Archive for Hiroki Kuroda
Brian Cashman held his annual end-of-season press conference on Tuesday afternoon and, unsurprisingly, there were no announcements made. Not even a minor one. He fielded questions for about an hour and in typical YankeeSpeak, the GM said a lot of words that had little substance. The team’s higher-ups have a knack for dodging questions and giving vague answers while talking a whole bunch. Anyway, let’s recap the presser:
On Joe Girardi
- Cashman confirmed he met with Girardi “for a while” yesterday and will meet with agent Steve Mandell tomorrow to continue talks. “After tomorrow, I think I’ll get a real good feel for where we’re at,” he said. “I think he likes it here. We’re going to give [Girardi] a real good reason to stay.”
- “His effort and his efforts in pre-game preparation for each series and how he runs Major League Spring Training … he’s been consistently tremendously at it,” said the GM while also crediting Girardi for working with such a poor roster this season. “[His] job as a manager is to make sure these guys compete on a daily basis … I thought he did a great job, him and his staff.”
- Cashman would not comment when asked if the Cubs (or any other team, for that matter) had contacted the team to ask for permission to speak to Girardi. His contract expires November 1st.
- Cashman closed the press conference with a preemptive “no comment” about how things go (went?) with Mandell tomorrow. He told the media not to bother to reach out for an update because he won’t give one. It was kinda funny.
Via Anthony Rieber: Hiroki Kuroda is still unsure if he wants to pitch in 2014, either in Japan or with an MLB team. He hasn’t ruled out retirement. “It all depends on how I feel after the season and think about things. Right now all I can say is I don’t know,” said the right-hander.
Assuming he doesn’t start tomorrow — he lines up for that game but the team has the starter listed as TBA — the 38-year-old Kuroda ends the season with a 3.31 ERA and 3.56 FIP in 201.1 innings. He hit a real big wall in mid-August and was just brutal down the stretch. The Yankees will surely make Kuroda the $14M-ish qualifying offer to ensure they get a draft pick if he signs with another MLB team, but they don’t get anything if he retires or heads back to Japan.
I would like to have Kuroda back next season at a reasonable price, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about an older pitcher who’s hit a wall in August two straight years. He earned $15M this season and I would be uncomfortable giving him more. It’s a very fair price.
This has been a long and occasionally painful season, but it’s still hard to believe there are only ten games and eleven days left on the regular season schedule. The Yankees are three games back of the second wild-card spot in the loss column and their chances of making the playoffs are remote — 3.4% according to Baseball Prospectus — but they do still have a chance. A very small one, but a chance nonetheless.
Soon after the end of the regular season, the BBWAA crew will vote on the various major awards. The playoffs aren’t considered even though the official announcements aren’t made until sometime in November. The last Yankee to win a major award was Alex Rodriguez back in 2007, when he took no prisoners en route to his third MVP. It usually takes that kind of otherworldly season for a Yankee to win a major award because there is some voter bias. At least lately there has been thanks to the dynasty years and all those division titles.
This season doesn’t figure to be any different. The Yankees don’t have a 2007 A-Rod or a 2001 Roger Clemens on the roster, but they do have a handful of players who will garner at least some consideration for the major awards. At this point of the season, it’s hard to think anything that happens between now and Game 162 will change the voters’ minds. Let’s look at which Yankees have a shot at the various awards.
Most Valuable Player
The team’s only serious MVP candidate is (who else?) Robinson Cano. He’s hitting .311/.383/.514 (141 wRC+) and is top ten in the league in both versions of WAR. Obviously his chances would greatly increase if the Yankees sneak into the postseason, but even if they don’t, Cano should get a fair amount of love because he was New York’s only real offensive threat for most of the season. Fairly or unfairly, the voters do take that stuff into consideration. It’s the whole “he had no protection!” idea.
Alfonso Soriano could get some votes because of his huge production following the trade — Jack Curry wrote about this last week — but I have a really hard time seeing that unless he swats like, six more homers from here on out and the Yankees win a wildcard spot. I’m sure it’s happened plenty of times before, but the only time I can remember a midseason trade pickup getting serious MVP consideration was Shannon Stewart in 2003. He hit .322/.384/.470 (127 wRC+) in 65 games for the Twins following the deal while Minnesota went from 7.5 games back to winning the division by four games. The narrative was pretty strong.
I suppose Mariano Rivera could draw some honorary down-ballot votes in his final season, which would be kinda neat. He’s received MVP votes in nine different seasons and has finished as high as ninth in the voting (2004 and 2005). This hasn’t been Mo’s best year — he’s still been pretty great by normal closer standards — and he doesn’t really deserve MVP votes, but who knows what’ll happen. Could A-Rod get a tenth place troll vote or two if they made the playoffs? That would be a riot. Ain’t happenin’ though.
Unless Rivera gets some going away votes — unlikely since this ballot only goes five players deep — the Yankees’ only Cy Young candidate this year is Hiroki Kuroda. He led the league with a 2.33 ERA as recently as August 16th, but he crashed into the fatigue wall this week and is no longer in the mix. Kuroda, who now has a 3.13 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 189.2 innings, could steal a fourth or fifth place vote from a New York writer. It would surprise me though. There are a ton of worthy Cy Young candidates in the so-called Junior Circuit this year.
Rookie of the Year
Do you know who leads Yankees rookies in the FanGraphs version of WAR this season? Melky Mesa at 0.3. He came to the plate 14 times before being released. The Baseball-Reference version is a little kinder and has Adam Warren in the lead at 0.9. Either way, I think you get the point. They don’t have a horse in this race.
Comeback Player of the Year
Finally, an award a Yankee might actually win. Rivera is coming back from his knee injury and has the whole retirement thing going for him, which is probably enough to get him the popular vote regardless of his performance. Mariano is an icon and we’ve already seen how beloved he is around the game, by opposing players and writers alike. I hesitate to call him a shoo-in, but I think you have to consider Rivera the overwhelming favorite here.
There’s a chance Brett Gardner could get some Comeback Player of the Year love, but I would expect all the Yankees-related votes to go to Mo. Eric Hosmer, Scott Kazmir, John Lackey, and Ervin Santana figure to be Rivera’s primary competition. So yeah, his to lose I think.
Manager of the Year
I wrote about Joe Girardi‘s Manager of the Year chances way back in May, and obviously a lot has changed since then. The Yankees were exceeding every possible expectation at the time and we were still expecting guys like Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter to come back and be productive. That didn’t happen and the team faded in a big way during the summer months. They’ve been trying to climb out of the hole for a few weeks now.
Even if the Yankees don’t make the postseason, I think Girardi’s going to get a fair amount of Manager of the Year support because the roster has been decimated by injuries. This wasn’t one or two injuries, this was half the lineup. In some cases their replacements got hurt. It’s not an accident the Yankees have used a franchise-high 56 different players this year. That wasn’t out of the kindness of their heart, they needed all of the warm bodies. Girardi has managed to keep the team in the hunt right down to the final two weeks of the season and that’s pretty remarkable.
Furthermore, I think Girardi has done a masterful job of handling the A-Rod situation. That could have easily been a big distraction — and it was for a while as the two traded barbs through the media — but he’s kept it contained and a non-issue for a good month now. It would have been very, very easy for that whole situation to blow up and become a major daily issue, but Girardi made sure it didn’t. I don’t think he will win the award — John Farrell has the worst-to-first thing going for him — but he’ll definitely get votes and could finish as high as second on the ballot. There isn’t a ton of competition for the award this year.
Five questions and four answers this week. If you ever want to send us anything, mailbag questions or links or comments, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Dylan asks: If the Yankees re-sign Hiroki Kuroda next year, could they not have him start the season until end of May so he doesn’t hit a wall? They could have him get ready for the season in Extended Spring Training games. Has this ever happened in the league before for an older pitcher (besides when Andy Pettitte came out of retirement, but that wasn’t intentional for the Yankees)?
Although they didn’t sign over the winter with the intention of joining the rotation at midseason, this is basically what 2007 Roger Clemens, 2009 Pedro Martinez, and both 2012 and 2013 Roy Oswalt did. They didn’t find many offers in the offseason and waited until injuries struck and some contender needed pitching help in the middle of the year. Kuroda won’t have that problem this winter.
I do think there is some merit to the idea of holding him back until May — there was some talk of doing with Stephen Strasburg last year since everyone knew he was going to be shut down at some point — but games in April are just as important as games in September. Do you prefer to tack on the wins early or play catch-up late? The guy replacing him in April probably won’t be all that good, so I prefer the former. I think the solution would be lighten Kuroda’s workload from April through July by using off-days to skip or push back starts and take advantage of the All-Star break to give him close to two full weeks off. A phantom DL trip, basically.
Either way, I don’t like the idea of having one of the team’s best starters intentionally skipping a full month or two of the season. I’d rather just take my chances and hope he doesn’t hit a wall in that case. If you’re planning on getting say, 25 starts out of him instead of 32, I would prefer to get the 25 as soon as possible — you could always trade for pitching help at the deadline — and not run the risk of an injury turning those 25 starts into 12 starts or something.
JCK asks: If Phil Hughes dominates out of the bullpen down the stretch, do the Yankees have a chance to bring him back as a reliever in 2014? It would be nice to have 2009 bullpen Hughes in a post-Mariano Rivera world.
I think the chances of the Yankees re-signing Hughes as a reliever are small but still better than they are of them bringing him back as a starter, which are basically zero. There are only 22 games left in the season and I don’t think that’s enough time for Phil to show he can be truly dominant out of the bullpen like he was in 2009, especially since each game is so important and guys like Preston Claiborne and David Robertson will soak up the more crucial innings. Hughes might just be a mop-up man this month. Heck. Joe Girardi went to Joba Chamberlain over him last night. So yeah, I do think there’s a chance he’ll come back of a reliever, but that chance is still very small. Hard to see Phil returning to the Bronx next year in any role.
Tarik asks: Can you put Greg Bird‘s season into perspective? Is he a legitimate hitting prospect? Is 20 too old for Low-A? Thanks.
Marc asks: Is there any chance Greg Bird could fake the corner OF and spot starts at catcher? Like a poor man’s Ryan Doumit, cause his bat is legit and it would be great to get the most value outta him.
Going to lump these two together. First things first: 20 is absolutely not too old for Low-A. It’s perfectly age appropriate if not slightly young for the level (he turns 21 in November).
Secondly, Bird hit .288/.428/.511 in 573 plate appearances this year, a 170 wRC+ than was the eighth best in all of minor league baseball among players with enough plate appearances to qualify for their league’s batting title (not counting the unaffiliated Mexican League). Four of the seven guys ahead of him were in short season leagues with fewer than 260 plate appearances (including Gosuke Katoh at 172 wRC+), another was a 29-year-old journeyman in Triple-A (Chris Colabello at 196 wRC+), and the other two were two of the best prospects in the game (George Springer at 174 wRC+ and Miguel Sano at 172 wRC+). So, simply put, Bird was one of the absolute best hitters in all of minor league baseball this year regardless of age and level. He mashed.
Tyler Austin hit .322/.400/.559 (~163 wRC+) last season, which actually might be more impressive than Bird’s season considering he was promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa at midseason. The talent pool in the second half of full season leagues tends to get watered down because all the best performers get promoted and replaced by guys coming up from a lower level. Jesus Montero‘s best minor league season was 2009, when he hit .337/.389/.562 (~169 wRC+) between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton as a 19-year-old. That’s definitely more impressive than what Bird this year in my opinion considering his age and the levels. Before that, you have to go all that way back to the holy grail of minor league offensive seasons to find a better performance in the Yankees system: 1999 Nick Johnson, who hit .345/.525/.548 with Double-A Norwich. Minor league wRC+ data doesn’t go back that far, but I think it’s safe to say that was close to if not above 200 wRC+. So yeah, Bird mashed in a way very few others have in recent years.
Earlier this week, Jim Callis said Bird has “legitimate power” while Keith Law added “he does have plus raw power,” so we have some consensus there. The Yankees would have tried him in the corner outfield before sticking him at first base if he was capable of doing it, but the back problem that moved him out from behind the plate might be making his mobility an issue. Bird has to prove he can hit at the upper levels of the minors, which makes him no different than every other Single-A prospect in the history of the universe. The offensive bar is very high for first base prospects though — it takes Prince Fielder or Eric Hosmer potential to be a truly elite first base prospect — so Bird will continue to get the short end of the prospect stick. He hit way more than was reasonably expected this season, now let’s just sit back and see what we does next year with High-A Tampa before we start worrying about where he fits into the team’s long-term plans. To be honest, Doumit pretty much sucks and I’m hoping Bird is something much better than that. Versatility is overrated.
Jon asks: With Pete O’Brien being an error machine at third, do you think he could still move to RF? He should have the arm and his bat should easily profile right?
O’Brien runs like a catcher, so I don’t see how a corner outfield spot would work. Most likely, he’ll be a first baseman/DH who can fill in at third or catcher in a real pinch. He’s a prospect because of his big right-handed power, which is something that is in very short supply these days. Righty hitting/righty throwing first baseman is not the sexiest profile in the world, especially considering there are concerns about O’Brien’s approach at the plate. The best right/right first basemen in recent history — Albert Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt, Paul Konerko, Allen Craig, Derrek Lee, Kevin Youkilis, Richie Sexson — all had disciplined approaches that upped their offensive production. More than a few of those guys (Pujols, Lee, Youkilis, Sexson) were top notch defenders as well. The only member of that recent right-right first base group who has stuck in the big leagues despite a poor approach is Mark Trumbo. Trumbo is a flawed hitter and an mediocre player overall because of his defense, but I would be thrilled if that’s what O’Brien turned into. I’d sign up for it today.
Via Chad Jennings: Hiroki Kuroda skipped his usual between-starts bullpen session on Saturday. “Sometimes guys just skip their bullpens,” said Joe Girardi, which is actually true. This is noteworthy, however, because Kuroda stopped throwing bullpens between his starts all together last September due to fatigue. He modified his offseason routine in an effort to stay fresh later into the season.
Kuroda, 38, has been outstanding overall this season, pitching to a 2.89 ERA and 3.50 FIP in 171.1 innings across 27 starts. He was brutal in August though, with a 5.12 ERA and 4.04 FIP in five starts and 31.2 innings. Fatigue set in late last year and Kuroda’s performance similarly slipped down the stretch — he did bounce back and was outstanding in the postseason — so it’s fair to wonder if he’s going through the same thing now. The Yankees will have a very hard time making a serious run at a wildcard spot if Kuroda is anything less than an ace, so hopefully this is just a bump in the road and little rest does the trick.
Later today, the Yankees will send their ace to the mound in the rubber game against the last place Blue Jays. It won’t be CC Sabathia. He’s pitched his way out of ace-hood this year. It’ll instead be Hiroki Kuroda, the All-Star snub who led the AL in ERA up until a few starts ago. The veteran right-hander heads into tonight’s game with a stellar 2.71 ERA and 3.45 FIP in 26 starts. Excellent numbers no matter how you slice ‘em.
Lately though, the 38-year-old Kuroda has been something less than an ace. He gave up seven runs and a career-high four homers against the Rays last time out, and in his start before that he surrendered a career-high eleven hits to the Red Sox. Every pitcher has a bump in the road at some point, it’s inevitable during the 162-game season, but seeing Kuroda go through it is a little unsettling. He isn’t exactly young and the Yankees need every win possible. If he suddenly became ineffective, their playoff hopes would be crushed.
Kuroda, as you surely remember, was dynamite for the Yankees last season as well. He did run into a wall right around start #25 though, enough of a wall that he stopped throwing his usual between-starts bullpen session in September. That’s a pretty big deal. When a pitcher has to alter his routine to remain fresh and effective, you know he’s running on fumes. Here Hiroki’s pre- and post-wall numbers for reference:
|IP/GS||ERA||FIP||K%||BB%||BABIP||Opp. ISO||Opp. OPS|
Despite the fatigue, Kuroda’s velocity did not drop off down the stretch. You can see his start-by-start fastball velocity graph right here. No decline at all. Instead, the fatigue showed up in a BABIP and power spike. Not every increase (or decrease) in BABIP is luck-related. Kuroda may have been more hittable down the stretch because he was gassed and hitters were able to get better swings against him. Tired pitchers tend to make more mistakes, and more mistakes usually result in more hits allowed. That’s typically how it works.
“It was really strange; [Kuroda] just didn’t have his stuff tonight,” said Joe Girardi to Mark Feinsand following the team’s loss to the Rays on Friday. “He kept trying to find it and find it, but I didn’t think his slider was extremely sharp and I didn’t think he had the great command of his fastball tonight.”
Stuff that wasn’t as crisp as usual could be a sign of fatigue, but we really don’t know. After all, two subpar starts against the Red Sox and Rays shouldn’t be all that surprising. Those are two of the five best offenses in baseball. That said, Kuroda’s age and the fact that he hit a wall around this time last year make his performance something worth monitoring going forward. That’s obvious, right? If he starts to stink every five days, it’s a problem.
The Yankees were in much better shape at this time last year because Sabathia and Phil Hughes were pitching anywhere from good to great. Nowadays they’re getting pounded every five days and Kuroda’s importance to the team is much greater. He has to be the stopper, the guy that extends winning streaks and ends losing streaks. If he runs out of gas these last few weeks like he did last season — for what it’s worth, Kuroda did rebound and was excellent in the postseason, including one start on three days’ rest — the Yankees playoff odds will go from tiny to zero. They need their ace to bounce back in a big way against the lowly Blue Jays tonight.
Got five questions for you this week. The best way to send us anything is the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
John asks: Looking ahead to next year (because that’s sort of all we have at this point) the Yankees clearly need another outfielder (or two). As such, being purely hypothetical here, would you rather have Curtis Granderson at 1/$14M, Carlos Beltran at 2/$30M or Shin-Soo Choo at 4/$60M?
Of those three choices, I’m definitely taking Granderson on a one-year, $14M deal. Beltran would be my second choice and Choo a distant third. Choo sure gets a lot of attention for an injury prone platoon player who isn’t all that good on defense, doesn’t he? He’s awesome against right-handed pitchers, among the best in the world, but there’s much more to life than that.
Anyway, Beltran is still a really good hitter, the the big drop in walk rate and overall rise in swing-and-miss rate are major red flags for a 36-year-old hitter. I’ve explained this before. Add in his injury history and the overall risk that comes with guys closer to 40 than 30, and I’m very skeptical about giving him a multi-year pact. I don’t think it would be a disaster if the Yankee signed Beltran to a two-year, $30M contract (that would be a nice raise from his current two-year, $26M deal), but it’s not a slam dunk at this point.
Granderson, even at a premium salary, on a one-year contract is a pretty great deal. All of his injuries this year were flukes, he’s shown his old power, and he’s not at the point where you’d expect him fall of a cliff at age 32 (33 in March). The Yankees have enough really old veteran players on multi-year pacts and I really don’t want to see them add another to the pile at this point. Granderson for one year limits the risk and gives them a productive player. He’s the lesser of three evils, in this scenario.
Nick asks: Suggested post (motivated mainly by Jon Morosi’s column): Hiroki Kuroda‘s chances of winning the Cy Young. Consider the contenders and say what Hiroki realistically needs to do between now and season end to be in with any kind of shot.
I looked at the AL Cy Young race a little more in depth at CBS last week, so I’ll point you to that rather than regurgitate it all here. Long story short: there are a lot of legitimate candidates in the AL but Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer stand out from the pack right now. Chris Sale deserves to be in that group as well, but he won’t get much love thanks to his crummy teammates.
Kuroda has the great 2.33 ERA and AL-best 174 ERA+, but his record (11-7) isn’t anything special, his strikeout rate (6.40 K/9 and 18.1 K%) is below-average, and his FIP (3.25) is very good but not on par with the other Cy Young candidates. To make a serious push for the award, pretty much one thing has to happen: the Yankees need to win his starts. A lot of them. He’ll have to maintain that ERA/FIP and finish the year with an 18-8 record or something to have a serious shot. That’s the easiest way to do it.
Even then, it’s probably not enough. Remember, for a Yankee to win a major award, they need to have an insanely great year that is far better than the other candidates. Think 2007 Alex Rodriguez. There’s definitely a Yankee bias at work in the voting. Kuroda’s been awesome, but his performance this year is still a notch between Felix, Scherzer, and Sale for me. Those guys have been outrageously good.
Brian asks: I saw a little blurb on MLBTR regarding Mike Trout and the Angels. Trout is obviously worth far more than his current league minimum contract, but if the Angels sit back and decide to continue to paying him league minimum, could Trout theoretically hold out like they do in football? Is there any baseball precedent to that?
There is no precedent for that in baseball as far as I know, certainly not recently. If he were the hold out, I imagine the team would suspend him without pay, which would do some damage to his image. It happens. At this point of his career, Trout is stuck making whatever the Angels are willing to pay him. Is it fair? Of course not. But that’s the salary system that was collectively bargained.
Trout has one more year at (or near) the league minimum before becoming eligible for arbitration, when he’ll at least have some say in his salary. He can’t become a free agent until after the 2017 campaign. I don’t know if Trout will hold enough of a grudge to pass on a long-term contract if the Halos make an offer, but it would surprise me. He’s already in nine-figure contract extension territory and that’s hard to pass up.
Rosco asks: I know a lot of people are praising MLB for suspending players for PEDs associated with the Miami clinic, but shouldn’t we worry that none of them tested positive? How many other players are using that we do not know about because it seems the testing systems has some holes?
That’s the part going completely unnoticed. Not a single player tested positive and a local newspaper in Miami managed to get wind of the scandal before the league. That’s the nature of the beast though, the drugs will always be ahead of the tests. There’s no doubt the recent suspensions send a strong message — we’re going to go to great lengths to find you if you’ve been cheating! — but that alone won’t be enough of a disincentive for many players. The only thing MLB can do is test and test, that’s all. Sports will never be completely clean.
Lee asks: I saw these stats on defensive shifts a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t seen any commentary on them anywhere, and would love to hear your thoughts. The Yankees are THIRD in the use of defensive shifts? Wow, I guess I’ve been so mesmerized by how bad their offense is that I didn’t notice! But even more incredible, ZERO runs saved???? That’s almost funny — they just can’t get anything right this year.
Yeah, the Yankees definitely seem to suck at shift. Anecdotally, they seem to pitch away from the situation quite a bit, meaning they pitch outside with soft stuff while playing the hitter to pull. That doesn’t make sense. The defense on the left side of the infield has been terrible pretty much all year, which is another factor. I give them credit for trying — it’s interesting that four of the top five shifting teams are from the AL East, no? — but I’m not sure they have the personnel to pull off some fancy shifts at this point. The infield defense is too immobile.
Via Mark Hale: Impending free agent Hiroki Kuroda is still undecided about his future beyond this season. “At this stage, I can’t imagine what I’m going to do until the season ends … Obviously it builds your confidence to have numbers like these, but at the same time, I have to finish the season and make sure I’m healthy enough to even think about making that decision,” said the right-hander.
Kuroda, 38, has been a legitimate ace this season, ranking second in the AL in ERA (2.33), first in ERA+ (172), eighth in FIP (3.25), seventh in fWAR (3.6), and third in bWAR (5.0). He’s signed one-year contracts in each of the last two winters citing the desire to have freedom to make a decision about his future after each season, though he refuted reports indicating he wanted to end his career back in Japan. “That has never been the case with what I’ve been thinking, but who knows?” he said.
Re-signing Kuroda will be a top priority for the Yankees this offseason, but given the club’s tiny playoff chances and even worse 2014 outlook, I think he will entertain offers from other teams with a better chance at immediate contention. He made it very clear he came (and returned) to New York because he wants to win. “My approach,” Kuroda added, “has always been if I get an offer from any team, no matter where they’re from, I will take that as seriously as possible and make a decision out of it.”
Only four questions this week, but they’re good ones. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us any questions throughout the week.
Jeff asks: Carlos Beltran is a free agent next year. While the Yankees do have an abundance of outfielders, you see any chance they try to pick him up?
Do the Yankees have an abundance of outfielders? They have a bunch of warm bodies, but how many are legitimate everyday or even (gasp!) above-average players? I think Brett Gardner is the only guy you can say that about with any certainty.
Anyway, Beltran makes sense for the Yankees next season just like he did nine years ago (before he signed with the Mets) and even two years ago (before he signed with the Cardinals). He’s hitting .309/.346/.533 (146 wRC+) with 19 homers for St. Louis this year, and he continues to be a true switch-hitter who hits both lefties and righties. Perhaps most importantly, he has managed to avoid the DL these last two seasons. That’s encouraging given his history of knee problems.
Beltran turned 36 in April, and there are two significant red flags in his performance. His walk rate (5.1%) is a career-low by far, dropping from 10.5% last year and his 10.5% career average. His swing-and-miss rate (9.2%) is essentially identical to last year (9.3%), which was his career-high. Beltran has a career 7.3% whiff rate and was at 6.6% as recently as 2011. Seeing an older hitter cut his walk rate in half with an increased swing-and-miss rate suggests he may be cheating and starting his bat a little earlier. That’s not uncommon for guys that age.
The Yankees could certainly use a switch-hitting power guy in the middle of the lineup, especially since they should shuffle him between right field and DH to keep his legs fresh. Beltran has made it very, very clear he wants to play for the Yankees in the past*, which could work in their favor if he’s willing to take a one-year deal. I don’t like the idea of a two-year contract at this point of his career, but there’s a definite fit at the right price.
* For what it’s worth, I think passing on Beltran prior to 2005 was the biggest blunder of the Brian Cashman era, especially after he came to the team at the last minute and was willing to sign at a relative discount.
Brian asks: If the Yankees wanted to, what should they get in return in a trade for Hiroki Kuroda? To me, it may be a great opportunity to get some quality prospects in exchange for a valuable commodity.
From what I can tell, the 38-year-old Kuroda does not have a no-trade clause. He had one last year for sure, but I can’t find anything indicating this year’s contract includes one. That seems kinda odd and I’m just going to assume he does have no-trade protection. Why would he demand one in 2012 but not 2013? Weird.
Anywho, Kuroda is pitching like an ace this year (2.65 ERA and 3.62 FIP) and getting him for the second half would be a huge help to some contender. Just imagine the Dodgers or Rangers or Diamondbacks or even the Red Sox getting their hands on him. Low maintenance, affordable, proven in a big market, everything you could want in a rental starter.
If the Yankees were to move him, I think they should seek a return on par with what the Brewers got for Zack Greinke last year. Kuroda now is better than Greinke was last year, though he’s much older and Greinke had more “name value” as a former Cy Young winner. The Angels gave up their number two (Jean Segura), four (Johnny Hellweg), and nine (Ariel Pena) prospects for Greinke, though only Segura was a top 100 guy (#55 by Baseball America).
That’s the framework I’d be looking for in return for Kuroda. A top-100 prospect who is big league ready — Segura stepped right into the Brewers’ lineup after the deal — and two other good but not great prospects. Kuroda has shown a willingness to use his no-trade clause however — he blocked deals to the Yankees and Red Sox while with the Dodgers in 2011 — so getting him to agree to a deal wouldn’t be easy even if the Bombers wanted to move him, which I doubt they do.
Kevin asks: Was Hiroki Kuroda an all-star snub? And does he have a legit shot at the Cy Young award?
Oh yes, he absolutely was an All-Star snub. During the All-Star lineup/starting pitcher press conference, Jim Leyland confirmed he took Chris Tillman (3.95 ERA and 4.95 FIP) over Kuroda because he had more wins (11-3 vs. 8-6). Kuroda ranks second in the AL in ERA, seventh in bWAR (3.2), and 11th in fWAR (2.3 WAR). Definitely a snub considering eleven (!) AL starting pitchers were named to the All-Star team, including the injury replacements.
The Cy Young award is tougher to defend. No AL pitcher is having an outrageous season that moves them to the front of the pack yet; instead there are a bunch of guys — specifically Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, and Chris Sale — who are simply having excellent seasons. For a Yankee to win a major award, he needs to blow everyone else out of the water and make it obvious like Alex Rodriguez in 2007. There is a voter bias against Yankees for sure, and that will work against Kuroda. He’d need a dynamite second half to make a serious run at the award, otherwise he’s a guy who will get a few fourth or fifth place votes at best.
Dan asks: With the Diamondbacks wanting bullpen help is there anything they’d give up that is valuable for Joba Chamberlain? Surely he’d fair better in the NL West.
The AL-to-NL switch isn’t as significant for relievers, who are much more likely to face a pinch-hitter than the opposing pitcher. The D’Backs have had some interest in Joba in the past, particularly during the rumored Dan Haren trade talks. That was back when Joba was, you know, good. Good and under control for a few more years.
These days Chamberlain is just a rental reclamation project reliever, which is nothing to get excited about. Brandon League was a Proven Closer™ having a good (but not great) year when he was traded at the deadline last year, and all he fetched was two non-top 30 prospects. Maybe Arizona would give up a failing former top prospect like RHP Anthony Meo (5.86 ERA and 6.06 FIP in 43 innings), a lottery ticket type. I wouldn’t expect much in return for Joba at this point, unless he’s like the second or third piece in a package deal. He won’t bring back much by himself.
No, it’s not the literal midway point of the season, but we’re going to use the four-day All-Star break to review the Yankees’ performance to date. We’re handing out letter grades this year, A through F. We start today with the A’s.
Let’s not kid ourselves here — not a whole lot has gone right for the Yankees this season. Not only have they dealt with a ton injuries, but they’ve also dealt with a ton of re-injuries as well. Mark Teixeira (wrist), Kevin Youkilis (back), Curtis Granderson (forearm, hand), and Derek Jeter (ankle, quad) all got hurt against almost immediately after coming off the DL. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.
Despite all that, the Bombers sit seven games over .500 and just three games back of a playoff spot. They’re probably further back than they would like, but they are definitely still in the hunt despite all those injuries and re-injuries. The performance of the guys in this post is a big reason why. Here are the Grade A’s.
All of the injuries mean Cano has to be The Man, and that is exactly what he has been overall. Robbie is hitting .302/.386/.531 (143 wRC+) with 21 homers while starting every single game this year (91 of 95 at second base). He’s played 807.1 of 849.1 possible defensive innings (95.1%), which is nuts. Dude is an iron man. That offensive performance is right in line with what he’s done the last three years, and in fact his OBP is a career-high because he’s started taking walks when pitched around. Cano went through a stretch where he was flailing at pitcher’s pitches for a while. Thankfully that has ended. Robbie has been an absolute rock for the Yankees this season and deserves to be in the MVP conversation at this point.
Remember when there was concern about how Kuroda, an older pitcher coming from a big park in the NL to a small park in the AL, would transition to pinstripes? That seems silly now. Kuroda has pitched like a legitimate ace this year, posting a 2.65 ERA and 3.62 ERA FIP in 118.2 innings. Among qualified AL starters, he ranks second in ERA behind only Felix Hernandez (2.53). That’s pretty remarkable considering his home ballpark. Kuroda was a huge All-Star snub — seriously, they took Chris Tillman (!) before him — but I’m totally fine with him getting four days to recharge the batteries for the second half. The Yankees are going to need him. Kuroda has been brilliant since coming to New York and especially this year. What a stud.
Forty-three years old? Missed almost all of last season with a knee injury? No big deal. Rivera has been as good as ever in 2013, going 30-for-32 in save chances with a 1.83 ERA and 2.65 FIP in 34.1 innings. He’s actually giving up more hits than usual, but it seems like most have been weakly hit bloopers that just find some outfield grass. Hopefully his .333 BABIP returns to his .264 career average in the second half. The Yankees have relied on their pitching staff heavily this year, and Rivera has been there to shut the door and preserve every lead time after time. I can’t believe he’s retiring after this season; it looks like he could pitch forever.
Rivera can’t do it all himself, of course. Robertson continues to be elite as his setup man, pitching to a 2.11 ERA and 2.51 FIP in 38.1 innings. The control-challenged right-hander cut down on his walks in the second half last season and that has carried over to this year — his 2.82 BB/9 (8.0 BB%) is far better than his 4.10 BB/9 (10.8 BB%) career average. Robertson and Rivera are arguably the best setup-closer combination in baseball, and the Yankees are lucky to have such an elite end-game duo. They’ve leaned on these guys a ton this year and they continue to get the job done.
Yes, every manager makes questionable pitching changes and calls for weird double-steals from time to time. It comes with the territory. But think about the job Girardi has done controlling what could have been a very chaotic situation. Players are getting hurt seemingly non-stop and the Yankees have played just about .500 ball since the calendar flipped to May, but things around the team remain relatively calm and orderly. This season could have very easily spiraled out of control, but Girardi has prevented that from happening. He deserves a lot of credit and should get Manager of the Year consideration in a few months.