Thoughts from the Yankees' first 2011 game action

Sorry, this just looks weird (Photo: AP)

The Yankees kicked their 2011 Grapefruit League schedule off this afternoon against the 2011 World Series Champion (too soon?) Phillies, losing 5-4. Rather than author my regular comprehensive and authoritative game recap, given the whole exhibitioness of it all I wanted to share a few bullet point observations:

Bartolo Colon threw two innings of one-run ball, and looked OK save for a Ben Francisco triple. He started out the game throwing a troubling 89mph fastball, but dialed it all the way up to 94mph in his second inning of work. I still don’t expect much of anything out of Colon, but I’m glad he didn’t get throttled.

Derek Jeter grounded out to shortstop and third base in his two at-bats. I will refrain from comment.

– Michael Kay noted that Mark Teixeira was the only starter to remain in the game for a third at-bat, and postulated that the Yankees might try to get him more work in the spring than usual as a way to try to counter Tex’s notoriously slow April starts. I have no idea if this’ll work, but I have no problem with Tex getting extra reps if it means a non-horrendous April. For what it’s worth, Tex hit an RBI triple in the 5th (and also reached on the first on a HBP), so it looks the experiment is already a rousing success! (/smallsamplesize’d).

Alex Rodriguez awesomely scalded the ball in both of his trips to the plate, just missing a home run to center in the 1st, and ripping a double in the third.

Joba Chamberlain debuted a slight mechanical adjustment — setting his glove closer to his waist than up by his chest right before his delivery — and looked spectacular in his one inning of work. I know it was one inning and only 10 pitches, but he was dialing it up to 94 and looked confident, comfortable and in control. He also spoke with Kim Jones after his outing and acknowledged his penchant for running full counts on batters last season and that his goal for 2011 is to finish guys off once he gets ahead in the count. Sounds like a smart philosophy to me. I can’t wait to watch Joba stymie hitters every five da–oh wait, he’s still in the bullpen. I will once again refrain from comment.

– Both David Phelps and Hector Noesi looked like giants on TV, although apparently they’re each only about 6’3”. Phelps unfortunately didn’t look great, getting hit fairly hard by a couple of scrubby hitters and giving up two runs in his one inning of work. According to our own Sean Potter, “I thought the scouting reports seemed accurate on Phelps — doesn’t have anything that will really baffle hitters so he needs to hit his spots. He left stuff around the plate and got knocked around a bit.” Noesi was better, pitching a 1-2-3 inning in the sixth — although all three of his outs came in the air — and giving up two hits in his second inning of work but still managing to keep the Phils off the board.

– Was hoping to see Jesus Montero today, but Joe Girardi said he’s starting tomorrow. Francisco Cervelli started at catcher, as Russell Martin is still several days away from game action, and somehow drove in the Yankees’ first run with a double.

Jorge Vazquez, who I profiled a month ago, hit a monster go-ahead two-run bomb to center in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Eric Wordekemper was awful in the eighth, loading the bases to hitters that probably won’t even make the Phillies’ 25-man, and then surrendering the lead on a dinky fly to left that Colin Curtis maybe should have caught (although probably not really).

Bud Selig: Lord of the Realm

Baseball has a standard line of credit teams can access to cover short term cash flow issues. But as the article points out, the Mets exhausted the limits of that, and Bud Selig apparently authorized additional funds for them without telling anyone. Does that strike anyone else as really crazy? After we just found out that Selig has basically signed Frank McCourt’s ownership death warrant (rightly, for what that’s worth) we’re also finding out that the commissioner is taking extraordinary steps to preserve his friend’s ownership of one of baseball’s most valuable franchises after they were embroiled in one of the most famous cases of criminal fraud in American history?

I suppose at the end of the day I don’t really care about this. The fortunes and travails of Frank McCourt and Fred Wilpon really aren’t important to me in any meaningful way, except in so much as I watch them as a baseball story and occasionally write about the developments. But really, on a personal level, there’s no real reason for me to care about who owns any team other than the Yankees. But on the other hand, this shows just how much arbitrary and capricious power the commissioner of baseball can exercise from time to time.

Ultimately though, I think the Times probably overestimates the degree to which the other owners will really be outraged by this. For better or worse, in most cases Selig has acted to preserve the interests of incumbent owners, and that obviously endears him to the owners to some degree. The McCourt situation isn’t much more than the exception that proves the rule, as Selig is in many ways protecting the franchise from the desperate gambit of a broke owner. It’s not pretty, but it is what it is, and given how much money has been made by everyone on Selig’s watch, I don’t really expect it to change anytime soon.

For better or worse, in Bud we trust.

Lineups, First Pitch, Baseball!


1. Pete Orr 2B

2. Ross Gload DH

3. Raul Ibanez LF

4. Ryan Howard 1B

5. Ben Francisco CF

6. Domonic Brown RF

7. Jeff Larish 3B

8. Brian Schneider C

9. Wilson Valdez SS

Cole Hamels SP


1. Derek Jeter SS

2. Nick Swisher RF

3. Mark Teixeira 1B

4. Alex Rodriguez 3B

5. Robinson Cano 2B

6. Jorge Posada DH

7. Curtis Granderson CF

8. Francisco Cervelli C

9. Brett Gardner LF

Bartolo Colon SP

Also schedule to pitch; Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, and Eric Wordekemper

Cervelli is getting the start with the regular lineup because Russell Martin‘s knee isn’t 100% yet.

There’s been some speculation that the fact that Colon is getting the start in the opener shows the Yankees have the most faith in him of all of the candidates for the last two rotation spots. For my part, I think that’s probably exactly wrong, and the fact that Freddy Garcia will be the last guy to pitch in the spring rotation is a good sign that the Yankees are pretty sure he’ll be the 4th starter, while Colon and Ivan Nova battle for the 5th spot.

In any event, try not to put too much stock into spring training games. Just sit back and enjoy the baseball!

The scouting scale explained

In light of the recent release of EJ’s excellent Top 30 list (and new grading methods) and Baseball America’s Top 100, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to delve a little deeper into the traditional scouting scale.  Often, when reading a scouting report of a prospect, you’ll see something like “Player X has average speed but a plus arm” or “Player Y is a 60 hitter”, and generally you have an idea of what the scout is trying to convey.  However, the specific meaning of these grades is often lost.  I’d like to address this topic in two parts:  First, I will give a (brief, I promise) explanation of the statistical theory behind the scale, to give a better idea of how it is supposed to work.  And second, I will provide some operational definitions for what objective measurements/statistics the grades are supposed to correspond to, with some examples from current major leaguers and Yankee prospects.

The 20-80 scale is the means by which a scout evaluates the 5 tools (power, speed, hitting, arm, defense) in the case of a position player, or the repertoire of a pitcher.  Each tool or pitch is given a grade ranging from 20 (the lowest) to 80 (the highest), usually in increments of 10 (though occasionally you will see some 5’s).  The scouting scale is theoretically based on the normal distribution (see below, and if basic statistics make your head hurt, feel free to skip the next 3 paragraphs).

What the normal distribution shows is that in a large population, the distribution of a particular variable/characteristic will follow the above pattern (often referred to as the bell curve or Gaussian distribution) with a specific mean and standard deviation.  It is a reflection of the probability of finding a particular value if you picked one subject randomly from the population.  As you can see, the vast majority of the probability is right around 0, which in this case is the mean.  In baseball terms, the mean would be the average ability of a major league player at that particular skill.  The probabilities get significantly smaller as one moves away from the mean, which illustrates the relative rarity of extreme scores.

For a reason unknown to me, on the scouting scale, the mean is a 50 score.  As such, a pitcher with a 50 fastball is said to have an average major league fastball (more on what that actually means later).  Each 10-point increase/decrease in the scouting score corresponds to a change of one standard deviation away from the mean in terms of probability.  So a player with a 60 hit tool would be one standard deviation above the mean, which approximately corresponds to being in the top 15.86% of hitters in the league (and 84.14% are below).  A 60 tool is also the same as a “plus” tool.  As we move up one more standard deviation to a 70 tool, you can see the probability drops dramatically.  A 70 tool is in the top 2.27% of all players, with nearly 98% below.  A 70 tool is also referred to as a “plus-plus” tool.

Moving up one more standard deviation gets to an 80 tool, which has no other name.  With only 0.13% of the distribution at 3 standard deviations or greater, we can see how rare it is to see a true 80 tool in the majors.  The same probabilities apply as you move leftward from the mean.  As you might imagine given the probability, there are only a few true 80 tools in the majors at a given time.  Ryan Howard‘s power, Ichiro’s hit tool, and Aroldis Chapman‘s fastball are among the major league tools that would grade out as an 80, so this grade really represents the truly elite.  For prospects, an example of an 80 tool would (sadly) take us outside of the Yankee system, to something like Bryce Harper’s power or Mike Trout‘s speed.

As to the numerical significance of these grades,  Prospect Watch provides the most complete definition that I have seen.  Speed is defined in 2 ways: in the player’s overall 60-yard dash time, and the player’s speed from the batters’ box to first base.  Fielding is more of a qualitative evaluation, since fielding measurements are at present fairly unreliable.  Arm strength is sometimes measured using a radar gun, but often is more qualitative.  For catchers, however, arm strength is often measured in pop times, which is a measure of how quickly the catcher gets the ball to the base (and also factors in quickness of transfer.  An elite pop time (an 80) is below 1.74 seconds, and a 70 is between 1.75-1.79.

Hitting ability is based on projected future batting average, with a 70 hitter projected as a perennial .300-.329 hitter, and an 80 hitter consistently above .330.  Power hitting is also pretty easy to quantify, as it is based on projected seasonal home run totals.  A player with 60 power is projected for 26-34 homers, 70 corresponds to 35-44, and an 80 corresponds to 45+.  Most pitching tools are qualitative except for a fastball, in which an 80 corresponds to 99+, and a 70 corresponds to 94-98 mph.

One nice feature of the new BA list is that it includes the top tool and grade on that tool for every player on the list.  With 6 Yankee prospects on the list, it is a good opportunity to get an idea of how the scouting community grades these prospects (on their best tool, at least).

Jesus Montero checks in at #3, with his 70 power checking in as his best tool (though I have heard that his hit tool was also a 70 in the prospect handbook).  What these grades signify is that Montero projects to hit consistently over .300 with 35-40 home run power, production that will play at any position.  I’d be interested to see what grade his defense received, but I imagine it wouldn’t be pretty.

Gary Sanchez is somewhat surprisingly the second Yankee on the list at #30, and his 70 power demonstrates the huge offensive potential that this kid has.  I imagine his hit tool is probably not a 70 (at least not yet), but with his better defensive projection (as compared to Montero), it’s easy to see why everyone is so excited about Sanchez, and why he is so highly ranked despite his young age and lack of significant experience.

Manny Banuelos is the 3rd Yankee on the list at #41, and his best tool is his 60 command.  I imagine his fastball and changeup would probably be approaching “plus” territory as well, but this grade is consistent with what has long been Banuelos’ strength: his command and pitchability.  That he can back it up with two potentially plus offerings and a decent curveball is icing on the cake.

Dellin Betances is #43 on the list, with his fastball grading out as a 70.  This confirms what we have been reading about Betances: his big velocity is back, and he is living pretty consistently in the mid-90’s.  If I had to guess, his curve would probably grade out as a 60.  With 2 knockout offerings, only a checkered health history and development of his changeup stand in the way of becoming a frontline starter.

Andrew Brackman also makes the list at #78 with a 70 curveball, while his fastball would likely grade out as a 60.  Like Betances, he has 2 nasty pitches and a developing (but solid) changeup, but command and mechanical consistency are the big concerns.

Last but not least, Austin Romine just makes the list at #98 with a 60 arm.  While his receiving skills still need work, Romine’s arm strength and pop times have always been impressive.  While Romine’s offensive tools probably are in the 50-55 range at this point, that production would be quite acceptable if Romine can continue to develop his defense and become an above-average defender.

Like every other grading tool, the scouting scale certainly has its flaws.  It is often inconsistently applied among observers, and the 5-10 multiple gradation does not give a ton of room for precision.  It also does not include any valuation of the relative importance of the tools, which varies significantly depending on position.  Additionally, there is often the uncertainty of whether the grade is representative of a ceiling, a likely outcome, or some other determination of talent/value.  Despite its flaws, however, its another useful method of analysis to keep in the toolbox, and hopefully after reading this post you will be able to better understand the scouting lingo that gets tossed around.

Trying to Turn Brett Gardner into Another Babe Ruth?

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).

As Moshe Mandel covered in detail yesterday afternoon, Brett Gardner has made improving his bunting skills a priority during spring training. Hopefully, that means more drag bunts for base hits and not maddening sacrifices when the team can ill afford to give away an out. Unfortunately, if history is the judge, it could be more of the latter.

Over the past two seasons, Gardner ranks second on the team in sacrifice bunts, one behind Francisco Cervelli, who should probably bunt more often considering his less than potent bat. Despite being second, however, Gardner’s 11 sacrifice bunts really aren’t all that many. In fact, considering how often Girardi is criticized for employing the sacrifice, the total number for each player is surprising low (especially Derek Jeter’s five). Perception is hard to overcome, but the truth is the Yankees have ranked toward the bottom of the American League when it comes to sacrifices in all three seasons that Girardi has been manager.

Yankees’ Sacrifice Bunt Leaders, 2009-2010

Player SH G PA
Francisco Cervelli 12 135 418
Brett Gardner 11 258 853
Nick Swisher 6 300 1242
Derek Jeter 5 310 1455
Ramiro Pena 5 154 288
Curtis Granderson 4 136 528
Melky Cabrera 4 154 540
A.J. Burnett 2 66 8
Andy Pettitte 2 53 11
Javier Vazquez 2 31 5
Johnny Damon 2 143 626
Jerry Hairston 2 45 93


A look at the Yankees’ all-time leader board for sacrifice hits also reveals some interesting facts. We all expect Phil Rizzuto to rank high on that list (he’s third with 193), but Bob Meusel, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Babe Ruth all in the top-15? So much for Murders’ Row! Incredibly, the 1927 Yankees, which scored 200 more runs than the league average, managed to also sacrifice 204 times. Although that number was in keeping with the norm of the era, it still is pretty amazing to imagine such a potent lineup laying down so many bunts. Just think how many runs that lineup could have scored if not for all those wasted outs!

Yankees’ All-Time Sacrifice Bunt Leader Board

Player SH G PA
Wally Pipp 226 1488 6341
Willie Keeler 211 873 3792
Phil Rizzuto 193 1661 6711
Roger Peckinpaugh 190 1219 5269
Hal Chase 145 1061 4466
Bob Meusel 143 1294 5544
Aaron Ward 128 908 3565
Tony Lazzeri 115 1659 7058
Joe Dugan 107 785 3328
Lou Gehrig 106 2164 9660
Bobby Richardson 98 1412 5783
Gil McDougald 97 1336 5395
Roy Hartzell 95 699 2807
Babe Ruth 94 2084 9198
Frankie Crosetti 90 1683 7273
Herb Pennock 88 346 910
Wid Conroy 81 796 3300
Jimmy Williams 80 940 3934
Derek Jeter 79 2295 10548
Willie Randolph 75 1694 7465


2011 American League Preview: Detroit Tigers

Offseason analysis: The Tigers set the market for what turned to be a crazy market for relievers by giving Benoit a three year deal to leave the Rays, and then pried Martinez out of Boston with a 4 year, $52 million contract. V-Mart should add some pop to the middle of the lineup alongside Cabrera, but Detroit may wind up regretting that deal if he can’t perform adequately behind the plate in a couple of years.

Projected lineup: (2010 wOBA)

Victor Martinez C (.364)

Miguel Cabrera (.429)

Carlos Guillen 2B (.323 in 275 PA’s)

Jhonny Peralta SS (.309)

Brandon Inge 3B (.314)

Ryan Raburn LF (.354)

Austin Jackson CF (.333)

Brennan Boesch RF (.323)

Magglio Ordonez DH (.375 in 365 PA’s)

Projected rotation: (2010 FIP)

Justin Verlander (2.97)

Max Scherzer (3.71)

Rick Porcello (4.31)

Brad Penny (3.40 in 55.2 IP)

Phil Coke (1 game started)

2011 outlook: The Tigers added some back of the bullpen depth and another bat in the middle of the lineup, and depending on how the Miguel Cabrera mess turns out, stand to improve in 2011. They’re pitching is solid enough, and they have the best pitcher in their division in Verlander, as well as perhaps the division’s best overall hitter in Cabrera. If everyone stays healthy and they get a little bit of luck, this team can definitely compete for the division crown.