All posts by Mark Smith

Are the Yankees Losing Plate Discipline?

Seven of the eight regular position players saw their O-Swing% increase by over 4%, and Brett Gardner, who made an obvious attempt to draw more walks, increased his by exactly 1%. This obviously isn’t good as more swings at pitches out of the zone leads to softer contact, if any at all, and more outs. It’s also troubling for the older players because it could be a sign of decline—as players age and lose bat speed, they start their swings earlier to catch up to hard fastballs, making it more difficult to stay back on breaking balls and pitches out of the zone. Aging doesn’t seem to tell the whole story, however, as this seems to be a team-wide problem, which indicates that the hitting philosophy has changed.

But I’m not sure that’s it, either. Kevin Long has been the hitting coach since 2007, and it seems unlikely that he would switch his philosophy now. If being more aggressive was his philosophy, you would imagine that the Yankees would have seen an increase before this past season, but as you can see, it just happened this past season. Granted, perhaps it has taken this long for the players to buy into his philosophy, but I doubt it. So I decided to look at their overall Swing% (the percentage of times they swing at any pitch; table is below), and there was not a corresponding increase in the number of swings they were taking (if he wants them to be more aggressive, then everyone should swing more). In fact, the only major change is Nick Swisher, but his new approach has been widely examined. We knew he would swing at more pitches, but everyone seems to be swinging at the same rate as always (Gardner is another exception, but his patience has been addressed as well, though he shouldn’t be more patient if the team philosophy is to be more aggressive).

Let’s look at this a different way. Why would you be more aggressive? One, you don’t want to strike out so much, and two, you want your guys to hit. Therefore, we should see a drop in walks (because they’re swinging at pitches out of the zone) and strikeouts (because that’s the whole idea). I looked at the same players’ BB and K rates (table below), and that isn’t happening. Their total team BB rates are essentially the same, and they are actually striking out more often. So either the philosophy isn’t working out, or something else is going on.

After all this, what do we have? The Yankees are swinging at more pitches out of the zone, but they aren’t swinging any more than normal, aren’t walking anymore, and are striking out a bit more. One explanation is that the Yankees hitters have simply lost track of the strike zone. They are expanding their zone and limiting their swings at a similar rate within the zone (to have a similar Swing%, something has to work against the increase in O-Swing%–in this case, Z-Swing% or percentage of times a player swings at a pitch within the strike zone), which is happening as the Z-Swing% decreased 1% from 2009 to 2010 (the percentage decrease is smaller because there are more pitches in the zone). If the reason was a team philosophy or the results of aging, we would expect all swings to go up, but again, that isn’t happening. So, WTF?

Finally, I looked at the plate discipline statistics for every team in 2009 and 2010, and it all finally made sense. You’ll be happy to know that the Yankees have had the best plate discipline (lowest O-Swing%) of any team in baseball for at least two years running, which doesn’t surprise those who lament the 3-hour, 8-minute games (that seems low). You’ll also be happy to know that the entire league’s O-Swing% has increased, which tells me that the Yankees aren’t swinging at different pitches but the pitches are being classified differently. Only 1 team topped 30% in 2009, but 11 teams did in 2010 with 7 other teams with 29+% (no team in 2009 had an O-Swing% between 28.3% and 31.2%). But why didn’t the highest total increase that much, Mark?! The percentage looks the same, but I’d argue otherwise. The Giants were notorious for their lack of patience in 2009, but in 2010, they added Buster Posey and Aubrey Huff, who take their share of walks (Posey, at least, in relation to Bengie Molina). If they had the same team from 2009, it may have been much higher.

What this tells me is that there’s something screwy in the data. I’m not sure what the problem is (or even if there is one. The entire league may have just started swinging at more pitches out of the zone, but that doesn’t really make sense to me. However, they could also have just changed the classification of certain pitches on the borders and didn’t do it for previous seasons), but I’m guessing that wherever the strike zone data is coming from is having issues, which happens while trying to calibrate data from park to park. Listen, all the new stats and technology is great. We know so much more now than we ever have, but we also have to remember that there will still be problems on the margins, where the innovators are still working out the kinks. Hey, at least it’s on the margins.

Should We Worry about the Rest of the AL East?

The Yankees main adversaries will be the Red Sox, and as the table shows, they are prohibitive favorites over the Yanks as a result of the off-season maneuvering. Offensively and defensively, they lose 7 wins from Adrian Beltre, but the Red Sox will benefit from some more health for Youkilis, Pedroia, Cameron, and Ellsbury, which more than makes up for the loss of Beltre. Add Crawford and Gonzalez, and the position players have really improved from last season, especially if they don’t need to give innings to the black holes of Eric Patterson, Jeremy Hermida, and Yamaico Navarro. The Red Sox paid dearly, but they have a younger, better core of position players than the Yankees. If they stay healthy, they could be devastating.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, the team should also improve their production from the pitching staff. I went fairly conservative on some of the pitchers because of health concerns for Lackey, Beckett, and Matsuzaka, but the rotation looks to be really good. Where the Yankees have the advantage is, oddly enough, depth, and if Red Sox rotation members start going down, they don’t have the same upper-level pitching that the Yankees do. The Red Sox have also spent a fair amount of time on reconstructing the bullpen. Getting Wheeler wasn’t a big deal, but adding Jenks gives them another 1-win reliever while Doubront could be pretty good as well. The improvement isn’t quite as remarkable as the position players’, but the Red Sox still have an excellent rotation and bullpen.

The Red Sox are pretty star-studded. Their line-up could go Pedroia, Crawford, Youkilis, Gonzalez, Ortiz, Drew, Lowrie/Scutaro, Ellsbury/Cameron, and Saltalamacchia, and the pitching staff has quite a few names itself. Additionally, the defense at each position ranges from above-average to plus at every position, which might be the most underrated part of this team. Everyone will rightly talk about how the offense will be outstanding, but Epstein did all of that while adding defensive value to his team. The job he did is just phenomenal.

Tampa Bay Rays

The FANS projection is really low, but that’s because they didn’t project for Jaso, Davis, Niemann, Hellickson, and McGee as well as not having anything for 1B and DH.

The outlook on the Rays is … not as good, but all is not lost. In regard to the position players, they have lost Crawford, which is pretty devastating, but the Rays will silently improve in some other areas. John Jaso needs to be given the every-day job behind the plate, and I really like him, though he may never play in an All-Star Game. Taking Crawford’s spot, Matt Joyce has patience, power, and defensive value that will soften the blow of losing Crawford, though he won’t completely make-up for it. Luckily, the Rays can still make up for it in two other spots that were dark voids last season—1B and DH. If there are league-average players to be found, they usually occupy these spot, and if they grab a couple for these slots, add 4 wins to the total to bring it up to 96. The Rays have some wherewithal to be more creative and make a few heady trades and add more value (see Butler, Billy), but I don’t think they’ll do it. Being more creative alongside those moves, I would rather them put Zobrist at second, Joyce in right, and Desmond Jennings in left, which could give them an extra win or two.

If you thought that was complicated, the pitching staff is worse. The Rays rotation should actually perform better next season, but their ERAs will likely look significantly worse as some BABiPs, HR rates, and bullpen aid worsen. However, some of that will depend on who they choose to place in the rotation as they have six starters worthy of a spot. If the Rays decide to put Hellickson in the rotation, I think he instantly grabs two extra wins (he only has two now because I’m not sure how many innings he’ll get, though I think they will be significant either way) and becomes the second-best pitcher on the staff. Inserting him in for any of the Rays pitchers, save Price, would be an improvement. Switching over to the bullpen, there’s been a lot of ink spilled over losing Soriano, Balfour, Benoit, and Choate, and they gave the Rays around 4.5 wins. Luckily, the bullpen is the easiest thing to rebuild, and while it may not be elite as it was last season, they can still find enough value to only lose a win or two, especially because I like McGee and Howell (I wish they would have protected Aneury Rodriguez and put him in the bullpen as well, but they can still get him back if the Astros don’t hold on to him, though I find that unlikely).

I don’t think the Rays have lost as much value as most people imagine they have, partly because they may not have been that good last season. They certainly lost a lot of star power, but their player development should help ease the pain. That being said, the Rays need to add a 1B and DH, and until we see who they choose, we won’t really know how to fully judge this team. Otherwise, they have uncertainty in the outfield at least one position (LF but could also add RF if Zobrist moves to 2B), the infield at possibly 3 positions (not Longoria and not Zobrist if he’s at 2B), and in the bullpen.


After looking at the three teams, the order of teams is just as it appeared—Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays. If we subtract 6 wins from each projection (yes, that was highly unscientific, but I’ve seen that FANS projections tend to be 6-10 wins too optimistic and I think I’m more conservative than most), the standings have the Red Sox at 102-60, the Yankees at 95-67, and the Rays at 89-73 (I’m adding 3 wins for the 1B and DH spots), which seems to make the standings more realistic (CAIRO has released an early projection as well–they’re less optimistic about the Yankees). The Red Sox have improved dramatically through some heady moves and better health. The Yankees have stayed more-or-less the same. And the Rays have suffered some setbacks, though they remain fairly strong. I would love to see the Rays be bold and trade several prospects and some decent major-league redundancy (Rodriguez, Niemann, Sonnanstine) to reel in at least one 3-4 win player that still has 3-4 years of control left, but I think they’ll be more conservative. For now, the Yankees appear to be playing for the Wild Card, but A) the Wild Card isn’t a bad thing and B) we still have to play the games.

Trying to Convince Everyone Not to Worry

The most important, and broadest, information is at the bottom. Last year’s team produced 95.4 fWAR, and sure enough, they won 95 games, which tells us that they were legitimately a 95-win team (probably). Looking forward to 2011, I did a few projections of my own, but I also included the FANS projections (it’s crowd-sourced, taking the average of fans’ projections on the player) just in case you don’t trust me (FANS has a lower total than I do, but they didn’t have predictions for Cervelli, Nova, back-ups, or most middle relievers; this could add 6-7 wins, which would probably have to be dropped anyway once all the fancy smoothing out—actually making sure outs, at bats, kinds of hits actually match up—is done). When I did so, I realized that the Yankees, even without Lee or Pettitte, may actually be better next season without any major additions. What?


Let’s start with the offense. I figure the offense, as a whole, is in line for a 2-win increase in production, but the FANS see the offense being much the same as this past season. I’m not sure if everyone realizes how epically good this offense can be if everyone clicked at the same time, which hasn’t happened (and may never, but you may I’m a dreamer …). Teixeira, A-Rod, Granderson and Jeter are the major bounce-back candidates as each of their offensive numbers took a dive due to BABiP fluctuation, and each of them should be better, to the tune of about 3-3.5 wins combined.

Another area of improvement comes from the DH spot, which was home to Kearns, Winn, and Thames, who combined for 0.6 wins. Posada will move to that spot, and I think he can be worth about 2 wins, accounting for a slight increase in offense but a large drop in positional value. That’s an increase of about 1.5 wins. Because Posada moves, we also have to account for the catcher position. Posada was worth 2.4 wins in 2010, and being conservative about Martin, Martin should be worth about 2 wins next season, meaning a loss of about half a win. Overall, the position switch should give the Yankees an additional win, for an additional 4-4.5 wins when added to the above totals.

Where they may lose some production is with last year’s heroes Cano, Swisher, and Gardner. Gardner had an incredible 21.5 UZR last season, which he isn’t likely to repeat (just because it was so incredible), and he was a little hit-lucky, though not much. Swisher was really weird last season as he didn’t walk as much and got quite a bit of help from the BABiP fairy, but usually when someone has a weird year, it’s just that, which is why I project something closer to his career numbers. As for our boy Cano, he wasn’t hit-lucky, but I’m not sure he can repeat his walk rate. If he does or even improves, he could be even better next season. After looking at all three of these players, they lose about 2 wins. When we subtract that from the 4-win improvements from above, that leaves us with the 2-win overall improvement from the offense.


Surprisingly, pitching is where we see the largest increase. Isn’t that awesome! But how did that 3.5-win improvement happen? Sabathia and Rivera are still awesome, and I imagine the bullpen will be similar to what it was last season. That means the improvement has to come from the rest of rotation, which probably gives you some pause. Watch as I amaze you.

One improvement to look at is Hughes. At his age and with some MLB experience, we can imagine some growth on the peripherals (a few more Ks, a few less BBs), but the biggest jump will be the increase in innings from 176 to somewhere near 200. I mainly see a change in innings, but FANS sees some real improvement in his K/BB ratio and a drop in his HR rate. The lower FIP is the reason for the 1-win improvement by the fans, and I don’t necessarily disagree. I’ll just be more conservative.

The next improvement comes from the Deadweight Duo of Burnett and Vazquez. Burnett was bad last season, but he wasn’t completely awful (his ERA was inflated by a poor LOB% and high HR/FB%). Burnett was usually worth about 3 wins prior to last season, but being more conservative and taking age into the equation, I’ll give him 2.5 wins. Vazquez, on the other hand, was abominable and worse than replacement level. By replacing him with Nova, you have a 1.5-2 win increase (taking away the half a win from Nova’s 2010) in Vazquez’s spot in the rotation. All told, that’s about a 2.5-3 win increase from these two and 3 wins overall.

As for Pettitte’s spot in the rotation, we don’t really know what to do. I don’t think he’s coming back, but if he does, I like the FANS projection of something near 2.7 fWAR. Because I don’t see him coming back, I’ve slotted in Betances/Banuelos/FA to give 1.5 to the spot, which loses a win from Pettitte’s 2010. That leaves us with a 2-win increase overall, so where does that extra win and a half come from?

Addition by subtraction. Removing Gaudin, Moseley, and Park will make up the rest of the difference by simply adding replacement-level relievers, which is harder than it sounds (obviously, because you’ve seen that the Yankees couldn’t avoid finding worse pitchers last season).The addition of Feliciano could bring an additional half a win to the bullpen. Adding all this up, the pitching staff should see a 3.5-4 win improvement next season.


Now, of course, these are all projections and not what will exactly happen, but I think they are plausible for next season. By simply getting better seasons from some offensive players and getting rid of some trash from the pitching staff, the Yankees may be even better team than they were last year, or if you prefer to be less optimistic, they certainly aren’t worse. When you consider all of this, it shows you just how much went wrong last year, and they still won 95 games. That’s how good they were last season, and with essentially the same team back this next season, they are still an elite team. No, everything isn’t perfect, but no team is. The incredible star power of the position players was 2nd in total value in the MLB in 2010, and the “improved” rotation for 2011 would rank 10th in total value by the same list. That is still an elite team, one that can win the World Series, and one that might even be able to withstand the breaking-in of some young pitchers. Cashman’s off-season hasn’t gone according to Plan A, but his Plan B has been strategically well-done.

Thinking Prospects: The Draft

A grand total of five teams spent more than 10% of their total payroll (information from here) on the draft (information found here). Now, I won’t argue that teams need to spend 10% of their player budget on the draft, but for the price of one over-priced reliever that no one needs but everyone signs, each team could take some more risks on guys who slip down due to bonus demands, sign them, and still have money left to make a significant splash in Latin America (which I’ve left out but will address in a future post). It makes no sense to spend so much money on a reliever (or any other free-agent teams throw money at—Jeff Francoeur, Melky Cabrera, etc.) who won’t even account for one win of production and not spend 20% of that on a draft prospect that could bring much more. I’ll admit the Yankees are awfully low on this list partially due to their ginormous payroll, but I’d also argue they don’t leverage the draft nearly enough. If they can afford to overpay for certain free-agents, why not throw a few million at guys like Austin Wilson?

College or High School?

We’ve moved on to the “best available player” argument. Honestly, no team’s draft board will look like another team’s, and they all have different opinions of certain players. That’s fine, but the questions is how you want your team to look at players. One of the more common debates in that discussion is to go college-heavy or high school-heavy. In favor of college players, they are better-trained, have played against better competition, and can be pushed through the system faster. In favor of high school players, they are younger, have more room for growth and projection, and have not been potentially abused by their college coaches (see most college pitchers). All in all, I would favor high school players. I’m a slight control freak, and I don’t like college coaches messing with my labor force, abusing them, and teaching them bad habits. I want the player as soon as possible. However, I would never simply skip a college player. Especially in the first 4-5 rounds, I’ll take the college player if he’s the clear best guy left because there’s something to be said for polish, experience, and quality of competition. Though after those rounds, I probably wouldn’t touch a college guy unless there were extreme circumstances because, if a guy has lasted that long out of college, he’s probably not that good. For rounds 4-5, I wouldn’t try to favor one over the other, but after that, it would probably be all high schoolers (it’s important to note that there will be drafts in which you don’t stick to your “plan”. For example, I like high school players, but there may be a draft in which I take 4 college players to begin the draft. That’s okay. You have to be flexible, and there will be years in which it doesn’t make sense to stick to that. Just always stick to the “best available player” ideology first)

Pitcher or Position Player?

Another big question, do you take the pitcher, knowing there’s a good chance he’ll get hurt, or take the position player, knowing that pitching is pricey? I would favor pitching. Pitching is not only pricy, but they get hurt a lot. My theory is to grab a lot of pitching, and after all the attrition (both injury-related and just from being a prospect), I’ll still have enough pitching to keep costs low. If pitching is inherently risky, I don’t want to invest a lot in free-agents who are also likely to get hurt—$15 million a year is a lot more than $2-3 million on a great prospect. However, I wouldn’t completely ignore position players. You just can’t. If a position player is highest on my board, I’ll take him, especially early, but if it’s close, I’m going with the pitcher. Late in the draft, I’d probably go pitching-heavy as well—grab anyone who can throw 95+ and stick ‘em in the ‘pen. I might also keep my park in mind as well. If I have a big ballpark, it’ll help any pitcher, and I might be more inclined to go after big hitters, though not much more.

Pitcher: Stuff or Command?

Once you’ve settled on pitchers, do you want a lot of hard throwers, knowing their more likely to miss bats, or do you want guys who have good command, knowing they might be more likely to make the majors? When considering this, I would keep my ballpark in mind. If I have a big ballpark and a good defense, I might be more inclined to take command/control guys who keep guys off-balance, knowing that my ballpark and defense can make their stuff play up (essentially the Twins’ strategy), but if I’m in a small ballpark and/or have a bad defense, I might go for strikeout guys to keep the ball in the park and avoid my defense. In a neutral park? I’ll always go stuff and hope repetition will improve their command. I figure that’s more likely to improve than a guy’s radar reading.

Position Player: Offense or Defense?

Once you’ve settled on position players, do you want to take guys who can hit but are not the best defenders or really good defenders that may not hit enough? Because I don’t think pitching, hitting, and defense all account for 33.333% of the game, I would imagine hitting is more valuable than defense, though defense remains important. If the guy can’t play defense at all, I probably wouldn’t touch him, but if he’s likely to be -5 runs with the glove but awesome with the stick, I’ll favor the stick. I may never have the best fielding team, but I’m willing to gamble that my team would hit enough for it not to matter much.

Right or Left-Handed?

Regardless of whether you want a hitter or pitcher, this is another big question, but I’m not sure it should be. For hitters, I imagine it’s probably better to be a left-handed hitter because of the amount of right-handed pitching, and it doesn’t hurt that your batter’s box is closer to first. For pitchers though, I’m not really sure. It might be better to be right-handed because of the amount of right-handed hitters, but people like to have lefties. And the one thing I really don’t get is that lefties are held to different standards. Why is “plus velocity” higher for righties than lefties? I realize that there are fewer lefties, and therefore, the chances of finding a lefty who throws 93-94 is less than finding a righty. But why does that matter? Does it appear different to the hitter? Does a 93 mph fastball appear faster from a lefty? Or do we just want lefties because all baseball players have less experience hitting against them? Add in the fact that you don’t know who attrition will take, and it seems pointless to gamble on what hand they are. I don’t know that I would even consider this when it comes to prospects, though it may come into play more when considering major-league acquisitions.

Upside or Polish?

A saying goes, “You win with stars,” and I agree. I prefer the guys with big tools, understanding that they might be riskier, for the small chance that they’ll become superstars. Having mid-rotation guys or decent regulars is nice, but prospects have a hard enough time of making it to the majors that they don’t need a lower ceiling to fall from. Give me the guy with huge potential, let me have him after high school, and let’s see if my player development people and coaches can’t get something out of him. That being said, taking a guy or two with some polish might help balance out the draft a little.


Honestly, this is how I think teams misuse free-agency. Teams think they are supposed to find their cornerstones there. No! Your superstars should come from the draft. Sure, a CC Sabathia comes along every now and then, but he’s a rarity and no one knows how that contract will ultimately worked out, though it’s been excellent so far. Spend a little extra money (like $4-5 million) on getting good prospects, don’t spend $4-5 million on the aging guy, and have a lot of inside information on whether or not to keep the superstar you’ve developed. Free-agency’s purpose (should be, though it’s not the intended goal) is to plug holes where your farm system has failed to develop a decent option. It’s not a panacea. It’s a dirty band-aid on a deep wound—use it only when there is no other option and get rid of it at the earliest opportunity. And yes, this goes for the Yankees, though the degree to which they need to adhere to this philosophy is different. Yes, they can afford to take risks in free-agency, and they prefer the certainty of established players. But there’s no reason not to throw your economic weight around in an area in which you could gain more of an economic and talent advantage.

Anyway, I’m sure you have some thoughts on how you would run the draft. You can either talk from your perspective or from the Yankees’ perspective, bu let’s hear it.

What Now?!?!

Derek Lowe/Jair Jurrjens

The Braves have plenty of starting pitching and are potentially looking to move some salary, and they may be willing to deal one of these pitchers. Lowe had a resurgent second half after utilizing his slider more, and his durability, 3.89 FIP, and 3 wins of production could be a nice addition to the rotation. His $15 million salary would also keep the asking price in prospects down.

Jurrjens, on the other hand, is almost the opposite of Lowe—much younger, a fly-ball pitcher, and cheaper (3 years of arbitration left)—but he was also hurt for most of last season. On the bright side, his FIP is usually a little lower (3.59 and 3.68 the two years previous), but he would likely cost more in prospects.

Carl Pavano

I know, I know. You don’t want to ever hear his name mentioned again, but I’m going to offer it anyway. Yes, he got hurt for pretty much all of his last contract with the Yankees, and yes, it would be an awkward reunion. However, that doesn’t mean the Yankees shouldn’t do it, and he’s the only free-agent pitcher left who’s really worth anything. His FIPs have hovered at exactly 4 for the past two seasons, and he’s been worth almost 7 wins while throwing 420 innings for the Twins over those two seasons. I don’t know if he’d want to come back or if Cashman would stomach doing so, but he may very well be the best option for the Yankees at 3 years and $39-42 million.

Andy Pettitte

I really don’t know what to make of this situation, but it seems that he’s been leaning towards retiring. However, recent events may force the Yankees to really campaign for him to come back, and he may feel inclined to give it one more go for a team in trouble. I really don’t know if he’ll come back, but he’s an excellent option and the chances are probably better than they were yesterday.

James Shields/Matt Garza

Here are a couple of other names that have been bandied about, but I don’t know that the two teams would be willing to trade within the division. Not doing so simply because they both reside in the same division would be moronic—both teams would have to face their former players—but it seems to prevent trades fairly often. Anyway, neither of the pitchers is really anything special, and they are probably getting more attention than they deserve. Shields has declined in FIP the last three seasons (from 3.82 to 4.24) while his home-run rate has risen, but he is adding more strikeouts (while also adding more walks), which could be a good sign if he can harness that a little more to lower the walks again. Shields is also signed through 2014 at very reasonable prices.

Garza has been the most talked about replacement for Lee and Greinke, but he may be less impressive than Shields and may cost more during his next three years of arbitration. He’s been worth 2-3 wins the past three seasons, and he has the potential to be better than that. However, he has yet to really put it together, and despite the low-ish ERAs, he may disappoint.


These are just some options, but I have to say that it doesn’t look promising. The best-case scenario would probably be to trade for Greinke and re-sign Pettitte, which would lead to a rotation of CC, Greinke, Andy, AJ, and Phil, but I don’t know how likely that would be. Although the Braves and Rays have surplus pitching, the Braves want to get rid of Kenshin Kawakami instead, and the Rays may not want to trade in their division. That leaves Pavano and Pettitte, and they each have their own obstacles (coming back to NY and retirement, respectively). Within the farm system, the pitching is certainly on its way up, but Banuelos and Betances need AA seasoning, Noesi and Brackman could use some time in AAA, and Nova needs only to be the 5th man. On plus side in all of this, the Yankees have some advantages. They have plenty of money to go after any potential trade target, and they have the prospects to acquire them. Stay tuned. It’s not the end of the world, and Cashman has a plan (Will will elaborate further later on in the week).

Any other creative solutions?

UPDATED: Russell Martin? Yes!

So, let’s say that Martin should be ready for Opening Day (which is actually reasonable). What are the Yankees going to get from him? Russell Martin was one of the most valuable players in baseball in 2007, and he was pretty good again in 2008. Nothing about those years was particularly fluky, but his ISO dropped from .176 to .116 to .079 to .085. His amazing 2007 is out of the question, but 2008 isn’t. He usually has a BABiP around .300, but he’s been around 20 points below that over the past few seasons while not losing anything off his LD%, BB%, or K% (his K% went up this past season, but those numbers don’t include about 50 games that were in other seasons, which could have balanced it out). Considering all of this, he’s probably somewhere between his 2008 line of .280/.385/.396 and his 2009 line of .250/.352/.329, and because those seasons gave him 4.6 and 2.2 fWAR, he’d be around a 3-win player if he could play 140-150 games. If he caught around 100 games, he’ll probably be around 2-2.5 wins, which would be worth about $8.5-9.5 million. He’s no longer the absolute stud from 2007, but he’s a catcher who can still get on base at an excellent clip for a catcher, which makes him fairly valuable. LA seems to have become frustrated with what he could be instead of accepting what he is (or have serious concerns with his health, but we’re assuming he’s okay, or at least on schedule, because we haven’t heard otherwise) because they just gave up a guy who has still been worth at least 2 wins the past 2 seasons.

But the question again becomes how healthy he will be. No one really knows for sure. Anyone who thinks about signing him should take a good look at his medical records, and if medical professionals deem him healthy enough to play, I don’t see a problem believing he could play 100 games. Torre and the Dodgers rode him pretty hard, and the years of wear-and-tear may have led to the injury. If the Yankees want to bring him on-board, they need to be careful how often they use him, and I’d try to offer something closer to $5 million to off-set for the injury risk. The Yankees may be the perfect fit for what Martin needs—a place to rebuild his value, a place to ease back in, and a place that doesn’t need him to be a key cog in the lineup—and he’s a perfect fit for what the Yankees need—a decent defensive catcher to play part-time and hit at the bottom of the order while not killing the offense. The problem is that Martin probably wants a full-time job, and while the Yankees’ situation may be best for what Martin needs, Martin may be able to find an actual starter’s job somewhere else. But the Yankees should try anyway. Three-win catchers don’t grow on trees.

*Yes, Jesus Montero needs to be mentioned. But I’m going off a couple assumptions. One, Montero shouldn’t be catching. Two, getting Martin would allow the still-20-year old Montero to season a little longer in the minors.

Believing You Can Do It

The word “statistics” brings memories of dread for quite a few people. While the word simply means “the collection, organization, and interpretation of numerical data”, most people think of the high school or college class that involves sampling, interpolation, and regressions, and honestly, I don’t have much of an idea what some of those words mean (I have never taken a “stats” class). All people really think when they hear “stats” is computers doing really complex math, which people don’t like anyway. “Statistics” inspires fear and confusion, and at times it can seem like magic—just plug in some numbers and get the result. But what the hell happened in between?

And here’s where we arrive at the problem. There are all sorts of great primers—Sabermetrics Library, Lookout Landing, and books such as Beyond Batting Average—but there’s still some anxiety toward those statistics. Where do the coefficients (it’s not just the coefficients; formulas are just as confusing trying to decipher how one arrived at the final result) 13, 3, and 2 in the equation for FIP come from? Or all the damn coefficients in wOBA? It’s great to give me the equation because I can plug in the counting stats such as HR, 2B, K, BB, etc., but where the hell does the .90 come from that I have to multiply to the number of singles as part of the wOBA equation? Bring on the intricate math, the computers, and the fear.

This is going to get a little complicated, but try and bear with me. Let’s say you don’t know much about the newer stats, so you go to one of those great sites to find out more. When you get there, you understand the theory, but the formula is a bit confusing. You ask someone what they mean, and someone tells you that they are numbers derived from weighting different stats against each other, usually according to run expectancy (which you may not also understand—it’s essentially the number of runs you can expect to get once you have done something). The further one delves into it and the more that the person has to explain, the further away you get from what you can actually understand. You aren’t a statistics guru, and when they start talking about regression, you get as confused as I do when the guy at Willis Music starts talking about Humbucker Pick-ups. At some point, you both realize that there is a communication barrier between you based on previous knowledge. It’s no one’s fault, but you aren’t going to completely understand each other (in the same way, you go to a doctor and need to sign an “informed consent” for a procedure; there’s no way you’re going to be “informed”, but you essentially have to have faith that the doctors know what they’re doing and that they have your best interests in mind). Once you have reached this stage, you are going to have to take his word for it, and that’s not exactly what people like to do.

Keeping religion out of it, faith is a tough issue. So this completely scientific guy is telling me to take his word for it? And I’m just supposed to believe he has no bias, whatsoever, in making this suggestion? So what about these other people who have other coefficients and formulas for their statistics? How does that happen if you both used proper math and scientific methods? Now, you’ve reached a climactic moment. Take the guy’s word for it, knowing that he would have been reamed by others if the math was truly horrible, or cling to the accepted statistics that have more understandable and overt measurements. Some people never go down this far down the road, but this is the essential question you have to ask yourself (I’m just giving you the benefit of the doubt that you didn’t simply dismiss it). People choose different reactions, of course, and that’s just the nature of being human and being different. I chose to take a leap of faith (something I don’t like doing) because I figured that, if there were major problems with a metric, there would be an outcry over the metric (ie. I trust defensive metrics the least of all metrics because of the amount of criticism coming from all sides and from the actual arguments made). If there isn’t an outcry, I’ll see if all the cool kids are using it.

But I have some trouble with this. I don’t like “taking your word for it”. I don’t like telling other people to do it. Discussion and criticism are essential elements of analysis (you may ask, “Why do I care? I don’t need these stats”, but we’re all amateur analysts using stats to back-up our assertions), but our bases of knowledge—what we already know—are different. There really isn’t a way to correct that. But I am asking you to take a leap of faith, and seeing that I am not a statistics expert on the behind-the-scenes stuff, what is my advice on how to handle this? The first thing I do is find sources that I trust. When I first began reading more on the subject, I read Craig Calcaterra (of Shysterball fame, then), and through his posts, I found out about Tom Tango, FanGraphs, Rob Neyer and Keith Law at ESPN, and Baseball Prospectus. After a while, I cyber-met Jason here, Peter Hjort at Capitol Avenue Club, TCM and Bill at the Platoon Advantage (though they had different affiliations then), and Daniel Moroz at Camden Crazies, and whenever I have major questions about metrics, I ask them. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of their help, and I am privileged to cyber-know them. Hopefully, you trust me at this point, but you can also trust them. I began trusting them because what they wrote made sense, other people cited them, and lots of people began reading them. If something controversial happens, I’ll see what they have to say and weigh the arguments if they conflict. But what if you don’t want to do all that? Well, you’re already here, so go to the contacts section, copy my email address or Twitter page (follow me anyway … or at least talk to me?), and send me an email or tweet. I’ll do the legwork if I can’t help you myself.

We all come from different backgrounds and have different interests, which lead to varying bases of knowledge. When it comes time to look at baseball statistics, the varying levels of knowledge about statistics gives the newbies pause. If they’re really interested, maybe they’ll learn more about the math involved, but it’s not practical that everyone would do that. Knowing that, the best thing to do is to accept this and investigate the arguments of the statisticians, while believing the underlying math is correct. After all, they are still fighting for credence, and it doesn’t make too much sense for them to be awful at their job. But it’s not an easy thing to do. If you argue in favor of something using these new statistics without knowing everything about what went into making them, you feel like you’re walking a tightrope without a firm grasp, and if the statistic is discredited, then your analysis is as well, making you appear stupid and possibly gullible. That’s not an easy approach to take, and not one an agnostic like me wants to do either, but when faced with a situation in which you will probably never completely understand, sometimes you have to take that leap. As long as the argument makes sense, that is.

Chien-Ming Wang, Act II?

It isn’t that I think Wang is completely done as a starter, but I don’t think it’s the best way for him to come back. He’s had a lot of time off, and considering the nature of the injury, throwing 200 innings seems like a bad idea. With Alfredo Aceves hurt and possibly not an option as the long-man in the bullpen, Wang might be a nice addition for him and for the Yankees. For him, the long-man spot would allow him throw a decent amount of innings without over-doing it, and being in the bullpen would diminish the damage a decline in stuff could cause. Shoulder surgeries usually cause diminished stuff in pitchers, and if he does have problems, the bullpen is the best place to deal with this or gradually regain his stuff. Another positive for Wang would be that he didn’t thrive on over-powering stuff. If his stuff diminishes too much, he’s obviously done, but considering that he relied mostly on movement, he may be okay. It will help that he would only go through the order once.

I don’t think anyone will see Wang as a starter this season. He’s way too big of a risk in that scenario, and no team is going to plan for 150-170 innings from him. If he does accept a bullpen role, the Yankees have an opening that would be perfect for him. A non-roster invite would be a great way to bring him on-board, and I don’t think he’ll get anything better from anyone else, unless they’re that desperate. He won’t cost much, he fits in, and it would be another interesting part of the Yankee-Wang story. Just don’t expect it to mirror the first part.

Understanding Jeter

The other argument against Jeter receiving that much money is his “declining performance”. Well, that’s true. He did play worse in 2010 than 2009, but I don’t think anyone expected him to repeat his 7.1 fWAR season. Almost anything is a “declining performance” from that. But Jeter recorded only 2.5 fWAR this past season, and it was his lowest ever, including his rookie season. However, if you look a little deeper, there are reasons to believe Jeter will be better next season with the most obvious being his .307 BABiP, which is almost 50 points below his career norm. In other words, he was highly unfortunate in a season that he couldn’t really afford to have one. 2007 was pretty close to an “average” season for Jeter, and he racked up 3.5 fWAR that season. That also included a nasty -17.9 UZR rating that he hasn’t neared in the past three seasons, and you could make the argument that even a -8 rating would leave him with 4.5 fWAR, which sounds more accurate. At $4.5 million a win, that’s $20.25 million of production, which makes a $23 million asking price less ridiculous. Sure, you can make the argument (which may even be a better one) that he hasn’t done that in 3 of the past 4 seasons and aging may restrict his ability or the degree to which he rebounds, but the same sabermetric principles that scream for Jeter to be tarred and feathered also support a mighty bounce-back.

The number of years also becomes a point of contention because of Jeter’s age. He will be 37 for most of next season, and a six-year contract will make him 42 during that last season, which is ancient in player years. But it’s not unheard of, and if you want to look for exceptions, Hall of Famers who keep themselves in shape are a good place to start. Additionally, Jeter may accept 4 years, which would make him 40 in that last season, and that’s not as much of a stretch (though not one anyone wants to bet on). He’s been extremely durable his entire career with only one season significantly below 150 games played. He may be genetically gifted in this area, and he probably is a better bet than most to last to that age (of course, that still doesn’t make it a good idea, but Jeter can make that argument).

Then there’s the “franchise bonus” for Jeter being Jeter. The argument has been made that it would hurt the Yankee brand by letting Jeter walk, and while it won’t irreparably harm the Yankee brand, it will tarnish it a smidge, though the actual degree is uncertain. It will create some ill will, and the Yankees will sell fewer jerseys as people won’t buy so many Jeter ones and only a big trade would bring someone who would create excitement at that position. I’ll agree that the impact on the Yankee brand won’t be gigantic, but it is non-negligible for the short-term. (My problem here is not that Jeter or anyone else wants to give Jeter more money to Jeter for him being him. Players aren’t equal, and teams value certain players for things like longevity and loyalty. I don’t have a problem with that. My problem is the ambiguity of it. How much does the “franchise bonus” cost? $3 million? $10 million? Intangibles can’t be quantified, but salaries can. And I want to know how much I’m paying for Jeter’s performance and for his “Jeterness”.)

There’s also a somewhat societal issue in these negotiations. When you or I go out for jobs, we’ll get an opening salary, and year-after-year, we expect to receive a pay raise. Call it seniority or inflation, but we get one anyway. Now, this happens in most jobs, and as long as you continue to do your job and there are no recessions that affect your job, you expect to continue to make more money than you did the previous year. Essentially, Jeter is asking for this. All players want this. Sure, a lot of them eventually come to terms with it, and they accept less money. But it’s usually after no one wants them or they have a marked decline in performance that coincides with a younger player outperforming them. It’s easier to accept then. But this isn’t Jeter’s scenario. The most famous baseball organization in the world wants him. He just won a Gold Glove as the best defensive shortstop (let’s leave the actual merits of that for another discussion). And he was the 11th best shortstop (by FanGraphs measure) in the majors, and we all expect somewhat of a bounce-back (4.5 fWAR would put him 3rd and 4 would put him 5th). None of that exactly screams, “You suck and are declining to the point that you need a major pay cut”.

And of course, we have the deadly sin of pride. We love athletes for their competitiveness and for their desire to be the best, but at some arbitrary point, we draw a line where their competitiveness turns into “greed”, “showboating”, or “hot-headedness”. We all have different thresholds for that, but our encouragement of such things is what drives athletes. Jeter likes to compete, likes to win, likes to perform for the fans, and likes to be well-paid for his efforts, and this negotiation is no different. He wants to win and make a lot of money. And he doesn’t want to admit he’s getting older. He’s only 36 for goodness sakes, and he’s got at least 40 more years of life ahead of him. Luckily, this is also about the time when “mid-life crises” hit and people have to come to terms with their age. Everything is no longer in front of you (I am not saying Jeter is having one of these. Personally, I don’t think people really have mind-scaring mid-life crises, but I do think this is about the time when you start thinking about these things, which aren’t the easiest things to grapple with). So, you have a highly-competitive athlete who is reaching middle-age, and there are still plenty of people out there who actually think he should be paid tens of millions. Sounds like a good combination.

I realize that the immediate reaction to Jeter’s demand is nothing short of incredulity. Some people could be willing to argue for 4/80, but 6/150 or 6/125 seems entirely ridiculous. And as an ending point, I’d agree. But that’s not what this is. It’s an opening salvo, and we still have 2 ½ months left to work it out. They’ll come down in asking price, and when it’s all done, we’ll marvel at Close and Jeter for asking for the world and getting the Yankees to offer 4/68 when they really didn’t have to. Or we’ll marvel at how humble Jeter became when he accepted the 3/48 deal—“He finally came to his senses, and not many athletes do that, right?” In a way, Jeter can’t lose. Whichever way this ends, it can be spun to make Jeter look like a Warren Buffett or a St. Paul, but before that rigmarole, Jeter has business to attend to. And he’s going to get his, and I have no problem with that. It is the American Way, after all.