Are the Yankees Losing Plate Discipline?

While looking at whether or not Mark Teixeira and/or Alex Rodriguez should bounce back this next season (look for a post on this later this week), I ran across some interesting stats. Teixeira had his worst season since 2006 and A-Rod his worst since 1995, and I wondered why that was. Fluctuations in their BABiP is the easiest culprit as A-Rod (.274 in 2010; .318 for career) and Tex (.268 in 2010; .303 for career) each saw their BABiPs drop well below their normal rates, but when I looked deeper to find out if this was more fluke than decline, I found something troubling in both players’ O-Swing% (the percentage of times a player swings at a pitch outside of the strike zone)—they increased dramatically. Curious, I took a gander at the other major position players to see if they did the same, and what I found was also troubling—A-Rod and Tex were not the only ones, and their increases were actually smaller than other players’ increases.

(Data from FanGraphs)

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Should We Worry about the Rest of the AL East?

After I took a look at the Yankees on Monday, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to take a similar look at the Yankees’ main competition in the Red Sox and the Rays. Over the off-season, the two teams seem to have gone in drastically different directions. Theo Epstein continued to spend big in money and prospects to ensure that the Red Sox made a better showing than their 89-win 2010, which really isn’t that bad, but Andrew Friedman and the Rays have scaled back, hoping their excellent farm system will soften the blow of losing Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, and others. Not surprisingly, the outlooks for each of those teams is night and day as the Red Sox look like Jean Grey (Famke Janssen is hot) and the Rays look like Meg with her superpower nails. Meanwhile, the Yankees appear somewhere in the middle, though closer to the Red Sox than the Rays. But appearances can be deceiving, so let’s take a look.

Boston Red Sox

Scutaro/Lowrie and Cameron/Ellsbury’s projections are based on them splitting duties. I’m not sure how that will work, but I essentially cut their production in half from what I’d thought they’d do over a full season.

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Trying to Convince Everyone Not to Worry

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named didn’t sign with New York, Zack Greinke was traded to the Brewers, Matt Garza probably won’t be traded within the division (I don’t think you want him anyway), Carl Pavano is the best free-agent left but won’t come back to New York, and Felix Hernandez will not be traded to New York. Oh no! What will the Yankees do? It’s okay. I’m here to show you why.

The “Team Total” is the number of wins added by the players over replacement plus the number of games that a replacement-level team would theoretically win (48). Anyone not in the table that played for the Yankees last season accumulated 0 fWAR +/-0.1 and were not worth putting in the table. Let it also be known that this was not “scientifically” done and should be taken as a rough estimate.

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Thinking Prospects: The Draft

It’s that time of year again—prospect season! Once all of the big names have flown off the board and chosen their destinations, the holiday season significantly slows down the news and transactions of major-league teams, but when that happens, prospect lists start rolling off the presses. Kevin Goldstein, John Sickels, and Baseball America have already started with some of their lists and will continue through the holidays, and Keith Law, Project Prospect, and others will begin their analyses in the coming weeks. In the spirit of the season, I figure we would turn away from the free-agency/trade rumors and move toward prospects, but this won’t be a Yankee Top 10 list. What I want to do is start thinking like a GM in regard to prospects (I plan on doing similar series later on—Spring Training, Trade Deadline, and the Off-Season—next year), and we’ll start with prospects and the draft. I’m going to “suggest” (these are obviously my opinions) certain things, but feel free to argue or bring up anything I’ve left out. We’re all here to learn.

Draft/Sign the Best Player Available Regardless of Money

This is somewhat of a clichéd statement, but its truth still stands. We can argue over who the “best available player” is (we’ll discuss that in a minute), but no team should ever let money into their argument for who to pick. It can come in later when negotiating, but it shouldn’t be used unless the players under consideration are so close in talent that the price is the main difference. Can’t afford it? Let’s take a look at some information

(Posterisk—I am awful at Excel, and I asked Peter Hjort at Capitol Avenue Club for some help on how to manipulate the data. Originally, I gave him a formula, and he responded with how to command Excel to do it, which ended with the phrase “click/drag D1 as far down as you need to”. Me being an idiot, I clicked and dragged, but nothing happened. After 5 minutes of tinkering and thought, I realized that I needed to copy the box I put the formula in and paste in the rest of the cells, and Abracadabra, numbers appeared! Unfortunately, those numbers made absolutely no sense. Pondering this for a minute, I realized that the formula was wrong, and it took me several tries to get the correct one—or at least the one that had numbers that made sense. My original formula—(C2+B2)/C2. My final one—(B2/(C2+B2))*100. Conclusion: This is still one of the most advanced things I’ve done with a spreadsheet. Anyway, back to the data)

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What Now?!?!

So … that Cliff Lee guy … took Philadelphia’s offer this morning, and the Yankees are spurned for the second time in five months, though the first was by Seattle. Instead of a two-headed beast in CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee, the Yankees are still left with CC and a bunch of question marks. The rotation, as currently constituted, remains CC, AJ Burnett, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova, and I don’t think anyone actually envisions going into the season with that. CC is awesome, but Hughes is simply slightly above-average unless he improves (which is certainly possible), AJ is a mess, and Nova needs to be the 5th man in the rotation at best unless you think he’s the next Chien Ming Wang (which he’s not). Let’s assume for a moment that CC, AJ, and Phil are guaranteed roles next season. Who could fill in the next two slots?

Zach Greinke

We already went over this, and I favored getting Greinke over Lee from the beginning. Trading for Greinke will cost a lot in prospects (quick price—Brett Gardner, two of the B’s, Romine, and possibly lower-level prospects), but he doesn’t require a long or expensive commitment (2 years/$27 million). If the Yankees want a definite ace behind CC, Greinke is probably the best available option. As for the anxiety problems, I have yet to see anything from Greinke himself stating he wouldn’t pitch in New York, so let’s hold off on those comments for now.

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UPDATED: Russell Martin? Yes!

Russell Martin has signed with the New York Yankees, officially moving Jorge Posada to DH and probably keeping Jesus Montero in AAA a little longer. Below is a re-posting of what I thought of a possible Martin signing (I like it) a few weeks ago. Details of the financials are not available yet, but he’ll likely get $4-6 million while being under control for this season and next (he has fewer than five seasons of service time). Martin seems to be a good bet for average production, but he has the potential to be worth 4-5 wins if his offense revives.

Former All-Star Russell Martin was non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers last night, but before he was non-tendered, the Yankees were rumored to have proposed a Francisco Cervelli-for-Martin trade to fill their primary catcher role (presumably). Now that Martin is a free-agent, it would only cost the Yankees money (not the incredibly valuable trade chip in Cervelli *snicker*) to bring him on-board, and they appear interested (and TYU explains what this reveals about Cashman’s views on the catching situation). There are obviously concerns about Martin (he was non-tendered after all), but should Yankees fans hope for a Martin signing?

Before getting into actual production numbers, the biggest issue to discuss is Martin’s hip injury. Injured back in August, Martin missed the rest of the season due to the hip injury, which is somewhat similar to Alex Rodriguez and Chase Utley’s. It’s not exactly the same—the injury is slightly different, Martin is a catcher in crouch all the time, and Martin is only 26—so the result of the injury is a little unclear. But I would have a number of concerns. The most obvious one is that the Dodgers non-tendered him. The Dodgers know him and his medical records the best, and they decided he wasn’t worth keeping around (sure, they say they’d like to re-sign him, but they’ve also been in on AJ Pierzynski and Rod Barajas). That should send up some red flags. Then, a hip injury to a catcher just sounds like a bad sign, considering he’s crouching a lot. Though, you might argue that Posada could catch in enough games to relieve the stress on Martin’s hips, but you would have to adjust the price you’d be willing to pay for him.

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Believing You Can Do It

People often ask me, “Why do you like baseball over other sports? It’s so boring. There’s so little action, and it takes longer than a soccer or basketball game and takes a similar amount of time as a football game.” One of my more common responses is that I feel that baseball is more relatable than the other sports. In order to be a soccer, basketball, or football player, one has to be in exceptional shape, and they have to have such a prototypical size. Soccer players are generally shorter (which is more applicable to the average citizen), but they have outstanding conditioning skills to run for 90 consecutive minutes without much substitution (usually, only 3 substitutions are allowed per game per team). Basketball players all need to be 6’3” or taller, muscular, and have outstanding conditioning as well, and honestly, there aren’t many people with such characteristics. Football players are a little shorter, but they have to find a way to pack on enough muscle to withstand the punishment and maintain elite speed in order to become, essentially, freaks of nature. Baseball players, however, are more relatable.

Sure, some of them are 6’3”, but there are plenty of Pedro Martinezes, Billy Wagners, and Dustin Pedroias. Sure, some of them are in extremely good shape, but there are plenty of David Wellses, David Ortizes, and Prince Fielders. Even those players, of course, are amazingly athletic (they have to be to throw so hard, hit a 90 mph fastball, etc.), but they appear more like the rest of us. It makes it seem like I can do it. That ability to relate to baseball players fosters a stronger connection with those athletes, and as a result, I feel closer to the game. I get more caught up into the emotion of the game, which even a non-sentimental guy like me can appreciate (who says saberists don’t watch games or have feelings?). But as I started thinking about this (I’m student-teaching right now, and one of the students asked why I like baseball), I wondered if this has something to do with the saberist-traditionalist debate, and I think it does.

One of the nice things about traditional stats is that they’re accessible—anybody can figure them out by themselves by doing some simple math. Batting average is the number of hits divided by the number of at-bats, and pretty much all of us can count and then divide. Wins, RBI, and saves are even easier because all you have to do is count. ERA is a bit more complicated, but the (earned runs/innings pitched) x 9 formula isn’t terribly difficult. When looking at statistics that are gaining more acceptance such as OPS, they are more complex because you have to do some calculator work to figure out OBP and SLG, but once you’ve done that (which is fairly straightforward), you just add them together. But wOBA and FIP aren’t that simple.

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Chien-Ming Wang, Act II?

With the Yankees spending all sorts of money on Jeter and Rivera, this might be a good time to look at another possible bargainChien-Ming Wang. Wang had an interesting history with the Yankees. He arrived in 2005 (gosh, was it really that long ago?) and won 8 games. Never a strikeout machine, Wang survived with an absurd 63.9 GB% and 2.91 GB/FB ratio that kept the ball in the park, and he would continue those ways over the next 2 seasons, winning 38 games, pitching in over 400 innings, and accumulating 9 wins of production. Wang seemed on the rise (sorry, it had to be done; personally, I’m surprised I lasted this long … that didn’t sound … nevermind), and he was one of the best young pitchers in the game, despite a low strikeout percentage. Then while coming around third base in Houston, Wang hurt his ankle, prompting Hankenstein to open his big mouth, and he hasn’t really been the same since. Wang returned in 2009, but he was awful until he was shut down with a shoulder injury that needed surgery. The early comparisons of the surgery were to guys like Mark Prior and Brien Taylor, so that’s never good. With the hindsight of the past year and a half, it appears those prognostications were correct, but is Wang’s career really over?

I won’t pretend to know anything about injuries, but I’ll mention a few things. Though the Nationals non-tendered Wang, they seem open to re-signing him, meaning that he could be on his way back even though it has taken longer than expected. This would seem to indicate that his injury is not beyond hope, but it could also just be public posturing, though I’m not sure why they would need to. Next on the list, Prior and Taylor never made it back from that surgery for an extended period of time, but this is a few years after those surgeries. And knowing that they had so much trouble coming back from that surgery, perhaps Wang would be more open to coming back as a reliever, which makes him a relevant discussion point for the Yankees.

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Understanding Jeter

Let it be known that this is NOT a Jeter apologist post. I feel like everyone has gone overboard in criticizing Jeter’s demands, and frankly assuming that a man and a team of intelligent, well-paid people have gone insane is … well … a little insane.

6 years and 150 million dollars. Let that sink in for a moment. 6 years and $150 million. That’s a lot of money and years for anyone, and it’s a lot for an aging shortstop. Whether you think Jeter’s actual demands were a little lower, 6 and 125 is still a lot, and 4 or 5 years at $23 million per (which is the lowest demand I’ve seen from that side) is still a lot. When it was revealed that one of these was Jeter’s asking price, the immediate reaction was one of shock and disdain. How he could he ask for so much? I mean 3/45 is maybe a little short, but 6/150? That’s insane. But is it?

First of all, this is the starting point. While 6/150 or 6/125 is entirely too much for Jeter, it’s not exactly outrageous. The Yankees have handed out contracts to Alex Rodriguez ($31 MM for next season), CC Sabathia ($23 MM), and Mark Teixeira ($22.5 MM) that are all right around what Jeter is asking per season, and when you ask who has meant more to the franchise, Jeter definitely wins in that competition. Jeter is at least at that level of stardom, and he has the right to ask for what the other stars on the team are receiving. But the key part of that last sentence is the word “ask”. We all know how negotiations work. One side, the paying side, offers a little lower than what they’re willing to pay, and the other side, the receiving side, asks for a little more than they’re willing to settle for. In this case, Jeter shot over the moon, but he, as stated above, has the right to ask for that price. Most of us understand that part, so the next question becomes why it is taking so long. We’ve established the sides, so let’s move towards the middle, right? Well, the quicker side to relent shows weakness, and Jeter, being stubborn, has refused to relent so far. Yes, he risks the Yankees simply pulling the offer, but we all know that the Yankees aren’t going to do that. Jeter knows that, too, and he can simply wait for a while. This doesn’t have to go down now. But it is essential that we remember that this is not Jeter’s final offer, just an opening bid. Starting out ridiculously high makes everything else seem “reasonable”, even a fourth or fifth year.

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