What happened to Joba Chamberlain, starting pitcher?

Per Marc Carig on Twitter yesterday, Brian Cashman was once again asked whether Joba Chamberlain would be given another chance to win a spot in the rotation. Cashman’s answer? “It’s [Chamberlain’s starting pitching repertoire] just not the same stuff.”

While Cashman has continued to assert the team’s stance that Joba will not be given the chance to start, it’s hard not to wonder whether the organization reassess the situation if spring training arrives, Andy Pettitte decides to retire, and the Yankees are faced with two glaring rotation holes heading into a season for the first time in a long time.

I fully understand the idea that the organization obviously knows quite a bit more about their own player than the fanbase does, and I know we all watched Joba struggle through his sophomore starting campaign in 2009, but doesn’t it seem incredibly premature to be pulling the plug on the idea of Joba-the-starter, especially in the Yankees’ time of need? Can the organization really have determined that Chamberlain can’t hold up to the rigors of a full season of starting pitching based on a season and a half of evidence?

I guess I’m having trouble reconciling the idea that the Yankees announced they were holding a so-called contest last spring for the fifth rotation spot — despite it later being revealed that they had already anointed Phil Hughes the winner prior to the spring schedule even starting — and that Joba “failing” has subsequently rendered any possibility of him returning to the rotation moot. I don’t understand why Joba — who turned in a solid 2010 peripheral-wise as a reliever though wasn’t entirely trustworthy in various key moments — can’t be given another shot as a starter, especially since he (a) is still young and only going to be entering his age 25 season in 2011; (b) hasn’t exactly reverted to the lockdown 8th-inning reliever proponents of Joba-to-the-pen salivate over; and (c) if the Yankees continue to solely view him as a reliever, why was his inclusion a dealbreaker in the rumored Dan Haren deal back in July?

Many point to the shoulder injury he suffered in Texas in August 2008 as the critical turning point in Joba’s career, and it appears that that event affected Chamberlain’s numbers in pretty much every key category the following season, although nowhere more notably than the missing speed on his fastball.

The chart below details Joba’s starting numbers from 2008 and 2009 (he threw one inning of relief in 2009, and I’m not going to bother throwing that out here). The first row contains his starting numbers in 2008, while the second row of 2008 numbers contains both his starting and relieving numbers, as starting splits for that data aren’t available.

It’s a pretty sad picture when laid out like this. Joba experienced decline from 2008 in nearly every category shown above, except for innings pitched, BABIP (oddly enough), FB%, percentage of curveballs thrown, average curveball velocity and curveball runs above average.

Big picture-wise, the 2.5-mile-per-hour decline in this fastball from 2008 to 2009, along with the accompanying fall from being worth 8.6 runs above average to -20.2 runs above average appears to be what really killed Joba the Starter.

Of course, the vast majority of Major League starting pitchers do not have a fastball that averages 95mph, and a 92.5mph average fastball should still be plenty fast to be able to maintain success as a starter provided it’s complimented with an appropriate off-speed arsenal. Unfortunately Joba’s slider and change-up were also less effective in 2009, leading to the overall stat-line decline.

Via Fangraphs, here are Joba’s plate discipline against percentages from the last three seasons. I’ve included 2010, even though he pitched out of the ‘pen, to provide additional context.

Along with the decrease in velocity, Joba clearly wasn’t spotting his pitches as well in 2009. In 2009, hitters swung at less pitches out of the zone but made more contact with the pitches they did swing at, and overall made contact 80% of the time, compared to 2008’s 73.5%. Joba also started less batters off with a strike, leading to more favorable hitters counts, and saw nearly a 3.5-point drop in swinging strike percentage. Can we also blame the deterioration of control on the infamous shoulder injury?

Additionally, Joe Lefkowitz has exhaustively comprehensive charts of all of Joba’s pitches by season, and if you follow that link you can filter by 2008 and 2009. If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page after performing a search you’ll come across four strike zone boxes (fastball vs. RHB and LHB, and offspeed vs. RHB and LHB) divided into nine quadrants, each color-coded in shades of red (depending on how strong the batter performed) and blue (depending on how strong the pitcher performed).

Joba’s fastball against right-handed batters w
ent from three solid blue quadrants, 4 medium-red quadrants and two solid-red quadrants in 2008 to two light-blue quadrants, one intermediate, two light red and four solid-red quadrants. Basically, Joba went from relative mastery of 7 out of 9 strike zone quadrants against RHB in 2008 to 2 out of 9 in 2009, with the most jarring increase coming up and in against righthanders — Joba went from holding RHBs to a .111 BA on 24 fastballs to that corner to a .455 BA on 37 fastballs to that corner in 2009. Righthanders also hit Joba far better up and away, improving from a .333 BA over 27 fastballs to .636 over 45 fastballs.

Though it’s not shown in the above chart, interestingly, Joba’s fastball numbers against lefthanders actually improved from 2008 to 2009 (5 solid red quadrants to two), as did his offspeed repertoire (six solid red quadrants to four). Does Joba have a reverse platoon split?

In 2008, Joba held lefties to a 2.72 FIP/3.31 xFIP and righties to a 2.59 FIP/3.05 xFIP. However, in 2009 his numbers against lefties ballooned to 5.22 FIP/5.01 xFIP and righties tagged him for a 4.38 FIP/4.06 xFIP. That 4.38 FIP against righties in 2009 would have been the sixth-worst mark by an AL righthanded starting pitcher that season had Joba had enough innings to qualify. The only righthanders who fared worse FIP-wise against same-side batters that season were Edwin Jackson, teammate A.J. Burnett, Scott Baker, Carl Pavano and Jeremy Guthrie.

So in addition to Joba’s decrease in velocity from 2008 to 2009, his control apparently disappeared, and he had far more difficulty retiring righthanded batters than one would expect from a previously dominating righthanded starting pitcher. However, Joba seemed to get his righthanded batter problem under control in relief in 2010, pitching to a 2.90 FIP/3.64 xFIP against righties in 39.2 innings.

Clearly the Yankees saw something in Joba’s velocity and location problems in 2009 that led the team to believe he’d never be able to handle starting duty ever again. Unfortunately I just can’t buy the idea that one year of struggles as a 23-year-old in the Yankee rotation — in the toughest division in baseball — in which he still put up a barely below-average 97 ERA+ means that he’s not cut out to be a starting pitcher. I don’t know if it’s a mental thing — perhaps the Yankees feel his personality is better-suited to higher-energy relief appearances, where he can regularly unload that 95mph fastball that occasionally approaches 100mph — or physical, and that the team is convinced his body simply can’t hold up to the rigors of throwing 180 innings, but either way I’d like to know why.

What changed since Joba was told to show up to camp as a starter last offseason and was treated as a potential rotation candidate? I know he didn’t pitch all that well out of camp last season, but it was spring training. And furthermore, what’s the harm of giving him another shot to see if he can start this spring? No better time to see what the team has on its hands than during games that don’t count. Phil Hughes spent most of 2009 in relief and was able to successfully transition into the rotation in 2010. Why can’t Joba be afforded the same opportunity in 2011?

It’s hard to rectify the idea that a pitcher that has put up the following numbers:

And who came up through the Yankee system as a starting pitcher after wowing the team as a starting pitcher in a college could so easily be discarded into the relief bin. If the other rotation options are Ivan Nova and/or Sergio Mitre, how can the Yankees tell the fanbase with a straight face that Joba won’t even be considered? Brian Cashman is telling me that Nova’s and Mitre’s starting “stuff” is better than Joba’s? Mitre (career 83 ERA+; essentially replacement-level) hasn’t experienced any period of sustained success as a starting pitcher; and while Nova has promise, he hasn’t done anything of significance at the Major League level either. Joba has.

Unless Joba has some sort of permanent physical ailment that literally prevents him from throwing a starters’ workload of innings, one year of somewhat less-than-ideal starting pitching shouldn’t permanently close the book on a starting career many of us dreamed could one day blossom into something very special.

Gap Year?

A commenter on RAB last night brought up an interesting point.

Has anybody yet considered the out-of-this-world possibility that like all other franchises, it’s ok for the Yankees to have a gap year?

In the back of all our minds, I’m sure we’ve considered this. And as soon as we did, we likely got sick, annoyed, frustrated, flabbergasted, whatever. Most of us probably thought “Wasn’t 2008 the bridge year?” Yeah, I guess it was. The Yankees were only an 89 win team that year, and that was a lot considering how many people got hurt and especially considering that the magnificent combination of Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner made a combined 30 starts.

If the Yankees stand pat, as is possible, then the idea of a “bridge year” occurring again is at least a little bit likely. If I had to guess, I’d say the Yankees, as presently constituted, are a 90ish win team. The bullpen is solid and the lineup is–as always–in great shape. However, the starting pitching isn’t in great condition right now and that would ultimately hurt.

As Yankee fans, we’re not used to years like 2008. It’s the only one I’ve really experienced since I was old enough to know what the hell was going on. The Yankees have put themselves in a position so that bridge years are basically non-existent. Obviously, this is a good thing. The goal is to win and the Yankees do that very well and have done so for a long time. We can play the doom and gloom game and say this is going to be a crappy year for the Yankees, but we all know that the Yankees will most likely NOT stand pat and that the starting rotation will probably be tweaked by the time Opening Day rolls around.

Switching gears a bit, let’s focus on ourselves as fans. Literally every team goes through “gap years” and maybe Yankee fans need to start opening up to the idea. There may not be one in 2011 or in the immediate future, but there will be a time when the Yankees are not the class of the league. We always say that the World Series is the ultimate goal and that is healthy. What’s not healthy is for fans to think that the season is a failure if the Yankees don’t win the Fall Classic. That expectation is incredibly unrealistic. While it’s not likely and we shouldn’t be happy if it happens, there is always a chance that the Yankees could have a bad year. If and when that happens, we have to remember the one thing we sometimes forget: it’s baseball; and sometimes in baseball, crazy things happen.

Facepalming a HOF vote

Back to BigRed’s silliness (emphasis mine):

Last year Andre Dawson was the only player voted in by the scribes. Dawson was a fine player but a tad boring. Future induction ceremonies are going to be awkward when nice players are enshrined while folks such as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds perhaps remain on the outside looking in. Is that what fans want? Where is the line as we cherrypick our way through the proven cheaters and guys who merely look suspicious?

Because this is the fifth paragraph in the article, the irony in the bolded sentence isn’t yet fully appreciated.  Suffice it to say, BigRed draws that line in big red ink later on. What bothers me is BigRed’s assertion that because Dawson was a fine ballplayer but didn’t have a sense of panache, he’s somehow less worthy or not exactly celebratory. Oy. More exciting players, like Bonds and Clemens, would therefore be a better fit for the Hall, but they’re part of the “Steroid Boys”.

There’s nothing wildly interesting about the players I’m voting for this year.

So what? Your job is not to determine the most exciting players; only the most worthy. And given your list of electees, your list is awful.  But, we’ll get into that a bit more, too.

I’ve been a Blyleven guy for years (just as I stayed with a deserving Luis Tiant right up until he was tossed from contention after 15 years).

Well, now we’re onto something. He’s got the Blyleven thing right, but now we know that BigRed is hopelessly stubborn and will keep voting for underqualified players, likely because he got to watch them moreso than others. Talk about using memory ahead of facts. [My memory of my junior high school basketball career was that I was very nimble for a taller kid, hustled every time and while a mediocre shooter, I was still capable. Yet, my father came up the video proof and the fact is, I was just another awkward 13 year-old with shorts too short, socks too high, glasses too ugly. Damn facts.]

Back to BigRed:

Morris is a tougher vote. He’s not going to make it. His 3.90 ERA is high. The silly stat shut-ins don’t like him. Morris is more of a “you had to be there’’ candidate. I was at the 1991 World Series when he won Game 7, 1-0, in 10 innings. Curt Schilling fans should promote Morris. It will help the Big Lug when he makes it to the ballot.

Craig at HBT has a bit of a takedown of this paragraph here.  Craig notes that BigRed was actually less antagonistic to bloggers and/or younger writers this year versus last, when he dropped the “stat geeks, those get-a-lifers who are sucking all the joy out of our national pastime” doozy.  Craig rightly notes that the Morris selection is based largely on one game. One game. Yes, it was an epic, but one game does not a HOFer make. And I don’t want to hear the “he pitched to the scoreboard” stuff. Blyleven is a HOFer; Jack Morris, while a great pitcher, is not. Just being the winningest pitcher of an arbitrary decade doesn’t make the case, either. And by foisting Schilling into the conversation, we can see where and why BigRed will be voting for the “Big Lug” when he’s eligible.

Start with McGwire, who hit 583 homers, but never has gotten 25 percent of the vote. Big Mac finally ’fessed up to using performance-enhancers after years of “not talking about the past’’, but it won’t be enough to boost his candidacy. He’s viewed as a one-skill guy who enhanced that skill with banned substances.

This brings us to Palmeiro. He’d be a lock if he hadn’t wagged his finger at Congress, said, “I have never taken steroids,’’ then tested positive. Palmeiro’s never going to recover from that. He gets in only when we finally crack and say, “OK, it was the times we lived in. It was the Steroid Era and everybody was doing it.’’

Ahhh, now we’re getting to the fun stuff. Here we are beginning to see that line that BigRed drew with a big red Sharpie. McGwire and Palmiero either admitted to using or caught having used PEDs.  These admissions push these two players behind the line.  What bothers me here is that BigRed will relent to electing these two only when “we finally crack” and admit it was an era. Yes, it was an era and it was fraught with unseemly things like PEDs, but we have to evaluate whether the players of the era were, in fact, the best during this time. No, not everyone was doing it and there’s no way to know who was and who wasn’t, aside from those who have admitted it or been caught. Innocence is not provable. Neither is guilt, absent of an admission or positive test.

I’m also just saying no to Larry Walker, Kevin Brown, Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, and Edgar Martinez (Career DH Edgar’s got a particularly vocal lobby of folks who’ve never been out of the house).

Ooooh, a doozy. How a professional writer for as many years under his belt could continue to view Larkin as not HOF-worthy is beyond me. Trammell gets thrown to the back because he played in a dynamic era of shortstops who could hit for more power than he did, as he averaged 13 home runs per year with a career high of 28 in 1987. Coincidentally, his “similarity score” pegs him closest to… Barry Larkin.

Larry Walker is an interesting case and I think his playing half his games in the pre-humidor Coors Field has hurt his chances.  He was an excellent defender and averaged 31 home runs a year and posted an excellent slash line of .313 / .400 / .565. I find it intellectually challenging and inconsistent to keep Walker down for the mere reason of his home ballpark. We don’t try to give guys any extra credit for playing in bigger ballparks or adjusting the numbers of the older players who played in ballparks when the fences were routinely deeper than 450 feet. Should we go back and mentally adjust the totals for those who played at, for example, The Polo Grounds? The Polo Grounds’ dimensions:

  • Left Field – 279 ft (85 m)
  • Left-Center – 450 ft (137 m)
  • Center Field – 483 ft (147 m)
  • Right-Center – 449 ft (136 m)
  • Right Field – 258 ft (78 m)

I’m not saying that Walker should be a HOFer, but using his home field as the determining factor is too inconsistent for my liking.

Ahhh, the “Career DH Edgar’s got a particularly vocal lobby of folks who’ve never been out of the house” comment. Feels good to get some hardcore blogger bashing. I started to miss it. Edgar was as fine a hitter as there was, even if I only got to see him sporatically… and my memories of his 1995 post-season series against the Yanks is seared into my mind. I feared Edgar coming to the plate. A seven-time all star in 18 years, Edgar averaged “only” 24 home runs but posted an absurdly strong slash line of .312 / .418 / .515. That said, his DH-only (OK, mostly) situation is sticky. I’m admittedly on the fence about Edgar and if I had a vote, I would probably leave him off, although my mind is wide open to his inclusion.

Finally, what do we do with Jeff Bagwell? He’s a career .297 hitter with 449 homers. He was an MVP. He won a Gold Glove. He had six straight seasons of 30 homers, 100 RBIs, and 100 runs. His career on base percentage is .408. Bagwell never tested positive for anything. But like a lot of players who will follow him to the ballot, he was a guy who made you wonder.

My absolute favorite part of this article is the paragraph above. Here we see Shaughnessy’s big red line. The intellectual leap from “he never tested positive” to “you have to wonder” is one that so many of the writers seem to try to make. And it’s one they can’t make, no matter how hard they try. They might want to believe Bagwell did take steroids. We don’t know and probably will never know. BigRed laid out some of Bagwell’s best stats and they are truly HOF-worthy.  Yet, because BigRed “has to wonder”, Bagwell has to wait. This is a joke.

If you care about “character,’’ snubbing guys who tested positive (Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, and Manny Ramirez) is easy. Bonds and Clemens are under indictment. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg. What happens to Sammy Sosa, Pudge Rodriguez, and other players who made you raise your eyebrows? What do we do with Bagwell, who may just be a victim of cheaters around him? Where is this going?

And we’re at BigRed’s climax, can ya feel it? He’s going to keep out guys he merely thinks might have been taking something until proven innocent. Which, of course, is impossible. He admits that Bagwell “may be a victim” of those guilty, but opts to keep Bagwell out anyway! Does anyone else see this as patently absurd and insulting and ridiculous as I do?

Voting for the Hall of Fame is a great honor. Too bad it’s become almost impossible to stay consistent.

It is indeed a great honor and I’m glad you are sharing your thoughts and rationale, Dan. Yet, you make no effort to even try to stay consistent. Well done.

Phil Hughes' OPS against in each count versus the league average

Arguably the biggest knock against Phil Hughes in 2010 — aside from giving up 8,000 home runs to the Toronto Blue Jays — was Hughes’ difficulty in putting hitters away with two strikes as the season wore on. I thought it might be instructive to look at how Phil fared with regards to OPS-against depending on the count, and compare his numbers against the league average to see where we might be able to expect improvement.

Of course, it’s important to remember that the AL average sample draws from every pitcher in the league, not just starters. If the data were broken out by starters and relievers I imagine the findings would be a bit more favorable to Hughes, given that relievers typically accumulate better stats due to the whole less-batters-faced thing.

Hughes’ OPS-against numbers in the various two-strike counts were slightly better than I’d expected, though his cumulative two-strike OPS-against was .568, compared to a league average of .531. Not great, although not atrocious. By comparison, his rotationmate CC Sabathia‘s two-strike OPS against was .396. Cliff Lee? .407. Jon Lester? .428? As we’ve harped on time and again, clearly Phil has some work to do in this area.

Of course, Phil’s problem wasn’t a lack of strikes — he threw the 12th-most 0-2 strikes in the AL. But too many of those 0-2 strikes were too good, as Hughes’ 34% Foul Ball Percentage led the league by a decent margin (four tied with 31%).

Getting back to the chart, Hughes only bested the league average in OPS-against in four of the 12 listed batting states — First Pitch, 2-0, 3-1 and 2-2. The league outperformed Hughes in 1-0, 3-0 (Hughes’ mark here was infinity — hence the lack of a data point on the bar graph — as all nine batters he faced that got to 3-0 counts eventually ended up walking), 1-1, 2-1, 0-2, 1-2 and Full Counts. They were dead even on 0-1 counts (.799 OPSa).

The largest discrepancy between Hughes and the average AL pitcher was on 1-2 counts, a .603 OPSa against .409, which means the league outperformed Hughes by nearly 200 points of OPS in these instances. This further underscores Hughes’ tendency to live too close to the strike zone with two strikes, and it’s particularly concerning that he got hit this hard compared to the league in the second-best pitchers’ count. The second-biggest discrepancy was on 2-1 counts, with the league registering an OPSa 185 points better than Hughes’ 1.027 mark, which was also his worst number of the 12 batting states by more than 50 points of OPS (the second-worst? 1-1 counts, with a .964 OPSa).

It’s encouraging that Hughes still had a fine season in spite of these two-strike concerns, and if he’s going to continue to improve — and as a 24-year-old there’s still plenty of room for him to get even better — he’ll almost certainly take greater care in not leaving hittable pitches in the zone with two strikes.

Catching up with Matt Sosnick

IIATMS: Nolasco has been in the rumor mill for a while now and has reportedly been attracting a great deal of interest. Now, with his three year deal, he’ll be able to focus on remaining in FLA and less worrying about being traded. Was this deal more about security or more about Nolasco’s desire to remain in Florida, where clearly, there’s a bit of uncertainty about spending?

  • MS: Nolasco’s deal was about both. He is very comfortable in Florida and believes the organization is going in the right direction. He also understands that he was still under team control for two more years, so the deal provides a nice guarantee for a guy who had a bit of a freak injury at the end of the year and understands the value of a guarantee. The security, combined with the comfort and familiarity of south Florida made this deal work.

IIATMS: One of your most exciting players, Kyle Blanks (with me and my boys in the picture to the right), had a very rough 2010 with a slow start followed by Tommy John surgery. With the trade of Adrian Gonzalez to Boston, do you think Blanks will be asked to transition to first base and what are Kyle’s thoughts on this idea?

  • MS: Kyle is willing to do whatever he can to help the Padres compete. Obviously there is a comfort level with him at first base, but he handled himself well in LF and would be fine returning to the outfield. We expect him to develop into one of the game’s elite players.

IIATMS: What’s the latest on Willingham and Sanchez? Can we expect something before the calendar turns?

  • MS: Both players have interest in extensions, but these things take time.

IIATMS: More of a macro question… it has been quite the memorable offseason with Boston’s two huge acquisitions, Phillies’ surprise acquisition of Cliff Lee and the WhiteSox double dip of Dunn and Konerko. Detroit, too, has been aggressive while the Yanks have come up uncharactaristically empty. What takeaways do you have from the 2010 offseason?

  • MS: I think this off-season shows that the game is very healthy from a financial standpoint.

Thanks again to Matt Sosnick for taking the time to chat with us. I remain eternally grateful for Matt’s contributions to this site via interviews with him and his clients. Behind the scenes, he’s been even better, unfailingly responding to requests for memorabilia for charitable fund-raising activities or just general counsel about this great game.

Managing Risk As A GM (The Greinke Situation)

A hot topic amongst Yankees fans over the last few days has been the mental state of Zack Greinke and his ability to handle New York. Many contended that his Social Anxiety Disorder made him a lock to melt down in New York, an assumption that is simply ignorant of the many contours of the human psyche. Having social anxiety disorder does not necessarily mean that you shy away from added attention or that you will have performance anxiety in more stressful situations. Some people who know Greinke, such as Joe Posnanski, thought that Greinke would thrive in a place like New York.

However, the argument at the other extreme, that Greinke’s condition is irrelevant and should not enter the calculus of a team targeting him on the trade market, was equally presumptive and short-sighted. Tim Marchman put it well:

One paradoxical effect of well intentioned efforts to treat mental illness as something that doesn’t deserve any special stigma is that it ends up being treated as something other than an illness. This can make you forget that Zack Greinke does, actually, have a fairly serious chronic illness. I have no idea what you’d analogize it to, exactly—bum elbow? diabetes? alcoholism?—but it’s a real medical issue, teams concerned with it aren’t being insensitive, and it doubtless rightly affects his market value.

Greinke’s SAD should not have been the primary consideration in weighing the pros and cons of any deal, but it certainly should be considered as an added risk factor, much like a history of arm trouble would be taken into account. The GM needs to balance the risk against the possible reward and determine the amount of talent that he is willing to surrender based upon that calculation. Thankfully, the Yankees have a GM who thinks rationally, and this is exactly how the Yankees approached a possible Greinke deal, according to Joel Sherman:

The Yankees were willing to overlook their concerns about Zack Greinke’s ability to handle New York if they could construct a trade they found tolerable for the righty.

But the Yanks ultimately decided Kansas City’s asking price — combined with their fears about Greinke’s makeup — were too much to consummate a deal, The Post has learned.

At the meetings the Yanks learned the full extent of what Kansas City would need to complete a deal. The Royals wanted catcher Jesus Montero, shortstop Eduardo Nunez and either Dellin Betances or Manuel Banuelos. The sides did not get further than that in discussions, but the Royals also said tjeu would need a fourth piece, another pitcher. Kansas City liked the Triple A-level arms such as Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, Adam Warren and David Phelps.

Greinke suffered from social anxiety disorder and depression earlier in his career and it was believed he wanted nothing to do with a big city such as New York. However, the Yanks did believe Greinke badly wanted out of Kansas City and was willing to try to pitch in New York.

The Yankees were prepared to offer Montero for Greinke, which indicates that they did not over-inflate the importance of Greinke’s condition to the point where they were convinced that he could not play in New York. They simply saw it as an added risk, such that as the amount of talent going to KC in the trade grew, the risk began to outstrip the reward and made the trade a poor bet for Cashman. This was not insensitive, nor was it a decision based on rash assumptions about Greinke’s ability to handle New York. It was a rational cost-benefit decision in which valid risks outweighed the possible reward.

Top (or really, bottom) 10 least valuable Yankees of the last 10 seasons

Back in the “Save Phil Hughes” days I once ran a post in which I tried to determine “The crappiest 25-man Yankee roster of all time,” which is always a fun way to kill some time on a slow Hot Stove day. The roster I ended up with — while entertaining — doesn’t appear to be based on anything other than my memory of how bad the respective players were, so I wanted to see statistically who the least valuable Yankees of the last 10 seasons actually were. Thankfully Fangraphs allows us to do so rather easily. There’s no minimum PA needed to rank on this list; I’m simply looking at the players who accumulated the worst fWAR during their Yankee tenure.

And the dishonor goes to:

Tony Womack .261 -2.3
Enrique Wilson .257 -2.1
Bubba Crosby .259 -1.0
Andy Phillips .292 -1.0
Gerald Williams .192 -0.9
Craig Wilson .265 -0.8
Todd Greene .231 -0.8
Matt Lawton .249 -0.7
Wil Nieves .161 -0.7
Alberto Gonzalez .179 -0.7

Heh. Quite the motley crew of castoffs. We all knew Womack was pretty awful, but it’s nice to see statistical evidence that he was probably the worst position-player signing in Brian Cashman’s history.

What would a two-slot spring training rotation battle look like?

If Andy Pettitte does not resign, the Yankees are currently set up to enter spring training with two open rotation spots. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember that ever being the case on the modern Yankees. Even in 2008, when the Yankees attempted to use Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and later Joba Chamberlain all in the rotation, the plan was set from the start. If the Yankees decide to go into spring training with their current roster, it’ll really be a rare sight, and pretty interesting too from an objective standpoint.

Luckily for the Yankees, the team does have a lot of options. An exhaustive list at this point probably includes Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Sergio Mitre, Joba Chamberlain, D.J. Mitchell, Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, and Romulo Sanchez, plus whatever minor league contracts the Yankees bring in to audition.

Right off the bat, I think the Yankees will value some stability by immediately promising one job to Ivan Nova. This would allow him to relax in spring training a little bit and work on his game, instead of having to endure the pressure of a competition. You can pass your own judgment on whether or not pressure is good for a young pitcher – I think the team should press him. Regardless, Ivan Nova is probably the best “ready-now” pitcher on the roster. He’s got two great things going for him – a superb 2.86 ERA in 146 Triple-A innings plus a solid MLB debut with a 4.50 ERA in 42 innings. He’s got the workload and mental icebreaking down. Nova’s problem is that he’s just not all that great of a pitcher. He has the stuff, and should be a MLB starter, but has poor K/BB numbers all around. He’s going to allow a lot of baserunners, which means a lot of runs. Still, he’ll get his outs, and shouldn’t be overexposed in the majors. The Yankees couldn’t really ask for much better right now.

Once we get to the competition, I think that the Yankees will only give a real serious chance at making the rotation to Phelps, Brackman and Mitre, plus Joba if they decide to go that route. They’ll do their due diligence on Sanchez and Mitchell, but neither are particularly promising as starters in the majors. Warren, Betances, and Noesi offer higher-ceiling options than Phelps and Mitre, but all could definitely benefit from some more time. The Yankees do not need their opening day starters to last the whole season, and Noesi in particular could very well be ready by the time its apparent that one of the MLB guys isn’t working out. If spring training is really kind to them and the Yankees are feeling pretty adventurous, maybe they get a shot. Just don’t bet the farm on it.

Phelps should be the favorite of this group. He has the potential to be a lot better than Mitre, but is a little more ready than Brackman. He pitched a robust 158 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, with a strong 3.92 K/BB ratio. He’s got solid enough stuff with a 91-93 mph fastball and a good slider, plus oodles of polish. He’s no ace, but Phelps definitely has the potential to stick in the back of the rotation on a team like the Yankees. You could see him pitching 200 innings with a 4.50 ERA, which we would take I think. Brackman, on the other hand, is the opposite kind of prospect. He had a fairly strong season, but topped out pitching 80 2/3 innings at Double-A. We all know about how good he can be. If he shows up to spring training looking like the good Brackman – in shape and all together mechanically – I think the Yankees will strongly consider him. But that needs to happen first. Sergio Mitre is Sergio Mitre. You know what he brings to the table – not a whole lot, but he’ll go out and pitch every 5th day.

Its important to remember what the Yankees are seeking to replace. Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez combined to pitch 286 innings for the Yankees with a combined ERA of 4.40. That’s what the Yankees should shoot for. Furthermore, the Yankees can count on some kind of mid-season reinforcement coming from Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, Manuel Banuelos, Brackman, etc, plus the trade market. I really don’t think this picture is all that bleak for the Yankees. Yeah, it might be painful to watch some rookies struggle at first, but it was just as painful to watch the Vazquez/Moseley/et al crew try and hold down the bottom part of the rotation this year. Cashman might not be pulling a Bubba Crosby here, folks. The truth is that Phelps and Nova are relatively solid, if unspectacular, major league options, and the rest of the crew represent high-ceiling potential at mid-season (or earlier in Brackman’s case).