At the end of the 2013 season the Yankees will face a dilemma. Should they make a mega contract offer to Robinson Cano or not? On one level, this seems like a no-brainer. Cano is one of the ten best players in baseball since 2009 and the best on the Yankees. He’s starting to show Hall of Fame potential as his career progresses. That’s a player the Yankees keep.
On the other hand, players at Cano’s position don’t age well (Roberto Alomar, who dropped off after his age 33 season is a prime example). The Yankees are trying to cut costs. Cano turns 31 this October. Some team is going to offer him at least $120 million. The Yankees may justifiably decide to let that team pay Cano to decline as he enters his mid thirties.
His ghastly post season aside, Robinson Cano currently projects as the heart of the Yankee lineup, the only superstar hitter in his prime that the team still has. Trading him probably isn’t something Brian Cashman is giving much weight … now. But it is important to remember that the Yankees won’t bring back the same team that had the best record in the American League the past two seasons. Nick Swisher is gone. Rafael Soriano is gone. Alex Rodriguez isn’t coming back anytime soon. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, have inserted themselves into an AL East discussion that already includes high ceiling teams in Tampa Bay and Baltimore. If the Yankees don’t look like contenders come the trade deadline, don’t be surprised if Cano’s name is mentioned. Even as a rental he has the potential to bring back high value while helping the Yankees cut costs.
For my part, I would begin contract discussions with Scott Boras (Cano’s agent) as soon as possible. A deal may not get done but it would give Cashman a sense of the figures Cano has in mind. If the Yankees could convince him to take a three or four year deal, even at an inflated annual salary, then he’s worth keeping. But if Cano is looking at five, six or even seven years he may not be worth the gamble. In that case, the Yankees should weigh trading him. It wouldn’t be a popular move, just maybe the right one.
Only a year ago, Yankee ownership and fans were talking about how the team could extend Curtis Granderson into the budget years of 2014 and beyond. This year, I don’t think I’ve heard a single fan mention the idea of extending him, and most of the talk is about trading him. One season can vastly change the perspective surrounding a player, and even with 43 home runs in 2012, it’s hard to call the outfielder a fan favorite.
In 2011, Granderson finished the season with 41 home runs, 25 stolen bases, and .262/.364/.552 slash line. His 7.0 fWAR was 8th best in baseball, 1.3 wins above Robinson Cano, and his home run total was only 2 behind Jose Bautista for the MLB most. In 2012, he hit those 2 additional home runs, but it took him 195 strike outs to get there, along with 15 less stolen bases, and 10 less walks. Even with the home runs, the left handed hitter hit less overall extra base hits, and Granderson’s ISO fell from .290 to .260. The decrease in power was hardly noticeable in his day-to-day game, and it was no comparison to his OBP falling from .364 to .319. In the matter of a year, his wRC+ fell from 146 to 116 and his fWAR fell from 7.0 to 2.6. But perhaps Granderson’s most troubling feature in 2012 was his fielding, which grew from average to noticeably distressing.
Despite turning 32 years old in 2013, Granderson should see some improvements over 2012. It would appear that the Yankees are leaning towards switching him and Gardner in the field, giving him less area to cover and less negative field value.
When it comes to hitting, Granderson actually improved on his line drive rates last season. From 2011 to 2012, Granderson boosted his LD% from 18.2 to 23.0, while taking away 4% of his flyballs. This improvement went unnoticed because his batting average on ground balls fell from a career .237 average to .164. Assuming his groundballs become hits at career normal rates, Granderson then hits somewhere around .255/.345/.520. That bump in on base percentage is the biggest difference, and in total only about 14 or 15 ground balls that should have gone for hits but didn’t.
When it comes to xBABIP, Granderson appears to have much more than 14 or 15 groundball hits stolen from him. Of all qualifying players with over 300 plate appearances, Granderson ranked 7th amongst players with the largest underperformance between their xBABIP and actual BABIP. His xBABIP has him at .323, while his actual BABIP was .260, a difference of .063 points. Of course xBABIP needs to be understood within a certain context, since many teams play Granderson in a shift that should theoretically lower the amount of ground balls and line drives that go for hits. With that said, Granderson so vastly underperformed his xBABIP that within a large enough sample size, we shouldn’t expect his 2012 numbers to continue.
In 2013, Granderson should see a higher BABIP and better defensive numbers when switched to left field. His strikeout numbers should also regress as his plate discipline outside the zone and his overall contact rates were at an unprecedented low point. Expect Granderson to improve on his defense, contact, and strikeout numbers in 2013, but I don’t believe we’ll see anything close to 2011.
Ever since Alex Rodriguez and many other high-profile baseball players were linked to a clinic in Miami that supposedly distributed performance enhancing drugs, certain sectors of the sports media have once again fallen into P.E.D. mania. This cycle has become all too familiar by now, especially in baseball. Evidence emerges, circumstantial or otherwise, that a famous player is using drugs to enhance his performance, and a combination witch hunt and inflated outrage festival ensues. ESPN writers post articles like this one, and so on.
Normally I ignore the mania, to the best of my ability. These witch hunts distract me from what I actually enjoy: watching and talking about sports. The games will be played regardless of what talking heads on ESPN say about those playing them, and the talking heads are easy to ignore. I turn off the TV. However, Bill Simmons recently published his own opinions on P.E.D.’s just before the Super Bowl, and for the first time I felt a need to highlight something that a member of the sports media had written.
The end of the article caught my attention the most, specifically two paragraphs near the end that open “Really? You’re that fearful of what we’d find in your blood, NBA players?” and “Let’s see what’s in everyone’s body, once and for all.” These sentences take things too far. People’s bodies, even athlete’s bodies, are private. No one has a right to know what’s in another person’s body and anyone has every right to say, “Hey, don’t you think drawing my blood invades my privacy, just a little?”
The desire to have all professional athletes subject themselves to blood testing is understandable. It’s an invasive, highly effective means of detecting drugs. Just because it would be effective, however, doesn’t mean athletes owe anyone a blood sample. Mandating that to satisfy the public and the media removes a right to confidentiality that athletes deserve to be granted until they willingly choose to sacrifice it.
This is not to say that no one should ever be subjected to a blood test in order to play sports, or work anywhere for that matter. It is only to point out that it is over the top to suggest athletes owe anyone a blood sample. Blood samples contain a wealth of information about an individual, most of it not pertaining to illegal drugs. Athletes still have a lot in common with less public and successful individuals. They have a right to keep their blood private.
Many will accurately point out that there are already sporting events that test blood. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with testing blood. Athletes who want to compete in those events will be informed of the blood test. They can then make an informed decision to pursue the competition or not.
What goes too far is demanding that established rules be changed to include blood tests because some of us who don’t play professional sports feel we still don’t have enough information about professional athletes. Blood is very private, and specimen samples from athletes are leaked, often. For that reason it is perfectly understandable, even laudable for player’s unions to try to prevent blood testing. A leaked blood sample could do incredible harm, revealing information about far more than just cheating.
Ultimately, the protesting may prove fruitless. There may come a day when the collective bargaining agreements in all major sports require blood instead of urine tests. That’s fine. Those agreements are contracts negotiated between two informed sides. If the players ultimately decide to provide blood, so be it, that is their prerogative. But it remains their prerogative to maintain or decline. Consenting adults have a right to give up a privacy, but it shouldn’t be taken away so easily.
We’re now in the homestretch and you can count the number of days until the official start of Spring Training on one hand. Hooray! And we’ve reached a pretty special number in Yankee history and it was worn by one of the most talked about baseball players in the history of the game, who unfortunately was taken far too soon.
Today’s subject, Henry Louis Gehrig was a tremendous ballplayer and athlete. His career line was .340/.447/.632/1.080 in 17 seasons – a tremendous career tragically cut short by a terminal illness that stole his life at the age of 37.
While researching for this post – truthfully I wasn’t what I was going to write about – I took a look at his Baseball Reference page. As I was marveling at his individual season numbers, I noticed he finished 5th in MVP voting in 1934. Something didn’t compute because his numbers were so good that year.
So I looked at the voting results and still didn’t understand what I was seeing:
|Voting Results||Batting Stats|
Do you see what I’m talking about? Gehrig was pretty much head and shoulders above the competition, finished behind guys who weren’t nearly as valuable as he was that season and he even finished with the triple crown.
Now, I can kind of understand why he didn’t win the award. The winner, Mickey Cochrane, was on the team that won the AL Pennant but I’m still perplexed about the fifth place finish for Gehrig. That’s a little nutty to me. It seems baseball writers were pulling this sort of nonsense from the get-go.
But don’t feel too badly for Gehrig, he did manage to win two MVP awards. He earned one while he was a member of 1927′s Murderer’s Row team. You know them, they’re the ones every strong lineup is compared to before they even set foot onto the grass to play a game. Gehrig also nabbed the MVP award in 1936 and finished in the top 5 six times in his career.
(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)
“Platoon” is a word that’s slowly worked its way into the collection of words typically associated with the Yankee lineup over the past few seasons, right next to “patience” and “power.” Older veterans on the downside of their careers who are drawn to New York to chase a ring, lack of impact bats coming up from the farm system, and the newly implemented payroll restrictions have all combined to make the Yankee lineup a safe haven for the still productive but no longer well-rounded hitter. This season, the reliance on platoons will play an even bigger role in the everyday lineup as the Yankees have their fair share of guys who only excel against one category of handed pitchers, guys like Ichiro, Hafner, Gardner, and Youkilis. Joe has shown before that he’s not afraid to mix and match and play with the lineup, but how necessary is it for every one of those players to be platooned? Does the Yankee lineup really need to be turned into Version R and Version L? Let’s take a look.
Ichiro Suzuki- LHH
Career vs. LHP- .331/.370/.420, .345 wOBA, 5.4% BB, 8.7% K
2012 vs. LHP- .284/.291/.358, .282 wOBA, 1.3% BB, 6.8% K
2011 vs. LHP- .281/.325/.383, .290 wOBA, 6.3% BB, 9.2% K
2010 vs. LHP- .309/.340/.343, .308 wOBA, 3.7% BB, 9.9% K
Ichiro is a tough case based on his strong career split against left-handed pitching. When you’re as great a hitter as he was, the hand the pitcher’s throwing with probably doesn’t matter, and Ichiro’s career tripleslash and wOBA against southpaws are actually better than against righties. But Ichiro’s heyday is long gone and the last 3 years are proof. His batting average against lefties is perfectly fine, but his lack of on base skills is a huge problem. It would be one thing if Ichiro was hitting for power against lefties, but he’s not. In the last 3 seasons he has just 25 XBH against LHP, just 3 of them HR, so he’s not a run producer. And by not getting on base at a good clip, his speed is significantly lessened as an offensive weapon. Joe can get away with using him against lefties every now and then, but based on his recent production drop off and his age, I would say Ichiro should be platooned almost all the time.
Brett Gardner- LHH
Career vs. LHP- .256/.362/.335, .320 wOBA, 12.7% BB, 17.2% K
2011 vs. LHP- .233/.344/.272, .291 wOBA, 12.9% BB, 12.1% K
2010 vs. LHP- .252/.373/.353, .333 wOBA, 14.6% BB, 19.9% K
Gardner doesn’t have the largest sample size to work from (just 395 career PA vs. LHP), and his 2012 season was basically a wash, but he does offer plus on-base ability because of his strong pitch recognition, count working, and contact skills. Gardner is never going to hit for much power, against righties or lefties, but his career BB rate against southpaws is better than against righties. Even in a SSS, that indicates that he sees the ball pretty well coming out of lefties’ hands and his career .320 wOBA against LHP isn’t that far off from his .328 against right-handers. At the respective stages of their careers, Gardner is faster than Ichiro, which makes him more valuable as a baserunner and outfielder, and gets himself on base at a much better clip against lefties than Ichiro. He can get a day off here and there and Ichiro can play for him, but I think Gardner should be playing every day as long as he’s healthy.
Kevin Youkilis- RHH
Career vs. RHP- .277/.371/.471, .368 wOBA, 10.8% BB, 18.4% K
2012 vs. RHP- .220/.316/.377, .309 wOBA, 8.0% BB, 23.1% K
2011 vs. RHP- .234/.349/.415, .341 wOBA, 12.1% BB, 17.7% K
2010 vs. RHP- .275/.376/.487, .378 wOBA, 12.1% BB, 15.8% K
Like Ichiro, Youkilis is a former elite hitter whose recent production against same-side pitchers doesn’t come close to matching his career numbers. You can pretty much pinpoint 2010, when Youkilis started to get banged up and only played 102 games, as the time when his ability to hit right-handed pitching started to go south. Based on his age and last year’s performance, there’s not much reason to expect a major turnaround from Youkilis this season. But if any team’s style can help resurrect Youkilis’ career, it’s the Yankees, and Kevin Long has already started to tinker with Youkilis’ swing mechanics to speed his bat up. There’s also the issue of the Yankees not having a good lefty infield bat available as a platoon option. Joe needs to monitor Youkilis’ health and give him some days off even while A-Rod is on the shelf early, but Youkilis needs to be in the lineup every day.
Travis Hafner- LHH
Careers vs. LHP- .257/.359/.445, .352 wOBA, 11.3% BB, 22.4% K
2012 vs. LHP**- .197/.306/.443, .324 wOBA, 11.1% BB, 23.6% K
2011 vs. LHP- .233/.259/.379, .279 wOBA, 1.9% BB, 22.2% K
2010 vs. LHP- .273/.342/.364, .319 wOBA, 6.3% BB, 21.6% K
The 2012 asterisk was for another SSS warning, but looking at Pronk’s splits going back the previous 2 years you’ll see that his sample size against lefties was never that big. Hafner’s career numbers against lefties show a guy who could hold his own on the strength of his walks and longball threat, but those days are long gone now that he’s mid-30s and banged up all the time. Hafner’s increasing K rate and wildly inconsistent BB rate over the last 3 seasons tells me he’s a hitter who struggles to get comfortable against LHP and is losing some of his hitting skills. There’s no point in trying to get Hafner more work against southpaws now, as that would only serve to minimize his overall output potential. And production aside, it’s definitely for the best to keep him off the field as much as possible to try to keep him as healthy and available to mash righties as much as possible. Hafner is a no-doubt platoon candidate and should only be used against a LHP if he’s the last available bat in a game and has to pinch hit for somebody who just got hurt.
Would it be nice to have 4 solid hitters on the bench who could sub in for these guys when the pitching matchup called for it? Sure. Is it absolutely necessary? I don’t think so. Gardner does just enough to be valuable offensively against LHP, and Youkilis should at least be given the chance to work out his new mechanics to see if it brings some of his righty-hitting ability back. Ichiro doesn’t bring much to the table, nor does Hafner, but the 2013 Yankee lineup shouldn’t be a complete revolving door of platoon bats.
Yesterday, Felix Hernandez received the biggest guaranteed contract ever given to a pitcher. The Seattle Mariners scraped together $175 million for the right-hander over the next seven years. Although he was already under contract for the next two years for $39.5 million, the Mariners extended him an additional 5 years for $135.5 million. At 27 years old next season, Hernandez is still young, and the Mariners will have him under contract through only his age 33 season.
The Yankees have their own star player who could be looking at a possible extension or re-sign. Robinson Cano will become a free agent this off season, and losing such a highly valuable player in their prime would be a major hit to the team. Depending on how you value defense, Cano was arguably the second best player in the American League last season, and his agent Scott Boras knows this. A gifted second baseman that hits for power and average is a rare commodity, and Boras and Cano will likely look for top dollar if they hit free agency. Teams like the Dodgers and Cardinals could be huge players. To top this off, the Yankees will be searching for a $189 million budget in that same year.
So here’s my question to you, would you give Cano a 7 year $175 million extension? Since Cano already has $15 million under his current 2013 contract, he would technically be receiving $26.7 million a year from 2014-2019, and he’d be playing with the Yankees until his was 36 years old. Outside of the money, Cano would stay with his current team and likely spend his career in pinstripes. The best part of this extension is that Cano wouldn’t have to worry about possible regression in 2013 hurting his free agency in the offseason. The second baseman is coming off arguably his best season, and he’d be signing a contract while his value is likely at it’s height.
For the Yankees, the team would lock up a franchise player, and their best player at that. Assuming Cano repeats his 2012 in 2013, a 7 year extension now would probably take a year or two off the highest bidder in the 2013 offseason. They’d save years and possibly dollars, but at the risk of regression. The Yankees rarely extend players because of their ability to pay top dollar in the free agent market. If a player regresses in a contract year, than they’ve dodged a bullet, but if they don’t, they can always outbid teams. With a budget in their future and plenty of money locked up in other players, the Yankees no longer look like the annual top bidders.
Most important to the Yankees is that extending Cano now would bring his average annual value down to $25 million a year until he’s 36 years old, leaving them with around $25 million of salary to spend next season. Although it’s not cheap, the bidding could easily get much higher next fall, assuming he continues to be the same player. It’s a risk, but this team will needs to take risks if they want to lower their budget and win.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll need to agree on something. It’s not exactly controversial, but asking for agreement on anything baseball related is probably asking a bit too much. This something s the old truism that “a penny saved is a penny earned,” but with a baseball twist: a run prevented is a run scored. Indeed, half of the game is dedicated to preventing runs from crossing the plate. Despite our troubles with accurately quantifying the defensive skill and impact of individual players, we all know that those things are tremendously important on both the individual and team levels.
Run prevention is a task shared by a team’s pitching staff and its defensive player. An imbalance in one of these areas can lead to a lot of runs. But, of course, this is baseball; you can hardly have anything wholly complete or perfect. Having a roster that allows you to excel in just one of those areas can be a defensive blessing. Let’s take a look at the Yankee and see where their run prevention strength lies.
The Yankee outfield has the potential to be one of the best in baseball. Brett Gardner is a brilliant left fielder and Ichiro Suzuki, despite advanced age, is still solid in the other outfield corner. The defensive metrics hate Curtis Granderson, but I think they overstate things just a bit; he’s not a complete lost cause out there. I can’t help but wonder, though, if the team would be better served by swapping Gardner and Granderson. Giving Granderson less ground to over may help to mask his occasional poor reads and could take advantage of Brett Gardner’s great range. With that alignment, the Yankees would be well set in one part of the field. Even without it, two out of three spots isn’t too bad. But can we say that about the infield? Unless we’re being generous, probably not.
Starting with the positives, the right side of the infield is just fine; Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano are among the finest fielders at their positions. The left side of the infield, though, is not nearly as solid. Kevin Youkilis, despite his skill across the diamond, is probably an average third baseman at the absolute best. It’s much more likely that he winds up well below that. Additionally, though he’s not as bad at third as some make him out to be, Alex Rodriguez isn’t going to be mistaken for Adrian Beltre any time soon. For better or worse, Derek Jeter is a reliable fielder. He’ll more than likely convert the balls he gets to into outs. The (well documented and well publicized) problem is that Jeter doesn’t get to as many grounders as we’d like. Catching defense may be an issue, too. Francisco Cervelli‘s throwing arm is errant and he’s nto exactly a brick wall behind the plate. And regardless of his reputation, I wasn’t horribly impressed with Crhis Stewart’s defense, so I’m not entirely optimistic about the Yankee catching situation (is anyone?).
Perhaps that was a lot of word to say something pretty simple: the Yankees probably won’t be great on defense. They won’t be miserable, either, though; hell, Gardner, Tex, and Cano alone can tip that balance. That doesn’t mean, though, that the Yankees are lost from a run prevention standpoint. Luckily–well, purposely–the Yankees have a solid pitching staff. CC Sabathia is CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda is #HIROK. Andy Pettitte is Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes is a fine fourth starter. The fifth starter’s spot may be a question mark, but four out of five ain’t bad, and that’s not even including the bullpen. Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte to an extent, Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Joba Chamberlain all have the ability to ether get strikeouts, induce weak contact, or both. Those things obviously help defenses immensely, especially the former. Given their home park and their general defensive construction, it makes sense for the Yankees to employ high strikeout pitchers. They may not have all the pieces, but who does? The Yankees won’t be the top defensive team in the league, but their pitching should help them complete the run prevention puzzle.
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