(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)
After what the team called a “scheduling error,” CC Sabathia threw his first bullpen session of the spring on Saturday, really testing out his left elbow for the first time since offseason surgery to remove bone chips. Sabathia said he felt good after the 29-pitch session, which was all fastballs and changeups, and commented on his desire to stay healthy for the full season this year, something that becomes a new goal for all players as they journey into their mid-30s. Joe was also happy with CC’s performance and gave a little bit of insight into what might be a more cautious team approach with CC this season when he announced that CC will be skipped the first time through the spring rotation. This might come as a surprise and cause for concern for some, but if this is handled correctly it could be the perfect way to keep CC fresh.
A while back, when the Yankees first started discussing the idea of limiting CC’s workload in 2013, I wrote a post in support of the idea as long as it was handled properly. My definition of properly for a veteran ace like CC didn’t involve any skipped starts, pitch count limits, or watered-down 4-5-inning outings, just a sense of how hard CC had worked through his first 6-7 innings and a willingness to shut him down after those 7 innings and 100+ pitches in early season starts. There’s no need to overwork a guy early in the season if you don’t have to, and less of a need to do so if your admitted goal is to reduce his workload.
This slowed-down ST pace for CC, even if it is truly to give him more time to get into game shape and give the coaching staff more time to evaluate his recovery from the elbow surgery, could be the perfect lead-in to that reduced workload. CC was already coming into camp a week or two behind the rest of the starting rotation candidates because of the surgery, and the indication of Joe’s comments is that the team is in no hurry to rush his schedule to catch him back up. If CC is not going to pitch in a spring game until March, it’s very likely he won’t be completely stretched out by the time the regular season starts. Late start in spring should translate to a later start in April, especially when it involves a player coming back from injury.
Assuming CC isn’t going to get his usual complement of spring outings and innings in, he likely won’t have the ability to step out there on Opening Day and throw 8+ innings. Maybe it’s only 7, or maybe it’s only 6. It will depend on how much he gets to throw in ST and how much Joe and Larry Rothschild decide they want to rein him in early. The month of April could almost serve as an extended Spring Training for CC, which would help keep his pitch and innings count down early and reduce his overall workload at season’s end. Rather than shut him down late in the year when the games mean more, the Yankees can use next month and the first part of the regular season as a slow ramp up period for CC and hopefully as a result keep him fresher for the big starts at the end of the year. That’s the right way to handle a situation like this, and it appears as though that’s the approach the Yankees are going to take.
CC said he wasn’t a fan of the reduced workload idea when the team first brought it up last November, and if you asked him today he would say the same thing. But being the same guy who said his number one goal this year is to stay healthy and make all his starts, CC probably sees the value in a decelerated ST schedule and a lighter load in the early part of the regular season. One would have to assume the Yankees do as well after what they’ve experienced with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. They’ve already got a lot of money tied up in aging players, and they may tie even more up for a player who will eventually succumb to age in Robinson Cano. CC’s the last link to that core group of big-money guys and it’s critically important for the Yankees to keep him healthy. This reduced ST workload is a great way to ensure he’s completely healthy to start the season and a great start to managing his workload to ensure he stays healthy for the entire season.
It’s been six long and tedious major league seasons where we’ve had our hopes built up and our hearts torn out by Phil Hughes. Be it injuries, role changes, velocity declines, or just typical growing pains, Hughes has always found a way to disappoint. After 9 years with the Yankees’ system, the right-hander is still figuring out how to become a pitcher.There’s a number of reasons to like Hughes’ chances in 2013, and most of them stem from how he finished his 2012 season.
Hughes started 2012 with a much improved changeup. The pitch helped him against left-handed hitters immediately, but he still posted a 7.48 ERA and a .298/.365/.617 slash against hitters in the first five starts of the season. Hughes stopped throwing his cut fastball to right-handers, and saw immediate improvement. Then in June, the pitcher slightly dropped his arm angle, changing his curveball from 12-6 movement to 11-5. It also put more horizontal movement on his four-seam fastball, which was growing far too home run prone. Right-handers were still hitting Hughes hard, and in August, he decided to start throwing a slider to replace the cutter he dropped in May. In the 27 starts after losing the cutter, Hughes pitched to a 3.82 ERA a 5.5 BB% and a 20 K%.
By the end of August, Hughes had already surpassed double the amount of innings he threw in 2011. The increased workload had an obvious effect on his performance, as his velocity declined quickly throughout games. In September, Hughes struggled to maintain both velocity and control, and Girardi only allowed him to surpass a 100 pitch count once. When given extra rest during the playoffs, Hughes looked as good as he did mid-season, pitching 9.2 innings with 2 runs allowed, 7 hits, and 9 strikeouts.
During the middle of the season, when the pitcher still had his consistent velocity and made the majority of his mechanical and repertoire changes, Hughes pitched to a 3.24 ERA through 105.2 innings between mid-May and mid-August.
The concern as we enter 2013 is whether or not he’ll stay healthy. It was only two years ago that Hughes doubled his workload from 2009 to 2010 and suffered in 2011. Now that he’s doubled his innings from 2011 to 2012, the pitcher needs to show that his velocity is unaffected. Just yesterday, Hughes was pulled from practice with upper back stiffness. With his history of injuries, it would be no surprise for him to suffer yet another setback in Spring Training.
If Hughes doesn’t suffer another injury like early 2011, expect for him to improve in 2013. His new four-seam, slider, curveball, changeup repertoire looked stunning at times last season. The pitcher’s high spin rate was the reason he was so successful early in his career, and he still brings that to his new set of pitches. It’s been said nearly every year since 2007, but this time the successful mechanical changes and the new pitches he needs to throw already exist, and that 100+ inning mid-season success looks like a good indication of what he’s capable of. I believe that the 26 year old has finally figured out an effective game plan, and if everything aligns the right way health-wise, I believe that Hughes will see vast improvements in his overall numbers in 2013.
The Yankees seem to be quietly negotiating with Robinson Cano for a long term contract extension. This is a mistake. I’m not against a Cano extension per se, but I am against a Cano extension, which let’s say will cost something like 8 years / $200 million, before the end of the 2013 season.
I don’t doubt that Cano will hit very well this season, be an MVP candidate, and project to be a strong player for at least the medium term. However, the Yankees do not have sufficient information yet to determine whether or not they can afford to sign him to that kind of mega deal. They need two very key sets of information: First, how do Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and Alex Rodriguez play in 2013? And second, how does the Yankee farm system collectively perform?
The former is important because it will reveal a lot about how the Yankees can expect their assets to perform over the next few years. Under the best case scenario, Teixeira returns to 5+ WAR, very-good-for-a-first-baseman form, CC Sabathia is himself, and Alex Rodriguez proves he can be a productive player post surgery. In this case, resigning Cano makes sense. The Yankee roster is in good health, and won’t need many high-priced additions other than Cano in order to compete. And should Cano’s career take a quick turn for the worst, they won’t immediately have four zombie contracts, just one.
But under the worst case scenario? Teixeira continues to slide into mediocrity, Sabathia’s arm continues to show its career workload, and the Yankees fail to get out from under Alex Rodriguez’s contract in the middle of a truly terrible performance. All of the sudden, the Yankees’ $189 million salary cap starts looking more like $100 million, plus three albatross contracts, without a ton of hope on the roster. At that point, the Yankees need to start thinking about a medium-term strategy that looks a lot more like a rebuilding mid-market club than a traditional Yankee offseason. Cano’s contract becomes a deadly risk, where the Yankees are one injury to their star 2nd baseman away from a majority-zombie payroll.
Just as important will be progress on the farm system. If things go well in 2013–meaning Gary Sanchez and two of the outfield crop continue to be great prospects and move up the ranks, Adams and/or Joseph start looking like a Cano backup plan and there is some pitching good news from Hensley, Campos, Ramirez, and Montgomery–the Yankees will have a lot of 2014 options. They can plan a roster with or without Cano based on this extra information. Michael Pineda is also in this category.
Again, I’d argue that good news here makes it easier to sign Cano to a huge contract. If you are more confident that the Yankees can count on the farm for 2-3 lineup spots and a pitcher or two, plus Michael Pineda, they know that they will need fewer dollars allocated to sign mid-level free agents to fill the roster out. They’ll have a fairly robust roster even while concentrating their payroll in fewer and fewer players. If there is more bad news on the farm, you start having to spread the free agent dollars out to more positions, instead of spending it all on Cano.
And let’s be honest: is there any real benefit to locking Cano up early? He is unlikely to give the Yankees much, if any, discount. If anything, Brian Cashman has shown that he tends to get screwed when negotiating against his own stars and no other team. I can’t imagine that even an MVP-caliber repeat of 2012 would change his asking much. The smart decision is to wait and see, and then possibly make an offer to Cano in November, or let him walk.
Brace yourselves, folks. I may say something nice about Eduardo Nunez in this post.
Derek Jeter has a plate and screws in his ankle. Derek Jeter is turning 39 in June. Derek Jeter is a Major League shortstop. The first two things listed do not bode well for the third. Regardless of what you think of Derek Jeter’s defense at the game’s most important position, we can all probably agree that this year will be a trying one for the Captain in the field. Most normal 39 year olds aren’t so hot at short, let alone dudes with a plate and screws in their ankles. We would expect to-be-26 year olds (Eddie and I are birthday twins, sharing June 15, 1987) to be better fielders. However, when that to-be-26 year old is Eduardo Nunez, the certainty isn’t there. Regardless, though, we’re sure to see Nunez at short plenty in 2013.
Joe Girardi has never been shy about resting players and I don’t think he’ll start doing it, even with Derek “I’m fine” Jeter. What helps the situation is that the Yankees’ vs. LHP situation is still a bit fluid. Juan Rivera is probably the early favorite to go into the season as the DH against lefties, so that may limit the time Jeter could get at DH. If they want to, the Yankees could put Rivera in the outfield with either Brett Gardner or Ichirio Suzuki sitting. That would potentially put Jeter at DH and Nunez, uncomfortably, at short.
In limited time–202 PA–Nunez has been effective against lefties. He’s hit .298/.332/.436 against them, good for a .333 wOBA and a 106 wRC+. That makes me a little more comfortable with giving him semi-regular playing time. His fielding is likely to be a disaster. Perhaps just sticking at one position will help him, but I’m not going to hold my breath. He hasn’t been a solid fielder for how long now? I highly doubt he’s going to turn it around all of a sudden. Still, it’s worth noting that the playing time he could potentially have will be rather limited. That, in turn, means limited opportunities to make an error or a slip up in the field. If it saves Derek Jeter for later in the season, I’m more or less in support of Eddie getting a handful of starts at short against lefties while Derek DHs early in the season.
As an aside, I want to nip in the bud any ideas of Eduardo Nunez moving into the outfield. He’s a shaky fielder at a position he’s fielded all his life, but somehow, learning a new position that requires an entirely different skill set at the Major League level will be successful? I’m not buying that at all. Nunez, through no fault of his own, probably doesn’t know how to properly read an outfield fly ball or how to approach a ball on the ground that he needs to throw in to a cutoff man. Hell, the dude has problems setting and fielding a grounder like an infielder. Do we really expect him to charge a ball, get his glove hand/foot in sync, and come up in a crow hop effectively? I’m definitely not buying this. I’m not a big believer in Nunez at all, but that isn’t to say he’s worthless to the team or can’t fit as a useful piece. If he can somehow avoid myriad errors and still hit lefty pitching, he can contribute.
Hiroki Kuroda was an undervalued free agent last year, and when the Yankees picked him up on a one year deal, a lot of us fans realized the type of potential he had. Even with high hopes on Kuroda, understanding how his 3.07 ERA would fare in the AL East and Yankee Stadium was a difficult task. Add his ERA/FIP differential and age into the analysis, and it was hard to analyze how the starter would perform in 2012. The consensus on Kuroda in pinstripes was a decent number two or great number three, but not many expected him to approach CC Sabathia‘s level of production. By October, Kuroda came within .9 wins of the southpaw’s 2012 fWAR, and made 5 more games than the ace.
Despite how well Kuroda pitched in 2011, he should not have pitched as well in 2012. As I mentioned, his ERA/FIP differential was fairly large (3.07 ERA v. 3.78 FIP), Dodger’s Stadium and most of the NL West stadiums were very pitcher friendly, and he was 37 years old. Likewise, his left on base percentage was 80% in 2011, more than 10% higher than his previous three seasons. So how did Kuroda pitch so effectively in 2012?
If you look at the PITCHf/x data, the right-hander had much better movement on his pitches last season. His four-seam fastball had an additional inch of movement horizontally, and two inches of additional rising action. The sinker also had around an inch more vertical movement, with half an inch more movement into right-handed hitters. His slider and splitter showed similar improvements in movement, while velocity remained the same across-the-board. It’s an odd development for a 37 year, but the Yankees did some tinkering with him all season.
In the first month and a half of 2012, Kuroda pitched 48.0 innings with a 4.50 ERA, and hitters were batting .277/.338/.473 off of him. After a start where he gave up 7 runs to the Blue Jays on May 16th, it appears that the Yankees moved his release point slightly closer to the center of the mound, and after that he pitched to a 2.99 ERA in the rest of his 25 starts. In the image below, the release points from the beginning of the season to May 16th is in black, while the release points from May 21st through October remain in color.
There were some clear changes to Kuroda’s pitches that likely helped him have a better season than 2011. Going forward, Kuroda should be a similar pitcher to what he showed with the Yankees last year, but that’s doesn’t necessarily mean a repeat of his previous year. Again in 2012, his ERA/FIP differential was significant, (3.32 ERA v. 3.86 FIP) and his left on base percentage was 5% higher than his career 72.7%. This isn’t to say that Kuroda will necessarily regress from these factors in 2013, but a high FIP and LOB% can essentially be signs of luck.
The other side of regression is age related. Kuroda is 38 years old in 2013, he’s thrown over 600 innings over the last three years, and history hasn’t been kind to aging pitchers with high innings counts. The starter still lives off a hard sinker, and if the velocity begins to regress, or movement starts to slip, things can fall apart quickly.
Overall, his success in 2012 was likely not a fluke, changes made to his approach gave him better movement, but age regression is something that catches up to everyone. At 38 years old, Kuroda has a good chance of maintaining his stuff, but when you add in his LOB% and possible fielding luck, chances are his ERA will come closer to his 2012 3.86 FIP than his 3.32 ERA. Some slight regression is in order for Kuroda in 2013.
Alex Rodriguez‘s latest controversy, if nothing else, has served as a reminder that most mega contracts in baseball are bad ideas. The logical extension of this thought process is to list all the mega contracts the Yankees have, aside from A-Rod’s. Mark Teixeira‘s deal isn’t working out so well. Robinson Cano may never get one. So far CC Sabathia‘s contract, though, has worked out well. Will it last?
The impression is that the two large deals the Yankees most regret are Alex’s (obviously) and Tex’s, to a lesser extent. Sabathia’s massive deal doesn’t get mentioned as often. Part of that is because in four seasons with the Yankees Sabathia has averaged a 1.17 WHIP and a 135 ERA+. Both of those are better than his career averages. A.J. Burnett is gone. Tex has gotten progressively worse over the life of his deal, but CC has been a rock … until 2012.
Last season CC’s production suffered. He saw his innings total drop by nearly forty. He had DL stints. His ERA and FIP both suffered compared to 2011. It would be easy to extrapolate from this performance that Sabathia is starting to get older, and his 2012 may be the new normal. Digging a little deeper, however, that seems less likely that one might think.
The biggest difference between 2011 (possibly CC’s best season) and 2012 was his injury history. Sabathia has been injured almost never in his career. Last year nagging injuries started to pile up. Other than that, 2012 was stronger than most realize. The clearest evidence of that was Sabathia’s 3.20 xFIP, which was the third lowest of his career. Moving beyond that, in 2012 he struck out more batters per nine than any season since 2008 and walked fewer batters per nine than any season since 2007, his Cy Young season. If you were to tack an additional 30 innings onto CC’s total (if you were to remove his injury, essentially) then his 2012 WAR probably jumps up from an already impressive 4.8 to something closer to six, or above. That’s great performance.
There was one other issue in 2012, that harmed CC’s overall numbers. He gave up 0.99 HR per nine innings, up from 0.64 in 2011, mostly because Sabathia struggled with his fastball. That’s certainly a concern, but it is one that a pitcher such as Sabathia can overcome. His slider and changeup were arguably the strongest together that they’ve ever been in his career in terms of runs above average in 2012. Pitchers with that kind of secondary stuff can learn to get batters out, even without a dominant fastball (think Andy Pettitte or Mike Mussina).
Adding it up, it suggests that CC should be solid for at least the next few seasons. Sure, he slowed a bit in 2012, but he was still the 12th best pitcher in the game, according to Fangraphs, in limited service. The real question then becomes whether or not Sabathia’s injury struggles last season were a one-off event, or evidence of a new normal? It is easy to fear the new normal because Sabathia has logged at least 200 innings every season since 2007 and at least 230 innings each year during that stretch except for last year. That’s a lot of mileage. However, it isn’t unprecedented. Baseball Reference says that the four pitchers most similar to CC at his current age, in order, are Dwight Gooden, Dave McNally, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux. The first two pitchers didn’t have much left for their mid-thirties, while the last two were dominant for years to come. I’ll spare everyone the full list, but it reads similar to the top four: there are pitchers who burnt out, but there are also names such as Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer who kept going. Given that CC didn’t start to accumulate extra mileage until after he’d been in the Big Leagues for a while, where as Gooden and McNally had their work front loaded, it may be safer to compare Sabathia to the pitchers with endurance, not the ones that burnt out.
2013 will be an informative season for Sabathia. If he stays healthy, he figures to have another 5.5 or greater win season. Beyond that, if he bounces back in terms of length and gives the Yankees 220 or more innings, it also suggests that he’s going to have some staying power deeper into his mega deal. At the moment the odds of that still look better than 50%.
When Nova returned from a minor league stint in the middle of 2011, he started 11 more games for the Yankees in July, August, and September. Nova may have been the best Yankee starter for the second-half of 2011, as he emerged with a new devastating slider and a 3.18 ERA in 73.2 innings. We expected a lot out of Nova in 2012, and we received some of that, but only in doses. In June and July, Nova pitched 7 games and 47.2 innings with a 1.70 ERA, allowing just 40 hits and earning 42 strikeouts. In the 11 games following that, Nova pitched to a 7.05 ERA, while batters were hitting .309/.372/.539 off of him.
Even at 26 years old, it’s hard to tell what kind of pitcher Nova will become. His slider and curveball were extremely effective pitches, even in 2012. The curveball accounted for a 13% whiff rate and batters only hit 11 line drives off the 741 pitches all season. The slider had a tremendous 23% whiff rate, though batters were able to hit the pitch around. His curveball and slider combination is still something that could make him a top of the rotation pitcher, however he hasn’t shown any overall consistency.While the slider is his strongest strikeout pitch, he does seem reluctant to throw it, and in 2012 he only threw it 13% of the time. His slider is still relatively new, and it’s no surprise that he’s still modest about using it. At times, Nova seemed to lose control of the slider, and according to PITCHf/x, the movement on the pitch can change dramatically. The right-hander is still learning how to and when to throw the breaking ball, but facing major league hitters in Yankee Stadium isn’t the easiest platform.
Outside of his slider and curveball, his four-seam fastball gave him the most trouble last season. Of the 3410 fastballs he threw, hitters only whiffed on them 136 times. In comparison, batters hit 166 line drives off of the pitch, and in total they batted .372 with a .243 ISO. In terms of velocity and movement, the fastball averaged 93.5 mph, and horizontally it moved more than 5 inches into right handed hitters with 7 inches of rising action. Compared to most four-seam’s, the pitch reduced rising action in favor of horizontal action, and the result was nearly double the amount of groundballs compared to flyballs.
But I don’t believe the four-seam fastball is a bad pitch, the trouble is more likely with how he used it. When behind in the count, Nova threw the four-seam fastball more than 75% of the time. In comparison, CC Sabathia only threw his four-seam 41% of the time, and his sinker 13% of the time. Going by month, Nova started to throw fewer and fewer fastballs in these situations as the year continued, especially when his troubles began in July. One has to wonder if part of his troubles were caused by teams catching on to his fastball heavy approach.
In terms of overall statistics, Nova also had a major differential between his ERA and FIP. His 4.60 FIP looks like a more accurate summary of the pitcher’s 2012, rather than his 5.02 ERA. His 3.92 xFIP also indicates how much the high home run rates affected his performance.
By maintaining his walk rate and increasing his strikeout rate to 20.5%, Nova showed that he has the tools to be a strikeout pitcher with command. His problem is his hittablility, and as he learns to better use his slider, and throw it more consistently, it should become a bigger part of his repertoire. Assuming he can get the slider working with his already strong curveball, he can throw fewer fastballs in hitter-friendly counts, and thus give up fewer home runs and extra base hit.
Sabathia’s sliders remains one of the best in the game, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Yankees team them together in workouts. Nova may also find success if he began throwing a two-seam fastball along with his four-seam, like Sabathia did in 2009. By throwing a combination of both fastballs, hitters cannot sit on his four-seam, and the amount of groundballs should increase, thus preventing extra base hits.
Overall, I’d expect Nova’s 2013 ERA to come close to his 2012 FIP. It would be a decent improvement for a fifth starter, but as a 26 year old, he can still improve on his slider and fastball selection. If this happens, the sky is high for the righty, and that’s why the Yankees favor him over David Phelps and Adam Warren.
(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)
Picture this. It’s sometime around the All Star Break, and the Yankees are floundering. Andy is on the DL again; CC has had issues with his surgically-repaired elbow and spent a 15-day stint on the shelf as well; Hirok has regressed after his heavy 2012 workload; Phil and Nova are pitching about the same as they did last season. Jeter’s return from his ankle injury has been tough and he’s still having to take days off to stay healthy enough to play; Youkilis is underperforming and on the DL with Andy; C-Grand is still striking out a lot, Teix continues to decline, and Ichiro is pre-trade Ichiro and not the post-trade version. The team is hovering around 3rd or 4th place in the AL East, 13 games out of the division lead and 10 out of the last Wild Card spot. It’s the worst worst-case scenario imaginable, but one that honestly has a non-zero chance of happening. If that were situation at the ASB, would that be enough to inspire the front office to trade Robbie Cano?
Trading Robinson Cano is something that’s been talked about in some circles around the blogosphere recently, but not nearly as much as the talk about extending or re-signing him after this season. TYA weekend ace Mike Jaggers-Radolf posed the question on Monday, albeit not in the end-of-the-world context that I just laid out, and it is a question that needs to be asked and an option that needs to be considered. There are a lot of things, like the ones mentioned above and in Mike’s post, that could conspire to keep the Yankees out of contention this year, and a payroll ceiling looming for next season that Cano’s new contract could make or break. Trading him at the deadline would be a no-doubt signal that the Yankees were punting on the 2013 season, and also 2014 as well. But if things take a turn for the worst this season, wouldn’t that be the logical decision to make?
As the best player at his position and one of the handful of best players in the game period, Cano would fetch quite a prospect haul in return, even as a rental. His long-term production potential is still a mystery, but he’s still in his prime right now and could bring back a couple of young Major League-ready players, something the Yankees could desperately use, and plenty more. With three 1st-round draft picks already locked up for this year’s draft, a strong lower MiL level core moving up the ladder, and Manny Banuelos coming back in 2014, adding another collection of prospect talent would give the Yankees a strong foundation to build their future core and payroll flexibility to make the $189 mil budget goal less stressful. It would probably mean some hard times for the next few years, but it would be a great opportunity to reload for the next generation after the current Jeter-Teix-A-Rod-centric era.
But who would really be in the market for Cano? The Dodgers are clearly the 1A to the Yankees’ 1 when it comes to biggest free agent contenders, but after all the moves they made last year would they be willing to give up another group of young players to add Cano when they could just keep the players and try to win the bidding for him a few months later? Other big market teams like Bahhston, the Angels, and the Rangers either already have good players at second base or have spent a lot of money on big FAs lately or both. The Phillies have seen first-hand how quickly a second baseman can deteriorate when he gets into his 30s and would probably stay out of the bidding. And any other serious contender who could use an offensive boost would have to think long and hard about giving up the type of prospect package it would take to get Cano just to risk losing him to free agency after the season. Teams that haven’t done that, like the Giants, Braves, and Nationals, are reaping the benefits right now.
The Yankees are fiercely loyal to their homegrown stars. That’s why Derek Jeter is still playing shortstop every day, why Jorge Posada was allowed to stay behind the plate every day long after he had lost his ability to be an effective defensive catcher, and why Phil Hughes might end up getting a big chunk of money to stay in pinstripes even after “failing” to live up to his mid-2000s prospect hype. Cano is the best homegrown player the team has developed since Jeter, and he’s the straw that stirs the Yankee drink. Based on that and past history, he should be a lock to be finishing his career in a Yankee uniform, but the way things have played out have made that much less of a sure thing.
Cash and ownership have already put themselves in a bad spot by not trying to work out an extension earlier and by setting a payroll budget at the same time Cano is primed to headline the upcoming free agent class. If they are serious about continuing to field a championship-caliber team, re-signing Cano should be their top priority next offseason. But the team constructed for this season is already not up to your typical championship-caliber level, and if things go poorly then it really might be time for all parties involved to consider the dreaded “R” word. Rebuilding is not something that’s in the Yankees’ vocabulary, at least it hasn’t been for many years, but if they get to a point where it’s starting to look like a reality, moving Cano would be a great way to start it. The question is, what would it take to make that happen and would the Yankees have the balls to do it?
In a surprising turn of events, the Yankees acquired a major league player on Wednesday. Shawn Kelley was hardly a piece the organization needed, but he’s a luxury that the team found affordable.
In 2012, Kelley produced a 3.25 ERA and a 3.55 FIP in 44.1 innings with the Mariners. The reliever has refined himself as a strikeout/flyball pitcher with his four-seam fastball and slider combination. Despite his success last season, Kelley will most likely be optioned down to Triple-A to start the season, thanks to a loaded major league bullpen. With Mariano Rivera, David Aardsma, and Joba Chamberlain still returning from serious injuries, Kelley becomes a great backup option if the bullpen needs reinforcements in the middle innings.
Comparatively, Kelley’s four-seam fastball is similar to Phil Hughes‘ four-seam. Both pitchers use the fastball nearly half the time, and both pitchers generate an enormous amount of vertical movement. Hughes does a better job of generating spin and rising action, but Kelley is still very successful in using the four-seam as a strikeout pitch. In 2012, he generated a 10.10% whiff rate, which is a tremendous swing and miss rate for a fastball. When batters do hit the pitch, around 45% of the hits are flyballs, 27% are groundballs, and 28% are linedrives. Kelley’s fastball might have good rising action, but it’s a very straight pitch with just around 3 inches of vertical movement in to right handed hitters. He was lucky enough not to surrender a single home run on all those flyballs last season, but that should change once he moves from Safeco Field to Yankee Stadium.
Kelley’s slider comes in around 9 mph less than his four-seam fastball, averaging 84 mph last season. He throws the pitch the other half of the time, and it averages around 3 inches of movement away from right handed hitters, and a vertical movement nearly identical to a no-spin pitch. There’s nothing too special about it, but it’s a solid pitch that when coupled with his four-seam, earned a strong 18.5% whiff rate in 2012. The slider is also much more groundball friendly, and generated close to 40% flyballs and 40% groundballs last season.
Other than the fastball and slider, Kelley also throws a changeup extremely rarely to left handed hitters. There’s isn’t much to say about the pitch, and that’s why he only threw it 14 times in 2012.
Overall, it was a solid move for the Yankees to turn an organizational player (Abraham Almonte) into a possible above average major league reliever. Kelley should already be familiar with David Aardsma, Michael Pineda, and Ichiro Suzuki, as the Yankees continue to stack their team with ex-Mariners. I still have hope they might get one more Mariner before the season opens.
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