Who is Francisco Liriano?

As soon as the rumors of Francisco Liriano’s availability began, I knew the Yankees were going to be brought up as potential suitors. They’re always thrown around, but considering the panic over the rotation, it becomes much more realistic that the Yankees could be involved. Now, I won’t get into the prospects or players that would have to be involved in the trade, but I would like to talk about Liriano and what exactly he is as a pitcher.

Liriano was signed by the Giants in 2000 as an outfielder, but they converted him into a pitcher because of the promise in his arm. His minor-league career went along swimmingly, except for a blip in 2003 due to shoulder problems, and he was traded to the Twins for AJ Pierzynski. Liriano quickly re-established himself and arrived in the majors as a 21-year old. Before the 2006 season, he was named as the 6th best prospect in the majors by Baseball America. During that season, he threw 121 dominant innings for the Twins. Unfortunately, he didn’t step on a mound in 2007 due to Tommy John surgery. After a particularly rough recovery from the surgery, he was able to throw 76 capable innings in 2008, but he clearly wasn’t the same. That lasted throughout the 2009 season as his ERA approached 6. Everything changed, however, in 2010.

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A Solution for the 5th Spot in the Rotation

Finally, we head into the end of the cold, dark winter as this is the last full week of non-baseball activities. Spring Training is always a time for excitement and optimism, but when it comes to the Yankees, the starting rotation is a source of dread and pessimism. Cliff Lee snubbed New York to head back to Philadelphia. Zack Greinke was traded to Milwaukee. Carl Pavano wasn’t an option. Worst of all, Andy Pettitte decided to call it a career. All that left the Yankees with a rotation of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, AJ Burnett, Ivan Nova, and a random collection of Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia, and Bartolo Colon. I’m going to go ahead and assume that no one wants/really expects to see Mitre, Garcia, and Colon fill that last spot in the rotation, but do the Yankees have another choice? I think the Yankees do, and the solution comes from within. All it would take is a little creativity.

The Yankees have four talented pitching prospects that could help the Yankees this season—Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman, and Hector Noesi. Unfortunately, Banuelos and Betances have the most potential, but they’re also the farthest away, both having made three starts in AA last season. Brackman and Noesi don’t have the sheen of the other two, but they have the virtue of being closer to the majors—Brackman made 14 starts for AA and Noesi made 3 starts for AAA, though they weren’t very good. Though none of the pitchers have spent significant chunks of time in AAA, it’s not unheard of for players to skip the level and go straight to the majors, but it would be a significant risk, especially for Betances and Banuelos.

Also giving the Yankees pause in handing one of these young men a spot in the rotation are their respective innings pitched. Noesi threw 161 innings last season, which makes him the most capable of handling a full season’s worth of innings, but he’s mostly about fastball command. I’m not sure I want a guy that survives with pinpoint command of a fastball and less command of bad breaking balls pitching to the rest of the AL East. Brackman is next on the list, having thrown 141 innings last season, but he has had zero time in AAA and his change-up leaves something to be desired. There would be some restrictions on his innings total (around 170-175) and he may not be ready, but he dominated AA and this might be his last chance to grab a spot in the rotation. Banuelos and Betances are the most exciting candidates for the last spot, and we’d love to see one of those guys get the spot. They, however, threw a combined 149 innings last season—85 for Betances and 64 for Banuelos—and scouts would like to see them handle a full season’s worth of innings before putting them in the majors.

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R-E-R-E-B-R-E-B-O-U-N-D: Rebound for Tex and A-Rod?

By their standards, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira did not have very good years last season. Teixeira hit .256/.365/.481 for a .367 wOBA and was slightly below-average on defense, which combined to make him worth 3.5 fWAR. Rodriguez hit .270/.341/.506 (.363 wOBA) and was also slightly below-average defensively, making him worth 3.9 fWAR. It was their worst seasons since their rookie seasons—2003 for Teixeira and 1995 for Rodriguez. Considering they are worth a combined $289 million dollars for the next six seasons ($20 million more for A-Rod in 2017; Rodriguez would have been a free-agent this off-season if he had stuck with his last contract—no comment but it surprised me), the Yankees would prefer that the two players did not start declining for good.

Teixeira is the more promising situation, so we’ll begin there. His batting line wasn’t particularly impressive for a guy who averages .286/.377/.536 and a .388 wOBA, but that .268 BABiP screams fluke. Now, lower BABiPs don’t always mean a bounce-back. Players age, and as they do, bats slow down and fail to hit the ball as hard. Batters, unlike pitchers (well, sort of, but that’s another post), have some control over their BABiPs, but Teixeira’s career norm sits at an average .303 clip. But is he starting to slip? In order to find out, we can calculate his xBABiP (expected BABiP based on the amount of line drives, fly balls, ground balls, and pop-ups), and when we do so, Teixeira comes out at .304 for the past season. That basically means that he got jobbed a little last season, and we can expect his batting average, in particular, to rebound. Considering he walked at a very nice 13.1% rate last season, his batting average and on-base percentage should go back toward career norms next season. An improvement in his BABiP may also help his SLG and ISO if the balls drop in the gaps, but it would also help if his HR rate went back up 2%, which at age 31 should be quite possible.

Defensively, Teixeira is well-regarded, but his UZR/150s have placed him as around average, though Sean Smith’s system holds him in higher regard. He has continued to bounce around the same numbers over the past few seasons, and I would believe that he would continue to be about the same for this upcoming season.

Overall, I like the FANS projection of 5 fWAR for next season, which would provide around $25 million in value. Last season seems to be just one of those seasons when things work against the player, and I’d say Tex may even clear that 5-win barrier.

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The AL East Is Just Ridiculous

Last night was one heck of a night for the AL East. On a seemingly quiet night in the middle of winter, two teams in the AL East made moves that drastically altered the outlook of their teams. Toronto moved Vernon Wells and his entire contract to Los Angeles in exchange for Mike Napoli. Tampa Bay was also active, signing Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon for a combined $7.75 million. Let’s take a look at how this alters the division.

Toronto Trades Vernon Wells to Los Angeles Angels for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera

I’ve called moves dumb before. This wasn’t dumb–it defies logic. You know what, that doesn’t describe it. This move was incomprehensibly moronic. I’m not even sure that covers it. When you make a trade, you try to get reallocate resources, getting equal value for what you’re giving up while filling holes. What LA did was create a hole at catcher while getting more expensive and slightly better in the outfield. Halos Heaven is right–this doesn’t deserve formal analysis, but I’ll do it anyway.

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A “Paugh”-city of Knowledge: Roger Peckinpaugh

Trolling through miscellaneous information the other day, I ran across an interesting name in Yankee history, and because I’m a big fan of baseball history, I figured I’d look a little further and let you know what I found. Today, we’ll be talking a little Roger Peckinpaugh.

Born in 1891, Peckinpaugh was one of the better defensive shortstops of his generation with excellent range and a cannon for an arm (Baseball-Reference’s Total Zone credits him with +100 runs for his career). Offensively, the elite defensive shortstop was nothing much. He hit .259/.336/.335 for his career, which rounds out to an average (for a shortstop) 86 OPS+, and because of his penchant for pulling the ball to left field, Tris Speaker once opined that Peckinpaugh lost a few batting average points when teams shifted against him. Peckinpaugh was one of the better shortstops in his time, and he was, perhaps, more well-known for his steadying influence and leadership.

Peckinpaugh began his career with the Cleveland Naps (later the Cleveland Indians) in 1910, but he never hit very well. The Naps, instead, gave the shortstop position to Ray Chapman, who is more famous as the second of the only two players to have died from being hit in the head by a pitch, and they sent Peckinpaugh to the Yankees early in 1913.

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Poor Kevin Brown

{Permit me to go on a rant here}

I realize this probably won’t sit very well in Yankee Universe, but one of the worst parts about yesterday was watching Kevin Brown get knocked off the ballot with 2.1% (12 votes) of the votes. To be sure, Brown was few people’s favorite player. He was surly, probably didn’t make many friends with the media (which doesn’t help when the media votes on this), made an idiot of himself in the worst place to do so, didn’t exactly return the value on his big contract, and was named on the Mitchell Report. I get how that would impact his candidacy, but 2.1%?

His 211 wins places him 90th all-time, which doesn’t seem that impressive, but it’s more than Hall of Famers Don Drysdale, Bob Lemon, Dazzy Vance, or Dizzy Dean, among others. A .594 W-L% puts him 132nd, but that’s better than Bob Gibson, Vance, Jack Morris, Catfish Hunter, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, and Drysdale. But wins and win-loss records aren’t exactly the best measure of a pitcher’s performance.

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Congratulations to Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, the Newest Hall of Fame Inductees!

First of all, congratulations to Robert Alomar and Bert Blyleven, the newest inductees to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Today is a special day for those players, and it is a validation of all the hard work they have put into playing baseball. To even be in consideration for this honor is truly an achievement. Most of us grew up playing baseball, and many of us tried to move on to more advanced competition. These players far surpassed what 99% of us did, played at the major-league level, and did so well that they are considered to be one of the top players this sport has ever seen. That’s quite an accomplishment, and regardless of one’s feeling about the candidacy of the inductees, today is the day for congratulations for a job well done. What they’ve done truly beat unfathomable odds.

Now on to the fun oddities of Hall voting:

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