There’s a lot to say about this year’s offseason, but most of it is far from positive. The Yankee front office typically aims for a 95 to 100 win team, but this year it looks like they may barely get to 90. Will it be enough? We won’t know until the season is over, but no AL East team looks exceptionally good. Even with the current roster, most reports have the Blue Jays or the Yankees as favorites.
The Yankees usually go above and beyond to put together a team that’ll leave the rest of the division far behind them, but they’ll lose $20+ million in payroll in 2014, and they have filled a lineup with one year deals and minor league gambles in preparation. To replace Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano, and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees brought in Kevin Youkilis, Bobby Wilson, Shawn Kelley, Juan Rivera, and Matt Diaz. Needless to say, the front office has brought in some disappointing replacements.
Now with Curtis Granderson out for at least the first month of the season, the Yankees have no major league third outfielder on their 40 man roster. The three outfielders outside of Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki are Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa, and Ramon Flores. Of these three, only Mesa has played above Double-A, where he hit .230/.271/.524 in 133 plate appearances. Though the outfielder has some pop, he is awful at drawing walks, and last year in Triple-A he struck out 43 times next to his 7 walks.
There are also outfield options on minor league deals that could make the team. As I mentioned earlier, Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz are available, have some upside, though both couldn’t crack an on base percentage higher than .290 in 2012, and their slugging was equally awful.
I haven’t heard much about him from the media, but perhaps the highest upside player is Thomas Neal. Through the Giants farm system, Neal was a highly touted prospect up until he reached Double-A. In 2009, the right-hander hit 22 home runs and batted .337/.431/.579, but followed that up with a less than inspiring 2010 where he hit .291/.359/.440. In 2011, Neal was probably sent to Triple-A prematurely, and then traded to the Indians after a mediocre season. In 2012, Neal rebounded in Double-A, hitting .314/.400/.467 with 12 home runs. Most impressive from the outfielder was his patience at the plate, where he took 46 walks to his 71 strikeouts.
At 25 years old this season, Neal is probably the most mature and best fit of the young guys, assuming the Yankees are willing to move him to the 40 man roster. However, the team needs to continue to look for another viable outfielder. With Granderson breaking his arm, Gardner out for nearly all of last season, and Ichiro 39 years old, the amount of games these three can stay on the field for is a big question. The Yankees really should have a decent fourth outfielder with such risky players.
Even before the Granderson injury, Cashman was still looking for another right-handed outfielder, though the rumors had stopped as of late. Now he has little choice but to start adding depth to this outfield. The team doesn’t need to add a Giancarlo Stanton or even Alfonso Soriano, but a young outfielder like Casper Wells or Tyler Colvin should be able to step in and play replacement level ball or better. With only two major league outfielders on the team, and hardly any reasonable choices for a third or fourth, a trade is overdue.
Yankee spring training has gotten off to a rough start. By now everyone knows that Curtis Granderson will be out until early May with a fractured forearm. That’s a huge loss for the Yankees. Granderson’s 2012 may have paled in comparison to his 2011, but he’s still a critical bat in the Yankee lineup. His absence will be felt immediately.
The most glaring weakness that comes from Curtis’ injury is the loss of power. Granderson’s OBP may be inconsistent, but he’s managed 40+ homers each of the past few seasons. That’s production I’d rather have on the team than on the bench. The Yankees don’t have any substitute on a lineup that was already missing a lot of pop due to injury or players leaving.
But this also means that the Yankees are that much more dependent upon Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki to stay healthy. That’s no small order. Gardner has been injury prone his entire career. Suzuki is 39 years old. The odds that either of them goes down with an injury, leaving the Yankees with not one but two injured starters in the outfield, is not insignificant.
All of this demonstrates just how little room to maneuver the team has under the new austerity budget. As recently as 2012 the Yankees could turn to Raul Ibanez to step in for Curtis and give the team some power while playing the outfield (badly). This year there is no clear internal replacement. Instead, the Yankees will have to hope Curtis suffers no setbacks in his recovery and that Gardner and Ichiro remain healthy. It’s becoming increasingly clear that 2013 will be one of the more interesting, and potentially frustrating, Yankee seasons in recent memory.
Over a month ago, Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Long met up at the third baseman’s home in California to discuss changes to his batting stance. In an interview with Jack Curry, Youkilis explained the changes to YES network’s Yankees Access.
Now that we have a broadcasted Spring Training game under our belts, we get to witness the stance in a game situation, and compare it to last year’s.
There isn’t a major visual difference from this camera angle, but I do see three things. He is taking a more athletic stance and keeping his knees bent, the stride is somewhat less exaggerated, and he’s reduced some movement in his hands.
Though he didn’t get a hit yesterday, he made his presence known with two deep flyballs and a sharp line drive to third base. Chad Jennings at LoHud has more on how Youkilis felt about taking his new mechanics out of batting practice and into yesterday’s game.
There aren’t many ways this Spring Training could have gotten off to a worse start. In his first at-bat of his first ST game of 2013, a game he started as the left fielder rather than the center fielder, Curtis Granderson was hit by a pitch from Toronto starter J.A. Happ on the right arm and immediately left the game. After first being called a “bruised right forearm” by the team, X-rays confirmed that Granderson suffered a fractured right forearm and is expected to be out for 10 weeks.
According to Jack Curry, that 10 weeks includes time for both recovery and rehab, which means Granderson could be back in the Yankee lineup by early May, but this is still a huge blow to a team that was already weakened offensively this past offseason. Granderson has been the most consistent power source in the middle of the lineup for the past two years, and his absence will only further exaggerate the lack of power and lack of depth that could impact this year’s team. More on this story as it becomes available.
** Update 3:22PM- If you’re already interested in talking replacements, Cash has shot down the possibility of Eduardo Nunez as an internal option (via Bryan Hoch), and said, “all options as of now are internal” (via Erik Boland). We’ll see… **
Joe Girardi recently announced that Brett Gardner will be taking over in center for Curtis Granderson. On the surface this seems like a logical baseball decision. By all measures, Gardner isn’t just the better defensive outfielder, he’s the best defensive outfielder in the game. The real question, from a baseball perspective, is why the Yankees ever put Granderson in center at all.
But we all know the answer to that. When the Yankees first traded for Granderson they made it clear that he was the Yankee centerfielder of the future. The Yankees gave Curtis centerfield to make him happy, to demonstrate that they were making a commitment to him as a player, even if it meant putting a weaker defense on the field.
Curtis is still on the team, but centerfield is no longer his position. Why make this move now? If anything, Gardner should have to audition for the job. He missed most of 2012 with injuries, while Curtis played 160 games. Why should Gardner get promoted now, especially when the Yankees still have their centerfielder of the future?
The answer may be that Curtis no longer has a future in pinstripes. If that’s the case, then this move also serves as a preview of the 2013 Yankee offseason. Once upon a time the Yankees were hinting that they wanted to lock up Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson to long term deals. That may no longer be possible, not if the Yankees want to hit their $189 million payroll target and negotiate with Cano’s agent, Scott Boras. Moving Granderson to left may be the first step in a series of actions that leads to the team letting him go once he hits free agency, in part to make a serious financial commitment to Cano.
(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)
Phil Hughes has been given a lot of different titles and descriptive identifiers in his professional career. From “can’t miss” and “surefire” to “uncertain” and “inconsistent,” he’s pretty much run the gamut of labels given to top prospects in his still short Major League career. One thing he hasn’t been called, however, is injury-prone, which comes as a bit of a surprise given his long track record of injuries, the latest of which could put him out of early spring action for a couple weeks.
Take a gander there. That’s not a short list by any measure, basically one injury for every year Hughes has pitched in the Majors. For most guys, that’s enough to get the label slapped on them after just 3 or 4 years, but Hughes has spent 6 pitching at the Major League level and has still yet to have his injury problems questioned as much as his offspeed pitch selection, fastball command, or future ceiling. How can that be?
For starters, a couple of Hughes’ early injuries were freak situations. The pulled hammy in ’07 came in the game in which Hughes was throwing a no-hitter through 6+ against the Rangers, just a case of bad luck. And there was no indication that anything was wrong with Hughes before he suffered the strained oblique/cracked rib in ’08. He had gotten through the last 2 full MiL seasons without issue after herniating a disc in his back in 2004, and then didn’t suffer any injuries in the next 2 years, so it was easy to pass off the hamstring and oblique as blips on the radar.
The timing of Hughes’ injuries has also been a factor in him avoiding the “injury-prone” tag. His original back injury in ’04 happened in September, after the GCL season had ended, and didn’t result in any missed game time. The shoulder problems in 2011 were present all through Spring Training and the early part of the regular season, and were attributed to poor conditioning and a tough recovery from the previous season’s high workload. Now that I think about it, I don’t even really remember Hughes’ shoulder ever being referred to as “injured” that year. When he came back, Hughes missed a few days with back soreness at the end of the season, and then suffered another back strain that caused him to leave his playoff start early last year, again with no missed game time.
The latest disc issue in Hughes’ back also happened early in ST, in enough time for Hughes to recover and be able to start the regular season on schedule. Early reports after the diagnosis have him recovering well and feeling better, but with a history of back problems and a longer than you’d like to see injury ledger, should this latest injury be of more concern?
Hughes is still young, which could be another reason he hasn’t been saddled with the label, but he’s got a lot of physical mileage on his 26-year-old body. He’s missed between 1.5 and 2 years’ worth of games due to injury since breaking into the Majors, time that could have been very helpful to his development. For better or worse, Hughes has managed to avoid being tagged as an injury-prone player. But if this latest back issue is the start of another problematic season for him health-wise, it might be time to slap the tag on him.
(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)
Michael Pineda came to Yankee camp last year with high expectations. He was a hulking 23-year-old kid coming off an impressive rookie season, the Yankees had just traded their best prospect in years to acquire him, and he represented the first significant move in the Yankees’ efforts to get younger and get below the $189 million payroll threshold. Long story short, those expectations were far from being met after Pineda showed up to camp overweight, struggled with his velocity and command, and eventually missed the whole 2012 season with a labrum tear in his pitching shoulder.
Pineda came to camp this year with no expectations. He started his rehab throwing program in the fall, and the early words coming back from Brian Cashman and the coaching staff focused more on the idea of Pineda not pitching at all in 2013 than on exactly when he would be back. Since arriving in Tampa, however, there’s been a pretty noticeable shift in the Pineda discussion and evaluation, and there seems to be a renewed sense of positivity about the progress he’s making. With not a lot of other positive storylines to latch onto this spring, I’ll raise the question. Is it too early to start getting excited about Pineda’s comeback?
“Excited” might be too strong a word to use when describing Pineda’s progress. He still isn’t anywhere near pitching in a game situation, and is probably still at least a month away from having a radar gun on him. Until those things happen and we see what the results are, excited is a word that should probably stay off the table. But how about “encouraged?” That seems fair given what’s happened in the last few weeks. Here’s what we know about Pineda right now:
- He stuck to his post-surgery rehab and workout schedule and received positive comments on both his work ethic and conditioning.
- Pineda showed up to camp early to continue his rehab at 260 pounds, 20 pounds lighter than what he came into camp at last season.
- He started throwing off a half-mound on 1/29 and quickly made the transition to a full mound on 2/12.
- Pineda’s second full-mound session
onlast Friday drew a positive review from Joe, who praised his arm speed and said he looked “pretty good.”
- He’s scheduled to start facing hitters sometime next month.
“Next month” could mean March 1st or it could mean March 27th when it comes to facing hitters, but the point is that Pineda has moved forward quickly in his rehab since getting back to throwing regularly and that’s a very good sign. Whenever he does start facing batters, I would anticipate the remainder of his Spring Training being spent doing that and then a transition to Extended Spring Training to get some more game situation work in before heading to a MiL rehab assignment sometime in May. June has always been the rough target date for Pineda’s return and that date continues to hold. The encouraging part of that timeline is that the talk from the Yankee brass has shifted from outright pessimism and tempering expectations for the season to what Cash called “cautious optimism” after watching Pineda throw last week.
The projections for Pineda this season have been surprisingly positive. ZiPS projects 120.0 IP over 20 starts with a 4.43/4.29 ERA/FIP slash, while CAIRO has him at 147 IP in 25 starts with a 4.24/3.95 slash. The Yankees would be ecstatic with either of those projected scenarios playing out, but in reality they are both overly optimistic. Once again, though, Pineda and the discussion surrounding him has shifted to a positive, optimistic tone, and that’s a good thing. Way back when his injury was first diagnosed and the surgery was performed, there was talk about this being a career ender for him, and in fairness the history of labrum tears amongst pitchers is a checkered one. But Pineda has put in the time and the work with his rehab to get back to being the best pitcher he can be, and that time and work is being reflected in his early spring camp performances.
Like I said, “excited” might be a stretch right now because he still has a long way to go. But “encouraged” is more than appropriate and a serious improvement from the feelings about Pineda going back a few months. Pineda is still the wild card in the 2013 rotation, and based on his early work in camp, that wild card has a better chance of returning some dividends this year.
One of the biggest surprises in the 2012 season was David Phelps. In 57.1 innings started and 42.1 innings of relief, the right-hander pitched to a 3.34 ERA with a 23.2 K% and 9.2 BB%. Phelps fared better in relief appearances, where he held batters to a .209/.281/.359 slash and a 2.76 ERA. As successful as he was in relief, he still pitched to a 3.77 ERA in games started, and he might earn the chance to start in 2013.
Throughout the minor leagues, Phelps showed off his command and the ability to pitch to contact, but what changed in 2012 was his strikeout rates. His 23.2 K% in 2012 was his highest seasonal total while playing professionally. When entering the 2012 season, most of the scouting reports said that none of Phelp’s strike out pitches stood out, but the results from his 99.2 major league innings speak differently.
His curveball was responsible for a whiff rate over 16%, while the MLB average whiff rate on curveballs is slightly under 12%. The rest of his out pitches were useful in different situation, as the slider/cutter maintained about a 13% whiff rate against right handed pitchers, and the changeup was responsible for a 7% whiff rate against lefties and drew a 55% groundball rate.
In 2012, David Phelps’ pitches outperformed the expectations. Whatever changes he made at the beginning of season added movement, and believe it or not, it would be a difficult task to find an unsuccessful pitcher with the amount of overall movement on his four-seam and sinker. Though he doesn’t possess the velocity or deadly changuep, both the vertical and horizontal movement on his fastballs mimic that of Justin Verlander. That’s not to draw comparisons between pitchers, but to instead show just how rare Phelps’ four-seam and sinker are.
As we go forward, Phelps will likely continue to be successful with his fastballs, drawing the right combination of groundballs and flyballs. Whether his strikeouts will continue is harder to determine. Because the success of his strike out pitches are limited to batter-handedness, hitters will see less variation, and there’s more of a chance that theyse hitters could catch on to his pitch usage or overall game plan.
Even if Phelps continues the type of strikeout success he had in 2012, the biggest warning sign of regression come from his FIP. His 3.34 ERA was only that low because of an extremely high 82.5% left on base rate. His 4.32 FIP is nearly 1 whole run higher than his ERA, and this is a better predictor of Phelp’s future than his small 99.2 inning sample size.
He is still 26 years old, and with the type of improvement he showed in 2012, there’s now hope for him to become a mid-rotation starter. If he gets the chance to be the 5th starter in 2013, he’s probably looking at a performance closer to his 2012 FIP. Although it’s regression, Phelps still has upside.
Insert sweeping statement about the analytics “movement” in baseball here. Similar ones have been made countless times and from countless angles. Some talk about the progress the movement has made with regards to its acceptance by the mainstream baseball community. Others say almost the exact opposite. That seeming dissonance is a near perfect metaphor for a smaller discussion in the same vein. When we discuss WAR, we’re still talking past each other.
Over the past few days, we’ve gotten a few solid articles about the much-maligned and much praised statistic. Sam Miller at ESPN penned this in defense of WAR and Michael Hurley of CBS Boston turned in this piece as a response to Miller’s. Overall, I don’t have many problems with either piece. I think each one is more or less on point: WAR is simultaneously over-bashed and over-hyped, but each article has one thing I take issue with.
Starting with Miller’s piece, I will say it was long and fairly comprehensive. However, the thing I noticed most was something that was missing. In his musings on WAR, Miller failed to mention anything about the dubiousness of any and all defensive stats that go in to the calculations of WAR. As for Hurley’s piece, most of it was okay, but the part at the end regarding RBI rubbed me the wrong way. No one says that driving in runs in meaningless. It’s a misrepresentation of the argument; the rest of Hurley’s piece is pretty well worded, so I’ll chalk it up to a slip up in phrasing.
Briefly, this presents a problem. One side is mischaracterizing the opposition’s argument and the other has a hard time admitting its own flaws. I’ve shied away from using WAR over the last year or so, but it still has its merits, as do traditional stats. It seems like we’re getting close to having a legitimate conversation about these things, but both sides need to make ‘concessions.’ Those on the traditional side need to realize that those who espouse advanced stats aren’t trying to turn the game into a spreadsheet based computer simulation meant to rob joy and emotion from the game. If anything, I’ve become more passionate a fan because of my exposure to advanced stats. And on the other side, those who embrace advanced analytics need to admit that MAYBE their methodologies aren’t perfect and that decimal point differences in WAR aren’t all that significant. Until we do those things, we’ll just be talking past each other and talking in circles ’til we’re blue in the face.
After a year of planning a team around a $189 million budget, after thousands of blog posts, millions of water cooler chats, billions of comments about how to spend and who to trade, and one unhappy general manager, Steinbrenner might have a change of heart. But before you get too excited, I’ll warn you that this comes from Wallace Matthews.
Despite his reputation for wild speculation, I have to agree with some of Matthews’ conclusions. In the last few months, Yankee fans have grown uneasy with the increasing age of the team, as well as the organization’s reluctance to spend on free agents. The team’s last big signing was Rafael Soriano, and before that you have to look back to 2009. After watching Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Soriano walk without the team bringing in reasonable replacements, Yankee fans have grown uneasy. Hal Steinbrenner was taken aback by their disappointment.
“I’m surprised to hear that there’s anger, if you see what we’ve done this offseason. …We’ve signed three or four of the top free agents that were on the market, because we’re going to continue to field a championship caliber team.”
After this, Steinbrenner came out of hiding, and insisted numerous times that the budget was a goal, but not necessarily a mandate if they couldn’t field a “championship caliber” team. As soon as the budget was suddenly no certainty, Robinson Cano‘s looming free agency grew in media coverage. The fact that the Yankee might not be able to afford Cano next season was just another opportunity to call the new Yankee ownership cheap.
“This is the first time since George died that it appears a Steinbrenner is actually running the Yankees.”
Matthews believes that Hal Steinbrenner, distressed by fans calling him cheap, has decided to pull the plug on the budget. Considering all the comments Steinbrenner made in January about the budget being just a guideline, and his recent eagerness to talk to the media (I’ve probably read about 3 to 4 articles a day on Steinbrenner over the last week) tells me that he’s trying to save face. It seems that he’s exclusively negotiating with Scott Boras and Cano at this point, leaving Cashman out of the picture, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he plans to announce this big extension, a new team policy towards keeping players, and a reconsideration of the $189 million plan all in the same breath.
Of course this is all speculation at this point, and Matthews’ anonymous sources are far from reliable, even the quotes don’t tell much of a story. When you layout the offseason though, Cashman’s unhappiness, the Yankees inability to replace key pieces, Steinbrenner talking about the budget as guideline, and his new eagerness to extend Cano and break team policy look sort of fishy.
On the other side of this thought process, the Yankees have a ton to lose if they completely ignore the $189 million budget. If the team manages to fall below this for just 2014, they stand to save nearly $60 million even with the recent revelation that refunds are decreasing. To go back on this plan they’ve been working on for the last year and a half sounds too good to be true from a fan’s perspective, and from a business stand point, may not be worth it.
But if they do so, the way the team is set up right now could mean bright things for the future. The Yankees have a ton of money coming off the books and a farm system that could be ranked very highly by the end of 2013. If the organization is now willing to spend $20 or $30 million more than they were for next season, the team is in fantastic shape.
When Steinbrenner is asked about the budget over the next couple of days, he’ll probably just reiterate that it was always a guideline. I expect to know what the future plan is after a Cano extension is or isn’t finalized.
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