Archive for What Went Right
Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.
Thirty-eight-year-old shortstops are not supposed to lead the league in hits. Heck, they aren’t even supposed to be good. It’s a physically demanding position and by the time a player starts to approach 40, they usually just can’t handle it anymore. It’s a young man’s position. Coming into the 2012 season, exactly two players in baseball history age 38 or older managed to qualify for the batting title while playing at least 75% of their games at short and still be above-average offensively…
Hall of Famer Honus Wagner did it four times and Hall of Famer Luke Appling did it three times, all over 60 years ago. That’s it, that’s the list. In fact, prior to 2012, there were only 23 instances (involving just 12 players) in history of a 38-year-old qualifying for the batting title while playing primarily shortstop, regardless of offensive production. It’s an exclusive list, a list that Derek Jeter joined this season.
Jeter’s resurgence started with his calf injury in June of last season. He had hit just .267/.336/.357 from Opening Day 2010 until the date of the injury last summer, a span of 1,032 plate appearances. That’s not a small sample, and at his age, it was easy believe his Hall of Fame career was winding down. Jeter spent his rehab time working with organizational hitting coordinator Gary Denbo to iron out some mechanical issues, making adjustments that allowed him to hit .331/.384/.447 in 314 plate appearances after coming off the DL. It was the Jeter of old, not old Jeter.
That second half success carried right over into 2012. The Cap’n opened the season with a torrid April, going 37-for-95 (.389) in the team’s first 22 games. He peaked at .397/.439/.595 on May 6th and at the All-Star break it was still a robust .308/.354/.411. He started the Midsummer Classic in Kansas City not only because he’s one of the most popular players in the world, but because he absolutely deserved it based on his performance. Jeter picked up the pace after the break, going 10-for-27 (.370) in his first seven games back and hitting .325/.372/.449 in the second half overall.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Jeter’s season was his rebound against right-handed pitchers, who had given him a hard time the last two years and even after working with Denbo in the second half of last season. He didn’t for much power against same-side pitchers, but his .294/.346/.377 line against righties was far better than his .261/.321/.327 line against them from 2010-2011. Lefties had no chance — Jeter hit .364/.399/.542 against southpaws, a 157 wRC+ that ranked 19th in baseball. The guys ahead of him are mostly in-their-prime right-handed sluggers like Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp. The Cap’n absolutely punished lefties in 2012.
Derek finished the season with a .316/.362/.429 batting line overall in an MLB-best 740 plate appearances. Not only did he perform, but he stayed in the lineup despite nursing a left ankle problem late in the season. Jeter led the league with 216 total hits, eleven more than the second place Miguel Cabrera. Those 216 hits were just three shy of his career-high set way back in 1999, and it also set a record for the most hits by a player in his age 38 season, surpassing Pete Rose in 1979 (208). Only Paul Molitor (225 hits at age 39 in 1996) has had more hits in a season that age or older throughout baseball history.
Along the way, Jeter climbed from 21st on the all-time hit list to 11th, passing all-time greats like Dave Winfield, Tony Gwynn, Robin Yount, George Brett, Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, and Willie Mays. Early next season, like the second or third series of the year, he should jump past Eddie Collins and into tenth place on the all-time hit list. A modest season gets him into the top-six at this time next year, but another great season will get him into the top-five all-time.
Jeter wasn’t the Yankees’ best hitter this year — Robinson Cano did hit .313/.379/.550, after all — but he was certainly their most reliable and consistent hitter. He was the guy everyone wanted to see at the plate in a big situation, and frankly I hadn’t felt that way about Derek since at least 2009, the last time he truly was a superstar-caliber hitter. That left ankle ended his season in Game One of the ALCS, a sour ending to an otherwise spectacular season. Great players do things other players can not do, which is why Jeter became the first full-time shortstop in more than 60 years to be an above-average hitter at age 38.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.
A year ago, Rafael Soriano was the world’s most overqualified and overpaid seventh inning reliever. The right-hander battled injury and early-season ineffectiveness after signing a three-year, $35M pact with the Yankees that included a pair of team unfriendly opt-out clauses after years one and two. Twelve months later, he was their bullpen MVP and Mariano Rivera‘s ninth inning replacement.
Soriano, 32, opened this past season as Joe Girardi‘s seventh inning reliever again, and two weeks into the schedule he had twice as many walks (six) as strikeouts (three) in his first four appearances (four innings). He settled down and managed to curb the walks, and on the day of Rivera’s injury he owned a 2.25 ERA in eight appearances and innings. David Robertson initially stepped in as the closer, but a little more than a week later he went down with an oblique injury. The Yankees had lost their two best relievers in the span of eight days, bumping everyone up the totem pole two notches.
Luckily for the Yankees, Soriano was an accomplished closer who drew Cy Young votes for his effort with the Rays in 2010, the All-Star season that landed him the big contract in New York. He saved his first game on May 10th, his second on May 14th, and soon after the shutout appearances and dominant ninth innings piled up. Soriano pitched so well that he kept the closer’s gig even after Robertson came off the DL in early-June, and there wasn’t even a hint of controversy. He landed the job almost by default but kept it based on merit. He was that good.
At one point down the stretch, Soriano appeared in eleven of 21 team games as they were fending off the Orioles. He did run into some homer problems late in the season (five homers in his last 16 innings), but nothing that would derailed him or the team. Faced with the daunting task of replacing Rivera in October, Soriano threw 4.1 shutout innings in three postseason appearances. Two of those three appearances were multi-inning outings against the Orioles in the ALDS that kept the game tied into extra innings.
All told, Soriano pitched to a 2.26 ERA with 57 strikeouts and just 16 walks in 57 appearances and 55.2 innings after taking over as the team’s closer. He saved 42 games in 46 chances and led baseball with five saves of more than one inning. Four of those five saves came down the stretch in August and September, when the Yankees started to slide and Baltimore crept closer in the standings. Soriano joined Rivera, John Wetteland, and Dave Righetti as the only members of the 40-save club in franchise history, and only Fernando Rodney and Jim Johnson nailed down more games this season. They had a 30-something game head start, remember.
There is no replacing Mariano Rivera — by bWAR, Soriano had Mo’s 13th best season in 2013 — but Soriano made life after the injury as painless as possible. This was a situation that could have easily (and nearly did when Robertson blew a save a few days after Rivera’s injury) spiraled out of control and become a disaster, though that didn’t happen. The Silent One stepped in, stepped up, and served as the backbone of the team’s bullpen after the greatest relief pitcher in human history went down with a fluke injury a month in the season.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.
As we discussed earlier today, the Yankees as a team basically hit like a pitcher in the postseason. They put together a collective .188/.254/.303 batting line in their nine postseason games and scored just two runs in the final three games of the ALCS. It was tough to watch and just flat out pathetic, there’s really no other way to describe it.
The pitching staff, on the other hand, was absolutely stellar up until ALCS Game Four. The starters churned out quality start after quality start, and the bullpen did all it could to preserve leads and keep deficits close. After posting a 3.86 ERA (3.98 FIP) during the regular season, the Yankees received a 2.76 ERA (~3.45 FIP) in 88 postseason innings from the pitching staff.
Unfortunately, Sabathia’s season will be remembered for ending on a sour note as the Tigers battered him for six runs on eleven hits (!) in just 3.2 innings in ALCS Game Four. It was an ugly start in a generally ugly postseason showing by the Yankees as whole, but it was also the exception rather than the rule for the pitching staff.
Sabathia, of course, helped get the Yankees to the ALCS with a pair of dominant outings against the Orioles in the ALDS. He allowed two runs in 8.2 innings in Game One against Baltimore, then followed it up by allowing just one run in the decisive Game Five win. All told, Sabathia struck out 19 batters and walked just five in 21.1 playoff innings including the ALCS disaster. He set a new ALDS record with 17.2 innings pitches, nearly two full innings more than the previous record.
A year ago Pettitte was retired back home, but he got the itch to pitch and came back to the Yankees early in the season. He slotted in as their number two starter in the postseason due in large part to the schedule, as the club tried to optimize the amount of rest for each of their starters. Pettitte made two playoff starts, one in each round, and he tossed up a quality start in each. He held the Orioles to three runs in seven innings in ALDS Game Two and the Tigers to two runs in 6.2 innings in ALCS Game One. As per his norm, Andy did allow a lot of baserunners but continually pitched out of jams. For a guy who was out of baseball a year ago, allowing five runs in 13.2 postseason innings is a minor miracle.
Kuroda was New York’s best starting pitcher from Opening Day through the end of the season, and he turned in a pair of gems in the postseason. Following Sabathia and Pettitte, the first-year Yankee held the Orioles to two runs in 8.1 innings in ALDS Game One before allowing three runs in 7.2 innings in ALCS Game Two. That second start came on three days’ rest, the first time he’d ever done that in his career. Kuroda struck out a season-high eleven in that game, and it would have been eight innings of one-run ball had second base ump Jeff Nelson not blown an obvious out call on Omar Infante at second base. The bullpen allowed two inherited runners to score (charged to Kuroda) after the error. Sixteen innings (really 16.1) of five-run (really three-run) ball from the number three starter? Sign me up for that every day of the week.
Like Sabathia, Hughes ended his season on a down note as a stiff back forced him out of ALCS Game Three after just three innings of work. That shouldn’t erase his ALDS effort however, as he held the Orioles to one run in 6.2 innings while striking out eight in Game Four. Hughes only allowed one run in the ALCS start before exiting with the injury as well, so all told his postseason performance featured just two runs in 9.2 inning of work. As far as number four starters go, you can’t do much better.
Eight of the nine postseason games were very close into the late innings, and the bullpen stepped up in support of the starters in a big way. They allowed just eight runs (seven earned) in 27.1 total innings (2.30 ERA) while walking just four (!), including one intentionally. The late-inning duo of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson allowed just one run in 9.2 combined innings, striking out seven against zero walks and five hits. The lone run was a solo homer off Robertson in ALCS Game Five, when the game was already out of reach. Boone Logan and Clay Rapada combined to retire 11 of 12 left-handed batters faced, with the one exception being a walk by Prince Fielder. David Phelps, who allowed four runs (three earned) in 3.1 total innings, was the only clear negative on a pitching staff who was absolutely dynamite overall in the postseason.
The Major League portion of our season review is just about complete, and now it’s time to dig into the minor league system. As is the case every year, some things went right and some things went wrong in the farm system. There were breakout performances, injuries, disappointments, surprises, same kind of stuff we see every season.
What Went Right
First and foremost, it was health on the pitching side. Aside from David Phelps‘ sore shoulder (six weeks on the shelf) and Graham Stoneburner’s neck sprain (two months), all of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects remained on the mound in 2011. Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, and Brett Marshall combined to throw 454 IP and at least 140 IP each. Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances each eclipsed the 120 IP plateau, right in line with what they were expected to do before the season. Even relief prospects Chase Whitley, Dan Burawa, George Kontos, and Tommy Kahnle were able to log 80+ IP each this summer.
Secondly, the Yankees enjoyed some nice early returns from their 2010 and 2011 draft classes. Mason Williams (.404 wOBA) and Tyler Austin (.478 wOBA) broke out in big ways in the lower minors, while Dante Bichette Jr. (.438 wOBA) and Matt Duran (.395 wOBA) made strong first impressions after being drafted in June. The team’s Latin America program also enjoyed some success with Isaias Tejeda (.443 wOBA), Claudio Custodio (.439 wOBA), and Ravel Santana (.423 wOBA). These guys represent the next wave of prospects behind the crop at Double and Triple-A.
Thirdly, there were the breakouts and surprise performances. Williams was definitely the biggest breakout, but you had under-the-radar players like lefty Jose Quintana (2.96 FIP in 102 IP) force their way into the prospect picture. Ramon Flores (.350 wOBA) led the farm system in walks (61) a 19-year-old. The Almontes – Zoilo (.365 wOBA) and Abe (.331 wOBA) – stayed healthy and put together strong campaigns. The former did so as a switch-hitting outfielder and reached Double-A, putting him on the big league radar. It was the second and third-tier prospects that really stepped up this year, not necessarily the headliners.
What Went Wrong
Obviously, Andrew Brackman‘s return to 2009 form headlines the disappointments. He completely flopped in 13 starts, walking 54 batters and striking out just 41 in 59.1 IP for Triple-A Scranton before shifting to the bullpen and finding himself a bit. After whiffing 34 and walking 21 in 36.2 IP out of the bullpen to finish the minor league season, the Yankees gave him his second straight September call-up and actually used him this time. He walked three and struck out none in 2.1 IP with the big league team. Brackman will be 26 in December, and rather than give him another chance, the Yankees declined his 2012 option and released their 2007 first rounder yesterday.
While the pitchers stayed healthy for the most part, many position players did not. Austin Romine was limited to just 89 games in Double-A due to a concussion and back trouble this summer, though he returned and was able to make his big league debut in September. Slade Heathcott injured his left shoulder again, his third shoulder injury since 2008. J.R. Murphy and Nik Turley were having fine seasons before a pair of fluke injuries ended them prematurely; Murphy fouled a ball of his leg and Turley took a line drive to his pitching hand. David Adams has played in just 29 games since fracturing his ankle last May, as in 2010.
Some players, like Melky Mesa and Jose Ramirez, did not take step forwards in their development. Mesa was unable to build on his standout 2010 season that earned him a 40-man roster spot, reverting back to his hacktastic ways that exposed a weakness against non-fastballs. Gary Sanchez started slow, had to be disciplined for attitude problems, then broke a finger while in the middle of a monster second half. Banuelos and Betances didn’t have the dominant years we expected, but I think it’s hars, h to consider them disappointments this season.
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Overall, the farm system has a pretty average year, but it felt like a down year compared to the massive success of 2010, when seemingly everything went right. The Yankees still boast some star power at the upper levels in Banuelos and Betances, but Jesus Montero will graduate to the big league team next season, and their next real impact position player prospects are Sanchez and Williams in the low minors. Romine, Zoilo, and Corban Joseph are solid players that definitely serve a purpose, but they aren’t stars. The Yankees system definitely took a hit this season, but it’s still in the top half of all the farm systems in baseball.
As we get close to wrapping up our season review, we’re inevitably left a few players that don’t fit into our rather vague What Went Right/What Went Wrong categories. Unsurprisingly, these guys are bit pieces, essentially spare parts on the roster.
After a brief cameo in September 2010, the Yankees handed Nunez their utility infielder’s job out of Spring Training in 2011. The off-day and rain-out heavy April kept Nunez glued to the bench during the season’s first month (just six plate appearances), but he started to get more and playing time as the weather warmed up in May. He had five hits (including two doubles) in his first three starts of the season, but he carried a weak .214/.254/.339 batting line into mid-June, though that covered just 61 plate appearances.
Nunez became a pretty important piece of the Yankees’ puzzle in mid-June, after a calf injury shelved Derek Jeter for more than three weeks. The backup infielder had two hits in each of his first two games as the starting shortstop, and he ended up hitting a robust .339/.381/.525 in 65 plate appearances as the Cap’n's replacement. When Alex Rodriguez hit the shelf with a knee injury before the All-Star break, Nunez was again pressed into everyday duty, this time at third base. He hit .252/.310/.336 in 117 plate appearances while filling in for A-Rod.
All told, Nunez hit .265/.313/.385 in 338 plate appearances, swatting five homers and stealing 22 bases in 28 tries (78.6% success rate). That’s pretty much what you expect from a utility infielder. His defense was atrocious however, specifically his long-time problem with making the throw to first base (from short or third). He committed 20 errors (almost all throwing) in 789.2 defensive innings, which projects to about 37 errors over a full 162-game season. Nunez had his moments, and I figure he was the Yankees’ best backup infielder in quite some time.
Reportedly, the Yankees were holding an open competition for the backup catcher’s job in Spring Training, though it stood to reason that Cervelli had a leg up over Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, and Gus Molina just because he was the incumbent. A broken foot (suffered on a foul ball) delayed the start of his season by a month, but he came back with a bang. In his third game of the season (May 8th), Cervelli swatted a grand slam to dead center off Cody Eppley to turn a 6-5 game into a 10-5 game, helping put an end to an ugly four-losses-in-five-games stretch.
Cervelli played pretty regularly as CC Sabathia‘s personal catcher throughout the summer, and carried a .274/.333/.340 batting line into a late-August series against the Red Sox. After hitting just two homeruns in the first 541 plate appearances of his big league career, Frankie went on a tear and clubbed three homers in the span of eight days as August turned into September. I also remember one ball that looked like a no-doubter off the bat, but was caught at the wall after being knocked down by the rain and wind in that ugly, rainy 11pm ET start game against the Orioles. No idea where it came from, but Frankie was showing some serious pop late in the summer.
Unfortunately, a concussion ended Cervelli’s season in early-September. He was involved in two collisions at the plate on September 8th, giving him his third concussion in the last four seasons. That forced Romine into backup catcher duty, and makes Cervelli a bit of a question mark going into next season. Concussions are nothing to sneeze at, especially several of them in a relatively short period of time. The late power surge raised Frankie’s season batting line to .266/.324/.395 with four homers in 137 plate appearances.
The Pedro Feliciano signing managed to turn into a disaster before Opening Day, which meant Logan was the team’s sole left-handed reliever for the majority in the season. He struggled early in the year, carrying a 5.40 ERA into mid-May. Even worse, lefties were hitting .364/.440/.591 with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two) in their first 26 plate appearances against him. Logan received some advice from A-Rod during an interleague series in mid-June, at which point same-side batters were still hitting .300/.391/.425 off him.
The pep talk marked a bit of a turn around for Boone, who held lefties to a .234/.286/.484 batting line the rest of the way. He did a much better job of getting them out, but he was giving up far too many extra-base hits. After surrendering just one extra-base hit (a triple) to lefties in 2010, he gave up 12 in 2011 (seven doubles, one triple, four homers). That’s the same number of extra-base hits they had off Sabathia, who faced more than twice as many left-handed batters. All told, Logan finished the season with a solid 3.46 ERA (9.9 K and 2.2 BB/9), but lefty specialists don’t get judged by overall numbers. Left-handers hit .260/.328/.462 in 118 plate appearances against Boone this season, and that’s simply not good enough for the primary lefty on a contending team.
To set up the expectations placed on Freddy Garcia this season, I point you to the comments on the post that announced his signing. They weren’t all bad, but it was clear that most fans did not expect much out of Garcia. His spring training performance did not change anyone’s mind, and in fact it might have detracted from his case. The Yankees clearly weren’t too enamored, either, as they continually pushed back Garcia’s first start until they could push no further.
When Garcia did finally get a start, things went well. He shut out Texas through six innings and followed that up with another six shutout frames against Baltimore. In May he ran into some hard times, allowing 17 18 runs in 38.2 innings, but even that didn’t amount to a poor overall performance. Even after Boston knocked him out in the second inning of his start on June 7th, he still held a sub-4.00 ERA. It just so happens that he caught fire right after that.
From his start on June 12th against Cleveland through his start on August 7th against Boston Garcia threw 64 innings in 10 games, allowing just 21 runs, 18 earned, and striking out 39 to 15 walks. The strikeout total was in no way impressive, but the results were undeniably good: 2.53 ERA and a 6-4 record that included a couple of tough-luck losses. That’s when he sliced open his finger and missed three weeks, after which he wasn’t quite the same.
Despite a rough September in which his ERA rose from 3.09 to 3.62, Garcia exceeded expectations for the season. The Yankees signed him for peanuts — a $1.5 million minor league contract with up to $3.6 million in bonuses (he didn’t quite reach the maximum) — and got a guy who, for two months, played a sterling No. 2 to Sabathia’s No. 1. It came at the perfect time, too, since it was right around the time of Bartolo Colon‘s injury. When Colon went down Garcia stepped up, and the two of them combined to save the Yankees’ rotation for the first four months of the season.
For their minimal risk investment the Yankees got a 3.62 ERA out of Garcia, which is no small consideration. That’s his lowest ERA since 2001. His 4.12 FIP is also fairly in line with his prime seasons, and is actually a tick below his career numbers. A low HR/FB ratio led to a 4.36 xFIP, which mode bode poorly for next season. But then again he had a 4.41 xFIP last season and it didn’t spell disaster for 2011. Some veterans just figure these things out, and it appears Garcia has done just that.
The only remaining question is of whether they bring him back for 2012. Mike scratched the surface of this question earlier, and we’ll surely dive a bit deeper as the deadline to offer arbitration approaches. If they bring him back he can perhaps provide some value at the back of the rotation. If they let him walk he’ll have produced at a level far above his 2011 salary. Either way the Yankees come out winners. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but the Freddy Garcia signing ended up playing a large role in the 2011 Yankees’ success.
We’ve seen it every year of the Joe Girardi era. The Yankees finish the season with a bullpen that looks a whole lot different than the one they started the year with, and 2011 was no exception. Injuries and poor performance always play a part in that, but it’s also a two-way street. The guys that do the replacing have to perform well enough to stick around. Let’s look at three surprise contributors to the team’s bullpen this past season…
The Yankees rotation was a bit of a mess early in the season, leaving the bullpen to pick up a lot of slack. Guys like Amaury Sanit and Buddy Carlyle came and went, but when the Yankees first called up Noesi on April 13th, he didn’t pitch. He sat around in the bullpen until being sent back down nine days later. Noesi re-emerged from the minors on May 13th, and this time he got his chance. His first appearance came five days later,and he responded by throwing four scoreless frames in extra innings against the Orioles to earn his first big league win.
Noesi continued to get looks in long relief, including a six inning, two-run outing against the Red Sox on June 7th, and he even worked some one inning, higher leveraged spots from time to time. Two late season starts while the Yankees were lining up their playoff rotation didn’t go so well, but he made a strong impression by posting a 4.09 FIP in 56.1 IP overall. His swing and miss rate (9.4%) was strong enough to forecast improvement to his 7.19 K/9 going forward, no matter what role he’s given. The Yankees have Noesi on a strict pitch count in winter ball as he makes up for all the innings he lost while pitching out of the bullpen.
Signed to a minor league pact after being released by the Rays in mid-June, Wade made just a single appearance for the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate before being summoned to the big leagues. He made a great first impression by retiring the first 12 men he faced in pinstripes, and with both Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano on the shelf with elbow injuries, Wade quickly stepped into the seventh inning role.
All told, Wade pitched to a 2.04 ERA with a 3.76 FIP in 39.2 IP for the Yankees. He was true to form with a low strikeout rate (6.81 K/9), low walk rate (1.82 BB/9), a high homerun rate (1.13 HR/9), getting by with dead fish changeups and lazy fly balls. Wade had a rough finish to the season, allowing back-to-back walk off hits to the Mariners and Blue Jays in mid-September before surrendering Dan Johnson’s game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth inning of a final game of the season, but that’s not enough to erase all the good. Wade is still under team control for another four years, including at the league minimum in 2012, so the Yankees did a fine job of plucking a solid middle relief option off the scrap heap.
One of many players the Yankees brought to camp on minor league contracts, Ayala had a strong showing in Spring Training (one run, nine strikeouts, zero walks in 11.1 IP) and earned one of the last Opening Day roster spots. A mid-April lat strain sent him to the DL, but Ayala returned in early-May and was arguably the best last-guy-in-the-bullpen in baseball. He racked up a 2.09 ERA (4.19 FIP) in 56 IP, relying on his 50% ground ball rate to survive.
We joked all year about how Ayala was the worst sub-2.00 ERA pitcher in history (he had a sub-2.00 ERA until the last game of the season), but he truly was a solid pitcher given how he was used. His 0.89 gmLI (Leverage Index when entering games) ranked 117th out of the 134 qualified relievers, meaning he did most of his work in low-leverage, blowout situations. Someone has to throw those innings though, and Ayala did a fine job when called upon. It would be a surprise if he returned next season (this is exactly the kind of guy you get rid of a year too soon rather than a year too late), but Ayala was a positive contributor to the 2011 Yankees.
For a short time last winter it appeared that Jesus Montero would start the season behind the plate for the Yankees. Brian Cashman had announced the end of Jorge Posada‘s days behind the plate, and the only catcher who appeared ready was Montero. But it didn’t take long for the Yankees to get involved on a free agent catcher.
A few years ago it appeared that Russell Martin would be the Dodgers’ catcher of the future. After a solid 2006 season he broke out with a .368 wOBA in 2007, and followed that up with a .351 wOBA in 2008. He knew how to take a walk, hit for a solid average, and played excellent defense. But in 2009 things started to fall apart. He lost power and saw his batting average drop significantly. In 2010 things got even worse. Not only did he produce similar numbers, but he suffered a hip injury that limited him to just 476 PA. Rather than give him a raise over his $5.05 million 2010 salary, the Dodgers non-tendered him.
It came as little surprise that the Yankees showed immediate interest in Martin. While Montero generated plenty of buzz, there were still concerns about his ability to handle the catcher position in the big leagues. The safe bet, then, was to pursue a veteran catcher and try to ease Montero into the the role. They did just that in signing Martin. Amid some competition from AL East rivals they came in with the winning bid, a $4 million contract that included plenty of playing time bonuses. He earned every one of those incentives in 2011, bringing his total 2011 salary to $5.375 million.
To be sure, Martin was worth every penny of his incentivized salary. In April it looked as though he’d be an absolute steal, as he hit .293/.376/.587, including six homers. But once the calendar flipped to May his offensive production dropped off considerably. In his 391 post-April PA he hit .225/.313/.368 with 12 home runs. That did amount to 3.6 runs above average, though, which ranked 11th in the majors among catchers with at least 400 PA. That looks even better when considering Martin’s total value, the bulk of which comes from his defense.
Catcher defense has long been an elusive element of analysis. A catcher is responsible for so many aspects of the game, and it’s difficult to quantify many of them. But with so many sharp minds and increasingly accurate data, it was only a matter of time before someone, or someones, figured out a way. At this year’s Pitch f/x Summit Max Marchi presented his findings, in which he stated that catcher framing can mean a swing of 40 runs at the extremes (i.e., the best catcher can add 20 runs while the worst can cost 20 runs). Baseball Prospectus’s Mike Fast put together his own study of catcher framing, while The Hardball Times’s Bojan Koprivica studied catcher blocking. These elements both favor Martin greatly.
According to Fast’s study, Martin has been one of the best framers in the league over the last four years. He ranked second in the majors in total runs saved during that four-year period — to Jose Molina, of all people. Martin is also near the top of the league in runs saved per 120 games caught, but he also has far more playing time than those close to him. In the blocking study Martin came out even. Koprivica did provide us a great service, though, by combining Fast’s study with his own, and further with the FanGraphs data on catcher arms, to create an adjusted WAR leaderboard for 2011. Martin gains a win and a half when considering these factors, and ranks sixth among all catchers in baseball. All for that cool $5.3 million.
While we can’t attribute an improved Yankees pitching staff to Martin solely, he’s tough to ignore in that regard. This year the Yankees staff produced a 3.73 ERA, which ranked 11th in baseball, and a 3.87 FIP, which ranked 13th. Last year they had a 4.06 ERA (15th) and 4.34 FIP (25th). Considering how well Martin graded out in the catcher defense studies, it stands to reason that he played a significant role in that improvement.
There are two things a team can do to win ballgames: score runs and prevent them. Martin didn’t do much in the way of scoring runs, though he did produce above-average numbers, which is no small accomplishment from the catcher position. His greatest contribution, however, came on defense. He’s one of the best in the game, and that benefits the Yankees in many ways. It’s also a joyful sight to see, after watching Jorge Posada, one of the game’s worst defensive catchers, for the past decade-plus. That’s no slight on Jorge, given his offensive contributions. It’s just that Martin was just as valuable, but in a different way.
It’s hard to believe that given all the uncertainty surrounding the Yankees rotation coming into the season, things were actually worse down the stretch in 2010. Andy Pettitte was on the shelf, Phil Hughes was fading, and both Javy Vazquez and A.J. Burnett were disasters. Dustin Moseley drew some spot starts, as did the young Ivan Nova, a kid the Yankees left exposed in the Rule 5 Draft just one year prior. He pitched well (but not great) last September, enough to earn him a long look in Spring Training this season.
It was going to take a lot for Nova to pitch his way out of the rotation in camp, and he did no such thing by allowing just eleven hits and four runs in 20 IP across four starts and one relief appearance. Much like the end of 2010, Nova struggled to get through a lineup multiple times in April, completing five innings just once in his first three starts of 2011. A rather pointless extra innings relief appearance against the Blue Jays on April 19th seems to mark the end of his problem with retiring matters the second and third times around.
Nova allowed a total of four runs (three earned) in his next three starts, keeping the White Sox, Jays, and Rangers in check for 20 IP. The Royals roughed him up for eight runs in three innings on May 12th, but he rebounded and allowed no more than three runs in four of his next five starts. His best start of the season came on June 20th in Cincinnati, when he held the Reds to one run on four hits and no walks in eight innings, striking out seven. Nova was sporting a 4.12 ERA with rather mediocre peripherals (5.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 with ~55% ground balls) on July 1st, a performance that earned him a trip to the minors when Phil Hughes was ready to come off the DL.
The Yankees wanted Nova to focus on improving his slider in Triple-A, promising him a return trip to the bigs at some point. He made just three starts in the minors, allowing six runs in 16 IP, but the important thing is that he struck out 18 and walked just two. A line drive to the ankle put him on the shelf for about a week, but Nova returned to the Major League rotation at the end of July and looked like a change man. He dominated the Orioles and ChiSox in his first two starts back, allowing just three runs and one walk against 16 strikeouts in 14.2 IP. The Yankees planned to send him back to minors after the start against Chicago, but he pitched so well they just couldn’t do it. Nova allowed more than three runs just twice in eleven starts after coming back up, pitching to a 3.18 ERA with 5.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and ~52% grounders.
That post-demotion performance earned Nova the Game Two assignment in the ALDS, though some rain shenanigans meant he was technically coming out of the bullpen in relief of CC Sabathia in Game One. He held the Tigers to two runs in 6.1 IP in the win, and both runs were inherited runners that came around to score while he sat in the dugout. Nova’s season did end on a bit of a sour note, as he allowed two homers in two innings of work in the deciding Game Five, leaving the game with a tight forearm. An MRI revealed a Grade I flexor strain, an injury that is expected to heal during the offseason and have him ready in time for Spring Training.
Nova will get some serious consideration for Rookie of the Year after going 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA, the most wins by a Yankees rookie since Stan Bahnsen won 17 games in 1968. Only two rookies have won more games this century (CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander with 17 apiece), and his season-ending stretch of 16 straight starts without a loss was the longest by a rookie in at least 25 years. Nova was a touch better than league average with a 4.01 FIP thanks to his 0.71 HR/9, the 23rd lowest among the 94 starters that qualified for the ERA title. Thank his 52.7% ground ball rate for that. All 13 of the homers he allowed were solo shots, and only three came at homer-happy Yankee Stadium.
It goes without saying that Nova was one of biggest bright spots for the 2011 Yankees, and he will be counted on for much more going forward. His confidence was through the roof late in the season, and that slider the brain trust wanted him to work on improved to the point where it was his go-to pitch by the end of the season. The flexor strain is a bit of a concern, but it’s the first arm-related injury of his entire career and he’s got all winter to rest. The hard part comes now, and that’s doing it again for a second year in a row. I’m sure Nova knows this and is ready for the challenge.
The Yankees were left with a bunch of money in their pocket after Cliff Lee decided to rejoin the Phillies last offseason, and that money was spent in a variety of ways. Part of it went to Rafael Soriano, part of it went to Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, and part of it went towards the bench. For the first time in a long time, the Yankees sought out viable reserve players during the offseason rather than wait until the trade deadline to shore up their bench.
It was going to be tough to fill Marcus Thames‘ shoes following his big 2010 season as the team’s designated lefty-mashing outfielder (.354 wOBA vs. LHP, .365 overall), but the Yankees were counting on Jones to not just match that production, but exceed it. They signed him to a one-year, $2M contract in late-January, and watched him hit a homerun in his first very at-bat of the season. Andruw was getting the occasional pinch-hitting appearance and spot start in left field, and aside from a two-homer game on May 25th, he struggled through an unproductive first half. He headed into the All-Star break as a .195/.278/.356 hitter overall and a .231/.315/.446 hitter against southpaws.
While off for the All-Star Game, Jones got some unsolicited advice from his mother, who suggested that he go back and look at old tape from when he was raking with the Braves. He widened his stance to feel more comfortable at the plate, and the results came immediately. Jones hit a pair of homers in his first game after the All-Star break, drove in another run in his next start, then ran off a stretch of five hits (including a double and another homer) in three starts after that. At one point in late August, he went deep four times in the span of 16 at-bats.
Andruw turned his season around with his mother’s help, and hit .291/.416/.612 with nine homers in 125 second half plate appearances. He annihilated lefties, tagging them for a .344/.452/.639 batting line after the break. That performance raised his season numbers to .247/.356/.495 overall (.371 wOBA) and .286/.384/.540 against lefties (.400 wOBA), so on a rate basis he did manage to outperform Thames, by a not small margin either. Jones only got one playoff plate appearance against the Tigers right-handed heavy pitching staff (a sac fly), and late in the season we learned that he was playing through a small tear in his left knee that had to be drained multiple times. Kinda makes his second half surge that much more impressive.
It’s easy to forget now, but not only was Chavez in camp as a non-roster invitee this spring, he was competing for a roster spot against Ronnie Belliard. Mini-Manny showed up to camp out of shape and suffered a leg injury shortly thereafter, effectively taking him out of the race. The job was Chavez’s to lose at that point, and he responded by hitting .395/.422/.558 and staying generally healthy (there were some calf spasms, but nothing crazy) during Spring Training. He opened the season as the backup corner infielder/left-handed pinch-hitter.
Chavez got just one plate appearances through the team’s first seven games of the season (he reached on an error), but he made an impact in his first start in game eight. He went 3-for-5 with two doubles off the Green Monster in Fenway Park, filling in at DH. He started the next day at third base and picked up another hit, then started to earn more and more playing time. The power production wasn’t really there, but Chavez was hitting .303/.410/.424 with six walks and just three strikeouts on May 5th, when the inevitable happened.
While legging out a triple against the Tigers, Chavez came up limping at third base and was immediately removed from the game. He was originally diagnosed with a small fracture in his left foot, but that was later changed to a really deep bone bruise. He dealt with setback after setback during his rehab, and didn’t return to the lineup until July 26th, 72 team games after suffering the injury. Chavez stepped right in and played a healthy amount of third base when he came back because Alex Rodriguez was on the shelf, picking up 11 hits (including his first homer) and a walk in his first 33 plate appearances post-injury. He also started to take some DH at-bats away from Jorge Posada.
Chavez ended the season in a bit of a slump (.213/.255/.298 in his final 51 plate appearances) that dragged his overall numbers down (.263/.320/.356 in 175 PA, a .294 wOBA), but he was a monster with men on base (.379/.447/.561) and in scoring position (.415/.468/.537). Despite the years of injuries, he was surprisingly good on defense, flashing some of that old Gold Glove caliber ability at the hot corner. I don’t think many of us expected much out of Chavez, so he exceeded just about every expectations. He’s reportedly “leaning heavily” towards retirement, which is understandable after the injuries. He was a nice veteran guy to have on the bench, someone still capable of putting together quality at-bats and having value in the field.