Posts Tagged ‘spring training’

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Late Spring Yankee News

April 2, 2009

A quick rundown of what went on the last day or two:

Not exactly Earth shattering news but Jeter did have 24 GIDP last year, 4th in the A.L. and 7th most in baseball, so this should cut down on those a bit as long as Damon doesn’t turn into a groundout machine, too. Being lefthanded and faster doesn’t hurt in those situations, either. Jeter has a better bat, and the better hitter should ideally hit second, but I’m fine with this move.

Gardner demonstrated a much better eye and more patience in the minors than Melky Cabrera ever did. Both are superior defenders, though Gardners excellent range is offset by a Damon-esque throwing arm while Melky’s is on par with any centerfielder in baseball. Neither exhibits a lot of power (Gardner did finally show improved drive this spring with a new batting stance). Gardner is actually a year older than Cabrera, but for the time being he has more potential, and his base running alone will make him a better option if he can get on base at even an average clip.

Jonathan Albaladejo nabbed the final spot. He was swapped for Tyler Clippard at the end of 2007, so if he turns out to even be an average arm in the pen it’s a win for the Yankees. Brett Tomko was (thankfully) cut, in spite of a very good spring which had me suspecting he would make the team. The final roster is essentially set; the only move left is deciding who will have the last bench spot for the duration of A-rod’s time on the DL. That will be one of Angel Berroa and Ramiro Pena, a pretty inconsequential decision unless you own one of these and are still hoping for a return to his rookie of the year form.

One last note looking over that roster: the Yankees bullpen is going to be outrageous this season. Phil Coke is very good; his debut last year (while only 14 innings) was as good as Joba Chamberlain‘s, only with out all of the fan fare.

Coke, Brian Bruney, and Edwar Ramirez were a 26th round draft pick, waiver pickup, and independant league free agent signing, repsectively.That is the reason big money is better spent on offense and starting pitching, my friends. And, they all make a very fine pen, especially combined with Mariano and Damaso Marte. As a bonus, if the bullpen shines then perhaps the immortal pining for Joba to return to the pen will come to an end.

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A.L. East Third Basemen 2009

March 25, 2009

Opening day approacheth! And all the while, the timer for my previews ticks down. You have no idea of the kind of pressure I am under over here. So, quick everyone! To the preview-mobile.

Third base in the A.L. East: where hip labrums go to die. Mike Lowell and Alex Rodriguez have each suffered a torn hip labrums in the past 8 months, both in their right hip. The hip is a huge joint, and unlike the shoulder labrum supports the weight of the entire body on it. The sensitvity of these types of injuries is compounded by the fact that both men are right handed hitters, and their push off legs have been compromised.

Lowell appears to be back in business, and A-rod (at least, according to his doctor) should show no ill effects and minimal risk of re-injury once he is ready to go. That will, hopefully, be in early-to-mid May. A-rod’s line from PECOTA is projected at .287/.379/.541, in 624 at bats. This projection was out well before it was known Alex would need an operation. This line, even coming off of injury, does not seem out of reach for A-rod; it is a very slight drop from 2008 (and a massive drop from his incredible 2007). What needs to be adjusted is the time he will miss. Estimating an early May return, lets say he misses 35 games, approximately 140 plate appearances, or about 22% of his projected 624 PA’s. Combining 78% of A-rod’s time with 22% of a replacement level bat (let’s use Jose Castillo, a third baseman with a VORP right near zero last season). Cody Ransom will probably fill the role, and I would expect a mediocre-to-average bat from him (and below average defense) but for the purpose of providing a modest estimate, Lopez’ line of .281/.314/.313 will do. That gives the Yankees an assumed averaged line of .286/.364/.491. and a .300 EqA Overall, the Yankees still sport a well above average third base year, but this is only if A-rod returns on time and is healthy and productive right away.

Lowell checks in with a projected .264/.327/.446 and .267 EqA. He has limited range but he’s at the right position for that, because he still has a superb glove. If I weren’t feeling so spry I would copy and paste those last two sentences and place Scott Rolen‘s name right where Lowell’s is. They’re within a year of age, they’re an injury liability, they’re good defenders and they’re projected for nearly the same OPS and EqA. Rolen’s PECOTA line in this case is .261/.336/.430 with an EqA of .268. Neither player is spectacular, but both are very solid veterans, if still unreliable health-wise.

In the same veign of aging third baseman is Baltimore’s Melvin Mora. Mora is older than either Lowell or Rolen, but he has also averaged 600 at bats over the last three seasons. He had an incredibly torrid second half, which was tempered by his ice cold first half, but finishing the year with 23 homers and an .825 OPS certainly isn’t bad for a 36 year old father of quintuplets. A more even keeled season should be expected, and the PECOTA line of .269/.332/.443 and .268 EqA seems accurate.

Rounding out the division is the player who could, if A-rod proves to be something other than his usual self, be the best third baseman in the division. Evan Longoria has a very good glove, arm, and bat, all at 23 years old. Longoria is only going to improve; his on-base skills are even better than the .343 OB% he put up last year. PECOTA forecasts a season similar to last years, with a slight drop in slugging (which makes sense; his slugging spiked last year from the numbers he had been putting up in the minors). His line of .270/.346/.507 and .289 EqA are all-star worthy, particularly if he keeps up his stellar defensive play. And whether it actually counts for anything or not, Longoria is one of the most confident players in baseball. It doesn’t take something as complex as PECOTA to see that great things are emerging for Longoria.

Next time around: Shortstops!

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Why You Should Care about the World Baseball Classic

March 21, 2009

The semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic begin today, with a game between Venezuela and Korea at 9 PM Eastern. In the second go round for the tournament, the reviews and commentary have been, at best, very mixed. The typical opinion of the games seem to be that they’re sub par baseball, mainly because the United States team is not putting out it’s best roster. Unfortunately for anyone not watching, the games have been filled with wonderful baseball, players who care about what they’re participating in, and even a March Madness style Cinderella story, courtesy of the Netherlands (long live honkbal!).

The U.S. team is obviously devoid of many of their stars, but those who did show up are still some of the best in the world. The roster of team U.S.A. features seventeen former all stars and several players with all star potential in the future (like Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta). Better yet, the roster is filled with people who really want to be there. They’re playing to win, and playing with an edge after what happened in the first baseball classic (Chipper Jones described their elimination by Canada as embarassing). If you don’t think that the United States team cares as much as the other countries, check out what happened to David Wright, who injured his toe in an essentially meaningless game this past week. After fouling a ball off of his big toe, cracking the nail in half, he remained in the game because the team had no other infielders to put out there.

Aside from the supposed lack of passion, that also points to another reason there is such a large amount of hate towards the tournament: injuries. While it is true that injuries can pile up at the games (Wright, Chipper Jones, Kevin Youkilis and a few others), there’s no assurance that players won’t be injured anyway. Guys have been known to get hurt in spring training games, too. It is a part of baseball and any physical activity, injuries and accidents occur. Better it be in an all around entertaining tournament for national pride than in an untelevised and meaningless Spring Training workout.

Team U.S.A. faces defending champion Japan Sunday at 8 PM Eastern. The other nations may have more at stake in these tournaments than the United States because this country has already established it’s athletic dominance, but the best players from around the world deserve our attention; the gap has closed, and the games are better than you think.

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A.L. East First Baseman 2009

March 6, 2009

Welcome to the next stop in a trip around the diamond! Earlier this week I went into a comparison of the catchers in the division, examining the PECOTA projections of the top two catchers on each team, weighted by playing time and combined to form a hypothesis on how much production each team can expect out of the position. This time I want to  do the same for the first baseman for each team. This, and the rest of the hitting positions, are a bit different than catcher. They don’t don the tools of ignorance, for one. They also tend to have more stable, every day players. There are always platoons, like what we will probably see in Toronto, but even an “everyday” catcher can not catch every game. That makes the comparison that much easier, though in the case of potential platoons I will of course account for that. Perhaps this will also show that two mediocre players who hit their opposite handed pitcher well can in the end add up to more than a single above average hitter who hits both hands equally.

Let’s start once again with the Red Sox, and their first baseman Kevin Youkilis. Owner of the worst facial hair in the world Youkilis is a far more athletic man than you would expect from someone of his build. He plays an excellent first (as well as a good third), draws a good share of walks and has good power, taking advantage of his home field in Fenway (he slugged 88 points higher at home last season).

Mike Lowell’s age and injury history could always shift Youkilis over to third, where he is still an excellent player, but for the time he is the everyday first baseman in Boston. Next year could bring the arrival of top prospect Lars Anderson, which would also shift Youkilis over, but Lowell is signed for another year after this at $12 million. In the mean time, what does PECOTA expect from Youkilis, coming off of a career year? A regression back to his 2006-2007 levels and a .267/.360/.480 line and .290 EqA. That, coupled with high quality defense, still leaves Youkilis as an above-average first baseman, with a bat most teams would love to have at any corner position. His 2007 OPS+ of 117 would have placed him 15th in the league last year at his position without considering his defense (He actually finished 4th in the league at first base with a 143 OPS+). While a drop is to be expected, his numbers exceeding those projections wouldn’t be extraordinary circumstances, particularly in Fenway.

Next in line is the newest member member of the 100 million dollar club, Mark Teixera. The Yankees were (and always are) linked to every single free agent, particularly all-star worthy players. Ironically though, with the early off-season acquisition of Nick Swisher, the Yankees seemed set at first and were fine letting division rival Boston and playoff nemesis L.A. of A. duke it out for the his services in 2009 and beyond. Two days before Christmas the Yankees announced him as their newest player as he signed an eight year, $180 million contract.

While it may seem exorbitant, from the Yankees stand point he will actually cost $1 million less than Jason Giambi cost last season. Teixeira is not a superstar player, but he is most certainly in the next tier of first baseman below Albert Pujols. Tex plays an excellent first base, gets on base at an above average clip, is very durable (averaging 150 games per year his career, including two years of playing every game) and is a lock for 30 homers. He is only twenty eight, solidly in the midst of his prime, and has the type of swing and on base skills that should carry throughout the duration of his contract, even if the Yankees had to overpay to bring him in.

Now that’s all well and good but how does PECOTA foresee his 2009 season? .285/.383/.527 with an EqA of .308. Essentially, right in line with his career averages, and exactly what the Yankees should expect for the next several years.

What is one thing that the Red Sox and Yankees have in common? Annoying fans. Oh, they also both gave away Carlos Pena (as did the Tigers, Rangers and Athletics). Pena has a valuable skill set, including massive power, a very good eye and a great glove, but often had those overshadowed by what he could not do: hit for average or make consistent contact. So, he made his rounds until he ended up in Tampa, where he broke out in 2007 to the tune of a 46 homer year. His batting average was abnormally high that year, 31 points above his career norm, which skews his line a bit, but even with last year’s regression he proved that he is still a high quality major leaguer, not the journeyman he was playing like earlier in his career.

Pena followed the 46 homers with 31 last year, to go along with a .377 OB%. PECOTA expects him to keep that up, as 2009′s projection is very similar to 2008′s, with a slight drop in OB%. Quoth the BP: .243/.363/.500 and an EqA of .294. A great line for a former scrap heap pickup.

The Blue Jays have been using Lyle Overbay as their everyday first baseman since 2006, when he came over from Milwaukee. Overbay has been a fine player in his career, an average power hitter with a good eye and potential for a lot of doubles each year.

When a right hander is in need of a platoon partner, teams typically don’t wait around to go get one. Since a majority of the pitchers in the world are right handed, anyone who can’t hit them is at a disadvantage more often than not. However, when a lefty has trouble against lefties, the problem is more easily passed over (see Curtis Granderson circa 2007). If they hit righties well enough to keep their line afloat, even while the flail against lefties, than the problem stays hidden. Overbay is one of those everyday players who is in need of a platoon partner. The difference in his line against righties vs. lefties is -.012/-.063/-.057. That is quite a drop for a guy who is to begin with only an average at best offensive first baseman. The Blue Jays finally came around, though, adding another player who last year did not hit his pitching counterparts as well in Kevin Millar.

Millar is still a sub par hitting first baseman with an abysmal glove, but he will be a significant upgrade on Overbay on the days when a lefty is on the mound. In 2008 26% of Major league pitchers were left handed, so to find the combined line for Toronto’s first baseman I am going to weigh the line as if Overbay wil play 74% of the time with Millar taking the remaining 26%. That produces a projection of .250/.330/.407 with an EqA of .264. A pretty weak line, but the platoon will at least squeeze the most out of each player.

Finally, once again, we end up with the Orioles. The Orioles lost Kevin Millar, but upgraded his spot with the addition of Ty Wiggington. Aubrey Huff, primarily DH last year, will probably see more time at first this year. Overall, there will probably be a three way rotation at first base and DH, amongst Huff, Wiggington and Luke Scott. Scott should be used primarily against righties (at DH and LF), Wiggington Primarily agianst lefties, and Huff against both. Huff is much more fun to listen to than to watch in the field, but Wiggington is hardly a gold glover himself. What will probably be seen is Wiggington at first and Huff at DH against lefties, and Huff at first and Scott DHing against righties. Using the stat mentioned above that 26% of major league pitchers are lefties, that would leave Huff playing 74% of the time at first and Wiggington playing the other 24%. Unlike the Blue Jays, the first basemen/DH’s for Baltimore all have the versatility to play in the outfield or third base as well, so that will likely muddle up the percentages, but in any case Huff will be playing every day regardless, so the estimate should not be far off either way. The projected combination of Huff and Wigginton produces, via PECOTA lines, a season of .274/.339/.471 with a .277 EqA. A very respectable line for a solid offensive team.

The Yankees went from the up and down Giambi to the supremely consistent Mark Teixera, and in doing so gave themself the best first baseman in the division, especially once you account for the expected decline of Youkilis, who is still a very good player himself. Pena should repeat last year’s performance; Toronto has a long way to come at the position, and Baltimore, while aging, has a solid offense all around at first base.

Next time: the second basemen!

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Hip to be Square: A-Rod Has Torn Hip Labrum

March 5, 2009

If anyone is questioning the groan inducing title puns, I am trying to get a job for the New York Post.

Alex Rodriguez is having a hell of a Spring. Yesterday it was noted that he had a sore hip, this morning his brother let it be known that Alex had a cyst on his hip that would require surgery, knocking him out for up to 10 weeks. Now, his agent, Scott Boras, and Brian Cashman both acknowledged that in addition to the cyst A-rod has a torn larbum in his hip. This ESPN article has been updating throughout the day, if anyone wants to follow it along.

Now, while details have been minimalized for the time being, a torn hip labrum is the same injury that Chase Utley played through last season and had operated on in November. He is set to make his Spring debut this week, and has been running already. That’s a recovery time of approximately 3 and a half months. For the time being, the cyst will be drained and the Yankees have said Alex is going to rehab in an effort to get back on the field faster, and opt for surgery later on if it is necessary.

This is probably the worst course of action for a few reasons. One, he is likely to miss several months regardless. Why jeapordize his health for the entire season to get him back sooner when he is already missing a chunk of time? Opting for immediate surgery could get him back by June fully healthy and recovered, rather than getting him back in mid-May with the risk of re-injuring or not even healing to begin with, in which case he could miss the whole year.

I’m sure the Yankees are already exploring a host of possibilities, including perhaps a trade for a third baseman. A few who are likely to be available are Adrian Beltre, Brandon Inge, and Hank Blalock. Beltre and Blalock are free agents after 2009, while Inge is signed for one more year after this. Other options could be shortstops Miguel Tejada or Bobby Crosby, both of whom could move to third and are in the last year of their contracts.

Out of all of the potential trade options, Crosby would probably make the most sense; he’s not exhorbitantly overpaid and would come for little more than taking on his contract. The best bet for the Yankees is probably to avoid any trade for the time being, unless it becomes apparent that Rodriguez is going to miss the full season. The Yankees sport depth in the other three corner positions, with Nick Swisher, Xavier Nady, Mark Teixera, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. Whoever does not end up in center out of Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner are also capable corner outfielders (with the glove, certainly not with the bat).

Matsui will likely DH most of the time (if he is healthy), Damon, Cabrera, and Gardner are outfielders only (though Damon has played a bit of first for the Yankees). Teixera has played all four corners at various points in his career, including 15 less than stellar games at third in the majors and a full season of mediocre third in the minors.

The ideal solution for the Yankees has to be to let Nady and Swisher share time at third for the Spring. The Yankees have apparently been looking to move one of them, exploring trades with the Braves amongst others, but if either can play a competent third base it may be a blessing that they held onto them both. Most seem to be penciling Cody Ransom into the starting role as the main utility man and de facto starting third baseman, but looking elsewhere within the 25 man roster provides two vastly superior bats who have bodies and athleticism to handle third base.

I don’t expect to see any gold glove caliber play by either of them, but if one shows to be a fair fielder then the Yankees are much better off working from within, not giving up talent, and just hoping A-Rod can come back healthy.

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