Archive for Russell Martin

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees have no plans to restart contract extension talks with Russell Martin during the season. The 29-year-old backstop has a very OBP-heavy .310 wOBA in the early going and will become a free agent nest winter. The two sides discussed a multi-year contract before agreeing to put talks on hold before the season. The Yankees really like Martin for his glovework behind the plate and his clubhouse skills, but the Yadier Molina contract really upped the price of catching. Austin Romine‘s persistent back problems make the club’s catching future pretty murky, so this will definitely be a situation to monitor.

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Resting Russell Martin

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(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The season is a mere ten games old, and aside from generally underwhelming starting pitching performances (sans Hiroki Kuroda, of course), all ten games have one thing in common: Russell Martin has been behind the plate. Well, that’s cheating a bit. He did not start the third game of the Rays series, but he did catch the final two innings after Chris Stewart was lifted for a pinch-hitter. Martin has started six straight games behind the plate, including four games in the last four days.

Coming into the season, it appeared as though one the team’s goals was to reduce the workload on their starting backstop. Martin started last season like a mad man, hitting .255/.356/.510 in the team’s first 36 games before slumping to .192/.298/.285 in the next 52 games. The All-Star break seemed to rejuvenate Russ — .288/.348/.517 in the next 40 games — before he had to drag himself across the finish line — .209/.284/.299 in the final 32 games, not counting playoffs. Yes, though endpoints are arbitrary, but anecdotally it did appeared that Martin’s best offensive performances came when he was rested.

Perhaps part of the reason why the Yankees haven’t given Martin much rest so far is because they lack a quality backup. That’s somewhat self-inflicted, since Frankie Cervelli is one of the better backup catchers in the game — at least offensively — and he’s toiling in Triple-A. Frankie was pushed out in a numbers game after Stewart was acquired in the wake of Austin Romine‘s latest back problem. He had minor league options, Stewart did not. It’s as simple as that. Stewart is a defense-first guy who absolutely can’t hit, and maybe Joe Girardi doesn’t want to stick a total zero into the lineup when the rest of the offense has been inconsistent so far. I dunno, just a cracked theory.

Martin’s batting line early on this year is quite hilarious: .160/.417/.160 though the ten games. His nine walks not only lead the Yankees, they lead the entire American League. Martin has also been beating the ball into the ground this month, going into yesterday’s game with a 75% ground ball rate and only adding to it with an 0-for-3, two strikeout, one ground ball performance. If Girardi doesn’t want to play Stewart because of his offense, then he shouldn’t be on the roster. Giving Martin some more time off this season — especially in the first half — should be a major item on the Yankees’ agenda.

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After the season the Yankees will have a tough choice to make. Do they allocate the payroll to sign Russell Martin, or do they let him walk and hope that Austin Romine can jump into the job? Since they do have the $189 million payroll goal, signing Martin might be difficult to justify. But, given his value to the team, especially on defense, they might find that a necessary investment. Just how valuable is Martin on defense? Anna Martin at ESPN’s Sweet Spot has a story today examining the various ways Martin works with his pitching staff. It includes the pitch-framing data we’ve discussed at length since last year, but it also talks about the more subtle aspects of the pitcher-catcher relationship. It’s definitely a quality read.

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It'll be nice to see Gardner off to the races in 2012. (via Getty Images)

Remember the days when Johnny Damon was the fastest player in the Yankees’ lineup? They didn’t even carry much speed on the bench. That has changed in the past few years. It started, really, when Brett Gardner began to play regularly. He and Curtis Granderson do possess pure speed tools, as does Eduardo Nunez. And, because stealing bases isn’t all about pure speed, the Yankees have a few other options strewn throughout the roster. They’ll never be a burner team, but they do have enough legitimate base stealers for a lineup mostly built on power.

Brett Gardner

In his two years as a full-time player Gardner has proven himself as one of MLB’s most prolific bag swipers. He stole 47 in 2010, fourth most in the league, and then swiped the second most last season with 49. His 49 last year is made all the more impressive, because his OBP was considerably lower in 2011 than it was in 2010. That might be taken as a sign of his progress on the base paths.

At the same time, Gardner hasn’t been the most efficient base stealer. He got caught 13 times last year, fourth most in the bigs. Even still, he hovered right around an 80 percent success rate. He was, however, a bit more efficient in 2010, successfully swiping bats 84 percent of the time. If he can get back to that level, while attempting steals at a slightly greater frequency than he did in 2011 (which probably means an OBP closer to 2010), the Yankees will have one of the best, if not the best, base stealing weapons in the league.

Eduardo Nunez

Maybe it’s because I don’t pay as close attention to the minors as Mike, but I never remember Eduardo Nunez being a burner in the minors. Perhaps that’s because he wasn’t quite efficient once his name starting coming up in prospect talks. he did steal 19 in AA in 2009, but he got caught seven times. In 2010 things seemed to come together, as he swiped 23 bags in 28 tries at AAA, and was successful in all five of his attempts during his brief major league stint.

Last year he became a true weapon on the base paths. He swiped 22 bags while getting caught six times, which put him near the 80 percent mark. He seems to have a decent instinct when breaking from first base, which helps him even on good throws. A little more refinement in that regard can make him a better weapon on the base paths in 2012. He could get some chances both as a starter and a pinch runner; if Andruw Jones or Raul Ibanez get on base late in games, Girardi probably shouldn’t hesitate to pinch run. If only they had a decent fielding fourth outfielder, we could even add Nick Swisher to that list.

Curtis Granderson

When Baseball America scouted Curtis Granderson before his debut in 2004, they said that he was “not a big home run or stolen base threat.” In 2006 he started to prove the first part wrong, belting 19 homers. He further proved that wrong in 2007 when he hit 23 homers and stole 26 bases — and was only caught once. Since then Granderson’s stolen base numbers have fluctuated a bit, but he remains a mostly effective base swiper.

Last year he got caught a bit too often, 10 times in 35 attempts (71 percent). For his Yankees career he’s 37 for 49, which is just over 75 percent. Given his spot in the order he’s probably not going to swipe a ton. But if he picks his spots like he did in 2010, he can sometimes sneak into scoring position, leaving plenty of opportunities for Cano, A-Rod, and Teixeira to drive him in.

Russell Martin

No, Martin is not a speed demon. In fact, he hasn’t attempted more than 10 stolen bases since 2009. But he appears to know what he’s doing when he does swipe a bag. He proved that on Opening Day last year, effortlessly taking a base on Justin Verlander. He made nine more attempts throughout the season, getting caught just twice. He’ll never win a crown, and he’ll almost certainly never steal more than 20, as he did in the 2007 season. But he can seemingly pick his spots well. That’s pretty much all you can ask from a catcher.

In the past both Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter provided threats when at first base. Jeter has cut down on his attempts in the last few years. After stealing 30 in 35 attempts during he 2009 season, he stole 18 in 23 attempts in 2010 and then 16 in 22 attempts last year. You can look at that as him slowing down, but he did feature similar numbers in 2007 and 2008, coming off a 34-steal 2006 season. Rodriguez used to be a paragon of base stealing efficiency, especially after his 40-40 season in 1998. But in the last two years he’s combined for just eight stolen bases in 11 attempts. He gets good reads, but he won’t be going often.

Having guys like Gardner and Nunez is a boon for the Yankees, a team that in previous seasons didn’t have that kind of speed. Having one starter and one guy off the bench helps create a more well-rounded base stealing strategy. It helps, too, that there are a few players for whom Girardi shouldn’t hesitate to pinch run late in games. Granderson is a bit of a bonus. If he, along with Jeter, Martin, and Rodriguez, can pick spots here and there to take a free base, the Yankees will be a bit more well rounded with their offense. That’s a valuable feature for an offense built mostly on power.

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The agony of da feet. (/crickets) (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Yankees seem to be losing the Spring Training injury war at the moment, but thankfully they haven’t run into anything too serious yet. Here’s the latest news on the walking wounded…

  • Derek Jeter has a “tender” right calf and will be shut down until Tuesday. This is not the same calf that caused him to miss a month last season. [Mark Feinsand]
  • David Robertson still feels “a little” soreness in his bone bruised right foot. He’s been running on a treadmill but has yet to get outside and really test it out. Robertson did play catch yesterday though, and that’s good news. [Jack Curry & George King]
  • Russell Martin has some tightness in his left groin, so he’s going to be held out of action for a few days. It’s unclear if it happened when he nearly collided with Chien-Ming Wang at first base yesterday. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Nick Swisher‘s sore groin is feeling better, but the team is giving him an extra day off just as a precaution. [Feinsand]
  • Eduardo Nunez is going to swing a bat tomorrow after doing nothing the last three days. He hasn’t played since getting hit by a pitch in the right hand last Monday, and was scratched from a game earlier this week after testing it out in batting practice. [Curry]
  • Russell Branyan is getting an epidural for his sore back. He hasn’t played at all this spring and was barely able to take batting practice before it flared up. There’s a pretty good chance he’ll get released before he ever gets into a game. [Chad Jennings]
  • Manny Delcarmen (remember him?) has started throwing off a half mound as he works his way back from a lat strain. [Jennings]

Just as a quick recap, here’s a list of the walking wounded: Jeter (calf), Robertson (foot), Martin (groin), Swisher (groin), Nunez (hand), Branyan (back), Delcarmen (lat), Joba Chamberlain (elbow), George Kontos (oblique), Ramiro Pena (ankle), Freddy Garcia (hand), Austin Romine (back), and Dan Burawa (oblique). Given all the injured shortstops, we’re going to be seeing a lot of Doug Bernier over the next few days.

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2012 Season Preview: Saving Runs

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So good that MLB told him he can't use a glove in 2012 just to make it fair. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Like a number of other teams, the Yankees ignored defense for quite some time in the mid-aughts. Maybe ignored is the wrong word, but it definitely wasn’t a priority. The 2005 Yankees were arguably the worst defensive team in baseball history, but they still managed to win 95 games thanks to a dominant offense and some good timing (pythag. 90 wins). That formula doesn’t cut it these days.

By no means are the 2012 Yankees a defensive dynamo, but they’ve improved defensively at a number of positions in recent years by shedding poor glovemen like Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, and Johnny Damon. UZR says the Yankees were the eighth best defensive team in baseball last year, saving 23.2 more runs than expected. At the same time, their -15 DRS ranks 21st out of the 30 team. Different systems give different answers, which is why this defense thing is so hard to pin down these days. Let’s take a look at the Yankees who provide value when not in the batter’s box…

Robinson Cano
Cano is a good example of just how imperfect defensive metrics are these days. UZR doesn’t like him one bit, rating him as a below average defender in each of the last four years and in six of his seven seasons. DRS, on the other hands, says he’s been above average in each of the last three years and in four of the last five. Total Zone says he’s been a bit below average the last two years, but above average the four years before that. FRAA? That says he’s been above average defensively in every season of his career except for 2010, when he registered at -0.5.

Which system is right? Probably all of them to a certain extent, but it goes to show that there’s still no right answer with this defensive stuff. Overall, I think Robbie’s a pretty good second baseman, particularly on plays to his right and around the bag on the double play pivot. Balls hit to his left have been a bit of a problem throughout the years, but I think he’s still a net positive, all things considered. No one will ever confuse Cano for Roberto Alomar or Chase Utley on defense, but he’s a solid glove guy that does his best work near the bag. That double play pivot is just as sweet as his swing.

Brett Gardner
You can make a legitimate case that Gardner is the best defensive player in baseball. He combines his speed with excellent reads for top notch range, and his throwing has improved dramatically over the last two years or so. His arm isn’t terribly strong, but it is accurate. Anytime a ball is hit in the air towards left, I’m pretty confident that it’ll be turned into an out these days.

One thing to keep in mind is that Gardner’s ridiculous defensive ratings — +50.9 UZR and +35 DRS last two years — are relative to other left fielders, and most other left fielders are slow, plodding, bat-first types. I don’t want to take anything away from Brett because he is an elite defender, but if the Yankees were to move him to center, he would not be a +20 defender on an annual basis. He’d be more along the lines of +10 or so. That’s still really awesome, and when it comes to saving runs with the glove, no one on the Yankees is better and very few around the league are even comparable.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Russell Martin
Catcher defense is a tough thing to quantify, but we’ve gotten better throughout the years. Although he’s been below average at blocking passed pitches in recent years, PitchFX data has shown that Martin is one of the very best at framing pitches and saving runs by turning balls into strikes. With an average arm that consistently throws out 30% of attempted base stealers or so, Russ handles himself well behind the plate and is an asset to the team defensively.

Of course, Martin looks like the greatest catcher ever compared to his predecessor Jorge Posada. Not to dump on Posada, but he was a bad defensive catcher and flat out abysmal later in his career, and it could be clouding our judgment when watching Martin or any other Yankees catcher. The few advanced metrics we have do a good job of showing that while he’s a good defensive backstop, Martin isn’t great. He does the job throwing out baserunners, frames pitches exceptionally well, and won’t allow and excessive amount of pitches to get by him.

Mark Teixeira
Defensive metrics still haven’t mastered the first base position, which has more to do with straight glovework than range. Tex isn’t fleet of foot but he does guard the line well and keeps his fair share of balls from getting through the hole. That has more to do with positioning than actual quickness. He’s also a strong thrower, which is still amazing to see after watching Giambi airmail throws for the better part of a decade.

I think Teixeira’s best defensive work comes when he’s scooping throws at first or snagging bad hops, stuff like that. There’s no way to measure this accurately, so it’s completely anecdotal. He saves the other infielders errors by scooping those poor throws, but more importantly saves pitches for the guys on the mound. Tex sees more defensive work than every non-battery position on the field, which is a good thing for the Yankees given his skills.

* * *

I think Alex Rodriguez is worth a mention here, because he looked fantastic on defense late in the season and especially in the ALDS. He didn’t hit much after the knee and thumb injuries, but he still moves well around the bag and makes a lot of tough plays look easy because of his strong arm. I also think A-Rod is the smartest, most instinctual player I’ve ever seen. He always seems to makes the correct decision when it comes to going for the double play, looking back the lead runner, charging the bunt, all that stuff. Alex won’t win a Gold Glove, but by no means is he a liability at the hot corner.

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He smiled! (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Yesterday we took at look some Yankees who are candidates to see their performances take a step back in 2012, and now it’s time to flip the coin and look at some players with the potential to improve. That’s the neat thing about the term “regress,” it can work both ways even though it’s somehow developed this negative connotation. The Yankees had a few players under-perform last year, some with good reason and others just because.

Boone Logan
On the surface, Logan had some killer stats last season. He struck out 9.94 batters per nine (24.9 K%) while walking 2.81 per nine (7.0 BB%) with a decent 42.4 GB%. Of course lefty specialists usually aren’t judged by their overall numbers, they’re on the roster to get left-handed batters out. That was a problem for Logan last year, who allowed same-side hitters to tag him for a .260/.328/.462 batting line in 118 plate appearances. He gave up three times as many extra-base hits to lefties as David Robertson despite facing 24 fewer hitters.

Logan’s strikeout (11.20 K/9 and 28.8 K%) and walk (2.30 BB/9 and 5.9 BB%) rates against southpaws were insanely good, but his problem was the long ball. His 40.6 GB% resulted in a 13.3% HR/FB ratio, though Hit Tracker says that three of the four homers he surrendered to lefties were Just Enoughs. That means they cleared the fence by less than ten vertical feet or landed less than one fence height beyond the wall. Two of the four homers would have remained in play in the other 29 parks according to their data. Just Enoughs are the most volatile type of homer given their definition, as they’re very prone to the weather and wind and ballpark. The homer issue may not be much of one, so if Boone can maintain those strikeout and walk rates, he should do just fine against left-handed batters going forward.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Russell Martin
We all know the story by now. Martin started last season ridiculously hot — .270/.367/.511 in his first 158 PA — before dragging himself across the finish line — .221/.303/.357 in his final 318 PA. The end result was a .237/.324/.408 batting line in 476 PA, or a .325 wOBA and a perfectly league average 100 wRC+. The average catcher produced a .309 wOBA and a 91 wRC+ last season, so Martin was an above average hitter relative to his position.

Like most players, Russ was a more productive hitter at Yankee Stadium (.345 wOBA and 114 wRC+) than on the road (.307 and 88). The easy answer is the short porch and more homers, but that’s not the case. Martin went deep eight times with a .175 ISO and a 15.4% HR/FB ratio at home last year, but clubbed ten homers with a .166 ISO and a 16.4% HR/FB ratio away from the Bronx. His walk and strikeout rates were essentially identical both home and away as was his batted ball profile, but his road batting average (.217 with a .220 BABIP) paled in comparison to his home rate (.260 and .288).

Martin is likely to see his home performance suffer a bit next year and his road performance improve a bit. In terms of process stats — the strikeouts, walks, batted ball types — he was the same hitter regardless of venue in 2011, he just got different results. Given the advantages of Yankee Stadium, the short porch and the fact that pretty much every hitter performs better at home, his home performance may not decline as much as his road performance improves. Martin will never be the guy he was in 2007 again, but a little more love on the road will boost his overall numbers and value to the team. Some more rest will only help further.

Nick Swisher
Swisher was basically the anti-Martin last year. He was dreadful to start the season — .206/.321/.288 in his first 193 PA — but a monster thereafter — .284/.397/.519 in his final 442 PA. Overall, Swisher finished with a .260/.374/.449 batting line (.358 wOBA and 122 wRC+), his worst performance as a Yankee and the second worst season full season of his career. His 23 homers were his fewest in five years thanks to the early-season slump.

Although he’ll never be a high-contact guy, Swisher has slightly improved his strikeout rate as his career has progressed while maintaining his high walk rate. He’ll never hit for a high average but that’s fine, he’s asked to provide power and patience. That power was missing early in the season, though his 14.3% HR/FB ratio in 2011 was right in line with his career average (14.9%). He just didn’t hit as many fly balls has he had in the past…

Green is GB, blue is FB, red is LD. (via FanGraphs)

Swisher’s performance against right-handed pitchers last year was by far his worst as a Yankee, going from .375+ wOBAs to just .335. Again, it had to do with the lack of fly balls, a 41.4 GB% compared to 35.9% from 2004-2010. He’s still relatively young (turned 31 in November) and healthy, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t expect the fly balls to return in 2012. It’s not like we’re asking an injury-prone guy in his late-30′s to perform miracles here. More fly balls will lead to more homers, hopefully getting Swish back around 28-30 and making him more dangerous against northpaws.

Alex Rodriguez
It’s easy to forget just how stellar A-Rod was before his knee started giving him problems. He carried a .301/.377/.509 batting line (in 318 PA) into July before getting hurt, which is still excellent even if it’s not on par with his lofty standards. Alex was never the same after that (.191/.345/.353 in his final 84 PA), and the story is the same heading into 2012. I don’t want to spend too much time on this because I think everyone knows the deal. If healthy, A-Rod will produce big numbers even if they aren’t quite as big as they used to be. Whether or not he can actually stay on the field for 140 games or so is a total mystery, experimental knee procedures and new training methods be damned.

Rafael Soriano
Baseball’s highest paid setup man didn’t have a great first year in pinstripes, particularly early on. Most realized that his fly ball ways (just 35.2 GB% in 2011 and 31.4% career) were a bad fit for Yankee Stadium, so the big jump in homer rate (0.92 HR/9 and 8.3% HR/FB were nearly double his 2010 totals) wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was his walk rate, which jumped from 2.69 BB/9 and 7.5 BB% coming into the season to 4.12 and 10.0 in 2011, respectively.

Most of the walk damage came before Soriano hit the DL with an elbow problem. That makes sense, since elbow injuries have historically resulted in a loss of control while shoulder injuries have resulted in loss of velocity. Soriano walked 11 of 69 batters (15.9%) before hitting the DL but only seven of 95 batters (7.4%) after getting healthy. His strikeout (14.5 K% per-injury but 27.4 K% after) rate improved as well. Unfortunately, health is a going to remain a question going forward given his career-long battle with his elbow, but a healthy Soriano should be a very good reliever for the Yankees.

Nothing to complain about from the right side. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira’s performance problems are all self-inflicted. He readily admits that he’s changed his left-handed swing over the last three years in an effort to take advantage of the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium, and says he’s working hard to correct the problem. He’s even talked about laying down bunts to beat the shift, which might be going a little too far. That’s another argument for another time.

With his massive power (.246 ISO and 17.1% HR/FB in 2011 vs. .250 ISO and 18.2% career), strong walk rate (11.1 BB% in 2011 vs. 11.5% career), relatively low strikeout rate (16.1 K% in 2011 vs. 17.2% career), and right-handed production (.410 wOBA vs. LHP in 2011 vs. .400 career) still intact, it’s all about Teixeira getting that batting average as a left-handed hitter (.224 in 2011) back up to his career norm (.277 coming into 2011). If he does that, his overall batting average (.248 in 2011) and OBP (.341) will also return to their previous levels (.286 and .377 coming into 2011, respectively).

Fixing the problem is much easier said than done. The uppercut Teixeira has added to his swing has resulted in a ton of fly balls (48.3% in each of the last two years) against righties, and fly balls will do a number on the ol’ BABIP (just .222 last year) since they’re generally easy to field. Eliminating the uppercut and returning to the level, all-fields approach that made him one of the game’s very best hitters will be tough because that’s a lot of muscle memory to undo. It won’t happen overnight, but it can be done. It will cost Teixeira some homers, but he’s a good enough hitter that he’ll be able to provide average, on-base skills, and 30+ homers at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one of the other.

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With Spring Training fully underway, it’s time to begin our season preview. We’re going to change things up a bit this year, focusing on various aspects of the team rather than individual players. You’ll see most players in multiple posts, but the concepts will all be different.

Don't go Mo. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

The Yankees are known for their free-spending ways, and while that may be scaled back in the near future, the team still has plenty of roster and financial decisions to make. Eight players on the club’s projected 25-man Opening Day roster are scheduled to become free agents after the season, assuming the no-brainer 2013 options for Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are exercised. No less than four of those eight impending free agents can be considered critical pieces of the roster.

Things have a way of changing over the course of a 162-game season (plus playoffs), but the Yankees are going to have some tough choices to make in about eight months. In some cases, the may not have a choice at all.

Freddy Garcia
The Yankees quickly re-signed Garcia to a one-year, $4M contract early this offseason, but now he’s an extra piece. It’s easy to say they jumped the gun and should have waited to re-sign him, but they got him on such ridiculously favorable terms compared to what similar pitchers — Bruce Chen (2/9), Chris Capuano (2/10), and Aaron Harang (2/12) — received this winter that the Yankees will have no trouble trading him later this summer if they decided to go that route. Pitching depth is never a bad thing, and even if the fifth starter competition is rigged, I’m sure we’ll see Sweaty Freddy make some starts this year. Right now, it seems all but certain that Garcia will move on to another team as a free agent next offseason.

Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez & Eric Chavez
Three spare parts on cheap one-year contracts, Ibanez ($1.1M) will be the left-handed half of the DH platoon while Chavez ($900k) backs up both corner infield spots. Jones ($2M) will get playing time against southpaws, either in the field or at DH. None of the three players are all that crucial to the team’s short- or long-term success, with Andruw representing the most indispensable part. That said, he’s on the short end of a platoon. Injuries have a way of forcing guys like these into larger roles than expected. Jones will be the priority re-sign after the season if all goes well, but the other two will have to wait like they did this winter.

Hiroki Kuroda
The 37-year-old Kuroda was non-committal about his future when he arrived at camp a few weeks ago, instead saying he’s ready “to give 100% and contribute to the Yankees as much as possible.” Hal Steinbrenner agreed to expand the budget to sign the veteran right-hander for $10M, a signing of tremendous importance that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves because of the Michael Pineda trade.

With youngsters Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes in the rotation, Kuroda and CC Sabathia will be counted on to provide stability and innings every five days. He’s being reunited with former Dodgers battery-mate Russell Martin, which will hopefully get his ground ball rate back into the 50% range after a one-year hiatus. There’s no secret regarding Kuroda’s status with the team; he’s a one-year stopgap brought in to solidify the rotation while the younger pitchers take their lumps. If he performs well and is willing to return in 2013, I’m sure the Yankees would welcome him. If not, then no big deal. Both parties will move on.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Russell Martin
The Yankees have already touched base with Martin’s camp about a three-year contract extension, but talks are now on hold until after the season. Yadier Molina’s hilariously huge contract (five years, $75M with an option and a no-trade clause) is a total game-changer, raising the salary bar for above average catchers in their prime years substantially. Martin will benefit, the Yankees will not if they choose to re-sign him.

While Austin Romine and Frankie Cervelli represent viable and payroll friendly alternatives, there is definite value in having a guy like Martin around for the next few seasons. He can ease the transition of the youngsters and provide some certainty at a position where so many teams have none at all. By no means is Martin a star, but he fits the Yankees well and there are several reasons for the team to re-sign him after the season. Molina’s contract will make that extraordinarily difficult, as the Rangers and Diamondbacks learned when impending free agents Mike Napoli and Miguel Montero abruptly ended extension talks this week.

Nick Swisher
Unlike Martin, the Yankees have not approached their right fielder about any kind of contract extension. Also unlike Martin, the Yankees don’t have an obvious, in-house replacement for Swisher. Things could change during the course of the summer, but as of today there’s no player in the system who you could point to as a viable corner outfielder for 2013.

Swisher has made it obvious that he loves playing for the Yankees, but he also said he won’t force the issue and is willing to test the free agent waters next winter. Concerns about a down walk year because of his playoff failures (and thus his “inability to handle pressure”) are misguided because Swisher was playing for a contract last season too. If he performed poorly, he was faced with the same fate as today: heading out onto the open market coming off a bad season on the wrong side of 30. The Yankees seem more content to play this one by ear, mostly because finding a replacement corner outfielder won’t be as difficult as say, finding a replacement catcher. That said, Swisher is a pretty important piece of the offense and losing his production would hurt.

Mariano Rivera
Based on his comments from a few weeks ago, the Yankees may not have a choice when it comes to retaining Rivera after the season. The greatest relief pitcher in the history of the universe hinted at retirement his first day at Spring Training, saying he’s made a decision about his future and won’t change his mind even if he saves a zillion games or if they offer him a zillion dollars. That seems like a weird thing to say if he was planning on giving it another go in 2013.

Mo is the only player in this post the Yankees would absolutely, no doubt about it retain after the season if given the chance. Other roster decisions would be based on him and around his new contract, which is something that applies to very few players in today’s game. The Yankees have plenty of potential replacements should Rivera hang ‘em up after 2012, but a pitching staff is a unique thing. They could carry Rivera and his potential replacements at the same time, unlike say Martin, Romine, and Cervelli. This is pretty much out of the Yankees’ hands. If Mo is willing to come back next year, they’ll bring him back. If not, well then we’ll see him in Cooperstown in six years.

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(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Catcher defense is incredibly hard to quantify, but there’s been a lot of research done on the subject and a lot of progress made in recent years. Back in October, Bojan Koprivica published a ridiculously in-depth analysis on blocking pitches using PitchFX data, determining just who the best catchers were at keeping the ball in front of them. It’s an intense research piece but a surprisingly easy read, so I highly recommend checking it out. Even if you read it back in October, it’s worth re-reading for a refresher.

Since the start of the 2009 season, Yadier Molina has saved a total of 16.0 runs by blocking pitches, the most in baseball. That’s not a surprise since he’s generally regarded as the best defensive catcher in the game. Brian McCann (14.2) and Matt Wieters (13.3) round out the top three. Based on Koprivica’s work, pitch blocking is similar to base running in that its impact isn’t as significant as we may think. The best pitch blockers save about seven runs per season while the worst allow seven runs. Most catchers are within two runs of average. Yeah, every bit does count, but on the whole it’s not a huge part of the game.

FanGraphs now carries pitch blocking data using Koprivica’s algorithm, so it’s nice and easy for us to dig up the stats. Here’s how the Yankees’ two primary catchers have fared at blocking pitches over the last three seasons…

Expected Passed Pitches, CPP
Actual Passed Pitches, APP
Runs Saved, RPP RPP MLB Rank
Frankie Cervelli 59 59  0.0 27th
Russell Martin 142 159 -6.5 51st

I used a minimum of 1,000 innings caught over the last three seasons, giving us 58 qualifiers. Cervelli has performed exactly as expected during that time, which is pretty neat. Martin has been much worse however, which goes against pretty much everything we know and have heard about him defensively. It’s only 6.5 runs across 3036.2 innings, but only seven qualified catchers have been worse at blocking balls in the dirt than he has over the last three years*.

* One of those seven is Jorge Posada at -8.2 RPP in 1,469.1 innings (54th out of 58 qualifiers). Former Yankee Jose Molina isn’t much better believe it or not, he’s at -7.2 RPP in 1,200.1 innings.

Breaking it down by the individual seasons, we can see that most of the damage came back in 2009. Russ was expected to allow 48 balls to get by him based on what his pitchers threw that year, but he actually allowed 69 passed pitches. Those 21 extra passed pitches resulted in a -5.8 RPP for the season, the worst in baseball. Martin was pretty much league average in both 2010 (-0.1 RPP) and 2011 (-0.6 RPP) when it came to blocking balls, and the improvement since 2009 can probably be attributed to a million different things. I guess he seemed so much better than average last year because we were stuck watching Posada all those years.

Like I said earlier, passed pitches typically have a very small impact in the grand scheme of things, just a handful of runs each year. It seems a lot more when you’re watching a game and a passed ball allows the tying run to move into scoring position in the late innings, but that stuff evens out over the course of a 162-game schedule. Martin’s real defensive value comes from his ability to frame pitches according to the various catcher defense studies, but over the last two years he hasn’t killed his team with his pitch blocking skills either.

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The Qualifying Offer

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Russ doesn't trust banks with his money. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Earlier this week we discussed the contract situations of Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, both of whom are important players to the Yankees and scheduled to become free agents after the season. The Yankees don’t have an obvious internal replacement for the former while the latter saw his free agent stock jump thanks to Yadier Molina’s massive contract extension. Multi-year contracts for both players are reasonable given their age and production, but will cut into the team’s 2014 austerity plan. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement may actually help the Yankees in this situation, however.

Under the terms of the new CBA, Type-A and B free agents have been eliminated. If a club wants to receive draft pick compensation for a player, they now have to make a qualifying offer rather than offer arbitration. The qualifying offer is a guaranteed one-year contract with a salary equal to the average of the top 125 salaries in 2011, and this coming offseason it will be approximately $12.4M. If you’re the Yankees and you’re eyeing that $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014, wouldn’t you love the idea of bringing both Swisher and Martin back for 2013 on one-year, $12.4M contracts? I know I would.

Obviously it takes two to tango. Making a qualifying offer to both Swisher and Martin doesn’t guarantee either guy will accept. I’m sure every player appreciates the security of a multi-year contract, and those two would have to at least explore the free agent market before agreeing to come back to the Yankees for just one guaranteed year. The qualifying offers are a win-win as far as the team is concerned. They would buy them an extra year for Austin Romine‘s development (and transition to the show) and allow them to see if a potential Swisher replacement emerges within the farm system while having zero impact on the 2014 budget. If Swisher and Martin sign elsewhere, they Yankees would get draft picks as compensation (assuming they qualify under the new system).

It’s easy for me to say this as a fan, but I’d rather see the Yankees overpay in money on a one-year deal than overpay in years on a multi-year deal. The guys writing the checks may feel differently. The $12.4M is probably more than either Swisher or Martin will get on an annual basis as a free agent, and if the market break rights both guys could wind up back in pinstripes by accepting the qualifying offer. I have to think this would be the best case (realistic) scenario for the team, getting both their starting right fielder and catcher back on terms that don’t impact future payroll.

Categories : Hot Stove League
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