There hasn’t been much talk about a Curtis Granderson extension since last year. On Monday, we learned that the center fielder is open to extension talks with the Yankees, saying, “I’d be a fool not to.” But before Granderson had anything to say about playing with the Yankees beyond 2013, it was hard to imagine how the organization could fit another 8 figure annual salary into their planned 2014 budget. As it stands, the team barely has $50 million to spend without Robinson Cano next season, and locking up another player in their 30′s might not be the brightest plan.
The Yankees will be losing a big chunk of their team in the upcoming offseason. Cano, Granderson, Kevin Youkilis, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, and potentially Derek Jeter will all be free agents come November. Offensively, if the team doesn’t re-sign Cano, Granderson, or Youkilis, the Yankees could be down around 90 home runs, and that’s after losing Nick Swisher and Russell Martin‘s 40+ home runs this season.
In a perfect world, the Yankees would be able to trade for a cheap young outfielder like Giancarlo Stanton next season. It would make up for the 40 home runs lost losing Granderson, but the amount of prospects lost could be detrimental to the wholes in the rotation.The only reliable Yankee starting pitcher under control in 2014 is CC Sabathia, and unless you believe in Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Dellin Betances, or Manny Banuelos becoming viable #2/#3 starters, the team will need to also obtain cheap quality pitching.
Depending on the circumstances, extending Granderson might make sense. Considering his eagerness to talk extensions, he may be willing to take a home town discount. You could also make the case that his stock is at a low point right now, and I’ve already pointed out how his offense and defense should improve in 2013. Remember that Granderson is only a year removed from a 7.0 fWAR season, and moving him to left field should help relieve him of his negative defensive value.
At the moment, the cons to extending Granderson are his contact rates and his age. But in 2012, his contact rate and his plate discipline were at career lows, and it’s possible that these are outliers. Even if the strikeout trend continues, strikeouts are not as bad as fans believe they are. Remember that Granderson hit into only 5 double plays last season, which are far more unproductive than whiffs.
On his age, Granderson projects to hold up well. For players like Carl Crawford and Michael Bourn, outfielders that made their money with their legs, big contracts into their 30′s made less sense because speed is one of the first tools to diminish. Unlike most center fielders, Granderson’s power is the basis of his offense, and it’s a much more unlikely tool to regress in his early to mid 30′s.
So if Granderson is willing to take a hometown discount, the Yankees might be smart to buy low and lock him up. As I pointed out above, losing 90 home runs this offseason could be devastating, and the front office will have to find some way to make up for it. Extending Granderson now gives them some certainty about half of those home runs, and gives them an option over extending Cano in a much more competitive market.
When you take into consideration that Cano is only a year younger and stuck at a position that’s historically unkind to a player’s health, Granderson emerges as a corner outfielder with the ability to put up the same amount of value going forward. I would assume that Granderson’s extension costs less than $100 million in total (perhaps 5 years and $18 million?), which could be around $100 million cheaper than what Cano receives. It’s perceived that the second baseman is much more likely to outproduce the outfielder, but when you start looking at cost and history of regression in the middle infield, there is a case to be made that extending Granderson makes more sense.
In my last two pieces talked about building the lineup. To quickly test the potency of these lineups, I ran them through the lineup analysis tool from Baseball Musings. I used the PECOTA and ZiPS projections to get the players’ OBP/SLG. Remember, though, these projected OBP/SLG numbers are NOT split adjusted. Here are the results:
This lineup projects to score 4.874 R/G, which translates to about 790 runs over the course of a 162 game season.
Using PECOTA and Juan Rivera as the, DH, the Yankees project to score 4.840 R/G, about 785 per 162 games.
Using Matt Diaz at DH, we get 4.805 R/G, which is about 779 runs over 162 games.
ZiPS is a little more friendly to the Yankees, projecting 4.974 R/G. That would push the Yankees over the hump to about 806 runs per game.
This gets us 4.887 R/G, about 792 for the season. Again, ZiPS is a little more friendly than PECOTA.
Last but not least, we get 4.831 per game, 783 over the course of the season.
So these projections, which are NOT split adjusted, give us somewhere between 785-805 runs for the Yankees. Those are perfectly reasonable, but they do sell the Yankees short a bit. Both are probably a bit conservative and the fact that they’re not split adjusted affects the output in the analysis tool. Certainly, e can expect certain players (Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeira, Juan Rivera, and Matt Diaz) to hit better against lefties than their overall projections while we can expect others (Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Travis Hafner) to do the same against righties. The Yankee offense has never been flawless, but this season, there do seem to be a few more flaws than there have been in the past. Remember, though, offense has been down in the last few years. Despite the fairly conservative projections, the Yankees have a chance to be a top offensive club, as they always do.
At 38 years old, Derek Jeter led all of baseball with 216 hits, 11 more than the MVP winner Miguel Cabrera. He hit .316/.362/.429 with a 117 wRC+ and 15 home runs. All of this happened after two seasons where his offense could barely pass as average, even for a shortstop. 2012 wasn’t a huge surprise though, since Jeter entered the second half of the 2011 season as a whole new player with a quality swing we hadn’t seen in years, but questions remain whether or not the right hander can maintain this level of offensive production while staring down his 39th birthday in 2013.
In 2012, Jeter’s batted ball rates showed a significant return to his career rates. In 2010 and early 2011, Jeter’s low line drive rates were a clear factor in what we believed was age regression, but for the last year and a half, Jeter’s line drive rates have jumped from mid-teens to the low-20′s. This mark is consistent with his career line drive rate, but a 62.5% groundball rate in 2012 is a 4.5% increase from his average, likely a factor that could continue as he ages. This is a trend that began in 2010 and hasn’t stopped, but fortunately, Jeter has maintained good numbers on these hits. In 2012, he batted .249 on groundballs, which isn’t far off from his career .258 average.
As his groundballs have increased, Jeter will have to maintain decent speed out of the batter’s box to continue to see this sort of batting average. With the ankle injury he suffered in last year’s postseason, as well as his declining range on the field, Jeter’s legs are beginning to show signs of possible age-related health problems. Assuming he can stay on the field, Jeter is going to have to keep his legs in good shape if he wants to beat out the groundballs that he puts into play more than 60% of the time.
But Jeter’s physical fitness has always been exemplary. The fact that he’s remained so productive as an offensive player at the age of 38, despite playing over 2500 major league games at short stop, should show fans how well he has maintained his body. According to FanGraphs, only Luis Aparicio and Omar Vizquel played more career innings at short stop than Jeter, and by the end of 2013, he’ll likely have the most. He’s entered uncharted waters when it comes to his age and use, and age will catch up to him eventually.
Fortunately, outside of his age there aren’t many numbers that indicate decline. In terms of value, fWAR had him at 3.2 wins in 2012, but I believe this number might even increase in 2013. His negative range in 2012 was at such a low extreme for his career that you’d expect him to improve drastically on it. Although it’s unlikely that his range even touches baseball’s average, his -16.4 UZR/150 in 2012 was almost 10 full points below his career -6.5, and much lower compared to his -8.8 in 2011 and -5.4 in 2010. Even with an injury and age regression, Jeter should see his UZR increase substantially, and likewise see his WAR jump. This doesn’t mean that he’ll be more valuable in 2013, as UZR is often flawed within such a low sample size.
Overall, nothing says that Jeter was lucky in 2012, but it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be able to maintain his offense with the mileage on his legs. A lot of his hits are products of groundballs, and if his legs don’t hold up, we’re bound to see major batting average declines. But in the end it’s almost impossible to judge a player that’s already defeated age to this point. Only time will tell when Jeter’s days are numbered, but a betting man would expect regression.
The Yankees have agreed to trade outfield prospect Abraham Almonte to the Mariners for reliever Shawn Kelley. Kelley, a right hander, pitched to a 3.25 ERA and 3.55 FIP in 44.1 IP last season. He is a fastball/slider pitcher that throws low to mid 90′s. His 23.7 K% in 2012 was a career high for the 28 year old. The organization didn’t have much use for Almonte with their minor league depth in the outfield, and this looks like a very good deal for the Yankees.
According to Buster Olney, Kelley does have a minor league option left. With the depth of the current bullpen, chances are that Kelley at least begins the season in Triple-A.
(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)
Since he first broke into the Majors in 2007, there’s always been something that’s held Phil Hughes back from reaching his full potential as a starting pitcher. First it was his health, then the flip-flopping of his role between starter and reliever, then the regression of his offspeed stuff and inability to effectively develop and use a strong second and third pitch, and now in 2012 it was the high number of home runs he allowed. Hughes’ high HR total put a bit of a damper on what could have been his best season to date last year, and became the latest reason to question his potential ceiling as a starter and his future with the organization.
Phil signed a 1-year deal for a pretty good salary recently and will head into this season with a lot to prove and a lot of money to potentially earn. Correcting the HR problems that plagued him in 2012 and finding a way to cut down on the longball will be key for Hughes this year. As a flyball pitcher, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but it could be the determining factor in just how much money Hughes gets after this season and who he gets it from.
Phil gave up 35 HR last season, tied for 2nd most in MLB with the immortal Jason Vargas, and not many of them were gimmes. Coming into 2012 Hughes had given up 53 total HR in his career, so coming closer than anybody would want him to come to doubling his career HR allowed total is obviously a step in the wrong direction. Of Phil’s 35 homers allowed, 22 of them came at home compared to 13 on the road, a sign that pitching in Yankee Stadium isn’t doing him any favors. 24 of the 35 were hit by right-handed batters, something that doesn’t exactly jibe with being a flyball pitcher in YS3, and despite Phil improving his overall performance after a poor start to the season, his 1st half/2nd half homer splits were pretty even at 19 and 16. The only thing that really saved Phil’s numbers from looking even worse was 23 of the 35 being solo shots.
Breaking the 35 homers down by pitch type according to FanGraphs’ PITCHf/x tool, we get a distribution of 24 off the fastball, 5 off the curveball, 3 off the cutter, 2 off the changeup, and 1 off the slider, the pitch that Phil started to work into his repertoire with success late in the season in place of the cutter. Phil’s distribution of his previous 53 homers allowed included 27 off his fastball, 14 off the cutter, 8 off the curve, 1 off a 2-seamer, and 3 off pitches that were uncategorized by FanGraphs. While those 2 breakdowns show that Phil giving up on the cutter in favor of more offspeed stuff was a smart move, they also lend some support to the argument that Phil was too predictable with his pitch sequencing and too reliant on his fastball in 2012. That argument is supported by a 65.6% fastball usage rate in 2012, Phil’s highest since his rookie year.
Another sub-stat of the 35 homers that stood out to me was the high percentage of them that were given up in pitcher’s counts. Phil didn’t get into a lot of 2-0 and 3-0 counts in 2012, but when he did he only gave up 5 total homers. He gave up more than that in 0-2 and 1-2 counts, just as many in 2-2 counts, and an astonishing 16 HR in either 0-0 or 0-1 counts. 0-1 is a great count to have as a pitcher, as you can pretty much throw whatever you want and can attack corners of the strike zone to try to get the batter to extend or the ump to give a generous call. 0-1 is not a count in which a pitcher should be giving up that many gopher balls, and again it speaks to Phil’s over-reliance on the fastball.
According to Texas Leaguers, Phil threw 336 fastballs in 0-1 counts last season, almost 74% of his total pitches thrown in that count. He threw his fastball 68.3% of the time in 0-0 counts, so it certainly appears as though Hughes was too fastball heavy early in the count and hitters started to pick up on it. And when you add in the pitch location plot for 0-1:
… it becomes pretty obvious why Hughes was giving up so many homers. Not only was he throwing a lot of fastballs, he wasn’t throwing very many good ones. The overwhelming majority of the red fastball dots are either way outside the strike zone or in the upper middle part of the strike zone, in areas that allow hitters to extend their arms and make solid contact. 0-1 is not an obvious fastball count by any stretch of the imagination, but Phil made it one too many times and then compounded that by throwing too many hittable fastballs. You can get away with that stuff in Double or Triple-A, but Major League hitters are going to pick up on a trend like that and they’re going to expose it.
Despite all of this, there is reason to be optimistic about Hughes turning things around this season. He was much more effective once he started to incorporate The Slutter into his pitch mix and once he started to use his changeup more. He should be even more comfortable with those pitches this season, and that should result in him going to those pitches more early in counts and mixing up his offerings so batters can’t zero in on his fastball. If Hughes can cut down on his fastball usage in 2013, and not be afraid to throw his offspeed stuff early in the count or when he’s ahead in the count, he can really cut down on his homers and possibly take a step towards being the pitcher we all hoped he’d be.
Mark Teixeira has hardly lived up to the expectations of his contract, and he acknowledged that last week. Almost every year Teixeira tries something new to combat his baseball inefficiencies, but it always ends up back-firing. Whether it’s bunting, going to opposite field, or starting his hitting program earlier, he’s always working on something new in Spring Training. This year, he’s not, and that’s a good thing.
Just last year, Teixeira started taking a new approach at the plate as a left handed hitter. The goal was to go to all fields and avoid the shift that teams put on him, the result was a .228/.283/.386 slash through the first 37 games of the season (172 PA) . After a few games off in late May, Teixeira decided that his new approach wasn’t working, he returnend to his old swing. In the following 86 games, the first baseman went on to hit a much more respectable .261/.353/.516, and that was while playing a portion of the season with calf problems. Although he finished strong, his entire season was haunted by changing up his left handed swing in the first month and a half, and his 2.9 fWAR for 2012 was his lowest since his 2003 rookie season.
Now that Teixeira is given another clean slate, he plans to tackle this Spring Training by just being himself. Since becoming a Yankee, his wRC+ for the first month of the season has been 84 (2012), 155 (2011), 61 (2010), 95 (2009). He doesn’t get off to many hot starts in April, but without a new approach at the plate, Teixeira is much more likely to start the season off with career normal numbers. At 33 years old, that’s exactly what we want at this point.
In terms of batted ball rates, his flyballs drop from 46.8% to 39.5%, and that should and lead to more home runs. His .658 batting average on line drives may also increase to his .723 career average, however the shift on the left side may prevent a major jump in his batting average. His 2012 xBABIP also has him underperforming .052 off his actual .250 BABIP, so it does appear that even when he was swinging right, he found himself in some bad luck.
Even with age regression, Teixeira has a lot to improve on in 2013. He’ll hopefully be able to contribute two and half more months of typical “Teixeira production”, and his overall luck should neutralize. Unfortunately, we’ll probably never see him produce another monster season like 2008, but at least we can expect more power and better contact rates in 2013.
(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)
ESPN NY’s Spring Training countdown series got off to a pretty crummy start, but he’s been a little better lately. Earlier
this Sunday morning, Wally Matthews took a break from handing out fictional punishments on Alex Rodriguez to discuss the 2013 outfield, which is actually a worthwhile topic. The Yankees are looking at a serious offensive downgrade from that group this year, and the ability of Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki to be productive in their ways could be a big determining factor in the level of success this season’s team can have. Wally, to his credit, thinks Ichiro and Gardner can get the job done, and maybe they can. But Wally’s reasoning for why leaves much to be desired.
Matthews gave reasons to be optimistic about the slap-hitting duo, citing their strengths. But in doing so, he made the mistake of looking at Ichiro from a high level, where the overall numbers are still very good. Matthews references Ichiro’s career .365 OBP, a value higher than that of the departed Nick Swisher, and his 38 SB per year career average as reasons for why Ichiro can be productive. Ichiro is 39 years old and has been on the decline for a while. Even with his strong .342 wOBA stretch in pinstripes, Ichiro still finished 2012 with just a .307 OBP and hasn’t had a truly elite OBP season since 2009. It’s also worth mentioning that he hasn’t scored over 90 runs since ’08. The truth still is that Ichiro hasn’t been an elite offensive player for a while now, and has hardly been average the last few seasons. His career numbers can’t be looked at as a basis for expectations.
Gardner’s strengths are also based on his strong on-base and base stealing skills, but as a player still in his prime at age 29 his career numbers can be given more weight. He may not be as good as he was in 2010, but even at a season below that he still had a solid .345 OBP in 2011. Gardner’s age or production trends aren’t the concern with him, but health is. He’s always been the type to get incredibly banged up over the course of a full season, making him a weaker offensive players when the games count most, and he only played in 16 games in 2012. And as better as I feel about Gardner’s possible production ceiling compared to Ichiro’s, Brett doesn’t have a 100-runs scored season under his belt either.
Too many Yankee fans made and continue to make the mistake of reading too much into Ichiro’s strong team debut after last year’s trade, and looking at him that way can create unrealistic expectations. Looking at his career totals instead of his recent history can also create unrealistic expectations, as can ignoring Brett Gardner’s injury history. It was true what Matthews said about Gardner and Ichiro being very good defensively, and there will be value in that. But to expect both of them to provide consistent above-average offense or better because they’re fast is a stretch, and to expect them to make up for the loss of Swish probably is as well.
You’ll remember that last week, I mused about the possible lineup construction for the 2013 squad. Let’s revisit the idea of the lineup one more time, with something else in mind.
If you’ve read this site, then you’re probably familiar with the Replacement Level Yankee Blog and its CAIRO Projections. The last iteration of them came out on January 28th. What’s nice about the CAIRO splits is that they also include platoon breakdowns; each player has his normal projections and his split projections in the form of wOBA vs. LHP and RHP. Let’s take a look at the lineups I presented in my previous post and see what each guy is projected to do. We’ll start against lefties for a bit of a switch. The number next to each player is the projected wOBA:
1. Jeter, SS: .354
2. Youkilis, 3B: .367
3. Teixeira, 1B: .362
4. Cano, 2B: .356
5. Diaz, DH: .321; Rivera, DH: .324
6. Granderson, CF: .305
7. Cervelli, C: .310
8. Ichiro, RF: .323
9. Gardner, LF: .309
The only disappointing things are the relatively low wOBAs for Diaz and Rivera. They’re both in camp to hope to become the team’s Major League lefty mashers, so we’d hope for something a little higher than wOBA’s in the low-to-mid .320′s. Brett Gardner might need a platoon partner in left, but seeing Ichiro projected for a wOBA that “high” is encouraging. CAIRO also seems to predict a platoon partner for Curtis Granderson, though he’s been better against lefties of late (and we know Joe Girardi won’t platoon Granderson…at least not right away). Let’s jump to righties and see what we come up with.
1. Gardner, LF: .332
2. Jeter, SS: .322
3. Teixeira, 1B: .346
4. Cano, 2B: .392
5. Granderson, CF: .361
6. Youkilis, 3B: .341
7. Hafner, DH: .362
8. Cervelli, C: .292
9. Ichiro, RF: .331
This lineup is a bit more well rounded and a bit more solid. There’s just one wOBA under .320 and it belongs–predictably–to Francisco Cervelli. For posterity’s sake, Chris Stewart‘s projected wOBA against RHP is .283 (.303 vs. LHP). My eyes definitely lit up thinking about Cano having a .392 wOBA against righties (for the record, he did .461 against righties).
Remember, projections aren’t predictions, but logical inferences as to what each player can do. If the CAIRO projections I’ve put forward here are indicative of anything, it’s that they might be a bit on the conservative side. However, they show us that the Yankees should still have a pretty solid offense. It may not necessarily be the complete and total package that we’re used to, but it should still pound out some quality runs. How many could it do? We’ll check in on that on Thursday.
At the age of 29, Robinson Cano had the best season of his career. The left handed hitter batted .313/.379/.550 with 33 home runs and the league’s second best defense at second base according to UZR. His 7.9 fWAR was the fourth highest mark in all of baseball for 2012, and he was second to only Mike Trout in the American League.
It’s hard to consider Cano improving or even repeating 2012, simply because of how spectacular he played. When looking at Cano’s batted ball rates, something interesting happened. His line drive rates increased from a career 20.5 to 25.6%, while his flyball rates dropped from 31.2 to 25.8%. When it comes to BABIP, his line drive batting average took a big dip from .698 to .618, while his flyball average rose from .280 to .348. Assuming these types of hits have been split correctly, the underperformance on line drives and overachievement on flyballs neutralized each other. The rest of his batted ball rates and his overall BABIP fall in line with his career numbers, and aside from age regression, it’s hard to see how his 2012 could be a product of good luck.
The problem with 2013 is that age might be a bigger factor to acknowledge than we’re accustomed to. 30 years old is a always a bitter sweet year for baseball players, an age where players are at the end of their peak years and quickly approaching what’s considered old age. Cano will be 30 years old in 2013, and although he looks like he has plenty left to contribute on the field, history tells a different story. Second basemen and other middle infielders are notorious for breaking down at young ages. Even at the height of modern medicine, we still constantly see star middle infielders like Chase Utley breakdown in their early 30′s.
In 2012, the average age of a second baseman was a little younger than 29 years old, the third youngest offensive position behind shortstops and center fielders. Cano is now a year behind the average second baseman’s age, and although limbs and digits won’t start falling, it does mean that fans should prepare for regression in his offense and defense. Most middle infielders and center fielders rely on their speed for much of their value, but Cano is obviously much more talented with his bat. So perhaps his hitting talent will make up for his age, but the decline in foot speed will affect his batting average on ground balls, and his decline in bat speed will eventually hurt his ability to hit line drives and big flyballs.
It’s possible we start seeing this type of offensive decay in 2013, but it’s much more likely that we’ll see his defensive range impaired. Even at the end of the 2012 season, Cano showed signs of range problems after he came up limping with a hip injury in early September. Although I don’t have partial season range numbers, nor would they be big enough to analyze, Cano did look noticeably weaker on defense in September and October.
Cano has rarely been injured his entire career, and he’s only missed 12 games since 2007. Even so, he plays a position that isn’t kind to his body, and history says that he should begin to regress after 29 years old.
With all that negativity out of the way, Cano’s offensive numbers are the real deal, and he isn’t a player that was lucky last season. By the end of 2013, he could still be the best second baseman in baseball, and he might even put up numbers rivaling 2010 or 2011, but fans shouldn’t expect him to repeat 2012.
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