About EJ Fagan

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

Just Two Days Left! Steiner Sports $100 Gift Card Giveaway

Steiner Sports, who generously helps keep the lights on here at IIATMS, has given us a $100 gift card to give to you. For under $100, you can get some fantastic Yankees memorabilia such as:

Jason Giambi

Yes, Giambi was/is a badass. I know Stacey would love to frame this and place it on her wall.

How do you get said gift card? You can listen to our podcast! We gave out pretty simple instructions for entering the contest on last week’s episode. There is no catch. You don’t have to give anyone your email or sell your soul to some tech overlord in order to enter. Really, it’s easy. And right now, the odds that anyone who enters will win are about as good as any contest out there.

Why are we making you listen to our podcast in order to find out? Mostly because we want more people to listen to the podcast. And really, the podcast is great. We love our devoted following, but we’d like that devoted following to get larger.

You can stream our podcast at the link above, but we’d really prefer it if you subscribe on iTunes or using your favorite podcasting app. You can do that by searching for, “It’s About The Money.” If you can rate us and leave a review, it also helps us our tremendously. Continue reading Just Two Days Left! Steiner Sports $100 Gift Card Giveaway

Why I Am Quitting Daily Fantasy Baseball

I love playing daily fantasy baseball at Fanduel.com. The game that has rapidly evolved over the past few years is thrilling. You’ve probably seen their ubiquitous advertisements. I have always loved playing Texas Hold ‘Em poker, but moved to a city far away from the nearest decent casino. Daily fantasy baseball filled the game of skill game in my heart for a short period of time, made all the better by my love of baseball.

I am quitting daily fantasy baseball.

Why? I had long suspected that a great number of players on Fanduel were professional gamblers. The best part about a game of skill is that the best players can win money. The house (Fanduel in my case) takes a rake and provides the infrastructure, but you are fundamentally competing against other people on the site. If you’re smarter and better than those people, you win money. If not, you lose money. Like poker, daily fantasy baseball is beautifully meritocratic in a way that traditional casino games, including spread betting on sports.

The reality is that the vast majority of winnings on daily fantasy sites go to a very small number of players. Unlike (in person) poker, the best DFS player can enter as many lineups as his bankroll can support. You might have a shark or two at your 10-person table at the Tropicana, but those sharks are spread incredibly thin. However, the sharks in DFS baseball can play in every single game. And they do, via Bloomberg:

These limits seem almost laughably nonrestrictive until you understand how top players operate. Analysis from Rotogrinders conducted for Bloomberg shows that the top 100 ranked players enter 330 winning lineups per day, and the top 10 players combine to win an average of 873 times daily. The remaining field of approximately 20,000 players tracked by Rotogrinders wins just 13 times per day, on average.

Continue reading Why I Am Quitting Daily Fantasy Baseball

Why is Garrett Jones on this Roster? The Yankees Need a Left-Handed Bench Bat

You probably watched the game on Friday night: tied in the 9th inning with one out, Carlos Beltran hits a single off LHP Brett Cecil. Chase Headley is about to come up to bat. Chris Young, probably the best lefty-masher on any MLB bench, is available to pinch hit. I’m at the game, waiting for Joe Girardi to make the no-brainer move. And then… Chris Young pinch runs for Carlos Beltran.

What the hell happened? Why did Girardi, who plays the percentages as well as any manager, not make the switch to his best hitter? I react:

Pinch-running Young, who hardly steals bases these days, felt like a tremendous waste that took me a little bit to process. Even if you want to let Chase Headley bat, Young can hit for Didi or Stephen Drew if Headley hits a single or takes a walk. And then, I realized: if Girardi brings in Young, the Blue Jays can go to Osuna, a righty, out of the bullpen. Girardi would then be forced to either let Young turn into a pumpkin without the platoon advantage, or go to his lefty bench bat: Garrett Jones. Continue reading Why is Garrett Jones on this Roster? The Yankees Need a Left-Handed Bench Bat

Against David Ortiz, Hall of Famer

[caption id="attachment_77232" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Ortiz 2015 Courtesy of the AP[/caption]

Before Pedro Martinez‘s ceremony at Fenway Park last night, the Red Sox introduced David Ortiz as, “David Ortiz, future Hall of Famer.” By any reasonable standard, David Ortiz is not a Hall of Famer.

Here’s Ortiz’s case:

  • 48.3 career bWAR. Hit .283/.377/.543
  • Best 5 seasons by bWAR: 6.4, 5.7, 5.3, 4.4, 4.2
  • 3 World Series rings, .295/.409/.553 in the postseason, lots of big clutch hits
  • 273 career games at 1b. 1,837 at DH.

Very good player. By today’s standard, not even close to a Hall of Fame player. Let’s compare Ortiz to some contemporaries:

Edgar Martinez

  • 68.3 career bWAR. Hit .312/.418/.515
  • Best 5 seasons by bWAR: 7.0, 6.5, 6.5, 6.2, 6.1
  • 0 World Series rings. Hit .266/.365/.508 in limited postseason time, mostly late in his career
  • 564 career games at 3b. 1403 at DH. Handful at 1b
  • Comparison to Ortiz: More bWAR in fewer games. Twice as much time in the field. No postseason accomplishments.
  • HOF Case: Probably should be in, but probably won’t break 50% in the voting

Jim Thome

  • 72.9 career bWAR. Hit .276/.402/.515,
  • Best 5 seasons by bWAR: 7.5, 7.4, 5.9, 5.6, 5.4
  • 0 World Series rings. Hit .211/.312/.448
  • 1106 career games at 1b. 493 at 3b. 818 at DH.
  • Comparison to Ortiz: Much better overall player. Solidly in the HOF by bWAR. Played most of his career in the field. No postseason accomplishments
  • HOF Case: Hits the ballot in 2018. We’ll see, but I bet he gets in after several ballots.

Continue reading Against David Ortiz, Hall of Famer

Four Reasons Why the Yankees Should Trade for Papelbon, Make Him Closer

The trade deadline is just two weeks away. The Yankees are in a great position to the buyers. That said, I don’t think anyone wants the Yankees to completely sell the farm and mortgage the future yet again. So here’s a trade target they can pick up for little while still improving the team: Jonathan Papelbon.

You know him. The Phillies have him signed to an over-market contract at $13 million with a vesting option that is almost sure to hit for next year. They don’t want him. He doesn’t want to be there. You probably hate him too. I know I did for years. But he’s the perfect low-cost piece for the Yankees to add at the deadline. Here’s why:

He’s still very good

Papelbon has been on a terrible Phillies team for a few years now, so I know I’ve tended to forget how good he is. His headline numbers since signing:

  • 2012: 70 innings, 2.44 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 11.9 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
  • 2013: 61.2 innings, 2.92 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 8.3 K/9, 1.6 BB/9
  • 2014: 66.1 innings, 2.04 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 8.5 K/9, 2.0 BB/9
  • 2015: 33.2 innings, 2.60 ERA, 2.75 FIP, 9.4 K/9, 1.9 BB/9

He’s pretty good! Papelbon would easily be the 3rd best reliever in the Yankee bullpen behind Miller an Betances. He’s right-handed, which the Yankees are desperate for right now. His velocity is down in recent years, but consistent since the beginning of 2014. You could see an argument that Papelbon was on the decline a few years ago, but seems to have righted the ship, and has maintained a high level of play, mostly by replacing two-seam fastballs with four-seam fastballs.

He Makes the Yankee Bullpen Much More Flexible

Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are better pitchers than Jonathan Papelbon. They’re probably two of the four best pitchers in the AL. You’ve heard this argument before: the Yankees are probably better off giving themselves the flexibility of pitching Miller and Betances all over the innings, instead of holding one back for the 9th. Throwing with the opposite arms increases the ability to leverage their innings even more.

Now, the Yankees can’t just throw any old guy in the 9th inning. The closer role is pretty arbitrary, but it’s not entirely arbitrary. The closer role naturally evolved out of the logic of inherited runners. When Justin Wilson lets a few guys on in the 7th inning, the Yankees have Dellin Betances to pitch with those guys on. In a close game with lots of relief pitchers used, your closer is the captain who goes down with the ship: no one comes in to relieve him, because the best guys have already been used.

Papelbon is good enough to take that job. He hasn’t blown a save all season. There are very few situations where bringing in Betances or Miller to relieve Papelbon will be a plus, and many more where you’d rather Betances or Miller come in to clean up other middle relief messes. And plus, Papelbon has plenty of ‘proven closer’ street cred with media, and Girardi can lean on that when dumb reporters criticize smart baseball moves.

He might save the Yankees some money

$13 million over 2 years is a lot of money for a relief pitcher. Papelbon is the highest-paid closer in the game, and probably not worth that much money in an absolute sense. It’s the reason why he is still a member of the Phillies even as he continues to pitch well. The Yankees have a financial advantage over other teams, and should leverage it regardless of the next paragraph.

All of that said, Papelbon could save the Yankees considerable money over the long term. Dellin Betances is really good. He’s probably the best or second best relief pitcher in baseball, and is heading for arbitration after next season. Baseball arbitration is medieval and stupid, and still uses saves as the most important statistic in arbitration decisions. That’s why David Robertson earned just $1.6 million, $3.1 million, and $5.2 million in his three arbitration years, while Greg Holland earned $4.7 million and $8.25 million in his first two years, and would likely have earned north of $10 million after this season had he stayed healthy.

If Betances starts earning any real number of saves–either because Miller gets injured, or because they just decide to go with a righty closer in 2016 for non-financial reasons–his arbitration awards could be huge. If the Yankees can knock ~$10 million off Betances’ arbitration award, less than the difference between Holland and Robertson, Papelbon’s contract looks a lot more affordable. And the best part is the Yankees are one of the few teams in a position to reduce future arbitration dollars by buying Papelbon, which will reduce the Phillies asking price.

Another relief pitcher could be huge in the playoffs

The Yankees will probably make the playoffs. They’ll be faced with starting some combination of (if healthy), Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova, and whomever they can get at the trade deadline that is better than CC Sabathia or Nathan Eovaldi. Either way, the team should probably go for the Kansas City Royals strategy of leaning heavily on the bullpen.

Having Papelbon at the back end of the bullpen allows Girardi to pull a starting pitcher in the 5th inning and still only have to piece together 3 or 4 outs with Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson, and company, just like Ned Yost was able to do with his bullpen last season. They can still lean more heavily on the bullpen without Papelbon, but he makes it much more likely we’ll have to see some of Bryan Mitchell or Chris Capuano in close game, or that Girardi will let Nathan Eovaldi try to pitch out of a jam the third time through the order.

Playoffs are about short benches. Your 25th man is a lot more important over 162 games than over three short series. Papelbon makes the short bench much stronger. Continue reading Four Reasons Why the Yankees Should Trade for Papelbon, Make Him Closer

Sandy Koufax is Criminally Overrated

Last night, MLB announced the result of its effort to name the best four living baseball players. They came up with: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench and Sandy Koufax.

Koufax may be the most overrated player in baseball history. He began his career with 5 forgettable seasons from a young player trying to find his game. Then, from 1962 to 1966, he was the best pitcher in baseball. He led the league in ERA each year, and posted the following bWAR:

  • 1962: 4.4 bWAR
  • 1963: 10.7 bWAR
  • 1964: 7.4 bWAR
  • 1965: 8.1 bWAR,
  • 1966: 10.3 bWAR

He then retired due to an arm injury at the age of 30.

Sandy Koufax is the ultimate “peak value” Hall of Fame player. Or at least, he is the most-cited example of a peak value HOFer. In reality, his peak was excellent, but not unique. Let’s look at some of the best seasons from other players with a claim to being one of the best living pitchers:

Randy Johnson:

  • 2002: 10.9 bWAR
  • 2001: 10.0 bWAR
  • 1999: 9.2 bWAR
  • 1995: 8.6 bWAR
  • 2004: 8.5 bWAR

Pedro Martinez:

  • 2000: 11.7 bWAR
  • 1999: 9.7 bWAR
  • 1997: 9.0 bWAR
  • 2003: 8.0 bWAR
  • 1998: 7.2 bWAR

Greg Maddux:

  • 1995: 9.7 bWAR
  • 1992: 9.2 bWAR
  • 1994: 8.5 bWAR
  • 1997: 7.8 bWAR
  • 1996: 7.1 bWAR

Roger Clemens:

  • 1997: 11.9 bWAR
  • 1990: 10.6 bWAR
  • 1987: 9.4 bWAR
  • 1986: 8.9 bWAR
  • 1992: 8.8 bWAR

All of these guys had comparable peaks to Sandy Koufax. You can nitpick and say that Maddux never hit 10 bWAR or something, but the difference between Koufax’s run and these guys is negligible. The reason why they are all better pitchers than Sandy Koufax is that each pitcher has a long record of excellence beyond their top-5 seasons, while Koufax was out of baseball immediately following them.

And here’s the crazy part: all of the above 5 guys were contemporaries. They were putting up these crazy good peaks roughly simultaneously. Their accomplishments are extraordinary, but by no means are they unique. It just isn’t all that uncommon for Hall of Fame-caliber pitchers to peak like Koufax did.

We can add in all sorts of long-career players with similar peaks as well: Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson had similar peaks. All are still alive.

Koufax’s career is much more comparable to guys like Doc Gooden (peaked with an insane 12.1 WAR season in 1985, highest in modern history, but was pretty much done being very good by 29) and Juan Marichal (10.3 and 9.1 WAR in 1965-1966, some very solid years before and after) than the all-time greats.

Great player? Absolutely. I’d take him on the Yankees. But Sandy Koufax is not one of the four best living baseball players. He’s not even close.

Responses to the nitpicking arguments before anyone makes them:

Yes, bWAR is a perfectly fine statistic to measure single-season value. Baseball Reference uses ERA, rather than FIP, to calculate wins above replacement. It essentially becomes a function of innings, ERA, and a league and park factor. Unless you prefer FIP (the rankings are similar), the calculation is essentially just basic math, and very difficult to dispute. If you have a preferred way of measuring how good a season is, run the numbers and see Koufax sticks out. If you want to be Chris Russo and just yell and say, “BUT KOUFAX WAS BETTER”, be my guest.

Koufax pitched a lot of innings in his final two seasons. He led the league with 335 and 323 innings. But that wasn’t all that uncommon back in the day. It was the dead ball era with a raised mound. No one is calling Wilber Wood the best pitcher of all time. Randy Johnson pitching 271 in the 90s is arguably more impressive.

No, I am not saying Koufax was a bad pitcher. I’m just saying that his peak was in line with these other guys, but the other guys had an extra decade of awesome in their career. Continue reading Sandy Koufax is Criminally Overrated

The Yankees Need to Platoon Mason Williams and Chris Young

The Yankees will call up Mason Williams to the big team:

You can read my recent post on Mason Williams to get my thought on him. Summary: He’s hitting well in 2015, could be really good, and also has a pretty high floor thanks to defense and a low strikeout swing. He’s been hitting even better at Triple-A since I wrote that post.

With Jacoby Ellsbury out, Chris Young has been getting a lot of playing time. The results haven’t been pretty. Check out these splits:

  • Vs. RHP: 77 PA, .149/.171/.284
  • Vs. LHP: 52 PA, .327/.407/.673

And Mason Williams in 2015:

  • Vs. RHP: .331/.414/.411
  • Vs. LHP: .280/.345/.360

This should be a no-brainer, and probably should have been the day after Ellsbury got injured: Mason Williams and Chris Young should be strictly platooned. Combined, the Yankees could have all-star level production simply by preventing each player from facing their weak sides. Continue reading The Yankees Need to Platoon Mason Williams and Chris Young

Are the Yankees the Best Team in the American League?

The Yankees are 33-25, tying them with Houston, Minnesota and Kansas City for the best record on the American League. The Yankees have been on top of the AL East for most of the season, but this is the first time that they are on top of the whole American League.

They’ve scored 271 runs (4.67 per game) and allowed 236 (4.07 per game), giving them a perfectly-matched 33-25 pythagorean record. Despite a killer back end of the bullpen, they are just 8-8 in one-run games. They’ve had key players (Ellsbury, Tanaka), miss a lot of time. Arod and Teixeira might come down to earth, but there is no evidence that the Yankees are just getting lucky to start the season.

Are they the best team in the American League? Let’s compare them to the teams they are tied with:

Houston Astros (34-26, 4.13 RS/G, 3.90 RA/G, 11-8 in 1-run games, 32-28 Expected)

I don’t buy the Astros. They got off to a great start, mostly by hitting a lot of home runs. But over time, the home runs died down a bit, and their high-strikeout, low-OBP offense got exposed pretty quickly. Other than Jose Altuve (hitting just .295/.335/.402), the highest-average hitter on their roster is the stone cold Jake Marisnick. Chris Carter is terrible. George Springer is overexposed. They’re playing Luis Valbuena at 3rd base. These guys aren’t bad, but there is a limit to how good a team is going to hit with a 25.1% strikeout rate. The Yankees, for reference, are an above-average 19% this season.

That doesn’t mean the Astros are all bad. Dallas Keuchel and their bullpen are great. They do hit home runs. They did just promote Lance McCullers and Carlos Correa, who are excellent prospects and could be star-level players pretty quickly. They have further reinforcements at Triple-A in Jon Singleton and Domingo Santana, and plenty of money to bring in a big contract at the deadline. But I’m not convinced that the base they’re building on top of is much more than a .500 team.

Verdict: The Yankees are better Continue reading Are the Yankees the Best Team in the American League?

Five Reasons Why Mason Williams Might Be the Best Outfielder in the Yankee Farm System

The Yankees have a lot of outfielders in the high minors who will probably have some kind of MLB career. In book, that list includes, in no particular order: Tyler Austin, Aaron Judge, Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores, Jake Cave, and Mason Williams. Aaron Judge is still the best prospect of the group. But I think there is a decent chance that Mason Williams is the best player of the group. Here’s why:

He’s got a pedigree

It wasn’t that long ago that Mason Williams was considered a top-top prospect. In 2013, Baseball America ranked him #1 in the Yankee system and #32 in all of baseball. He was coming off an injury-shortened season where he hit .298/.346/.474 between Low-A and High-A as a 20 year-old, showing off a kick-ass 13% strikeout rate and just a .319 BABIP. He was a dynamo on the bases and in the field, and looked like a star.

Of course, Williams has played two full seasons since then, and the results have been horrible. Still, the Yankees have steadily promoted him despite his troubles. He’s now just 23 years old at Triple-A, and on the 40-man roster.

He’s Hitting Again

I’ll spare you the two years of bad statistics and get to the good part: Williams is tearing up the ball in 2015. He hit .317/.407/.375 in Trenton, before being promoted to Scranton, where he’s up to .340/.392/.489 in 11 games. Better yet: he’s showing his trademark control of the strike zone, with a 12.5% strikeout rate against a 14% walk rate.

Better yet: he’s hitting in tough hitting environments. Trenton is a big time pitchers park, and both the Eastern and International leagues favor pitchers quite a bit. His BABIPs aren’t out of control either: .365 in Trenton and .325 in Scranton. Small sample warnings aside, Williams’ batting line is legit.

He’s a Strong Defensive Outfielder

Brett Gardner wasn’t always a great hitter. In 2011, Gardner hit just .259/.345/.369, good for a 97 wRC+. Yet, fWAR put him at 5 wins above replacement due to excellent outfield defense. A strong defensive outfielder doesn’t need to hit all that much to be valuable.

Williams is a strong defensive outfielder. How strong? We don’t really know. He’s a 60-70 runner, depending on who you ask, with a good arm. Some people will say he takes poor routes to balls. Others will say he’s an above-average center fielder. No one thinks he is anything worse than an average center fielder. Stick him in left or right and you’ve got a plus defender, not unlike Brett Gardner.

He Never Really Lost His Skills

I know what you’re thinking right now: I’m being overly optimistic about a player after just 44 games, and I’m ignoring the previous 245 games between 2013 and 2014, where Williams was terrible. Williams hit .245/.304/.337 in 2013 and .223/.290/.304 in 2014. He was benched a few times for attitude problems, and for the most part fell off the collective prospect radar.

But I don’t think Williams just suddenly lost his talent for those year. His strikeout rate stayed firm at around 13%, and his BABIPs were below average. He fought nagging injuries. He had promoted very quickly up until that point, was playing in very unforgiving hitting environments, and was probably a bit unlucky. That’s not to excuse his poor performance, but rather to mitigate it. Williams was very bad for 2 years, but the underlying talent that made him a top prospect was still visible, if barely.

He’s Got Both a High Ceiling and Floor

Barring some kind of injury, I think Williams is a slam-dunk to have some kind of MLB career. He has speed, puts the ball in play with authority, and can play defense well. Guys like Adam Eaton, Jon Jay and Kevin Pillar are valuable 2ish WAR type players who get a lot of playing time. Williams is a pretty safe (prospect caveats apply) bet to be at least that type of player. He’s not made of glass like Heathcott or questionably tweenery like Flores and Austin. In the age of infield shifts and low run scoring, a 13% strikeout rate is a great skill to have, especially since his other skills should raise his BABIP above league average.

But really, Williams could be a lot better. When he’s on, he’ll hit for power. In Yankee Stadium, he could hit his share of home runs. Pick a comp and dream: Denard Span, Jacoby Ellsbury, Angel Pagan, A.J. Pollock. All of those guys are speedy center fielders with a sub-15% strikeout rate in 2015. All are approximately Williams’ size, and all but Ellsbury had higher strikeout rates in the minors than Williams. And better yet: none were full-time MLB players at Williams’ age. Only Ellsbury debuted during his age-23 season, and he played just 23 games.

The smart money is still on Aaron Judge to be the better player. But I think Williams could surprise a lot of people. And his MLB call-up could be any day now.
Continue reading Five Reasons Why Mason Williams Might Be the Best Outfielder in the Yankee Farm System