Pierzynski and Texas are close to a deal

According to a tweet from Ken Rosenthal, the Texas Rangers are close to making a deal with A.J. Pierzynski.

Sources: Pierzynski, #Rangers closing in on one-year contract. Deal will be pending a physical, not yet done.

It’s not like the Yankees were ever really in on the “Pierzynski” sweepstakes but this news seems to lend some crendence to the “the Yankees are going to find their catcher from within the organization” items we have been hearing and reading about all Winter.

Of course, there is always a possibility that Brian Cashman has something up his sleeve and that he may pull off another trade simliar to the one he made last January when the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda and Jose Campos for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi.

It’s still December so there is plenty of time for the Yankees to get something done but there is always a chance they take a gamble and go into Spring Training with guys like Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Austin Romine competing for the starting catcher job.

The Yin/Yang of a returning Raul

The Yankees are still talking with Raul Ibanez about a return to pinstripes and I don’t think I could be more lukewarm about it. My first thought with regards to Lord Voldemort’s look alike–and this dates back to when he was brought on in the first place–is that he’s a guy you let go a year too early rather than a year too late. The Yankees took this approach with fan-favorites (and more accomplished players) Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, and I don’t think they regret it in the least. But the more I think about this situation, the more I warm up just a little bit.

Last year, Brett Gardner‘s injury–and Nick Swisher‘s two week-long absences–forced Raul into the field much more than we cared to see. Now, with a healthy Gardner and an officially re-signed Ichiro Suzuki to go along with Curtis Granderson in the outfield, the Yankees should discover it–much to their delight–rather hard to find time for Raul Ibanez to play at any position other than DH. The less an older player (and a poor fielder at that) has to take the field, the better it is for the player and the team. Staying on the bench while the team is on defense will help Ibanez stay healthy and help keep runs off the board. The Yankees can further limit the Dark Lord by playing him only against right handed pitchers.

Though he didn’t light up the board against righties like we’d’ve liked last year, he was still productive against them. He ended up with a .343 wOBA/115 wRC+ against them, with a walk rate over 9% and an Iso of .245. By no means is any of that bad, but it’s still not quite enough out of a guy who’s essentially a platoon player. But again, perhaps playing the field so much affected him enough that his performance at the plate suffered.

In terms of an acquisition for DH, Ibanez is most certainly the devil the Yankees know. He will probably give above-average production against right handed pitchers, but given that he will contribute nothing defensively, he’ll need to be more than just above average. Can he do that? I’m not entirely sure. As RAB’s Mike Axisa said in the above-linked article, the team will need a big bat in a power spot like this. The Yankees are going to be down power bats in right and left as well as catcher. Ibanez is a perfectly suitable DH, but the Yankees need something more than suitable.

The end of #toomanyhomers?

The 2013 Yankees are going to look very different from the 2012 version of the franchise. There will be different faces in the starting lineuo, a familiar face returning in Brett Gardner, and no Nick Swisher. But it might not just be the players who aren’t around anymore, we may be bidding adieu to the hand-wringing over “too many homers” as well.

The 2012 Yankees hit a lot of home runs, more than any other Yankees team has ever hit. As such, the exodus of 3-5 lineup regulars means that a lot of those long balls will go with them. Swisher, Russell Martin, Andruw Jones, and Eric Chavez, all of whom will be playing elsewhere next season, combined to hit a total of 75 home runs last year. Add in the 19 the as un-signed Raul Ibanez hit, and that’s a reduction of 94 total long balls. Some of that production will be made up for elsewhere, don’t get me wrong, but with two outfielders and a catcher who may not combine to hit 20 home runs between the three of them penciled in to the Opening Day lineup right now it’s pretty much a given that this year’s team will be hitting many fewer balls into the stands than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.

On the bright side, that’s not the same thing as saying that they’ll be a worse team, just that they’ll go about accumulating runs (and runs saved) in a different manner. For example, home runs or no home runs a full season from Brett Gardner will almost certainly make them better in left field than they were last year, and even right field probably won’t be too much of a drop off with Swisher gone. As crazy as it may sound, Swisher was only worth an additional 2.6 fWAR over Ichiro in 2012, despite a 38 point advantage in wRC+. That’s because Ichiro defense and baserunning skills combined to net 15.9 runs above average, or roughly 1.5 wins. If we assume that his pinstripe bounce wasn’t a complete mirage and factor in the right handed hitting outfielder the Yankees desperately want to obtain, it’s entirely possible that the Yankee will be able to get the ~4 wins from right field that they’ve become accustomed to getting from Swisher.

But unless something drastically changes next month, for better or worse, there will almost certainly be many fewer home runs.

Yankees Finding Undervalued Pieces In Old Players

In Moneyball, Billy Beane uses a number of advanced statistics to find undervalued players on the market. His rival, the New York Yankees, don’t need Sabermetrics, since they have wagons full of cash. While that’s partially true, (the part about all the money) the Yankees were one of the first organizations to implement advanced statistics, well before the story took place in 2002. Now that the Yankees have a budget, we’re starting to see them take a step forward in finding undervalued players.

Most recently, the Yankees have signed Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Kevin Youkilis, and Ichiro Suzuki. The average age of these players is 39 years old, and for a team that just finished 2012 with the oldest average age in baseball, fans are worried about regression. That doesn’t bother Brian Cashman.

Two months ago, I took a look at the age of teams in comparison to their overall fWAR. While teams like the Nationals represented a young team that played well, older teams were much more likely to outperform younger teams. I explained a few scenarios to why this is, for instance the Astros are forced to use young players who belong in the minor leagues. You’ll see that the top 10 teams in age were far more competitive than the bottom 10 teams. 6 of these teams made the playoffs, while only 2 of the bottom 10 teams made it, the Athletics and the Nationals.

While it doesn’t necessarily mean that old is good, my interpretation was that fans may have an exaggerated perception of player decline. After all, it seems that you’re more likely to read an article about how terrible the Alex Rodriguez contract is, rather than a piece on Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, or Torii Hunter overcoming age regression.

It’s important to note that the Yankees aren’t just targeting any old players that are willing to sign one-year deals, a lot of these players appear to sport peripherals that say they’re drop off in numbers wasn’t regression, rather it was a matter of small sample size. Kuroda, Pettitte, Rivera, and Suzuki have long track records of consistency and athleticism, while Kevin Youkilis has the quintessential old player skills. Yesterday, Ichiro Suzuki signed with the Yankees, and he had this to say about the organization’s perception of age.

“I believe the Yankees organization appreciates that there is a difference between a 39-year-old who has played relying only on talent, and a 39-year-old who has prepared, practiced and thought thoroughly through many experiences for their craft,” Ichiro said. “I am very thankful, and I will do my best to deliver on their expectations.”

It may look like Ichiro regressed in his previous two years, but other numbers indicate that the drop off in production was a side effect of small sample size. You could say the same for Kevin Youkilis.

With the success of aging teams of late, the aging player looks to be the new undervalued commodity. The Yankees would obviously be no stranger to this concept. Now that the budget is in sight, they’ve stacked the team with five players that own an old age tag, and it’s not even Christmas yet.

It’s official: Ichiro is back

Word of this deal has been around for a week or so, but today the Yankees officially announced that they have reached an agreement with outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to return to the team in 2013 and 2014. The 39 year old Ichiro will indeed be getting a two year contract that will pay him a $6.5 million salary in both 2013 and 2014, for a total of $13 million. One of the best contact hitters in recent memory, Ichiro is just 394 hits shy of 3,000 in his MLB career, despite getting a late start in the states due to beginning his career in his native Japan.

Yankees Sign Ichiro Suzuki

Finally. The Yankees have finished wrapping up their contract with outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. The deal is exactly what we thought it was, 2 years and $13 million. Once his physical is completed, Ichiro Suzuki should be the new right fielder for the New York Yankees.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

Ichiro hit .322/.340/.454 in his time with the Yankees last season, and I wrote a bit about how we can project him for 2013. Though I think it’s good to be optimistic about Ichrio successfully replacing Nick Swisher next season, I agree with Brad’s recent post about 2 years being too much.

The Yankees now have 3 left handed outfielders, one of which is 39, and another one that missed almost all of last season. The current backup outfielder is Chris Dickerson, another left handed batter, so you can expect the Yankees to obtain a right handed corner outfielder. You can also expect the team to target a left handed infielder to back up Kevin Youkilis and Derek Jeter when the team faces a right handed pitcher.

Yankees considered moving Austin backed to third

Well this is interesting: Chad Jennings reports that the Yankees considered moving top prospect Tyler Austin back to third base in the wake of the Alex Rodriguez injury news.

This winter, the Yankees at least considered the idea of moving Austin back to third base, but they ultimately decided to keep him in right field for the time being.

“He’s a better defender in right,” vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said. “But (putting him back at third) is something we’ve thought about. It’s a possibility.”

Austin played third base in 2011, his first full season in the Yankees’ system, but shifted to right field last year and took off on a tear that took him from Low-A Charleston on Opening Day to a cup of coffee with Double-A Trenton to end the season. He drew surprisingly positive reviews for his work in the outfield, certainly better than the scouting reports on his third base defense. He’s definitely a bat first player though, so the defense just needs to be passable so long as he keeps raking at the plate.

Of course, Austin is probably still at least a year away from the big leagues, so it really makes no sense to talk about him as a possible fill in for A-Rod. That said, if he can stick at third base he could certainly become the heir apparent to the spot, assuming Alex will be forced into a primary DH role in the not too distant future. Then again, the Yankees need an outfielder too, so if Austin is more comfortable in that position there’s no particular need to move him in order to find a place to play if and when he’s ready for the big leagues.

2012 Statistical Trends: Joba’s Comeback

Courtesy of Getty Images

(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

2012 was a rough year for Joba Chamberlain.  After being shut down in 2011 and undergoing Tommy John Surgery, he was in the process of working himself back to full strength to make a summer 2012 return when he suffered his now infamous trampoline accident that resulted in a dislocated ankle.  When reports first came out on that injury, it sounded potentially career-threatening, but follow-up examinations and surgery made it much less so and Joba was able to return to a Major League mound in August.  Joba pitched to a 4.35/4.01/3.55 slash line in 20.2 innings pitched this past season, a small sample size to be sure.  But within that small sample size there are some interesting splits and trends that could point to a very strong 2013 campaign for Joba.

The first thing worth mentioning is Joba’s velocity, simply because it’s always been looked at as a barometer for how well he’s pitching and it’s more important to Joba’s success than say D-Rob’s or Mo’s because he doesn’t throw a fastball with movement like theirs.  Joba’s velocity was also creating buzz when he made his 7 prehab appearances in the Minors, regularly sitting in the mid-90s and hitting 97-98 on more than one occasion.  There was talk that the “old Joba” was going to be back, and while that didn’t come to total fruitition, his velocity was a positive in his 20.2 Major League innings.

PITCHf/x had Joba’s fastball at 94.7 MPH, the fastest it’s registered since ’08, and also had his slider (87.0 MPH) and curveball (80.7) at the fastet they’ve ever been.  According to Texas Leaguers, there was an uptick in velocity in both the fastball and slider from August to September as Joba got more work and less rest between starts, a sign that he was healthy and had his stuff intact.  As a power relief pitcher who had watched his velocity slip since his debut, and who had worked through problems with various injuries and role changes, it was reassuring to see that this latest serious injury hadn’t sapped Joba of any more of his stuff.  Because let’s be honest, the guy still has plus stuff when he’s commanding it.

And as it is with any pitcher who tip-toes on the line between average and good, and good and great, command was the name of the game for Joba in 2012.  It’s common knowledge that command is the last thing a pitcher finds when he’s coming back from TJS and Joba was no exception to the rule.  He pitched to an 8.59/7.73 slash in August after making his return, with just 6.14 K/9 and 4.91 BB/9.  Joba got beat up on his fastball, which he couldn’t locate consistently within the strike zone.  Despite throwing it 77 times that month, more than any of his other offerings, Joba registered just a 1.4% whiff rate on the pitch.  If hitters are making contact with your fastball all the time, eventually they’re going to square it up and put it in play.  And the more balls they put in play, the more hits they’re going to get.  It also didn’t help that Joba didn’t quite have the bite to his slider that he usually does:

You can see the general path of the pitch’s movement reflected in that plot, but the problem is there are way too many sliders catching the strike zone.  73.2% of Joba’s sliders thrown in August were strikes, which is too high a rate for a pitch typically thrown as a swing-and-miss out pitch with 2 strikes.  Joba did get a 23.2% whiff rate on the 56 sliders he threw in August, but it was the inconsistency with his location and catching too much of the strike zone with the pitch that hurt him.  And it was the improvement on those problems with the slider that keyed Joba’s turnaround in September.

That’s Joba’s slider plot from September through the end of the regular season.  It has the same general pitch location distribution as in August, but it’s almost as if August’s plot was shifted down and to the right, a sign that Joba commanded the slider better in September and threw it where he wanted.  There are more pitches on or near the lower corners of the strike zone and more pitches falling out of the strike zone that resulted in swings and misses.  Joba threw his slider 39.5% of the time in the final 5 weeks of the season, and despite registering a swing rate lower than what he did in August he registered a 31.6% whiff rate.  For the sake of comparison, David Robertson‘s curveball had a 19.8% whiff rate in 2012.  So Joba’s slider in September was a big time out pitch.

Not surprisingly, Joba’s fastball location also improved in the final month of the regular season, and with the help of that nasty slider combined to drastically change the rest of his peripherals for the better.  After a dreadful 7.1 innings in August, Joba pitched 13.1 more in September/October and posted a 2.03 ERA/1.97 FIP, 11.48 K/9, and 1.35 BB/9.  His velocity trended up, his command of his pitches trended up, and Joba’s overall performance and appearance on the mound in the season’s final month did bring back memories of his 2007 debut.

Looking forward to next season, it’s difficult to draw conclusions or make predictions with as much confidence as I did when looking at Robbie Cano or Ivan Nova‘s 2012 trends based on the much smaller sample size.  But knowing what we know about pitchers coming back from TJS, and seeing how Joba trended in his 2 short months of work, there is reason to be optimistic and even excited about what 2013 could hold for him.  He had to work himself back into the best shape he’s been in in years to get back on the mound this season, and did it while putting far less mileage on his arm because of the injury.

If Joba stays in shape in the offseason he should come into spring camp well rested and ready to go, and can spend more time focusing on his pitches rather than his conditioning to prepare himself for the season.  With Soriano gone, Joba moves up a rung on the bullpen ladder behind Mo next year, and if he can pick up where he left off at the end of 2012 the Yankee bullpen might not even miss old Sour Puss.

(All pitch charts and percentages courtesy of Texas Leaguers)

What’s next? What’s left to do?

Though they haven’t exactly filled the back pages along the way, the Yankees have very methodically gone about keeping some very key players this year, plus signing Kevin Youkilis to replace the injured Alex Rodriguez. A lot of people seem to be waiting for the next big move, however, this year’s equivalent to the trades that brought Curtis Granderson and Michael Pineda to town and seemingly came out of nowhere. While I won’t say that nothing like that will happen this year (though I don’t expect to see it happen), I will note that one impediment to such a move is the simple fact that the Yankees don’t have that many open spots on the roster right now. For the sake of illustration, here’s a rundown of the players the Yankees currently have who would seem to be a lock for the 25 man roster.

Starting pitchers

C.C. Sabathia
Hiroki Kuroda
Andy Pettitte
Phil Hughes
Ivan Nova/David Phelps


Mariano Rivera
David Robertson
Joba Chamberlain
David Aardsma
Boone Logan
Clay Rapada


Francisco Cervelli
Chris Stewart


Mark Teixeira
Robinson Cano
Derek Jeter
Kevin Youkilis


Brett Gardner
Ichiro Suzuki
Curtis Granderson

There’s a little bit of wiggle room here around the margins (Phelps or Nova could go to Triple-A, different relievers could enter the picture), but the overall picture is pretty much the same either way. The Yankees could maybe use a little bit of depth to the starting rotation, and the catching situation is what it is, but for the most part the core of the team is set. There are 12 pitchers on this list, and every starting position in the field is filled as well, with 21 spots taken. Basically the only thing that’s left to do is fill a bench, and find a DH. We know the Yankees want to get a right-handed hitting outfielder, so that in addition to a DH gets us to 23 players, with just the backup infielder spots unfilled.

None of this precludes any additional moves this winter, of course, especially if the Yankees are willing to consider trading players who are already in this picture, but it does mean that the team has the bulk of an Opening Day roster filled out. And given the way they’ve gone about business so far this offseason, I think it’s a better bet than not that we won’t see any major changes to this landscape.