Archive for John Danks
Six questions and five answers this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.
Jerome asks: With the Yankees starting to win a lot of games (and close ones at that) without David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, who should we credit for this? Does Joe Girardi‘s binder deserve some love? I’m not saying we’re better without D-Rob and Mo but will this help convince the Yankees to never again spend big bucks on bullpen help in the future?
Yeah, it’s funny how the binder jokes went away when Girardi mix-and-matched his bullpen to 16 wins in 20 games without Robertson or Mo. I’ve always been amazed at how every industry in the world uses available data to make informed decisions and progress forward, but in sports it’s frowned upon. The number of people that think relying on “gut feel” is a good thing is staggering.
Anyway, I wouldn’t hold my breath if you think the team’s recent ability to put together strong bullpens using internal options and the scrap heap will keep them away from the free agent market. They are the Yankees and will always spend on players. Maybe they won’t splurge to the extent to Rafael Soriano again, but I doubt the Pedro Felicianos and Damaso Martes are going to go away forever. There’s nothing wrong with taking a one-year flier on a guy like LaTroy Hawkins or Chan Ho Park or Luis Ayala each winter, but the multi-year commitments for less than elite relievers are what really irk me.
Anonymous asks: Would you still be interested in acquiring John Danks after this rough start he has had to the season, including injuries? I know you were pretty high on him as a trade target.
Danks was terrible early on this year — 5.70 ERA and 4.97 FIP in nine starts — and is currently on the DL with a shoulder strain. He’s expected back sometime later this month. I drove the Danks train this offseason, I’m a big fan of the guy and like his chances of improving into his age-27 season, plus I liked his left-handedness and the fit for Yankee Stadium. Obviously the shoulder problem changes that somewhat, but also his new contract extension — five years and $75M — changes things as well.
The new contract basically eliminated my interest. I liked the idea of getting Danks for one year (2012) and seeing how he handled the AL East and Yankee Stadium before committing long-term. Now they’d be locked in long-term right out of the chute, which could be problematic given the 2014 payroll plan. I still like Danks and think he’ll be very good going forward, but I don’t think he makes sense for the Yankees at this point. Not with that contract.
Miller asks: If the starters keep pitching effectively, will the Yankees go after another starter at the deadline? Will they have faith in Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova to carry them through the playoffs?
Yeah, I’m sure they’ll trust those two into the postseason. Remember, you only need four starters in October and the fourth starter will be marginalized, maybe three starts tops if you make a deep run and play five or six or seven games in each series. The Yankees have a strong front three with CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda, so just one of those two — I’d go Nova and stick Hughes in the pen if the playoffs started today — needs to serve as the fourth starter.
The non-waiver trade deadline is still six or so weeks away and a whole lot can change between now and then. Injuries could pop up, guys could start stinking for no apparent reason, all sorts of stuff could force the Yankees to swing a deal for a starting pitcher. Things are going well right now and I wouldn’t expect rotation help to be all that high on the deadline shopping list at the moment.
D.R. asks: If Gardner is out for an extended period of time, what do you think of Jeff Francoeur as a trade target?
Peter asks: Jon Heyman reports that the Royals are putting Jeff Francoeur on the block. He’s a bit pricey for his production, but do you think he could be a fit for the Yanks to 1) fill in for Brett Gardner this year and 2) be a one-year stop-gap if they don’t re-sign Nick Swisher in 2013?
Frenchy is still only 28 years old and he’s under contract for $6M this year and $7.5M next season, so he’s not cheap. He had a very good season in 2011 (.346 wOBA and 117 wRC+) but has since reverted to his usual terrible self: 93 wRC+ in 2012 vs. 92 career. The two things Francoeur can do really well is hit left-handers (114 wRC+) and play defense (both just running down balls in the outfield as well as making throws). He also has a reputation as a great clubhouse guy, for what it’s worth. Frenchy is a classic underachiever in the sense that he should be so much better than he is; the talent is there for him to be a top-25 player in the game. The lack of plate discipline — not just not walking (5.0 BB%), I mean swinging at bad pitches and making weak contact — has been his downfall.
That said, Francoeur isn’t a terrible platoon option given his production, but he is given his salary. He’s being paid like an everyday guy and there’s no way the Yankees could run him out there for 500+ plate appearances. If he was making like, $2-3M or so, maybe it’s a different story as a one-year stopgap. He’s on the short-end of the platoon stick as the right-handed bat, so you’d still need a quality left-hander to make this thing work.
Rahul: Is there any update on the Michael Pineda injury? I actually forgot he is even a Yankee. I just haven’t even thought about the guy since maybe mid-May.
Pineda had his surgery as scheduled on May 1st, and Brian Cashman confirmed that everything went well that day. Based on the Twitter feeds of various Yankees’ farmhands, Pineda is currently in Tampa doing whatever he needs to do. I haven’t been able to find any kind of rehab timetable, but his arm may still be in a sling since we’re only six weeks out from surgery. I wouldn’t expect many updates at this point just because we’re less than two months into a year-long process.
Via Jon Heyman, the White Sox and John Danks have agreed to a five-year contract extension worth $65M. Danks, 26, was one of many pitchers we’d identified as possible trade targets for the Yankees, though apparently Kenny Williams was asking for two of Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances, and Manny Banuelos. That’s simply too much for a very good but not great pitcher with only one year of control left before free agency. We never did hear anything about how interested the Yankees actually were in the left-hander, but feel free to speculate.
If the Yankees don’t make a move for a pitcher this off-season, it won’t be for lack of options. To this point we’ve seen two free agent signings, an NPB posting, and two trades involving pitchers who would represent an upgrade to the Yankees. Perhaps they think that the prices to acquire these pitchers does not match the upgrade they’d receive, but the opportunities are there nonetheless. Brian Cashman figures to have a few more chances to upgrade later this winter, as there are a number of actually or reportedly available pitchers.
In terms of pure results, he’s the best available arm. His 3.31 ERA since 2009 ranks 23rd among all qualified starters. Even better, he’s reportedly seeking a one-year contract at a reasonable $12 or $13 million. The Yankees have been frequently connected to Kuroda, and it stands to reason that they’ll remain involved until he does sign somewhere.
While he does have the top results, there are some downsides to Kuroda. For instance, the hitters on the Rays, Orioles, Red Sox, and Blue Jays are better than those on the Padres, Rockies, Giants, and Diamondbacks. The AL East also features more hitter-friendly parks than the NL West. Then there’s Kuroda’s age, 37. A one-year deal helps limit some of that risk, but if he shows decline in 2012 he might not present much of an upgrade.
Not far behind Kuroda in terms of results is Wandy Rodriguez. The Astros shopped him at last year’s trade deadline, but the Yankees weren’t interested unless Houston paid a significant portion of his remaining salary. He’s owed $36 million for the next three years, because his 2014 option becomes a player option if traded. That makes him much less attractive, meaning Houston will have to kick in some cash if they want to trade him. While they showed reluctance earlier in the off-season, they now appear willing to make that trade-off.
Not only does the NL Central have a number of top-flight hitters, but none of them actually play for the Astros. That is, Rodriguez has the burden of facing all of these elite hitters. The closest they ever had was Hunter Pence, but he wasn’t even a top-five hitter in the division. That does make him look a bit more attractive. He also has fewer pitchers’ parks in the division. Yet the Yankees appear not at all interested. That’s probably because of the commitment length. Were Rodriguez signed only through 2013 they might be more on board. But three years to a pitcher you’re not totally sold on? While Rodriguez might help, it’s understandable why the Yankees are shying away.
In the last three years, despite multiple bouts with lower back injuries, Oswalt has accumulated a 3.46 ERA in 531 innings. All told that’s a pretty solid accomplishment. Since we just discussed Oswalt yesterday there’s no need to elaborate further. He remains a tantalizing yet risky option.
There has been no shortage of Gio Gonzalez news this winter. The A’s seem pretty intent on trading him, and judging by how slowly they’re moving they’re also trying to extract every last drop of value from another team. This makes complete sense. Gonzalez ranks 39th in ERA among all starters from 2009-2011, despite his horrible 2009 showing. He’s been among the best in terms of results the last two seasons. Even when you look at only his away stats, he still fares pretty well: 3.96 ERA in 238.2 innings since 2009. That takes away some of the concern that he’s the product of a large ballpark.
The Nationals were rumored to be pushing hard for Gonzalez, offering up a four-for-one trade that will involve prospects Brad Peacock and Derek Norris, among others. Still, four-for-one deals can get complicated, since they typically lack top-end quality. Today on ESPN.com, Jim Bowden suggested a few trades for Gonzalez (subscription required). For the Yankees he suggests Dellin Betances, David Phelps, and Austin Romine. Since Gonzalez has four years remaining of team control, this could work out for the Yankees. The only catch: Oakland might find a better package, and one that fits their needs better, elsewhere.
Garza represents an interesting option, if only because he’s experienced success in the AL East. But the Cubs are apparently asking for a lot. Would the Yankees be willing to trade Banuelos and at least one other top-five prospect (Gary Sanchez or Mason Williams), plus other pieces, to get the last two years of Garza’s pre-free agency years? It seems unlikely. While he’s been good, he might be a bit more expensive than other pitchers. If he costs more than Gonzalez, he certainly isn’t worth it.
You can check out our large and growing John Danks archive for various takes on the 27-year-old left-hander. He’s an enticing option for a few reasons. He’s been solid for the last four years, he has AL experience and in a hitters’ park no less, and he is conceivably someone the Yanks could sign long-term after the 2012 season. The issue, as with Garza, is that the White Sox are asking the moon for him. It’s simply not worth a top-five prospect for a player who will reach free agency after this season. At a price more commensurate with his overall value, Danks could be the best target on the board.
A free agent, Jackson requires just one resource to acquire: money. The Yankees have that in abundance, though they’re seemingly not throwing it around this off-season. They might also be reluctant to sign Jackson for four years. As with Oswalt, we covered Edwin Jackson recently, so there’s no need to dive any deeper into his case. He’s there for the taking and could represent an upgrade in the Yanks rotation.
That brings us to a dozen candidates who could have upgraded, or still might upgrade, the Yanks rotation in 2012. All of the candidates, save for Darvish, have sported ERAs under 4.00 since 2009. They’ve all thrown a good number of innings, and everyone on the list, save for Oswalt and maybe Latos, has been relatively healthy. If the Yankees are serious about upgrading their rotation, they’ll connect on one of these 12 options, even though there are just seven remaining.
As the Yankees scour the market for upgrades to the starting rotation, two names appear more frequently than the rest: John Danks and Gio Gonzalez. Both are reportedly available, and both fit well into the Yankees rotation. The major obstacle, as is the case in all trade negotiations, is the price. The White Sox reportedly want Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos for Danks, and the A’s want young, high-end outfielders for Gonzalez. The Yankees don’t want to surrender one of Montero and Banuelos for Danks, and they don’t have young, high-end outfielders to trade for Gonzalez. This might seemingly rule them out on both, but a recent trade might have changed the market a bit.
This weekend the A’s moved one pitcher out of their rotation, sending Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks. In return they received prospects Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill, and Ryan Cook. Despite the void Cahill leaves in the A’s rotation, it’s reported that they’ll continue listening to offers for Gonzalez. The equation has changed a bit, given the return they got for Cahill. While that in some ways might benefit the Yankees’ pursuit of Gonzalez, or even Danks, it hurts it in other ways.
The A’s Needs
As Mike mentioned last week, the A’s desire for young, high-end outfielders complicates things for the Yanks from the get-go. They really have none in the high levels of the system. If the A’s wouldn’t settle for other high-end prospects, the Yankees would need a third team to facilitate a trade. That adds another level of complexity, which decreases the chances of a deal happening. That is, the more moving parts the harder it is to find a match that works for everyone.
The A’s did acquire an outfielder in the Cahill deal, but he’s not exactly high-end or even that young. Cowgill turns 26 in May, and his minor league track record isn’t overly impressive. He did hit .354/.430/.554 last season, but that was as a 25-year-old in the hitters’ haven known as the Pacific Coast League. My favorite example to put the PCL in perspective: Bubba Crosby hit .361/.410/.635 in the PCL before the Yankees acquired him in 2003. That is, he’s more of a throw-in than anything. That leaves the A’s still seeking outfielders, which continues to hurt the Yankees’ chances of acquiring Gonzalez.
Comparing Cahill and Gonzalez
Even though the the Yankees, as far as we know, were never in on Cahill, we can still look to this deal as a guide. First, let’s take a look at Gonzalez and Cahill. Both have over 500 major league innings, and they have nearly identical ERAs in that span (3.93 for Gonzalez, 3.91 for Cahill). Yet this is where their similarities end. They’re quite different pitchers in style, in age, and in contract.
Cahill is more of a ground ball guy, with a 53.3 percent career ground ball rate. He doesn’t strike out many, though he did in the minors and his numbers are rising. There’s still some projectability with Cahill, since he’ll turn just 24 years old in March. At the same time, he’s already locked up through 2015 at least, for a total of $30.5 million. That includes his first year of free agency eligibility for $12 million, and then two options, for $13 and $13.5 million, after that. That gets him through his age-29 season for $56.2 million, with the option to cut it short at $30.5 million if he gets hurt. It is, in other words, an incredibly team-friendly deal.
Gonzalez is more of a strikeout guy, fanning 8.59 per nine in his major league career. He also generates a decent number of ground balls, a 47.5 percent career rate. Yet when it comes to age and contract he’s a bit less valuable than Cahill. He just turned 26, and is a Super Two this off-season, meaning he’ll go through the arbitration process four times. While that can be a blessing in some cases, for a team acquiring him it can be a burden. MLB Trade Rumors estimates Gonzalez’s first-year arbitration number at $3.6 million, which is right in line with Cahill’s salary. But unlike Cahill’s salary, Gonzalez’s is not controlled. With quality performance she could perhaps beat the numbers on Cahill for the following three years: $5.5, $7.7, and $12 million.
To a team such as the Yankees this might not matter, but to other teams it does. That is to say that Cahill is quite a bit more valuable than Gonzalez. The cost-controlled aspect helps, as does Cahill’s age. For $56.2 million a team potentially gets him for his best seasons. Look at it this way, then. On Saturday Mike looked at a comparable Yankees package for Cahill. It included Manny Banuelos, Brandon Laird, and George Kontos. If that’s what the A’s got for Cahill, more or less, then they can’t really expect that for Gonzalez. Perhaps, then, there is a deal to be made here after all.
(Though, again, the A’s desire for, and the Yankees lack of, outfield prospects could mean there’s no match between them.)
Back to Danks
With the A’s needs hindering their chances of trading Gonzalez to the Yankees, our attention turns back to Danks. In his most recent update, CBS’s Jon Heyman notes an amended asking price: two of Banuelos, Montero, and Dellin Betances. Of course, this hardly changes things from before. It merely allows the Yankees to swap Betances for one of Montero or Banuelos. As before, there is zero doubt that the Yankees have rejected this idea out of hand. But that doesn’t mean the price will always remain this high.
The Cahill trade does give us some idea of the trade market, though it isn’t a precise barometer. That is, the White Sox aren’t necessarily influenced by Oakland’s return for Cahill. It does, however, set a bit of precedent. The White Sox asking price for Danks is surely better than what the A’s got for Cahill. If the Yankees wanted to add a starter and were willing to pay that price, why wouldn’t they have just turned to Oakland and their younger, more valuable starter?
As mentioned last week, the Yankees won’t give up Montero or Banuelos in a trade for Danks. The Cahill trade just reinforces that. The A’s got one blue chip pitching prospect back for their proven, young, and cheap starter. The White Sox cannot expect anything remotely comparable for their relatively expensive starter who hits free agency after the 2012 season. Even Betances might seem a stretch. After all, he was just 10 spots behind Parker in the 2011 Baseball America Top 100, and they had comparable seasons (both ending in the bigs).
Where this leaves the Yankees
This is where Brian Cashman‘s discretion comes into play. He talks about how the rotation doesn’t need help, or only needs help at the back end. While it’s nice to speak so highly of his players, to stick with the current guys is a difficult proposition. It assumes a rebound from Phil Hughes and that Freddy Garcia can continue fooling opponents with an array of junk. The Yankees would certainly do well to add a starter by any means possible.
Chances are, however, that not much will happen this week. Bids on Yu Darvish are due on Wednesday, and we won’t learn the winner until Sunday or Monday. The Yankees likely won’t make a move until they know where they stand on Darvish. After that, they’ll likely refocus on Hiroki Kuroda, who is reportedly seeking a one-year deal for $12 or $13 million. After that, Danks and Gonzalez become possibilities again. But given their current asking prices, it’s not hard to understand why they might have moved down the priority list for the moment.
The trade of Sergio Santos from the White Sox to the Blue Jays signaled that the White Sox were beginning the process of rebuilding, a word which the GM Kenny Williams used himself. Yankee fans have long hoped for the acquisition of the Chicago lefty John Danks, and this was the clearest indication yet that he would become available by trade. Yet Danks isn’t the only pitcher Chicago is now willing to deal. They also expressed willingness to move righty Gavin Floyd. Given the Angels’ signing of C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols, one has to wonder if the Rangers will be extra aggressive in their bid for Japanese righty Yu Darvish. If so, the best route available to the Yankees for the acquisition of another starting pitcher may in fact be a deal with the White Sox. All things considered, who is a better fit for the Yankees, Gavin Floyd or John Danks?
From a performance perspective, it’s difficult to see a lot of daylight between the two pitchers. Over the past five years, they’ve both averaged a strikeout rate around 7.0 and a walk rate around 3.0. Their career ERAs are only 0.07 apart (3.85 for Danks, 3.92 for Floyd) and their career FIPs differ by only 0.03 (4.06 for Danks, 4.03 for Floyd). For all intents and purposes, they get roughly the same number of ground balls.
From a pitching repertoire approach, Danks is your prototypical lefty. He leans heavily on his fastball, but thanks to the tutelage of pitching coach Don Cooper Danks also throws a mean cutter. This isn’t one of those weird Pitch F(x) classification issues, either. Cooper is famous for teaching his pitchers how to throw the cutter. Danks will also mix in a slider on occasion, but his real go-to offspeed pitch is the changeup. Floyd is a similar pitcher, throwing a straight fastball and, yes, a cutter. Floyd will also mix in a changeup infrequently, but his main offspeed pitch is the curveball. From a velocity standpoint they both sit in the low 90s with their fastballs.
There are a few key differences between the two pitchers though. To start, Danks is a lefty and Floyd is a righty. Further, Danks is a solid two years and three months younger than Floyd, and won’t turn 27 years old until the second week in April. Floyd does have a four-inch height advantage over Danks, though, standing in at 6’6″. The biggest difference is perhaps their contract statuses. This is Danks’ final year under contract with the White Sox, and he’ll become a free agent after this season. Floyd will make $7M this year and has a club option for $9.5M for 2013, so he’s under team control for one more year at a desirable salary. Even if the Yankees were to ink Danks to an extension after acquiring him, they’d surely have to pay him more than $10M per season.
From a performance perspective, the two are virtually equal. Danks has an advantage on Floyd in youth, but Floyd’s contract situation is more desirable than Danks. That said, Danks still seems like the preferred candidate amongst fans. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s a lefty and hearkens one RAB writer back to Andy Pettitte, or perhaps it’s his age and frame that leads one to believe that the best is yet to come. Regardless, the relative proximity in quality between Danks and Floyd will mean that the team’s rotation will be upgraded no matter who they get. Just as long as they get someone.
Monday (5pm ET by Mike): Joel Sherman reports that the Yankees wouldn’t give up either Montero or Banuelos for Danks, but the ChiSox do like some other pieces in the Yankees farm system. If the price comes down, the two sides shouldn’t have much trouble finding a trade match if they’re so inclined. Interestingly enough, Sherman (as well as Sweeny Murti) also mentions that some in the organization believe Mason Williams is the team’s top prospect. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it’s not a completely insane thought.
Sunday (3:45pm ET by Joe): The White Sox appear willing to trade left-handed hurler John Danks, but that doesn’t mean their asking price is reasonable. Late last week a report appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, in which a source described negotiations: “Kenny [Williams] asked for everyone on our roster in return.” Today ESPN’s Jayson Stark shares a similar tale from Yankeeland. “The Yankees, for example, have told other clubs that they were asked for both Jesus Montero and their top pitching prospect, Manny Banuelos.” Since it’s doubtful that the Yankees would trade even one of those players for Danks, who reaches free agency after next season, talks clearly haven’t progressed very far. We could, however, see the Sox come down into a more reasonable range this week at the Winter Meetings.
Dare the Yankees dip their toes back into the water of the lefty reliever pool? Brian Cashman has mentioned it as an area of need, yet twice in the recent past he’s been burned. Damaso Marte, after signing a three-year, $12 million deal before 2009, pitched only 31 innings. Pedro Feliciano signed a two-year, $8 million contract last winter and will not throw a single inning for the Yankees. Considering the dearth of available left-handed relievers on the free agent market, the Yankees will likely sit out this round.
Yet the trade market always remains a possibility. Just this morning, in fact, ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned that the White Sox are shopping Matt Thornton. We’ve heard plenty this winter about the Sox wanting to shed payroll, and losing the two years and $12 million remaining to Thornton would certainly help. Might they match up with the Yankees?
- In the past four years Thornton has been one of the more successful relievers in the league. Since 2008, among relievers with at least 200 IP, Thornton ranks 14th in ERA, 3rd in FIP, 5th in strikeout rate, 11th in home run rate, and 19th in walk rate.
- He absolutely kills lefties: 12 K/9, 0.79 HR/9, 2.71 FIP lifetime against them, despite the terrible start to his career. Since 2009 his FIP hasn’t crossed the 2.00 barrier against left-handed batters.
- While his ERA jumped over the 3.00 mark last year, for the first time since 2007, his peripherals remained solid: 9.5 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 0.45 HR/9.
- His poor season was more like a poor April. From May on he threw 51.1 innings, striking out 53 to 15 walks and allowing just one home run — 2.45 ERA.
- It might seem obvious, since his overall numbers are so good, but he can handle righties, too. He might walk them at a greater clip than lefties, but in the past four years he’s had little discernible trouble against them.
- He’s not exactly young. The Mariners didn’t call up Thornton until he was 27. He just turned 35, so his contract will end just after he turns 37. That’s not always good news for a guy who relies on mid-90s heat.
- He’s not cheap, either. His contract extension, which kicks in starting in 2012, pays him $5.5 million in each of the next two years. It also has a $1 million buyout of a $6 million club option. The Yankees might not consider that a reasonable allocation of their rising payroll.
- His trade cost might prove prohibitive. While the Sox are shopping him, they aren’t going to give him away. Reliable lefty relievers are a commodity in short supply, and so the Sox could initiate a bidding war and get a bit more than they should for a 35-year-old reliever with $12 million remaining on his contract.
While talking to the FanGraphs staff at spring training, White Sox Assistant GM Rick Hahn shared with us the essence of Thornton: “When he came over here we asked him what he wanted to do. He said, ‘I want to throw the ball right down the [expletive deleted] middle and see if they can hit it.’ So we let him throw the ball right down the [expletive deleted] middle.” It has worked exceedingly well for him during his five years in Chicago, and particularly in the last four. Yet that might be reason for pause. Can Thornton continue dominating hitters with his mid-90s heat for the next two years?
The problem with trading for Thornton straight up is finding reasonable value for both sides. Given his age and skillset, his contract might seem like too big a risk. At the same time, the White Sox want to receive some value for their reliable lefty reliever. It could cause a stalemate in negotiations with any organization. The better bet might be to pursue a package deal of John Danks and Thornton. Danks is a favorite at RAB. Before the trade deadline we scouted the trade market for Danks, and recently Moshe wrote up a comparison of Danks to Andy Pettitte. The Yankees could fill two positions in such a trade, and the White Sox would have a better chance of realizing value for both. The Yankees, for instance, might not be willing to trade Dellin Betances for just Danks, but might be more willing to included him in a deal for both Danks and Thornton.*
*Just an example. My trade proposal sucks.
The Yankees and the White Sox figure to talk on at least a few occasions this winter. Since the Sox are apparently in a reloading phase, they might wish to shed some players who either have inflated salaries or who will reach free agency soon. The two clubs have worked together in the past on trades, and we could see them hook up again this winter. Seeing Danks in navy blue pinstripes, rather than black, would be a welcome development.
Over the last 14 months or so, the Yankees have had a fairly questionable rotation, with a number of slots they could improve via the trade market or free agency. This has led to a million and one trade proposals from fans that have touched on every decent pitcher in the sport. Other than Felix Hernandez, who is Moby Dick to this fanbase’s Ahab, the most frequently raised name has probably been that of John Danks. In the course of various online discussions about Danks, a number of Yankees fans, myself included, have compared him to former Yankee Andy Pettitte. Whether it’s the fact that both are lefties from Texas, the nature of their repertoires, or their established levels of performance, there is something about these two pitchers that connects them in the minds of some fans. Let’s take a closer look at the two men to evaluate whether the comparison has merit.
While Pettitte was actually born in Louisiana, he played his high school ball in Texas like Danks. Pettitte has a larger frame than Danks (6’5/235 v. 6’1/215), but both are reasonably large lefties with durable frames. The real similarity comes in their repertoires, particularly when comparing Danks to the Pettitte who returned to the Yankees in 2007. Both work off a fastball that sits around 90-92 MPH, and use the fastball to set up their breaking pitches. Most notably, they use their cutters more than 20% of the time and experience great success with the pitch. They each round out their arsenals with a curveball and a changeup, although Danks focuses more on the changeup while Pettitte was significantly more dependent on his hook.
Danks has been in the majors for five seasons, so it would be useful to compare his first five seasons to the first five from Pettitte. In his first five years, Andy Pettitte pitched 1044.1 innings with a 3.92 ERA, for an ERA+ of 119. Danks did not come out of the gate quite as hot as Andy did, with a 5.50 ERA in 2007 resulting in a slightly worse overall line of 917 innings to a 4.03 ERA (111 ERA+). However, when it comes to peripheral statistics, Danks actually comes out slightly ahead, with a better K/9 (7.0 to 6.1), BB/9 (2.9 to 3.2), and H/9 (8.8 to 9.4). Danks allowed a .727 OPS against to Pettitte’s .730, but Pettitte was superior at coaxing double plays (15% to 12%), which was due to his significantly greater penchant for drawing grounders (1.07 GB/FB to .76). Pettitte was better at suppressing home runs (0.7 to 1.1 HR/9), and it is important to note that the peripherals are not adjusted for era, which is important considering that Pettitte was pitching at the height of the steroid era. Overall, this comparison seems fairly close, and it is reasonable to say that these two pitchers performed at a similar level.
Another interesting comparison can be made between Danks and Pettitte’s last five years, which may be the years that are causing people to make the connection between these two hurlers. In his last five seasons, Andy threw 957 innings to the tune of a 4.11 ERA, good for an ERA+ of 109. His peripherals during this period actually look a lot like those of Danks, with a 6.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, and a H/9 of 9.6, and the two players notched these numbers while playing in the same league at the same time. Again, it seems that a reasonable person could conclude that these two pitchers were of similar ability.
While some will surely raise postseason success as a defining element of Pettitte’s career and something Danks lacks, it is hard to blame him for not being on a club that makes the postseason every year. For what it is worth, his one postseason start was quintessential Pettitte, as he allowed a bevy of baserunners (10) but limited the damage to 3 runs in 6.2 innings and notched the win.
Editor’s Note: Danks did throw an absolute gem in Game 163 against the Twins in 2008, allowing just two hits and zero runs in eight shutout innings. It’s technically a regular season start, but we all that know that’s a playoff game.
While the parallels between the two are not perfect, they are close enough to explain why Danks is somewhat reminiscent of Andy Pettitte. Both are lefties from Texas who thrive on a fastball-cutter mix, and both were likely miscast as aces when they performed more like good #2 starters. Neither was much of a power pitcher, succeeding by allowing plenty of baserunners but finding a way to limit the damage and give their teams a chance to win. If Danks ever does end up in New York, Yankees fans might find that he brings back memories of a certain dimple-chinned fan favorite from the South.
With just five days until the non-waiver trade deadline, rumors are starting to fly with reckless abandon. The Yankees, by all indications, are looking into most available starting pitchers. There are ups and downs to each, of course, so let’s take a look at the three that have gotten some play in the past day.
Ubaldo Jimenez: In terms of talent, years of control, and contract, he’s the best pitcher on the market. It’s still unclear why the Rockies would consider trading him in the first place. The only reason is to start a quick rebuilding process, since their two biggest stars are under contract for many years to come. Joel Sherman reports that the Rockies have come down in price and are asking for three of Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Jesus Montero, and Ivan Nova. Perhaps if they take two and some other prospects it could work, but I cant’ see the Yanks trading three of their top five guys for him.
Ricky Nolasco: We’ve heard his name mentioned a few times in passing before, but nothing seriously. This morning SI’s Jon Heyman said that the Yanks tried for him, but that the Marlins aren’t ready to deal. Nolaso is under contract through 2013, for $9 million next year and $11.5 million in 2013. I don’t quite like this one, unless he comes super cheap. His results have never matched his potential — they’ve been pretty far off, in fact — and his strikeouts are way down this year.
John Danks: There’s nothing connecting him to the Yankees, but Ken Rosenthal reports that he’s on the market. I wrote up the case for Danks last week. He’s my favorite option on the market, all considered. He won’t cost as much as Jimenez and he’s better than Nolasco. The White Sox seem to be in wheeling and dealing mode right now; as I write this, they’re in the process of trading Edwin Jackson to the Blue Jays.
It all keeps coming back to Cliff Lee. A year ago, the Yankees were on the precipice of acquiring Lee from the Mariners, a feat which would have given them one of the best rotations in baseball. They failed, and a short time later were bounced from the playoffs by a team led by Cliff Lee. Soon after, they saw Cliff Lee spurn the them for the Phillies in free agency. By my count, that’s three separate instances of Cliff Lee-induced pain. When Andy Pettitte retired a few months after Lee went to Philadelphia, Cashman pivoted. In a manner reminiscent of the Red Sox in 2009, the Yankees decided to build the rotation on the cheap, allowing Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova to battle it out for the two remaining rotation slots (the other three being occupied by Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes). Once Hughes went down with an injury, Colon took his spot and performed admirably. Garcia has been fantastic too. Yet all along it’s seemed as if plan for the Yankees’ rotation was to run with these guys until a better option arose on the trade market. Freddy Garcia’s nice and all, but shouldn’t the Yankees go into battle in October with a serious complement to Sabathia? Yet here we stand a mere week or so away from the trade deadline and there seems to be no complement available? Where are the pitchers? Where are the targets? Where are the potential upgrades?
A few big names have arisen, to be sure. Ubaldo Jimenez was the target last week, but it doesn’t seem that Colorado is serious about trading him. Some have suggested that they were simply recognizing that the market was very weak and seeing if some team (like the Yankees) would be willing to panic and overpay for their lanky and affordable ace. In the absence of that a deal seems unlikely. James Shields has also been rumored to be available, but not to the Yankees. If Tampa decides to move the putative ace it won’t likely be an intra-divisional move. Hiroki Kuroda would be a potential option, one for whom I’ve long advocated, but his no-trade clause puts him in the driver’s seat and means that he’ll determine whether he gets traded and to where he gets traded. John Danks would be a nice upgrade, but there’s no indication that the White Sox are looking to move a starter and the teams don’t even match up particularly well for a trade anyway. Who’s left, Jason Marquis?
A year ago the Yankees came close to having a very good rotation and no Jesus Montero when they offered Seattle Montero for Lee. That deal fell through. A few months later, they came close to having a very good rotation and Jesus Montero when they tried to get Cliff Lee for nothing more than money. That deal fell through. The plus side is that the Yankees still have Montero, of course. Whether they really want him is another question. They don’t seem to have any interest in calling him up any time soon, and Cashman has gone out of his way to make it clear that Montero is available in trades. Yet there is no Cliff Lee on the market this year, no pitcher for whom Montero would be a suitable return. Right now the effort to swap Montero for a pitcher looks a day late and a buck short.
There is serious downside risk in relying on the trade market. Sometimes the targets don’t materialize and other times your assets don’t matchup with the best available targets. This shouldn’t be interpreted as a criticism of Cashman. No one that I’m aware of predicted that the Yankees would whiff on Lee twice, lose Pettitte to retirement, and then find themselves unable to upgrade the rotation via the trade market at all. It sounds like a worst-case scenario dreamt up on a Red Sox message board. Yet, as of July 23rd that’s exactly what’s happened. The best pitcher truly on the market seems to be Kuroda, a pitcher with a no-trade clause and a disinclination to leave Los Angeles. It’s not the situation the Yankees hoped to be in at this point.
The old saying is that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. You can always hope that better opportunities arise later, but your risk goes up the further away you are from the acquisition target. This entire market could change very quickly, and that’s what makes the trade deadline so exciting. Yet, as of today it looks like the Yankees are dancing alone. The most realistic option at this point seems very unlikely, but I suppose there’s no harm in continuing to beat the drum once more, until the deadline passes. Help us, Hiroki. You’re our only hope!