A Yankee contract negotiation from the past

I miss Moose (Julie Jacobson/AP)

Baseball is not your typical business. Employees, i.e. players, cannot expect a raise every year. They can for a certain period, but at some point their skills begin to decline. At that point teams are willing to pay them less and less, and for good reason. Understandably, players try to fend off this notion for as long as possible. Not only does it mean less money for them, but it’s an admission that they’re getting older and won’t be able to do the things they once did. No one wants to admit that to themselves.

Some players take this better than others. As we saw last year, Johnny Damon didn’t take it well at all. He turned down an offer from the Yankees because it constituted a pay cut. This winter we’re seeing Derek Jeter desiring to remain at his $20 million salary even though his production no longer justifies it. Yet I can remember one player who took a pay cut graciously. That happened in the winter after the 2006 season, and the player was Mike Mussina.

In the winter following the Yankees’ third straight World Series victory, the market was rife with free agents. Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, and Mike Mussina highlighted the class. The Yankees went with the pitcher, signing Mussina to a six-year, $88.5 million contract. In the deal’s final two seasons, plus the 2007 option season, Mussina earned $17 million. But by the end of the 2006, even though he had pitched very well during that season, he realized that he wasn’t going to make $17 million again. So he took a pay cut.

The deal went pretty smoothly from what I can remember. Mussina signed for two years and $23 million — a $1 million signing bonus and $11 million in each of the two seasons. That represented a nearly 55 percent pay cut from his 2006 salary, and a 34 percent pay cut from the average annual value of his previous contract. Yet he took it with grace. In fact, the only stipulation on it seemed reasonable: he demanded to make more than Carl Pavano. Done and done, said Cashman.

In some way, I can see a parallel for Derek Jeter. In one way, he’s in a unique situation and therefore can’t really compare himself to someone else. In another way, I can’t really blame him for wanting more than A.J. Burnett. That’s why a three-year, $50 million contract makes sense. That not only puts Jeter’s salary a tick above Burnett’s, but it also means their contracts expire at the same time. I can even see the Yanks being generous and offering an option year, so that Jeter might stay with the team longer — and so that he makes more from the Yankees in 2014 than Burnett does.

(If the Yankees wanted to get really generous they could go three years, $56.7 million, which would replicate the average annual value of Jeter’s previous contract.)

Yet it’s clear that Jeter is not being as honest with himself about his position as was Mussina. That’s his right, I suppose. Rare is the player in Mussina’s mold. Still, I can’t help but wish Jeter would see things in the same way as his former teammate. If that were the case, he’d already have a contract by this point.

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By the Decade: The rise, fall and rise of pitching

With 2010 upon us, it’s nearly time to wrap up our Yankees By the Decade retrospective on the aught-aughts. I’ll publish a summary of the series, but first, we have to tackle the Yankees’ starting pitchers.

For the Yankees, the 2000s was a tough decade of pitching. For the first four seasons, the Yanks thrived on pitching, and then, it all fell apart. After losing Andy Pettitte, David Wells and Roger Clemens following the 2003 season, the team struggled through some sub-par pitching performances from 2004-2008. Only last season with the arrival of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett did the Yanks’ pitching again bring the team a World Series win.

As the decade’s dust settled, the final Yankee starting pitcher tally reached 62. Nine players made just one start for the Bombers, and another seven drew the ball for two starts only. We’ll get to them later. Below is the table of all Yankee starters who made 10 or more starts as well as their overall numbers. Due to the limitations of David Pinto’s Day-by-Day Database and the Baseball-Reference Play Index, I couldn’t break out these pitchers’ starters-only numbers in any reasonable amount of time.

Player GS G W L IP H BB SO CG SHO ERA ERA+ HR
Mike Mussina 248 249 123 72 1553 1565 318 1278 12 8 3.88 114 166
Andy Pettitte 217 219 111 63 1362.1 1478 403 1013 9 2 4.10 110 113
Roger Clemens 144 145 69 32 915.1 859 308 851 2 1 3.88 117 96
Chien-Ming Wang 104 109 55 26 670.2 701 197 310 4 1 4.16 107 41
Orlando Hernandez 82 85 32 27 521 480 165 415 3 0 4.13 111 79
Randy Johnson 67 67 34 19 430.2 401 107 383 6 0 4.37 100 60
David Wells 61 62 34 14 419.1 452 65 238 6 2 3.95 112 45
Joba Chamberlain 43 93 15 9 281.2 266 121 285 0 0 3.61 121 27
Jaret Wright 40 43 16 12 204 238 89 118 0 0 4.99 89 18
Kevin Brown 35 35 14 13 205.1 239 54 133 0 0 4.95 89 19
C.C. Sabathia 34 34 19 8 230 197 67 197 2 1 3.37 127 18
A.J. Burnett 33 33 13 9 207 193 97 195 1 0 4.04 106 25
Javier Vazquez 32 32 14 10 198 195 60 150 0 0 4.91 92 33
Ted Lilly 32 49 8 12 205.1 191 80 182 2 1 4.65 96 31
Jeff Weaver 32 47 12 12 237.1 292 62 150 0 0 5.35 82 28
David Cone 29 30 4 14 155 192 82 120 0 0 6.91 70 25
Darrell Rasner 29 36 9 14 158.1 182 52 89 0 0 5.06 88 20
Philip Hughes 28 72 13 10 192.2 175 72 177 0 0 4.20 105 19
Jose Contreras 27 36 15 7 166.2 145 72 154 0 0 4.64 96 26
Jon Lieber 27 27 14 8 176.2 216 18 102 0 0 4.33 104 20
Carl Pavano 26 26 9 8 145.2 182 30 75 1 1 5.00 86 23
Shawn Chacon 23 31 12 6 142 143 66 75 0 0 4.69 93 18
Sidney Ponson 18 21 4 5 96.1 125 39 48 0 0 6.63 67 14
Denny Neagle 15 16 7 7 91.1 99 31 58 1 0 5.81 83 16
Kei Igawa 13 16 2 4 71.2 89 37 53 0 0 6.66 68 15
Ian Kennedy 12 14 1 4 59.2 63 37 43 0 0 6.03 74 6
Aaron Small 12 26 10 3 103.2 113 36 49 1 1 4.60 94 13
Sterling Hitchcock 12 57 6 9 140.1 181 51 95 1 0 5.84 76 15
Randy Keisler 11 14 2 2 61.1 68 42 42 0 0 7.19 63 13
Ramiro Mendoza 11 133 23 12 259 259 59 162 1 1 3.82 119 27
Al Leiter 10 16 4 5 62.1 66 38 45 0 0 5.49 77 4

The bottom of this chart is a scary sight indeed. Al Leiter, Randy Keisler, Kei Igawa, Shawn Chacon, Sidney Ponson, Carl Pavano, Denny Neagle, Darrell Rasner and Jeff Weaver all made enough starts to give me nightmares today. The ninth and tenth slots — Jaret Wright and Kevin Brown — are illustrative of why the Yanks suffered through five years of postseason futility.

To find the true stars of the decade, we have to look at the top of the list. For a few years, Chien-Ming Wang was as good as it gets for the Yanks. Now he’s a non-tendered free agent trying to come back from shoulder surgery and a bad foot injury. El Duque and David Wells were both stand-out starters during their peak years, but the two made just 82 and 61 starts respectively this decade. Roger Clemens made 144 starts, and while his 117 ERA+ as a Yankee leads the list of those we’re considering, his total output doesn’t match that of those who lead the list.

And so we are left with two candidates for pitcher of the decade. Do we give the award to Andy Pettitte or to Mike Mussina? On the one hand, Pettitte won two World Series with the Yanks and gave us a 2009 to remember. Mike Mussina, through no fault of his own, captured zero World Series titles. On sentimentality and rings, Pettitte has the upper hand.

But numerically, can Andy take the cake? Outside of pick-offs — 36 for Pettitte against two for Moose — Mike’s numbers are seemingly better across the board. He has an ERA edge of 0.28 runs and leads in the ERA+ race 114-110. He struck out 7.41 per 9 IP while Andy K’d just 6.69 per 9 innings. His 4.02 K/BB ratio is better than Pettitte’s 2.51 figure by a significant amount. Mussina gave up nearly 0.25 more home runs per 9 innings than Andy, and Pettitte’s .638 winning percentage is slightly higher than Mussina’s .631 mark. Wins, though, aren’t exactly the best metric of pitching success.

So in the end, I’m left with a choice. Does Mike Mussina win on the strength of his 2001, 2003 and 2008 seasons as well as his relief appearance in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS? Does Andy Pettitte carry the decade on his World Series prowess and bulldog mentality? I might give the slight edge to Pettitte while recognizing that Mussina in his prime was a better pitcher, but it wouldn’t be wrong to do otherwise. As the new decade dawns, CC Sabathia and perhaps a young hurler named Joba or Phil could inherit this mantle. For now, the two old bulldogs can fight it out.

After the jump, a complete list of all who made nine starts or fewer for the Yankees this decade. [Read more…]

The Hall of Fame down to a science

First these nerds invade baseball with their stupid stats like VORP and wOBA, ruining the purity of men playing against men. Now they’re gunning for the Hall of Fame. Obviously I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but Tim Marchman, writing for The Wall Street Journal, notes that two professors have come up with a formula which predicts the probability that the BBWAA votes a player into the HOF. How accurate is this formula?

Of the 1,592 players considered by their study — anyone who retired between 1950 and 2002 and met several other criteria such as having played 10 years in the majors — the model was able to accurately identify whether they had been elected 98.7% of the time.

What biases do voters use to determine a player’s Hall worthiness? For hitters, it’s hit totals, home runs, and ::gasp:: OPS. On the pitching side it’s just as predictable: wins, saves, ERA, and win percentage. There’s also a factor for All-Star Game appearances.

Apparently, Rickey Henderson was tapped as having a 97.2 percent chance of election before the writers decided the obvious. Marchman did not note the odds on Jim Rice.

Even more interesting are the probabilities of some future candidates. Topping the list provided by WSJ, Vlad Guerrero is on top with an 88.8 percent chance. Vlad’s been good, even great throughout his career, but he’s not a guy who pops out as more likely to enter the HOF than Trevor Hoffman and Chipper Jones, both of whom will likely be early entrants. Of interest to Yankees fans is Mike Mussina, who is at 47.8 percent. Curt Schilling sits at 44 percent.

Retired, Mussina to stay that way

While the 2008 season ended with a disappointing third-place finish for the Yanks, Mike Mussina was a clear bright spot. He made a league-leading 34 starts, won 20 games for the first time in his career, topped 200 innings for the first time since 2003 and had his lowest ERA as a Yankee since 2001. Reinventing himself as a off-speed control artist, Mussina walked just 31 hitters, three fewer than starts made.

By all accounts, it was a season for the ages for Mussina, and when he announced his decision to hang it up after the 2008 campaign, we were both surprised and not surprised. Moose had always marched to his own drummer, and while he ended his career just 30 wins shy of that magical 300 plateau, he knew that age was catching up with him. He wanted to spend time with his family, and after 18 seasons in the bigs he had had enough.

Moose made his triumphant return to Yankee Stadium this weekend as part of the 2009 Old Timers’ Day celebration. While he didn’t pitch particularly well and was victimized by his fielders, it was still a treat to see old number 35 out there. During his trip to Yankee Stadium, Moose spoke to Dan Amore of The Hartford Courant to say that he is remaining retired:

“It’s a long way to the plate when you haven’t pitched in eight months,” said Mussina, who threw to a few batters.

There are any number of athletes who talk of going out on top but can’t resist the temptation to come back when they believe they still can. Mussina, who had a subpar season in 2007, decided before the ’08 season began that it would be his last, though he withheld his announcement until after the season. He finished with 270 wins.

“If I had another bad year, it would have been obvious,” Mussina said. “And if I had a good year, it would be the perfect way to go out. … If I came back now, it would ruin what I did last year.”

So anyone wondering about a possible Mussina comeback can dismiss that thought. “There’s less than half a season left,” he said, “and it would take me at least a month to get ready. At this point, I wouldn’t know what ‘ready’ is. It might be throwing 78 mph. I know I can throw from my knees through an L-Screen.”

Moose — who curmudgeonly dismissed new Yankee Stadium as a park too small for his tastes — could have been a useful piece for the Yankees this year. With Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain turning in inconsistent stretches and the fifth starter a giant question mark, Mussina would have been a nice back-of-the-rotation anchor for the Yanks this year.

But alas, his only appearance for the Yankees this year will be yesterday’s festivities. He is at home coaching Little League in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, and doesn’t see himself anywhere else. “I’m really OK with being retired,” he said to Amore, putting a final period on a great career.

(Hat tip to iYankees for the story.)

A weekend of celebrating the past

After attending Old Timers’ Day in 2007, last year’s All Star Game and the final game at Yankee Stadium, I was old-timered out. There are, after all, so many times I could sit through watching the Yanks trot out a bunch of retired baseball players. But as Old Timers’ Day 2009 rolls around, one day after the tenth anniversary of David Cone’s perfect game, this weekend is a good one for Bronx baseball history.

On the David Cone, the ex-Yankee and current YES broadcaster will throw out the first pitch of today’s game. It was July 18, 1999, a Sunday, that David Cone secured his place in baseball history. Facing a young Expos squad, Cone needed just 88 pitches to face 27 batters that day. Scott Brosius caught the last out of the game off the bat of Orlando Cabrera in foul territory, and Cone was mobbed by Joe Girardi and the rest of his teammates.

To me, what sticks out most about that game was the way it ended. I spent that Sunday afternoon with my mom and sister at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphonic Orchestra in Lenox, Massachusetts. When the 2:30 concert ended, I turned on my walkman and heard John Sterling say that David Cone was just three outs away from a perfect game. I blurted out the news, and the only people to react were my family members. A lawn full of people could have cared less.

After the perfect game, Cone would pitch in 73 more games but with little success. He went 16-29 with a 5.57 ERA, and it always seemed to me that he had sold his baseball soul for that perfect game. Now and then, he would flash his best stuff, but that was the apex of his Yankee career. Over at The Times’ Lens blog, sports photographer Barton Silverman remembers covering the perfect game.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Yankees will welcome back a bunch of old timers for the annual Old Timers’ Day festivities. The team announced some interesting additions yesterday. Mike Mussina, Don Zimmer and Mel Stottlemyre will all make their Old Timers’ Day debuts. You may remember Mike Mussina from such classic Yankee seasons as 2008, and unless Angel Berroa returns for the game, he will be the most recent former Yankee at the stadium on Sunday.

More intriguing are the Zimmer and Stottlemyre returns. Both coaches left on bad terms with the Steinbrenners. Zimmer and George got into some very public feuds following the 2003 season, and the Yanks haven’t really been the same since he left. Zimmer, if I recall correctly, swore never to return with George around. Stottlemyre resigned following the 2005 and was public about his disdain for George Steinbrenner. What the return of these two key members of the Yankee Dynasty coaching staff says about George Steinbrenner’s current state, I will leave for you to decide.