About Will@IIATMS

Will is a lifelong New Yorker and Yankees fan who splits his time between finance, music, and baseball. He was one of the early contributors to IIATMS, though life took him away for some time. He is very excited to be back.

The Trade Brian Cashman Would Like To Take Back

This past offseason, Brian Cashman traded away some pretty solid prospects for some pretty solid major leaguers, and the response about the interwebs was fairly bullish on the Yankees’ side of things (not least of all here). Having spent a lot of time on Javy recently, this post will focus on Granderson.

Getting an established slugging centerfielder like Granderson for a group of minor leaguers with good, but not tremendous major league ceilings seemed like an easy deal to make. That response has changed, of late. Curtis Granderson is on the shelf after straining his groin, and hadn’t exactly lit the world on fire before the injury. On the other side of things, Austin Jackson has been one of the game’s great stories of 2010, lighting up the American League to the tune of a .331/.382/.446 line, while playing above average defense at a premium position (2.1 RAR in CF), good for 1.5 WAR so far. That would put him on track to be a 6 WAR player (there were only 13 batters who reached this plateau in 2009)—which would make him a shoe-in for the AL ROY, and might even net him some MVP votes.

To add insult to injury, former 1st round pick Ian Kennedy has also been quite successful in his new digs, putting up a 3.58 ERA, while averaging more than 6 innings per start. On a day which saw the Yankees start Sergio Mitre in place of Javier Vazquez, do you think the Yankees would have use for such a statline?

Given the prevalence of Cashman-bashing regarding this trade, mostly based on Austin Jackson’s crazy start, I figured I’d take a deeper look. Here’s what I found:

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Embattled Vazquez shows signs of life

[This was recently posted over at ESPN]

You can’t hide in New York. Not if you’re a baseball player. This is taken as fact, same as the assumption that LeBron James will be a Knick, that Glen Sather will never be fired and that empires may fall, but the Jets will still find a way to lose the game.

The city exudes baseball — from TVs in store windows, David Wright smiling from the sides of city buses, Mariano Rivera in his pinstripe Canali jacket. The lights shine brighter here — we know where our team’s athletes eat, where they sleep, where they party. It’s splashed across our collective consciousness, viewed on YouTube, shouted on the radio, crumpled under train seats on Metro North. And some athletes can’t handle it. Some of the best, even.

As long as I can remember, there’s always been at least one player on the Yankees who the fans think just can’t hack it here. These days, Javier Vazquez is the target.

See, New Yorkers have a long memory. We remember all the wins, but we also remember the losses, and for most Yankee fans, 2004 comes down to one thing:

Johnny Damon, with the bases loaded, versus Javier Vazquez.

Never mind that the other guys in pinstripes had lost three games previously or that Kevin Brown was in the dugout contemplating Seppuku after his terrible start; Vazquez was and remains the scapegoat eternal.

And now, in 2010, Vazquez has been the lone dark spot in the Yankees’ rotation. Any recitation of pitching statistics includes the obligatory phrase, “without Vazquez …”

So the Yankees should trade Vazquez, right?

Nope.

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Short, sweet, and to the point.

It’s been an odd month so far for the Yankees (but a good one). Some odd points–

To start off the season, the Yankees are 15-7, having played only 7 games at home.

Nick Johnson sits atop the leaderboard for walks, tied for first with Justin Morneau and David Wright. They each have garnered 21 non-intentional free passes. The difference is that while Morneau and Wright have dug in the batters box about 96 and 100 times–Johnson’s only done it 81 times. He’s basically lapping the field in walks per plate appearance. Fans relying on batting average will grimace when he walks to the plate–he’s hitting .138. Those in the know will chuckle, though when they see his .383 OBP.

Speaking of that–the only player in the major leagues with a lower batting average than Nick Johnson so far this season (minimum 50 at bats), is Mark Teixeira, who is batting .136!

On the other side of things, Brett Gardner leads the major leagues with 10 stolen bases, Robinson Cano leads the league in wOBA with a .498 mark and OPS @ 1.201.

Jorge Posada is second on the wOBA list for catchers, at .441, behind the resurgent G. Soto, and is doing it with a perfectly reasonable BABIP (.295). The other three at the top of that list have BABIPs of ,385 and greater (meaning Posada hasn’t been lucky!)

And after missing the first 6 home games, I’m going to my second game in 18 hours. Let’s go Javy! Continue reading Short, sweet, and to the point.

The Great Debate: Closing Remarks (….At Long Last)

Three weeks and a couple thousand words later; it’s time to finish this up.

2010 versus 1998—which team is better?

And I think we need to frame this a bit, just so there’s actually a salient point to discuss. This isn’t an argument about whether the 2010 product will win 114 games (as the 1998 team did). It’s not a question of whether or not the Yanks will take home their 28th World Series title this year. I want to know which team would win if they faced off against one another. And amazingly (given how strong the 1998 team was), this is a pretty close matchup.

If you’ve been around from the beginning of this, you’ll have seen us discuss the team in three discrete chunks—the infield, the outfield, and the pitching. Here are my conclusions so far:

  • The 2010 team’s infield absolutely dominates the 1998 team’s infield. From TCMs own numbers, we can see that 2010’s summed wOBA is a full 51 points above 1998’s—and it takes into account a dramatic drop in Derek Jeter’s production (a regression, I might add, that we haven’t seen any signs of thus far in 2010). I echo TCM (who, by the way, isn’t a Yankees fan) in my skepticism of that number.
  • Similarly, 1998’s outfield dominates the 2010 outfield. Bernie Williams was an absolute beast in 1998—his career year. Paul O’Neill beats up on Swisher, and Gardner/Curtis is just about even out (slight win for Gardner, at best).

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Undervalued Assets

Much has been said and written about the rise of the Boston Red Sox, driven largely by an analytics-based back office with Theo Epstein at its helm and Bill James in the motor room. We’ve moved far beyond the back of the baseball card when it comes to evaluating player performance, or identifying undervalued production. For instance, the ground ball (and thus the sinkerballer) has risen in prominence. The stigma once attached to being a strikeout prone hitter has dimmed (assuming you hit a lot of ball over the fence and walk a lot to compensate for the whiffs). Defense, in general, is finding its way into the limelight (and not just on Sportscenter web gems).

Theo Epstein appears to be looking at two other areas of market inefficiency that has widely been overlooked by the rest of baseball. The stigma on these two categories really isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, but Epstein really couldn’t care less. He sees value in them, and the team is stockpiling players that fit them. What are those categories, you ask? Well, you’ll have to click through to find out. Continue reading Undervalued Assets

The Great Debate continues: Keep it simple, stupid

A writer I greatly respect made the point the other day that less is more, so I’ll make this fairly quick. TCM has a pretty good handle on the pitching staffs, which he basically calls even in his opener on this topic. The one tweak I’d make to his analysis (which I believe does change the outcome quite a bit) is to move Javier Vazquez to his proper place as the team’s #2 pitcher. I know it’s easy to pan that choice after his two starts to open this season, but that’s why we play 162 games. Looking at his historical performances and his projected performance, it’s not a big stretch to imagine him as a better pitcher than Pettitte or Burnett.

Let’s call it how it is.

2010

Name FIP
CC Sabathia 3.46
Javier Vazquez 3.58
AJ Burnett 4.22
Andy Pettitte 4.21
Phil Hughes 3.98

1998

Name
FIP
David Cone
3.45
David Wells
3.80
Andy Pettitte
4.28
Hideki Irabu
5.19
Orlando Hernandez
3.53

TCM makes the point that CC is a better bet (partially due to innings) than 1998 David Cone, but it’s not a huge difference. Javier Vazquez is a chunk better then David Wells, while young Pettitte really looks like a reasonable bet to replicate old Pettitte or AJ Burnett. The worst pitcher on these two teams is Hideki Irabu by quite a ways, and after that it comes down to Hughes and Hernandez. Hughes is a good bet to hit innings limits this year–but Hernandez only threw 140 innings in 1998 anyhow. He’s a good bet to be better than Hughes–but the difference between Irabu and Burnett/Pettitte and Wells/Vazquez combine for a significantly larger gap. And let’s be honest, Hughes is by far the toughest of these players to project, due to lack of substantial data in the role, and relative youth.

I didn’t expect to conclude that the Yankees starting rotation is better in 2010 than 1998–I expected to play a bit more defense. Consider me happily surprised. Also, consider me vaguely skeptical–it’s more likely that the two rotations are roughly equivalent, with a small skew towards 2010’s version.

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The Great Debate continues: Outfielders and DH

So, coming off my crushing victory, it’s time to take on a harder topic–the outfield and designated hitter roles. I’ll tell you up front–this one isn’t nearly as one-sided as the infield. Let’s hop right into the numbers, shall we? (from here on out, we’ll use TCMs projection system, which averages CHONE and Marcel to project 2010’s numbers).

Left Field: Brett Gardner versus Chad Curtis

Left Field wOBA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Chad Curtis 1998 0.329 0.243 0.355 0.360 0.715
Brett Gardner 2010 0.333 0.266 0.344 0.379 0.723


So at the plate, Gardner looks a tick better than Chad Curtis, based mostly on Chad’s incredibly poor batting average in 1998. This isn’t exactly a landslide for Gardner, but it’s a small win. Defensively, Gardner is one of the better outfielders in major league baseball, and moving him from CF to LF makes his job even easier. But of course, Chad Curtis was a tremendous fielder as well. I suppose we have to call this a push.

Center Fielder: Curtis Granderson versus Bernie Williams

Offensively, this one’s pretty brutal for the 2010 team. Bernie Williams had his best season in 1998, putting up a tremendous .423 wOBA and taking home the American League batting title. In this case, I’m stuck playing defense. Below are the numbers:

Center Field wOBA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Bernie 1998 0.423 0.339 0.422 0.575 0.997
Granderson 2010 0.360 0.267 0.344 0.483 0.826



While fully recognizing that Granderson isn’t going to touch Bernie offensively this season, I’ll make one (fairly important) point. Granderson, a lefthander with tremendous pull power, has a career slugging percentage of .485, is going to play half of his games in Yankee Stadium this season. I have a very hard time imagining him putting up his historical slugging with the short right porch waiting for him in the Bronx. Don’t be surprised if he beats that projection by 50 points.

The other thing to talk about, of course, is defense. Curtis Granderson is a pretty good outfielder. He’s not great–and he’s not Brett Gardner, but he’s pretty good. Bernie Williams was a historically bad center fielder. I say historically bad because in the age of advanced statistics, if a center fielder performs this poorly, he is moved to LF or RF. Heck, if he’s as bad as Bernie was, he’s probably moved to DH. Consider that from the time UZR started being recorded in 2002 (as per Fangraphs, at least), Bernie was worth 20 or more NEGATIVE runs every season. That’s between two and three losses purely in the field each season. This is even more amazing when you realize that in 2005 he only played 5/6 of a season, and in 2004, he played 4/6. So over a full season (playing at his 2005 rate), he’d have been worth as much as FOUR losses, taking ONLY defense into account. 4-win players are very good…there were only 47 players that contributed that much in 2009, taking into account both offense and defense. When you turn that around….that’s a lot of bad.

Bernie’s Defense
RAR Inn Season
2002 -21.2 1317 -19.3
2003 -19.8 1001 -23.7
2004 -26.5 830 -38.3
2005 -29 862 -40.4
2006 -20.1 743 -32.5


I’m not going to come out and say that this wipes out the advantage Bernie had offensively over Curtis–because it’s a murky picture. We’re looking at 1998, when Bernie was assumedly a bit less terrible in the outfield, and the offensive difference is quite large. But if Bernie was worth between 1 and 2 losses defensively (which seems like a reasonably conservative guess), much of his offensive advantage flies right out the window. Not all–just a fair bit of it.

Moving on…

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The Great Debate — Infield 2010 Edition

For those of you short on time, I’ll spoil your reading. The 2010 Yankee infield is a lot better than the 1998 version. 1998 probably has a small advantage defensively–but 2010 absolutely crushes 1998 at the plate. That said, let’s get into specifics.

Twelve years later, it’s pretty wild that two of the names remain the same in Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Much wilder, though, is the fact that neither have slowed down (in fact, Posada has sped up!). See the table below:

Jeter wOBA AVG OBP SLG OPS
DJ 2009 0.390 0.334 0.406 0.465 0.871
DJ 07-09 0.319 0.387 0.442 0.830
DJ 1998 0.385 0.324 0.384 0.481 0.865
Posada wOBA AVG OBP SLG OPS
JP 2009 0.378 0.285 0.363 0.522 0.885
JP 07-09 0.307 0.405 0.515 0.920
JP 1998 0.351 0.268 0.350 0.475 0.825

First let’s look at Jeter. His OBA was better last year than it was in 1998. I knew he was good last year, but I did not expect that. In fact, I came into this analysis expecting to try to show how A-Rod’s superiority over Scott Brosius made up for Jeter and Posada’s regression. Even looking at a three year composite, Jeter’s still looking pretty good (apologies—I cannot calculate wOBA without some incriminating pictures of Dave Cameron as leverage). He’s lost some power, but the OBP has remained strong—and I think it’s clear that’s more of Jeter’s game than home runs. There’s a marginal difference in favor of younger Jeter—but it’s marginal.

Next, Posada. Posada is downright better now than he was in 1998. His 2009 and his 3 year composite statistics put 1998 to shame. There’s not much to say here—the numbers can do the talking.

Wow. This is easier than I thought.

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The Gauntlet Is Thrown

The intro and background to this debate can be found here.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

The 1998 Yankees are held up as one of the best teams in the history of baseball–in the history of sports, even. Counting the postseason, they went an astounding 125-50, sweeping two of their postseason opponents, and taking home world championship #25. They won 114 games in the regular season. 114!

And uniquely enough, they did it without a real superstar. There was no A-Rod, Bonds, Pujols around which the team was built. Instead, the team was built on a group of tremendous talent–Jeter, Bernie, Tino, Posada, Paul O’Neill, Daryl Strawberry, El Duque, Pettitte, David Cone, David Wells. Looking through the leaderboards for 1998, the only one of these players even in the conversation for best at his position is Bernie, and that’s only if you ignore Ken Griffey’s tremendous advantage defensively. And yet they won 114 games.

So I understand the skepticism you’re going to feel in a minute or two. I know that a lot of readers will dismiss what I have to say almost instantly. It’s impossible, unthinkable, too optimistic. I’m just a whippersnapper looking to stir up trouble. Well, go ahead, doubt:

The 2010 Yankees are as good, or better, than the 1998 Yankees.

There, I said it. Bring on the hate mail.

…wait. You’re still here? I suppose I may as well explain myself, then.

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