One of the busiest men in the business just got busier

And thankfully, it’s to our collective benefit. For you see, as if routinely spilling thousands of words educating us in on the intricacies of advanced statistics, discovering that Derek Jeter has more power to right than the best player in baseball and the most comprehensive analysis of Phil Hughes’ pitching arsenal I’ve ever seen (not to mention authoring my favorite post of the offseason) wasn’t enough, RAB’s tireless Joe Pawlikowski is now writing for FanGraphs.

Take a moment to not only read his inaugural post, but enjoy the fact that one of the top Yankee analysts in the game has joined the top baseball analysis site on the web. And just in time for Valentine’s Day, to boot!

Discussion: Rivera or Jeter Harder To Replace?

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With the expiration of their contracts looming, a future without Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera is on the minds of many Yankees fans. Today, River Ave Blues asked their Twitterati the following question: which one of the two will be easier to replace once his time as a major leaguer is up? I opined that Jeter will be more difficult to replace, and my reasoning is two-fold.

1) Jeter will leave a bigger hole. Both are of the best at their respective positions, with Rivera undisputably the greatest closer of all-time. However, a transcendent everyday player provides more value than an otherworldly closer, particularly in the regular season. Just to illustrate that point, Jeter has not notched fewer than 3.7 WAR in any season since 2001. Rivera has never had a WAR in excess of 3.2. Of course, the postseason narrows the gap a bit, as Mariano essentially becomes an everyday player during the postseason, thereby maximizing his value. Even so, I believe the edge goes to Jeter.

2) Jeter will be more expensive to replace. Replacing Jeter with someone of equal value would require the acquisition of someone like Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez. Either player would require a huge outlay, both in terms of prospects and total contract value. Meanwhile, closers such as Joakim Soria, Joe Nathan, and Jonathan Papelbon (ugh) are likely to reach free agency, and will require deals of significantly lower total value.

In sum, I believe Jeter will be more difficult to replace. Do you agree? Disagree?

Photo Credit: Reader’s Digest

Visualizing pitcher performance

Earlier this year, Justin Bopp over at Beyond the Box Score showcased a unique illustrative method termed DiamondView (it was Bopp’s creation), in order to evaluate team capabilities with regards to fielding (UZR/150), getting on base (OBP), base-running (EQBRR), and power (ISO). Last time, he provided us with the following review of the American League East using DiamondView (you can read about his methodology here). Now, for our viewing pleasure, he has created individual visuals for pitchers and the results are, once again, a lot of fun to look at.

Bopp’s personalized DiamondView evaluations for pitchers are based on command (i.e., collecting strike outs), control (i.e., preventing walks), durability (i.e., in-game and throughout the season), and batted-ball (i.e., ground ball versus fly ball) statistics. The figures are predicated upon a 0-100 scale, with 100 being the greatest and 0, of course, being the worst. The individual diamond, specific to the featured pitcher, then stretches accordingly within the fixed diamond.

With that said, here is Bopp’s DiamondView illustration for Yankees starter, A.J. Burnett:

Notice that Burnett, in 2009, was a durable pitcher as his diamond stretches towards 89 on the 0-100 scale, meaning that he went deep into games and logged a lot of innings. His strikeouts, as always, were up there at 71, however, his control was well below average at 21. He also generated, roughly, the same amount of ground balls and fly balls.

Now, here is Bopp’s DiamondView of closer, Mariano Rivera, based on his 2009 numbers:

As anticipated, Rivera’s visual is remarkable, as he inches close to 100 in every category outside of durability, which is obviously not his fault, rather, it is the result of his role. Notice how impeccable his control was last season, leading Bopp to quip, “The last time [Rivera] walked somebody was probably some grandma while crossing the street.”

In the end, Bopp’s visuals don’t tell us stuff we don’t already know. I think that much is clear (we know A.J. Burnett can be wild, we know Mariano Rivera is the epitome of control). Nonetheless, DiamondView provides an interesting and simple way to visualize meaningful statistics so as to evaluate pitcher performance. In a world where stats are sometimes shunned for their inaccessibility, the unimposing and straightforward visuals help to lessen that perception.

Wishing Glavine well

1987 21 ATL 2 4 .333 5.54 9 0 0 50.1 34 31 20 78 1.748 9.8 0.9 5.9 3.6 0.61
1988 22 ATL 7 17 .292 4.56 34 1 0 195.1 111 99 84 80 1.352 9.3 0.6 2.9 3.9 1.33
1989 23 ATL 14 8 .636 3.68 29 6 4 186.0 88 76 90 99 1.140 8.3 1.0 1.9 4.4 2.25
1990 24 ATL 10 12 .455 4.28 33 1 0 214.1 111 102 129 94 1.446 9.7 0.8 3.3 5.4 1.65
1991 25 ATL 20 11 .645 2.55 34 9 1 246.2 83 70 192 153 1.095 7.3 0.6 2.5 7.0 2.78
1992 26 ATL 20 8 .714 2.76 33 7 5 225.0 81 69 129 133 1.187 7.9 0.2 2.8 5.2 1.84
1993 27 ATL 22 6 .786 3.20 36 4 2 239.1 91 85 120 127 1.362 8.9 0.6 3.4 4.5 1.33
1994 28 ATL 13 9 .591 3.97 25 2 0 165.1 76 73 140 106 1.470 9.4 0.5 3.8 7.6 2.00
1995 29 ATL 16 7 .696 3.08 29 3 1 198.2 76 68 127 139 1.248 8.2 0.4 3.0 5.8 1.92
1996 30 ATL 15 10 .600 2.98 36 1 0 235.1 91 78 181 147 1.305 8.5 0.5 3.3 6.9 2.13
1997 31 ATL 14 7 .667 2.96 33 5 2 240.0 86 79 152 141 1.150 7.4 0.8 3.0 5.7 1.92
1998 32 ATL 20 6 .769 2.47 33 4 3 229.1 67 63 157 168 1.203 7.9 0.5 2.9 6.2 2.12
1999 33 ATL 14 11 .560 4.12 35 2 0 234.0 115 107 138 109 1.462 10.0 0.7 3.2 5.3 1.66
2000 34 ATL 21 9 .700 3.40 35 4 2 241.0 101 91 152 135 1.191 8.3 0.9 2.4 5.7 2.34
2001 35 ATL 16 7 .696 3.57 35 1 1 219.1 92 87 116 125 1.413 8.7 1.0 4.0 4.8 1.20
2002 36 ATL 18 11 .621 2.96 36 2 1 224.2 85 74 127 140 1.282 8.4 0.8 3.1 5.1 1.63
2003 37 NYM 9 14 .391 4.52 32 0 0 183.1 94 92 82 93 1.478 10.1 1.0 3.2 4.0 1.24
2004 38 NYM 11 14 .440 3.60 33 1 1 212.1 94 85 109 119 1.290 8.6 0.8 3.0 4.6 1.56
2005 39 NYM 13 13 .500 3.53 33 2 1 211.1 88 83 105 116 1.363 9.7 0.5 2.6 4.5 1.72
2006 40 NYM 15 7 .682 3.82 32 0 0 198.0 94 84 131 114 1.333 9.2 1.0 2.8 6.0 2.11
2007 41 NYM 13 8 .619 4.45 34 1 1 200.1 102 99 89 97 1.413 9.8 1.0 2.9 4.0 1.39
2008 42 ATL 2 4 .333 5.54 13 0 0 63.1 40 39 37 76 1.642 9.5 1.6 5.3 5.3 1.00
22 Seasons 305 203 .600 3.54 682 56 25 4413.1 1900 1734 2607 118 1.314 8.8 0.7 3.1 5.3 1.74
162 Game Avg. 15 10 .600 3.54 34 3 1 220 95 86 130 118 1.314 8.8 0.7 3.1 5.3 1.74
ATL (17 yrs) 244 147 .624 3.41 518 52 22 3408.0 1428 1291 2091 121 1.296 8.6 0.7 3.1 5.5 1.78
NYM (5 yrs) 61 56 .521 3.97 164 4 3 1005.1 472 443 516 107 1.373 9.5 0.9 2.9 4.6 1.60

And if you are a fan of the B-R HOF Monitor, here’s that data on Glavine:
Pitching – 29 (53), Average HOFer ≈ 40
Pitching – 202 (39), Average HOFer ≈ 185
Pitching – 176 (29), Likely HOFer ≈ 100
Pitching – 52 (31), Average HOFer ≈ 50

Preventing Dutch Disease

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I’ve touched on this idea nin the past, but I would like to fully form it today.

The pre-lockout New York Rangers and the current New York Knicks have more in common with the 2000s New York Yankees than a home city. All three functioned with a huge payroll relative to their competition. While the Yankees managed to put together winning teams during their time of payroll advantage, the Rangers and Knicks did not, and I’d be willing to say that all three teams were huge disappointments relative to their payroll.

Economists have a term to describe a weird phenomena in developing countries called “Dutch Disease”. Dutch Disease refers to a strange currency phenomena that I don’t really understand, but the jist of it is pretty simple: developing countries rich with natural resources do worse than countries that have fewer natural resources. Its a paradox that many very smart people in developing countries know about, but can’t really do much to stop.

I think that the Knicks, Rangers, and Yankees suffered from Baseball Dutch Disease in a very specific way. They were victims of trying to be normal teams. Normal teams, with normal payrolls, are a part of a rebuilding/contention cycle. They load up for a championship or three, and then spend a few years overcoming the hangover while their team leaves for free agency or gets old. It takes some time for the poor teams to build up the cheap base of players to do it again, but moderate to large payroll teams have the resources to shorten the cycle. No one so far has been immune to it – though I think the Yankees can be (that’s for another post).

All three teams tried to buy their way to contention. This can, and often is, a legitimate way to win games. Big stars are big stars because they help teams win games. However, free agents are generally signed as they exit the prime of their careers to long term contracts. While these teams can afford to load up with high-paid stars, they can’t afford to not play these same stars. That means that Alex Rodriguez is all but guaranteed a spot in the Yankee lineup until his contract is up. So is Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, etc. They will be on the roster through their decline years, and the Yankees will have to play them.

This is where Baseball Dutch Disease comes in. Teams sign a number of players to big, long term contracts. Those players get old, or generally aren’t as good as the team hoped they would be. The team signs or trades for a few more older players to make up the difference. These players get old or don’t play well, but the team is now left with no payroll room. All of the sudden, the Knicks or Rangers or Yankees resemble a zombie team – lots of former stars who are paid a lot of money, but aren’t really good, and can’t do anything to get rid of them. The zombie team plays a lot like a low payroll team: lots of mediocre, not a lot of great.

Those teams with smaller payrolls can have the same problem, because 1 or 2 bad bets set them back until the contract is over. Moderate to large payroll teams, on the other hand, are forced into a balance of big contracts and young players. This means that they will have to rebuild every once in awhile, but they won’t have to wait for a bunch of bad contracts to run out at any given time. This is how the New York Rangers, the second or highest paid team in hockey, didn’t make the playoffs for almost a decade before the NHL’s salary cap. Its a strange paradox.

The Yankees have for the most part been very lucky. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, and others have generally functioned out outlyers: they aged gracefully. Still, their pitching and defense woes in the middle-late part of the decade could have been a lot worse had the team not been populated with unusual Hall of Famers.

Dutch Disease is not inevitable. It is a symptom of a preventable problem: the rebuilding/contention cycle. In order to insure that the Yankees don’t end up burdened with Dutch Disease, and I think Brian Cashman is thinking this way, they need to stop thinking in terms of “loading up for this year”, which is what the 2000s teams did. This may create a World Series favorite team for a season or two, but it does it at the expense of long term success.

Young players are key to the equation. The average starter (Closer, top-5 startering pitcher, 9 position players) on the 2010 roster that has at least entered their arbitration years cost the Yankees 15 million dollars – 17.65 if you look at only free agents. Even if you pay everyone else on the roster the minimum, that means that at any given time the Yankees can only have 9 or 10 big contracts on their roster. If any kind of critical mass of these contracts (let’s say 6 or 7) falls in to decline, the team is powerless to go out and get more players, except for promotion from the farm system.

Figure that a team in perpetual contention needs to look a lot like the 2009 Yankees: plus players at every position, stars at a few, and few holes. The 2009 Yankees had, by my count, 16 star-caliber players on their roster when the season began. Some didn’t work out, some did. But had the team replaced a few Robinson Cano’s, Joba Chamberlain’s, Phil Hughes’, David Robertsons, etc with the types of players that they did in the mid-2000s (Miguel Cairo, Buddy Groom, etc) for the same salary, they would probably have not won the World Series.

So there is the solution: young players offset the older ones. Essentially, having a Robinson Cano allows you to have another Mark Teixeira, or two Nick Swishers. That is the value in Jesus Montero – if he becomes a young, cost-controlled star, we can go get another star and have two studs on the roster. If we trade him or he doesn’t work out, we get to have 1 stud and 1 dud.

This is why the team was probably right not to go get Matt Holliday, even though he was signed to a good contract. Holliday would get old right around the time that Sabathia, Teixeira, and Burnett (not to mention Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson) start getting old. He would probably put the Yankees over critical mass. Even if they have the payroll space, this may mean that the Yankees should wait a few years before spending  on another 2-3 players (probably after Jeter/Posada/Mo start to get cheaper).

I hope that made sense. I’ve been snowed in for awhile (1 week now) and I’m starting to go a little crazy.

Projecting the Captain

Coming into 2009, we weren’t quite sure what was going to happen to Derek Jeter’s bat. In 2008, Jeter had a 102 OPS+, which was the first time he was below 110 since 1997. His wOBA was .343, still a good mark, but it was the first time ever in a full season that he had a wOBA under .345. His wRC+, 110, was also a career low, as was his anemic IsoP mark of .107. It looked like age was finally beginning to catch up with Derek. I even wondered if his decline was actually coming. Then, 2009 happened.

In 2009, Jeter put up a line of .334/.406/.465/.871 with a 132 OPS+ (tied for second highest in his career), a .390 wOBA, and a 142 wRC+. It was truly a bounce back year for Derek, and I was glad my doubts in him were unfounded. Perhaps I should’ve known better in 2008. Perhaps I should’ve known that Jeter wouldn’t put up a year as “bad” as 2008. So, should we expect a repeat of 2009? Let’s look into Derek’s projections and see.

Derek Jeter

My average line for Jeter winds up at .310/.382/.434/.816. All of those numbers are numbers that represent “downgrades” from what Jeter did in 2009. I use the term downgrade lightly because those numbers, especially out of a shortstop, would be very welcome. The biggest drop here comes in power, which should be expected. Jeter’s career IsoP is a respectable .142. However, his highest IsoP in the last four years is .141; his projected IsoP is .124. Expecting Derek to put up power higher than what he has in the last two years–.120-.130 IsoP–is unrealistic. However, it appears that his contact skills are still there.

As Moshe posted, it appears that all of Jeter’s power in 2009 was to right field. This is right in line with Jeter’s career numbers, which show a big power disparity in right field’s favor when it comes to DJ. While there’s no way to project this for 2010, I think it’s safe to assume the same trend will show itself in the upcoming season.

Here are Jeter’s HR plots for the available seasons :

2006 shows a pretty evenly spread out distribution of home runs, 2007 is skewed to left field, with 2008 and 2009 giving credence to the more recent trend of Jeter’s right-field-centric power. While there is always a chance for a reversal of this trend and a return to the 2007 “model”, I doubt it will happen. Jeter’s approach at the plate–to let the ball travel far into the zone–and his “inside out” swing lend to more hits and more power to right field.

Frankly, I don’t think any of us care how Derek does it as long as he keeps doing it. We’ve been treated to a great hitting shortstop for the last 15 years and if last year, and these projections, is any indications, we will continue to see it for at least one more year.

PP – Top 20 Yankee Prospects Averaged List

Sean over at Pending Pinstripes did what I was thinking about doing but too lazy to pull the trigger on: he averaged the top-20 prospect lists of every major prospect pundit out there, including my list, and merged it in to one list. Austin Jackson and Arodys Vizcaino were eliminated the the lists were adjusted.

Here is my list, and here is the averaged list, with ratings on a 1-240 scale:

1. Jesus Montero – 240
2. Austin Romine – 216
3. Zach McAllister – 207
4. Manny Banuelos – 205
5. Slade Heathcott – 187
6. JR Murphy – 125
7. Andrew Brackman – 100
8. Mark Melancon- 98
9. Jeremey Bleich- 91
10. Ivan Nova- 78
11. Jairo Heredia-77
12. Kelvin De Leon- 76
13. DJ Mitchell- 72
14. Gary Sanchez- 59
15. Wilkens De La Rosa- 48
16. Corban Joseph- 48
17. David Adams- 35
18. Adam Warren- 30
19. Dellin Betances- 28
20. Jose Ramirez – 22

There is a good deal of variation after the top-5. The biggest disagreement against my own list involve J.R. Murphy (I rated him 13th), D.J. Mitchell (I rated him 21st), and Francisco Cervelli (I rated him 11th, he doesn’t appear on this list at all). Besides that, the lists are in quite a bit of agreement.

I’d like to defend the three variances briefly.

J.R. Murphy – I definitely have loved what I’ve seen since the draft. The seven-figure signing bonus, the brief but strong hitting spree in short-season ball, and all the scouting reports have been really encouraging. However, I think that we may be jumping the gun a bit on our second-round pick. We’re not all that sure what position he may wind up in. A lot of people think he’s more of an outfielder than a catcher. He’s good, but if you asked me if I’d trade Mark Melancon for J.R. Murphy, I’d say “No” and not think twice about it.

D.J. Mitchell – Mitchell legitimately had a really great season. He surprised us all and definitely made himself a legit starting prospect. Still, he had some control problems against left-handed hitters that are troubling if he is to remain a starter, and is already entering his age-23 season. #13 is a bit high, I think.

Francisco Cervelli – Did people forget about him? Cervelli is still rookie-eligible, so he’s still a prospect in my books. He has been consistently underrated by prospect watchers for his whole career, and I’ve caught some heat for rating him in the 10-15 range several times. Cervelli is a legit defensive star with more stick than Jose Molina. That’s got a lot of value, and he’s about to bring it to the majors. Good for him.

While the Yankee bloggers on this list saved him, Zach McAllister has been chronically underrated by MLB-wide lists. I think that he’d going to show a lot of people what he can do in 2010, and be an important part of the Yankees depth chart. If he does work out, he’ll also be a big victory for the Yankee pitching development staff, who completely rebuilt his pitching style from the ground up.

Different players, different outcomes

Former Yankees Chien-Ming Wang and Johnny Damon have been making contract news lately, but in different directions. Damon is still unemployed, and while it’s rumored that the Braves have sent him an offer and that he’s been coveting the Tigers, it is also said that he continues to hold out for a two-year deal that may never come. Wang, on the other hand, may have a team shortly, probably landing with the Nationals, but also perhaps the Dodgers. The details of Wang’s pending deal are not being discussed (as far as I’m aware) but I’ll go out on a limb and project that it will be for one year, and not a lot of money.

It’s amusing to see that Wang, not Damon, is close to having a new home. At season’s end, the day after the World Series, any Yankee fan would have predicted the opposite. Damon had completed a 126 OPS+ season (his best ever) and broke out of a slump in the ALDS to become a major contributor in the World Series. Wang, on the other hand … well he was just awful. He started the season posting numbers so bad they belonged in a comic book (I was at that 22-4 game! Editor’s note: Me too.) before going back on the DL. Just when he was regaining his form, he hurt his shoulder, an injury that scares many teams away from young pitchers.

Wang can be an amazing pitcher when he’s healthy, which is probably a large part of why he is attracting interest. Teams can always use another pitcher (except the Yankees, who have like nine possible starters), so Wang is a logical gamble. If he regains even some of his 2008 and earlier form then any team that signs Wang wins big.

The way these two players have comported themselves are also factors in the way their offseasons are playing out. Johnny Damon was supposed to remain in pinstripes. The team wanted him. He wanted them. But greed is not good, no matter what Michael Douglas says. Fans may instinctively blame Damon’s agent, Dracula … sorry, Scott Boras, but Johnny’s a big boy. It’s his responsibility to know when his agent understands what’s best for him, or not. Damon wanted another dumptruck full of money. His ego and greed are the reason he’s still unsigned. Damon is too good of a player to remain out of baseball in 2010, but Yankee fans everywhere are curious to see what deal the outfielder eventually signs.

Wang, on the other hand, announced he was just going to go about his business. He didn’t make a fuss when the Yankees parted ways with him. He didn’t rush to try to get another contract. Instead, he said he was going to focus on his rehab, and wait and see. As a result, teams seem to be coming to him. Wanting to play professional baseball, and not greed, appears to motivate him. I’ll be rooting for him to regain his form in the NL.