Archive for Scouting The Market
While there are a number of low-cost and low-risk DH options on the free agent market, that’s not the only place the Yankees will look to fill that void. There are also players on the trade market who can slot into a platoon DH role for the Yankees. While they might cost something in terms of players, they can still come at a relatively low price. They can also come with a low risk level. One such name that came up this morning is the Oakland A’s first baseman Brandon Allen.
Allen started his career in the White Sox system after they drafted him in the fifth round of the 2004 draft. He then went to Arizona in the Tony Pena trade in mid-2009. Since then he’s had a rough go in the majors, though he has continued to obliterate the Pacific Coast League. Here’s a look at how he could fit the Yankees’ needs.
- He’s a lefty with power. In 1,116 PA in AAA, he has an ISO of .269. While the PCL is known as a hitters’ league, Allen’s ISO is still well above the league average. In fact, his .273 ISO last year was more than 100 points higher than league average. He also beat the league average by more than 100 points in 2010. He also displayed prolific power before he reached AAA and the PCL.
- He can also take a walk. The last time he had more than 75 PA at any minor league stop and had a walk rate under 10 percent was in 2007 — in A-ball. In 367 MLB plate appearances he has a 10.9 percent walk rate.
- He also has contact skills. From Baseball America’s 2010 scouting report: “He toned down his swing and hit more balls to the opposite field in 2009, allowing him to hit a career-high .298 in the minors.” From Kevin Goldstein’s scouting report of the same year: “Allen has a solid approach and enough bat to profile as an everyday first baseman in the majors, combining plus power with a surprisingly solid contact rate, leaving scouts to project him as a .280+ hitter with 20-25 home runs annually.”
- His biggest weakness seems to be inside pitching, something that Kevin Long, with his now-famous home run drill, might help fix.
- While he has struggled in the majors, he has fared much better against right-handed pitching. That plays to his favor, considering the Yankees’ current DH situation.
- While his major league experience is limited, he has failed pretty badly in that time, hitting just .210/.287/.383 in 367 PA. He struggled even more after the trade to the A’s, hitting .205/.259/.356 in 158 PA last year.
- Contact rate has been a huge issue. While he kept his strikeout percentage in the low 20s in the minors, he has been in the mid 30s in the majors. Again, as Baseball America has said, it’s partly because “pitchers exploited him on the inner half.” While Long is known for his work in this area, his ability to fix Allen is not guaranteed.
- At a time when they could have used a first baseman, the Diamondbacks did things like sign Andy LaRoche and Russell Branyan, and trade for Juan Miranda, rather than give Allen a real shot. They also traded him for a middle reliever, which gives you an idea of what they thought of his ability to adapt. That the A’s are shopping him again is another warning signal.
- As with any player on another team, the Yankees would have to trade living, breathing players for him.
One reason why the Yankees, in all likelihood, won’t acquire Allen is that his upside might be better realized by a lower-tier team. The excellent Pirates blog Pirates Prospects has already put together a trade target article on him. He could also better help a team like the Indians; they could use a first baseman, particularly a lefty-hitting one, pretty badly. Since the Yankees would want him only to DH, and probably part-time at that, they might not be willing to part with the kind of prospects that other teams will, even if those prospects amount to No. 5 starter types.
Still, it’s always nice to have a look at a young left-handed bat who has flashed power. If the Yankees believe that Kevin Long can provide a fix, then he’s a worthy acquisition target. He would pair well with someone from the list of DHs available on a minor league contract, to give the Yankees a few low-cost, low-risk options. It does appear that Allen has an option remaining, too, reducing the risk of acquiring him. Chances are the Yankees won’t get far here. That’s fine. Perhaps Allen isn’t their guy, but he’s just another option in a long list of potential LHB DHs.
One area where the Yankees’ offense stands to improve over 2011 is at the DH spot. Last season their DHs hit a combined .251/.336/.450, which ranked sixth in the AL. Now, with at most half of a DH platoon already on the roster, the Yankees have an opportunity to move up the DH ranks and add to their offense. This morning Mike examined Johnny Damon’s case and determined that if money is truly a factor, Damon makes enough sense. In the post he mentioned another name, though, that makes plenty more sense from a performance standpoint.
The Yankees and Pena are no strangers. In early 2006, following his release by the Detroit Tigers, the Yankees signed him to a minor league contract. A year later he was tormenting them as a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He stuck with Tampa for for years, belting 20 home runs against the Yankees in that span. Even before that, the Yankees were part of the trade that sent Pena from Oakland to Detroit. That, as you’ll regrettably remember, was the trade that netted the Yankees Jeff Weaver. Here’s what Pena would bring the Yanks if the two parties were to reunite.
- He absolutely mashes right-handed pitching. Since 2009 only 24 hitters have fared better than Pena’s 130 wRC+ against righties. In terms of pure power only six have hit righties better. That plays well for the heavy half of a platoon.
- He has the experience. Not only did he spend four years in the AL East, producing a 134 wRC+ in that span, but he’s also been around in the postseason. In 80 postseason PA he’s hit .269/.388/.522 with four homers. It’s a tiny sample, but for all the emphasis on postseason failure and success, Pena is a great success.
- He’s worked with Kevin Long in the past. In fact, they worked together during the 2006 season, which immediately preceded Pena’s breakout.
- He’s a quality defender at first, and could step in should Mark Teixeira get hurt. That is, he provides some insurance.
- It’s hard to understate how his righty bashing helps his case. It’s a pretty big point in his favor.
- He probably won’t come cheap. After his 2010 season, in which he produced a 105 wRC+, he took a one-year deal with the Cubs in order to rebuild his value. He did that, igniting in the second half on his way to a 119 wRC+. The Cubs paid him $10 million, so it seems unlikely he’d sign for less than that — unless the market has completely bottomed out on him.
- He’s not effective against lefties, producing just a .306 OBP since 2009 despite a 14.1 percent walk rate. Oddly, though, the three pitchers off whom he has homered the most often — Andy Pettitte, Jon Lester, and Bret Cecil — are all lefties.
- His defensive value is negated by his lack of playing the field. It also means he’s essentially a DH only, limiting roster flexibility.
While it’s not common to see a player of Pena’s caliber take a pay cut, especially after he succeeded in having a rebound season, the market for Pena appears a bit thin. The only two teams connected to him so far are the Indians and the Rays, two teams that aren’t exactly rolling in cash. The Brewers could make sense, but they say they’re maxed out. Other than that, we’re down to non-contenders such as the Orioles and Pirates. The market, then, seems to favor the Yankees. Even near their payroll ceiling, they likely have more resources than all of the above teams. They won’t go out and bid big for him, but if they continue their patient streak, the Yanks could find Pena falling into their laps. He’d be a great fit for a platoon DH role in 2012.
Everything’s changed in the span of 72 hours. The Yankees went from being light on pitching and heavy on offense to having a surplus of starters and a DH vacancy following their Friday night bonanza. We know they have some interest in Carlos Pena, but he might be too expensive and also too inflexible for the current roster. A cheaper and possibly better fitting solution might be former Yankee Johnny Damon, who the team has already contacted.
Reunions almost never work out, especially when you’re talking about a player closer to his 40th birthday than his 35th. The Yankees wouldn’t be asking Damon to ignite their offense like they did during their World Series run three years ago, they’d be asking him to setting to a Tim Raines/Darryl Strawberry-esque complementary role. Let’s see what he’s bringing to the table these days…
- After a down power year with the Tigers in 2010 (just eight homers and a .130 ISO), Johnny clubbed 16 dingers with a .156 ISO last season. He was one two-bagger shy of the 30-double plateau for the third straight year and the 13th time in 15 years.
- Although he always seemed to be battling nagging injuries during his first stint in pinstripes, Damon has played in at least 140 games every year since his rookie campaign in 1995. Durability is an underrated skill.
- Johnny actually had a reverse split last year (.313 wOBA vs. RHP and .355 vs. LHP), but he’s shown no split over the last three years (.345 vs. .344) and a very small one during his career (.353 vs. .341).
- Damon stole 19 bases under the run happy Joe Maddon in 2011, his most since swiping 29 in 2008 and his 16th straight year with double-digit steals. He’s also quite good at putting the ball in play, striking out in just 14.2% of his plate appearances last year and just 11.5% of the time in his career.
- The importance is overstated, but there is some value in Damon being familiar with New York, the Yankees, and being in a pennant race. I hear he also gives some sweet veteran presents.
- At 38 years old, Damon is already in the danger zone when it comes to total collapse in performance. His wRC+ has gone from 128 in 2008 to 124 in 2009 to 109 in each of the last two seasons. Further decline is more likely than a rebound, which would put him at or below the league average offensively.
- After walking in 10.7% of his plate appearances from 2006-2010, Damon’s walk rate dipped to a below league average 7.9% in 2011. His 27.8% swing rate on pitches out of the zone was his highest in five years and the third straight year it’s increased. Despite the solid strikeout rate, his 8.1% swing-and-miss rate was his worst since the data started being recorded in 2002.
- Playing the field regularly is not an option anymore. Johnny has played just 352.1 innings in the outfield over the last two years, with 82.9% of his plate appearances coming as the DH. He can probably spot start in left once in while, but anything more is asking for trouble.
True Yankee™ status is a powerful thing, and it’s been known to cloud judgment from time to time. Damon isn’t the guy he was in 2009 (.376 wOBA with 24 homers) and he’s not some kind of clutch god (.225 AVG and .287 wOBA with runners in scoring position last two years), and returning to the Yankees won’t magically revitalize him. Sure, Yankee Stadium will probably allow him to pop a few more homers, but at his age he’s more likely to keep slipping. Then again, stranger things have happened.
If the Yankees want to go real cheap on their DH spot next year, Damon’s probably the best they’ll be able to do on the free agent market. He’s a useful piece but no longer a difference maker capable of wreaking havoc atop the order, but he’ll stay in the lineup and put together tough at-bats, maybe even hitting the ball out of the park on occasion. An Andruw Jones-esque contract is probably in order, meaning just $2M with some incentives. Anything more than would be pushing it, especially since no other club is in a rush to sign him.
Yesterday afternoon the Mets somewhat surprisingly waived former top prospect Fernando Martinez, cutting ties with the 23-year-old outfielder to make room on the roster for personal fave Scott Hairston. Baseball America considered him one of the top 100 prospects in the game as recently as 2010 and four times overall, but the Omar Minaya regime did their best to sabotage his development by rushing him through the minors. The new Sandy Alderson led front office is basically turning the page.
It’s all but guaranteed that some team will acquire Martinez from the Mets, either off waivers or through trade. Should that team be the Yankees? Let’s take a look…
- Like I said, Martinez is only 23 and will spend all of next season at that age (born in October). He’s a little more than a month older than Austin Romine, for reference. If nothing else, time is on his side.
- “Martinez has power potential to all fields, though he has gone to left-center less frequently than when he was younger,” said Baseball America (subs. scouting report) when they named him the Mets’ third best prospect in 2010. “His bat speed and improved ability to make contact should allow him to hit for a solid average.”
- Adam Rubin confirmed that Martinez does have one minor league option remaining, so he can be sent to the minor leagues in 2012 without a problem. With less than one full year of service time to his credit, he’ll remain under team control for another six seasons. Martinez will qualify as a Super Two when the time comes, however.
- Like I said, the Minaya regime rushed him badly. Martinez was playing in Double-A as an 18-year-old despite playing just 87 games and getting just 386 plate appearances in the low minors. He was in the big leagues as a 20-year-old in 2009.
- Not only has he been rushed, but injuries have taken away from his development. Martinez has never played more than 90 games or received more than 400 plate appearances in a single season, topping out at those totals in 2008. He’s been done in by a wrist strain (2011), right knee arthritis (2010), right knee surgery (2009), an elbow strain (2008), and various hamstring problems (2008, 2010, 2011).
- In his 145 big league plate appearances, he owns a .245 wOBA overall and a .195 wOBA against left-handers. His career Triple-A batting line is fine (.265/.326/.465 in 727 plate appearances), but he’s never walked much (6.6 BB% in the minors) and he’s become more strikeout prone as he’s climbed the ladder (21.7 K% in Triple-A). He also doesn’t steal bases (just 20-for-32 in the minors).
- Once considered a future center fielder, Martinez is now considered a corner guy because the leg injuries have sapped his speed. His arm isn’t all that great either, meaning left field is the best fit.
When I looked at Jai Miller as the potential scrap heap pickup a few weeks ago, I did so thinking he might represent an upgrade over what the Yankees currently have on their 40-man roster, specifically Justin Maxwell. Small moves like that often get overlooked but they are important, as improving the margins of the roster can yield significant benefits down the road. The same logic applies to Martinez, who at this point is little more than a roll of the dice.
The incumbent left-handed hitting spare outfielder is Chris Dickerson, who is a fourth outfielder type that can hit righties a bit (career .340 wOBA), play solid defense in all three outfield spots, and steal some bases (24-for-30 career). He’s no higher than fifth on the Yankees outfield depth chart though, and since he’s out of options he can’t go to the minors without first clearing waivers. There’s a chance he’d get claimed. Martinez is six and half years younger, has more power (see some of it here and here), and can go to the minors without a problem, which might make him a better fit for the team and their roster. After all, Dickerson could be gone before Opening Day whether the Yankees like it or not.
I don’t think there’s any chance Martinez will get to the Yankees on waivers; a team with a higher waiver priority will surely claim him first, which means they’d have to work out a trade with the Mets. Crosstown trades don’t happen very often, but that doesn’t mean they can’t happen. Dickerson is the better player at this point, but Martinez provides more flexibility and long-term potential, even though most of his prospect shine has worn off.
Unless they make a move for a pitcher in the next month and change, the Yankees are pretty much done assembling their 2012 team. In terms of position players they’re pretty set. You can already pencil in the nine starters, and three of the four bench slots are already filled. That last bench spot is pretty much a toss-up. With Andruw Jones and Eduardo Nunez, the Yankees already have backups for every position. That last player can come from nearly anywhere, and can play nearly any role.
Hiroyuki Nakajima might have filled that spot, but he’s headed back to Japan for one more season. Eric Chavez seems like the frontrunner for it now, but his fragility works against him heavily, since part of his job would be subbing for the unreliable Alex Rodriguez. There are some other internal options, such as Justin Maxwell and Chris Dickerson, but the Yankees might want someone who plays the infield. Better yet, someone who can play the corners in both the infield and outfield. As it happens, someone who fits that description just became available.
The Blue Jays designated Mark Teahen for assignment this morning, after he came to the plate just 47 times for them. Really, Teahen had no part in the Jays’ plans; they only took on him, and his salary, to make the Edwin Jackson acquisition easier. With a full roster and nowhere to put Teahen, a DFA was almost inevitable. No one’s going to claim him and his $5.5 million salary, but the Yanks might have interest should he clear waivers and reach free agency. Here’s the breakdown.
- He’s versatile. While he has limited experience at first base and left field, he has plenty at third base and right field. That gives the Yankees a backup to A-Rod who can also sub in the outfield if need be.
- He’s left-handed. The three current bench players — Andruw Jones, Eduardo Nunez, and Francisco Cervelli — all hit right-handed. The Yankees also got a bit more right-handed in general by swapping Jesus Montero for Jorge Posada. They’d probably prefer a lefty for that last bench spot.
- He can take a walk: 8.2 percent career walk rate, and it’s been at or above 9 percent in each of the last two seasons.
- He’s relatively healthy. An oblique injury kept him out for a bit in 2011, but otherwise he’s been pretty healthy. His most significant injury has been a fractured middle finger, suffered in 2010, but that’s more of a freak thing. His shoulder, surgically repaired in 2006, hasn’t been an issue since.
- He’s not that good with the bat. After a very good 2006 season, at age 24, it appeared that Teahen — who was part of the A’s Moneyball draft — might be coming around. He’s been a complete disappointment, though, producing below average offensive numbers every year since. Last year was a low point: 52 wRC+.
- He plays terrible defense. While defensive metrics can portray players inaccurately, it’s tough to argue when they all agree. All major defensive stats rate him as a patently horrible third baseman, and a barely passable outfielder.
- He’s not even that good on the platoon split. He has a career .322 wOBA, .328 against righties. If he’s going to be a generally mediocre player, he might as well at least mash righties. Alas.
That cons list might contain only three items, but they’re three pretty damning ones. Teahen might be worth a sniff on a minor league deal, but his name value could fetch him a major league contract. The Jays might even trade him during the DFA period. If he’s not worth signing to a major league deal, he’s certainly not worth trading for living, breathing players.
In essence, Teahen’s value is mostly associated with his name recognition. If he were just some random John Smith with those numbers, he wouldn’t get a sniff — never mind the $5.5 million he’ll make this year. The Yanks might desire to add a left-handed bat to the bench, but Teahen shouldn’t be that guy. Even Eric Chavez, for defensive value if nothing else, would provide more value than Teahen.
I gotta say, I was surprised by how many people sent in mailbag questions about Jai Miller over the weekend. You folks really don’t miss a thing. Anyway, Miller is a soon-to-be 27-year-old right-handed hitting outfielder that the Athletics designated for assignment on Friday after acquiring three 40-man roster players from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez trade. He had a huge year for their Triple-A squad, hitting .276/.368/.588 with 32 homers and 16 steals (in 16 attempts!) in 475 plate appearances before getting a late season cup of coffee, but now he’s waiver fodder.
The Yankees are lacking upper level outfield depth, so players like Miller will surely pop up on their radar whenever they become available. Does he made sense for them though? That’s what we’re here to find out. Let’s start with his negatives…
- As good as Miller was in Triple-A this past season, it was his fourth straight full season at the level. He posted a .357 wOBA in 2008, a .375 wOBA in 2009, a .351 wOBA in 2010, and then a .410 wOBA this past year. You have to wonder if his huge year is the result of tangible improvement (more on that later), or just repeating the level yet again.
- No stranger to strike three, Miller struck out 179 times this season, or 37.7% of his plate appearances. In 1,750 career plate appearances at the Triple-A level, he’s struck out 550 times, or 31.4%. For comparison’s sake, Mark Reynolds struck out in 31.6% of his plate appearances this year, the worst rate in the majors. Putting the ball in play is not his forte.
- Miller appears to be out of options, meaning he must clear waivers to be sent to the minors next season. These things are tough to know for certain unless you’ve followed the guy’s entire career closely, so don’t hold me to that.
- Miller has definite power in his 6-foot-3 and 205 lb. frame, though his 32 homers and .312 ISO this season are career highs by far. During his three previous Triple-A stints, he hit 19, 16, and 18 homers with .205, .224, and .264 ISOs, respectively. As you can see here, he’s able to drive the ball out of the park the other way, at least on occasion.
- All those strikeouts are due in part to his propensity to work deep counts. Miller walked in 11.4% of his plate appearances this season and 10.4% of the time during his Triple-A career. It’s not a mind-blowing walk rate, but it’s absolutely above average.
- The 16-for-16 thing this year might be an aberration, but Miller had stolen 31 bases in 43 chances (72.1% success rate) in his prior Triple-A seasons. He wasn’t the highest percentage base stealer prior to 2011, but he is capable of swiping the occasional bag.
- Miller can man all three outfield spots and is a fantastic defender, with Baseball America even calling him a potential Mike Cameron clone in their 2010 Prospect Handbook, the last time he was prospect eligible.
Interestingly enough, Miller showed almost no platoon split in 2011 and hasn’t throughout his minor league career, so he’s not necessarily a platoon candidate. Given the considerable increases in his strikeout rate and power production this year, there’s a chance he altered his swing or approach in some way. We won’t know that for sure unless we talk to the guy (or his hitting coach) because minor league data is so limited. The power spike in 2011 could be a fluke, but he could be pulling a Nelson Cruz circa 2008 for all we know.
Based on what we know, we can’t definitively say that Miller would be better use of a 40-man roster spot than Justin Maxwell, another right-handed hitting outfielder that is out of options. Miller is 13 months younger than Maxwell though, and he also isn’t coming off major shoulder surgery. If nothing else, he’s the healthier choice. Because he’s been designated for assignment and outrighted off the 40-man roster before, Miller can elect free agency if he clears waivers this week. It would make more sense for the Yankees to wait the process out to see if he becomes a free agent, then pursue him on a minor league deal if he does. I wouldn’t call Miller a priority on the waiver wire, but he would be an interesting pickup for the Triple-A outfield if everything falls into place.
If you take a look at MLB Trade Rumors’ remaining free agents list, you might notice something peculiar. Actually, maybe you won’t; I didn’t until Mike pointed it out. First browse the position players and identify players who could hit in the middle of a contender’s lineup. Then look at the relievers and see who could soak up high leverage innings. And then finally look at starting pitchers and see which ones will likely give you above-average production. We might quibble here and there on the details, but it’s pretty clear that the three best remaining players from those categories are Prince Fielder, Ryan Madson, and Edwin Jackson. It should come as no surprise to learn what they all have in common.
They’re all Scott Boras clients.
Boras has laid relatively low this off-season. He has placed only three players so far, four counting Andrew Brackman, and they’re all lower-tier types: Bruce Chen, Gerald Laird, and Willie Bloomquist. Yet his greatest assets are still not only on the market, but they’re the best choice for any team looking to upgrade. That means he’ll likely extract a decent price for them. While the market remains quiet for Jackson — his last MLBTR mention came more than a week ago, and it was to note a non-interested team — he’ll surely fetch a decent sum if only because he’s the best remaining pitcher on the market.
Chances are the Yanks won’t pursue him. They stayed out of the C.J. Wilson sweepstakes and reports are that they didn’t go big on Yu Darvish. It sounds as though they’re looking for either a true No. 2, or to shore up the back end of the rotation. Jackson could help them in the middle of the rotation, but probably not at a cost that the Yankees find appealing.
- Jackson just turned 28 this past September, making him one of the younger options on the market. Many, if not most, free agents hit the market as they’re exiting their prime years. Jackson is just entering them. That makes it more likely they’ll pay for future, rather than past, performance.
- He’s shown some improvement in his peripherals the past two years, notably in his ground ball rate. He’s also kept the ball in the park better in the last two seasons, which has led to his two best FIP seasons.
- Even with a .330 BABIP last year, almost 20 points higher than his career average, he still managed a 3.79 ERA in nearly 200 innings.
- His last two seasons have been split between the AL and the NL, but he’s actually performed better in the AL — while pitching for the White Sox, a team with a hitter-friendly park.
- Once a big problem, he’s improved his walk rate in the last year and a half.
- His numbers in the last three seasons: 622 IP, 7.09 K/9, 3.04 BB/9, 0.93 HR/9, 3.96 ERA, 3.91 FIP. Those aren’t outstanding numbers, but they’re solidly above average.
- Scott Boras has him in a good position now and can likely extract a decent price. Plenty of teams need pitching, and as listed above Jackson has plenty of positive qualities. Chances are he’ll provide solidly above production for a salary of a slightly better pitcher.
- He hasn’t exactly been a welcome member of any staff, as he’s pitched for six teams in his career. Part of that might be circumstance beyond his control. But there has to be something about a pitcher that so many teams are willing to part with.
- Chances are that in addition to a sizable salary, Boras is also looking for a four-year contract, or even more. That’s a long time to commit to a pitcher who will at best be your No. 3.
- As we mentioned earlier in the off-season, Jackson’s strikeout rate tends to fluctuate wildly. It’s not necessarily a red flag, but it does raise some eyebrows.
There’s no way to justify it other than saying it’s a gut feeling, but it seems as though Jackson is the type of free agent who would sign with the Yankees and then pitch pretty poorly. Maybe it wouldn’t be Carl Pavano 2.0, but I do feel as though Jackson wouldn’t work out nearly as well as the numbers suggest. This is by no way an authoritative stance, but it’s just something that I’ve felt when evaluating Jackson as a free agent.
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.
I’ll preface this by saying that nowhere have I read that the Twins are interested in moving Scott Baker, nor have I read that the Yankees would have any interest in acquiring him. This is simply pure Hot Stove speculation, taking a statistical look at whether or not a given player fits the team’s needs.
Mike reviewed a potential Baker acquisition last offseason, and concluded that, while the fly-ball percentages have been downright scary (his 45.0% FB% since 2007 is the 3rd-highest among AL pitchers during that time; though interestingly Jered Weaver tops the list), the minuscule walk rate (9th-lowest in the AL during that same time, and four of the players ahead of him on that list are no longer in the junior circuit) has helped mitigate some of the long ball damage, the right-handed Baker would be an asset to the Yankee rotation, fly-ball tendencies be damned. Mike also noted that the Twins’ asking price would likely be Banuelos or Betances due to Baker’s solid track record and team-friendly contract, and while Baker could be a helpful mid-rotation piece, there’s obviously zero chance the Yankees would surrender either pitcher for a slightly above-league average pitcher with a fly-ball rate that would make Phil Hughes (45.2% since 2007) jealous.
However, Baker just concluded the finest season of his career, and with the Twins a few years away from returning to contention no matter how wide-open the AL Central always seems to be, perhaps they’d entertain the thought of moving Baker, who, it should be noted faced the third-toughest Quality of Opponent in all of MLB in 2011 (which admittedly was the impetus behind this post). After all, they finally traded the long-rumored-to-be-on-the-move Kevin Slowey to the Rockies yesterday, and while Slowey and Baker aren’t quite in the same league pitching-wise, they’re also not that different.
Additionally, were the Twins open to trading him there’s no way they could realistically expect a Killer B, now that he has one year left on the extension he signed back in 2009 that will pay him $6.5 million for his services this coming year — his age 30 season — with a $9.5 million option for 2013. Not only that, but I’m actually fairly surprised that Baker hasn’t already been run out of town given that his K/9 jumped up above 8.0 per nine to a career-high 8.22 that would’ve been the 10th-best rate in the AL had he had enough innings to qualify. Certain Twins fans may realize the importance of the almighty K, but Minnesota’s modus operandi has been pitching-to-contact for as long as I can remember.
Here’s a snapshot of Baker’s career:
Baker posted career-bests nearly across the board in 2011, although while he had a very nice (if injury-shortened) year I don’t think we can reasonably conclude that Baker’s all of a sudden now a true talent 3.14 ERA/3.45 FIP pitcher unless he’s found something/made some kind of adjustment that will limit the home runs going forward. His 2011 BABIP was right in line with his career mark even though his strand rate was at an all-time high, yet he posted a lower GB% rate (34.3%) than he did in 2010 and a slightly higher FB% (44.7%). xFIP saw him as a 3.61 ERA pitcher, which seems a bit more realistic, although those expecting the career 4.12 hurler to post a mark in the mid-3.00s could be a bit disappointed.
Given that his rate stats don’t appear to be able to explain Baker’s improvements across the board, I was curious to see whether he’d made any adjustments to the way he went after hitters. Here’s a breakdown of Baker’s repertoire over the last three seasons, courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com:
According to the PITCHf/x data, current-day Scott Baker is ostensibly a three-pitch pitcher: two fastballs, the requisite four-seamer and a sinker, and a slider. He has a changeup, but only threw it 5% of the time last season. However, if the PITCHf/x data is to be believed, Baker completely overhauled his arsenal in 2011.
In 2010 he threw a four-seamer 44.4% of the time; according to this data in 2011 that fell all the way down to just 8.5%. Apparently all those heaters were replaced with what the system classified as a sinker (though the previous two years of data had it as a two-seamer), which Baker threw 57.7% of the time this past season, up from 18.1% in 2010 and just 4.1% in 2009. Now, the usual caveats with pitch classification apply, and it’s likely that a fair percentage of Baker’s four-seamers were misclassified as sinkers, although per this article from July, it sounds like Baker does actually throw a sinker now.
Still, even if he did increase his sinker deployment, it seems highly unlikely he threw them nearly 60% of the time this past season, as he almost certainly would’ve generated a higher ground-ball rate. The 10.2% Whiff% on the sinker lends additional credence to the misclassification, as it seems highly unlikely that Baker would double the league-average Whiff rate on a pitch that carries the lowest average Whiff rate among all pitches for right-handed pitchers.
So assuming Baker hasn’t turned into Chien-Ming Wang — and the 8.22 K/9 further suggests this to be the case — we have a right-hander with a below-average four-seamer velocity-wise (only 90.7mph), a sinker/two-seamer that doesn’t even get ground balls 40% of the time, and a slider that appears to be right around league average. I have to say I’m a bit baffled at how Baker managed such a robust K rate given this information — I suppose the movement on his four-seamer, as cited in the aforelinked article from Twins blog Twinkie Town, is outstanding, and results in a lot of weak contact, although that 30.2% foul-ball rate is not only pretty out-of-control but would also make Phil Hughes blush.
I entered into this analysis hoping to uncover something about Baker that could make me endorse a trade for him, but I’m coming up empty. CAIRO projects him as a 3.90 ERA/3.74 FIP pitcher over 159 innings for next season, while Bill James has him at 3.99/4.05 in 140 innings with a 7.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 1.2 HR/9.
Those are fine mid-rotation numbers, but the Yankees have enough internal candidates who can attempt to put up reasonable facsimiles of those projected lines; I can’t see moving anyone for a 30-year-old with one very good year under his belt and nothing in the numbers that would indicate continued higher-level success.
The Yankees have focused on improving their starting rotation this offseason and rightfully so. Even with Freddy Garcia back in the fold, they still stand to open the season with no fewer than two question marks in the rotation, and it’s really more like four question marks behind undisputed ace CC Sabathia. Just because the rotation needs help doesn’t mean the rest of the team gets ignored though, and just because the offense is a strength doesn’t mean it can’t be further improved.
Earlier this week, it was reported that the Pirates are open to listening to trade offers for center fielder Andrew McCutchen, a report the team unsurprisingly denied a few hours later. The two sides discussed about a long-term contract extension earlier this year, though talks slowed during the summer and there haven’t been any reports of progress lately. A player of McCutchen’s caliber fits on pretty much every team, regardless of who they already have in the outfield. Rather than do the usual Pros & Cons shtick, I’m going to break his game down into the three basic parts of baseball: offense, defense, and baserunning. Let’s start with the bat…
Since breaking into the league in June of 2009, McCutchen has consistently produced about 25% better than league average with the bat. In fact, his wRC+’s by year from 2009-2011 are 125, 125, and 129. It all starts with his approach at the plate. McCutchen works deep counts, having seen 4.18 pitches per plate appearance this past season (12th highest in baseball) and 4.10 for his career. That’s Kevin Youkilis (4.18 in 2011) and Nick Swisher (4.07) territory. Those deep counts lead to a lot of walks — including 13.1% this past season (16th highest in baseball, right behind Youkilis) and 11.7% for his career — but surprisingly not many strikeouts, just 18.6% this year and 16.3% for his career.
McCutchen started to hit more line drives and fly balls this past season, resulting in more power (.198 ISO and 23 homers) but a slightly lower BABIP (.291 after .318 from 2009-2010). After hitting .286 in each of his first two seasons, his average dropped to .259 in 2011 thanks to a late-season slump (.196/.321/.384 in his final 35 games). Like most hitters, he does most of his damage to the pull side, but he can drive the ball with authority to right and right-center. Here’s proof. His spray chart show plenty of balls driven right to the wall to all fields throughout his career…
(via Texas Leaguers)
McCutchen does show a bit of a platoon split, but it’s nothing crazy. He’s posted a .397 wOBA with a .231 ISO against left-handers in his career, but against right-handers those numbers are .347 and .166, respectively. That’s not a major red flag because the performance against same-side pitcher is still above-average. At this point in time right now, McCutchen is a legitimate .275/.365/.450 hitter (.277/.368/.455 career), a level of performance roughly 25 others have been able to maintain over the last three seasons.
McCutchen is a great example of how flawed defensive metrics still are. They’ve gotten better, but none of them are perfect. All the systems rated him as well below average from 2009-2010, including UZR (-15.0), DRS (-18), Total Zone (-5), and FRAA (-23.7), but they all changed gears and considered him above-average in 2011 (+3.5, +7, +9, and +9.6 respectively). The improvement had nothing to do with McCutchen himself, he’s still the same defensive player he always was. The improvement came from the team’s manager.
Under former skipper John Russell, the Pirates’ outfield used to play what was best described as a no-triples alignment. They played deep with the left and center fielders shaded towards the left-center field gap, the big part of PNC Park. Matt Bandi spent quite a bit of time looking at the club’s outfield alignments at the now-defunct Pittsburgh Lumber Co. Russell was fired last offseason and replaced with Clint Hurdle, who had his outfielders play at more traditional depths and positions.
McCutchen’s defense wasn’t the problem, the metrics were just unable to properly measure his contributions in the no-triples alignment. Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he was a “a potential Gold Glover” with “outstanding instincts and an average arm in center field” before the 2009 season, the last time McCutchen was prospect-eligible. I suspect the advanced metrics will match up with that scouting report in the coming years, as the sample size continues to grow.
Although he’s stolen at least 22 bases in his three seasons, including 33 in 2010, McCutchen isn’t the most efficient baserunner. He’s been thrown out exactly ten times each of the last two seasons (56-for-76), a 73.7% success rate that is above the break-even point but not exactly stellar. His 75.0% success rate in the minors suggests he might not get much better than he is right now.
Stolen bases are just part of the baserunning equation though. McCutchen has been able to take the extra base 40% of the time his career, which is essentially the same as the 41% league average. Baseball Prospectus’ baserunning stats say he was a bit below-average at advancing on ground balls, sacrifice flies, and on wild pitches/passed balls this past season, but he was above-average in 2010 and 2009 as well. Either McCutchen suddenly forgot how to run the bases in those situations in 2011, or the data is imperfect. I tend to believe the latter is true.
Smash it all together — stealing bases, taking the extra base on hits, moving up on other balls in play/wild pitches/passed balls — and McCutchen is essentially a league average baserunner. For what it’s worth, FanGraphs’ catch-all baserunning data says he’s been a touch better than average in each of his three seasons. If you’re going to be bad at something, baserunning is a good thing to be bad at.
* * *
Just a few weeks after his 25th birthday, McCutchen is already a true franchise player, a guy that impacts the game on both sides of the ball while playing a premium up-the-middle position. He’s never been on the disabled list, not even in the minors, and thanks to some service time shenanigans he won’t be eligible for arbitration until next season and won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season. That’s four full years of team control left.
A near six-win player in the eyes of both both fWAR (5.7) and bWAR (5.5) this past season, there are few players in the game with more trade value than McCutchen. Obviously, any team hoping to trade for him would need to really blow the Pirates out of the water. A trade involving a star player in his pre-arbitration years is unprecedented, so we don’t have any kind of reference for what a potential trade package would look like. I imagine any teams that call Pittsburgh would start negotiations by opening up their farm system and saying “okay, pick any four.”
Please understand that I’ve set you (and myself) up for extreme disappointment. It’s highly unlikely that the Yankees or any other team will be able to pry McCutchen away from Pittsburgh this offseason, just like no one was able to pry The Justin Upton away from the Diamondbacks last winter despite his reported availability. But man, if the Pirates are sincerely willing to listen the offers … the Yankees should be all over this. Acquiring McCutchen is both a win-now and win-later move.