguel Cabrera. Then, with Roman Colon in for relief the Tigers broke open the game, and Damon contributed by doubling home two, including Austin Jackson.

Austin Jackson: 1 for 5

The Tigers found themselves down 4-2 heading into the seventh, but luckily for them Greinke had left the game by that point. Scott Sizemore walked and Ramon Santiago, pinch hitting for Adam Everett, singled, setting up Jackson with runners on the corners and none out. He lined a double to left for his first major league hit and RBI. He scored his first run one batter later on Damon’s double. He struck out looking twice in the game.

Phil Coke: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R

Joel Zumaya pitched a scoreless sixth for the Tigers, and then came out to start the seventh. After allowing an infield single to Jason Kendall, Jim Leyland lifted him for Phil Coke, who came in to face the lefty troika of Chris Getz, David DeJesus, and Scott Podsednik. Getz singled, DeJesus popped out in foul ground to third, and Podsednik singled. Kendall, had he been a bit faster, might have scored, but Austin Jackson gunned him down at the plate.

Melky Cabrera: 0 for 5

The Braves rallied for six runs in the first inning on Opening Day, handing Carlos Zambrano yet another poor season debut. Melky got things started with a walk and eventually scored on a Chipper Jones single after going first-to-third on a Martin Prado single. Melky made the last out of that inning, and then made outs in his next four plate appearances. He was the only Braves starter, non-pitcher, to not record a hit, though his walk did set up the definitive inning for the Braves.

Evaluating the DHs

This off-season, the Yankees, Angels and Rangers all landed themselves shiny new injury-prone but solid-hitting guys to man the DH spot. The Yanks picked up Nick Johnson and his .426 OBP, the Angels Hideki Matsui and his World Series MVP award and the Rangers Vlad Guerrero and his ability to hit any pitch. The Yanks like their guy because of his on-base prowess. He’ll hit second and give Mark Teixeira and A-Rod numerous opportunities to drive home runs. But what of the other two? Yesterday, Jay Gargiulo at Fack Youk analyzed the DH signings and came out a bit bearish on Vlad and Matsui. I predict, not too boldly, that the best one of the three will be whichever avoids the disabled list the longest this year.

Link Roundup: Former Yankees in the news

Damon a fit in Atlanta?

Want to read 1000 words on how and why Johnny Damon would be a great fit for the Braves’ lineup? Well, then point your browsers to this David O’Brien blog post and prepare for a lengthy analysis. O’Brien says Atlanta has around $7-$8 million per season for two years to offer to Damon, and since Scott Boras has yet to field a better offer, Damon just might accept.

Now, if that salary figure sounds familiar, that’s because it is reportedly what the Yankees were willing to pay Damon for at least 2010 and maybe 2011. Would Damon then accept a lesser salary with another team than he would with his former employers? Joe tackled just that question in his closing arguments, and it’s worth noting that some people are more comfortable taking lesser money from a new team than they are with taking a paycut to stick with their old one. In the end, Damon will produce no matter the salary, but he could have a better early-season outlook in Atlanta than with the Yankees.

If the Braves opt against pursuing Damon, I’m not sure where or for how much Damon ends up. The Braves — and of course the Yankees — are simply the two best and last real remaining options for Johnny. Unless the Cardinals lose out on Matt Holliday, Damon will have few choices for a player coming off a great year. He really is this year’s Bobby Abreu.

Yanks, 14 others ask about Wang

Yesterday, we learned that Chien-Ming Wang would throw off a mound in mid-to-late Feburary. Today, we hear of interest in the rehabbing right-hander. Alan Nero, Wang’s agent, told Andrew Marchand that 15 teams have inquired into the status of the former 19-game winner and erstwhile ace. The Yankees, but not the Mets, were among those teams, and I still would not be surprised if Wang returned to the Bronx on an incentive-laden deal this year.

Matsui: I want to play the outfield

Hideki Matsui‘s insistence that he will play some games in the outfield in Anaheim continues to amuse me. Last week, the World Series MVP returned home to Japan and held a press conference at which he reiterated his belief that he will see some time in left field in 2010. “I’d like to prove I can play defense at spring training,” Matsui said during a news conference. “It will be difficult to play defense every day like in the past, but I’d like to reach the point where I’m able to play defense once every few games.”

Matsui, never a great defender, last played the field on June 15, 2008 — coincidentally the same day Chien-Ming Wang suffered his career-derailing Lisfranc injury. Since then, he has undergone at least one knee surgery and a few procedures to drain fluids from his knees, but if the Angels want to risk, so be it.

The story behind Fred McGriff and Tom Emanski

How, you may ask, does Fred McGriff end up on a link dump of news concerning former Yankees? Well, New York drafted McGriff in the ninth round of the 1981 amateur draft, and then the team traded him with Dave Collins and Mike Morgan on December 9, 1982 to the Blue Jays for Tom Dodd and Dale Murray. It wasn’t a good trade. Anyway, while McGriff made a name for himself with the bat, he is in one of the longest running baseball video commercials of all time, and today, Tyler Kepner gets the story behind the Emanski endorsement. His teams did win back to back to back A.A.U. National Championships, after all.

Randy Johnson will announce his retirement tomorrow

The Big Unit spent two productive years in pinstripes, and his Hall of Fame career appears to have ended: Bob Nightengale says RJ will announce his retirement tomorrow morning. He went 34-19 with a 4.37 ERA in pinstripes, though he really made his mark with the Diamondbacks. When Arizona signed Johnson to a four year, $53M contract in 1999, they were rewarded with four Cy Youngs and a 2.52 FIP with 1,417 strikeouts in 1030 innings. Wow.