Friday, November 04, 2005

On Continuity

I think I’ve told and retold tales of Yankees yonder a hundred times in the past few months, and if one idea has really dug it’s claws into my noggin, it’s that of continuity. The Yankees were always best when they more or less brought back the same team. A large reason for the recent run of relative failure is certainly due to the swapping of parts during each off-season.

Yes, I realize it is slightly ironic that I am bemoaning player swapping in the off-season right after I finished up talking about who the Yankees need to import for next season. But remember, these are open spots that someone needs to fill. The farm is obviously a little lacking in the upper levels, so a promotion doesn’t look to be in the works – though I’d rather start Kevin Thompson in center field next year than trade Cano for Hunter.

This of this off-season as a final fix, where the team (read: George) will go out for some temporary position holders until the guys in the lower level minors begin to develop. Now, I don’t know any heroin fiends, but from the stories I’ve heard two things can happen when an addict goes back for a “last fix.” A) They relapse or B) they die.

In other words, I don’t want to go offering big money at Brian Giles if it means more of the same in years to come. Sure, stockpiling free agents was fun for a while, as was dishing prospects for big names. But after the novelty wears off, what remains is just a pile of egos who can’t get along as a team. If anything, the Yankees have proved something to the baseball world: buy your team, watch them come up short.

I’m only advocating the pursuit of a big name free agent this year because there are few other options. There is an outfield spot that needs filling, and the answer isn’t at Columbus. So where else to look? Trades? Not much out there on the market at a reasonable price, as I discussed on Wednesday. Lesser talent free agent? After Giles, there really is no one worth the millions they’ll make (read: Damon, Jacque Jones, Preson Wilson). After those screwheads, the most attractive name is probably Juan Encarnacion. ‘Nuff said.

But if it all came down to it, and signing Giles meant more of the same, and starting Bubba means a more progressive approach to building a ball club (and I have no idea how such a scenario would arise), I’d be behind Crosby without a doubt. Basically, I wouldn’t be overly pissed if the best move the team made in the off-season was a non-move. If the Yankees returning starters were a football injury report, four of them wouldn’t be on it (Giambi, Jeter, A-Rod, Posada), and three would be in the “Probable” category (Sheff, Cano, Matsui). And when was the last time a guy listed as probable didn’t play on Sunday?

(Note: please don’t take that too literally. I don’t scour the injury report weekly, so for all I know, it could have happened this year. I was just making a point that it’s rare for a guy listed as probable to miss the game)

In addition to seven position players coming back, the starting five will be some incarnation of five starters that were on the team last year. The most likely scenario is what I listed yesterday, with RJ, Moose, Pavano, Chacon and Wang as the guys. Of course, the bullpen may undergo BoTox treatment, but there’s something about bullpens that’s just different than position players and starting pitching.

Usually, guys are in the bullpen because they’re not good enough to be starters. This isn’t always the case, but it’s pretty common (hey, Mariano Rivera was a crappy starter in ’95, moved to the bullpen in ’96, and look at those results). Accordingly, finding good bullpen help is tough, because most of the guys who are successful in the bullpen are usually just riding a streak (Tanyon Sturtze, to name one), and will eventually return to their “not good enough to be a starter” form.

So bullpen swapping is a normality nowadays. Sure, sometimes a team will find a guy they’re truly enamored with (Oakland with Chad Bradford), but that guy is usually the closer, and his supporting staff morphs yearly. I don’t necessarily agree with this interchanging of bullpen help, because it involves blind risks most of the time. But I didn’t write the rules. I just observe them.

This whole idea of continuity was sparked by Bill Simmons’s NBA Preview (the link is to Part II because it has a link to Part I and not vice versa). In it, he mentioned that building an NBA team (and really, any sports team) is like cooking a Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza. And for the sake of keeping his original thought in tact, I’ll just quote the paragraph:

“Think of it this way: Putting together a basketball team is like cooking a Stouffer's french bread pizza -- you have to preheat the oven, wait 15 minutes, slide the pizzas inside, wait another 35 minutes, check to make sure you didn't burn them, let them cook another five minutes, pull them out, then let them cool down for another 10 minutes so you don't burn your mouth ... and then, and ONLY then, do you eat the pizzas. That's how the good general managers build their teams. But these new-wave owners and general managers want to eat the pizza right away, so they slip them in the microwave, zap the hell out them, scarf down in three bites and end up burning their mouths, and the pizza doesn't even taste good as it's going down. That's what Cuban did for the last few years. And it didn't work. Now he's cooking the right way. Whether it lands them in the Western Conference Finals remains to be seen, but that's a potential 60-win team.”

Isn’t how the 1996-2000 Yankees operated? You could say that’s actually the perfect analogy for that era of Yankee success. And when George wanted some more pizza, instead of doing it the right way again, he made the blunder as described by Simmons. Take the pizza out of the microwave, George. We’re all eating this one, and no we don’t like the bread mushy and the cheese hard. I want my bread crusty and my cheese oozing, thank you very much.

Well, my thoughts are concluded for the day, but this is actually not the original posting I had for the day. In that one, I ran a little short of a normal post, so I tacked on some links and inane commentary to the end. And since this is my site and I can do what I please with this space, I’m going to copy and paste them right at the bottom of THIS post, just for the 20 of you who so graciously read this site daily.

Boston Dirt Dogs: because there’s nothing more satisfying than watching your enemies piss and moan about their ill fortunes.

Tony Pena Joins the Yanks: because now the Yankees have former managers at third, first, and on the bench. This is a strategy I normally employ in Madden football, where I vastly overpay for guys who are normally head coaches to be my coordinators because they make your players better. And what’s $10 million in play money to me, anyway? So now the goal becomes apparent: lure 73-year-old Roger Craig to the Bronx to become the new pitching coach.

Matt Lawton: because I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a blogger (I’m not a blogger!) if I didn’t mention this. Back in September, there were waves being sent throughout the press, saying that MLB had nailed someone on steroids, that it was a name people would care about, and that it was from one of the larger market teams. This, of course, had Yankees haters frothing at the mouth, since an ambiguous statement like that obviously points Giambi’s way. Alas, it was Lawton, making MLB’s statement false by the time it was release: he’s no longer on a large market team, and no one gives a sh-t about Matt Lawton (except those who like to make fun of him).

Is Maureen Dowd Necessary?”: because I used to read all of the New York Times op-ed columnists every day, and found her the most consistently unbearable. I may start reading more Katie Roiphe because of this piece.

Rafael Furcal Wants Chicago: because just three days ago,he said he’d move to second base for the Mets. And since the Braves don’t want to lose him, Furcal could become the most overpriced free agent this year.

TJ Simers on Tommy Lasorda/Frank McCourt: because A) I like Simers, B) I hate McCourt, C) how old is Tommy again?, and D) say it with me in a Frank Costanza voice: HOW COULD YOU FIRE PAUL DEPODESTA AFTER TWO SEASONS??.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

2005 Off-Season, Part IV: Gimme Gimme Gimme

Just as the papers are becoming mum on the free agency issue – mainly because it open season doesn’t begin until the 15th, and the guys that are going to file have filed – I’m stepping in and giving my take on what could be an integral off-season in the remaking of the New York Yankees. Then again, it seems like every off-season since 2000 has been crucial, since they all followed seasons in which the ultimate goal could be smelled but not touched.

What exactly are the Yankees looking for? The foremost priority in free agency has to be bullpen help, something the Yankees had little to none of by the end of the season. There are six starters in place for Opening Day 2006 as of this writing, so it’s also presumable that one of those six would join the bullpen ranks – or join the ranks of Rondell White in the “Yankees For One Year Club” (assuming it’s Wright, Pavano, or Chacon that is shipped off).

As it stands now, here’s the pitching:

Starters         Releivers
Randy             Mo
Moose             Small
Pavano           Wright
Chacon           Proctor
Wang

Nine pitchers in all out of a staff of 11 or 12. The glaring absence of a lefty in the bullpen needs the most immediate action, with B.J. Ryan at the top of the talks. While Ryan would be a great addition by every means, he would be the 8th inning guy, still denying the Yanks a guy to face lefties. This is where I make a proposition to Al Leiter and see if he’s interested in pitching one more year in this bullpen role. Joe Torre had approached Al after the season with this question, and Leiter said he’d need time to think about it. I still think it’s a better option than what’s out there.

Barring Leiter, for a lefty out of the pen, sign me up for Dennys Reyes. Unless there’s a lefty reliever in the minors that will be ready to make the leap next year (and I’m aware of none), the Yanks are going to have to get a lefty regardless of Ryan’s status. Sure, Reyes was released by the Padres this year when his ERA inflated from the mid 3’s to 5, but that’s not the whole story. Or maybe it is, and maybe I’m just trying to make any case I can for the guy. But he almost did sign with the Yanks upon his release, but decided to spend the rest of the summer in his home country instead. He’s a risk, but one the Yanks can possible afford to take.

The other name I like on the free agent relievers list: Julian Tavarez. He’s another considerable risk, considering the hot temper he displayed in St. Louis, especially in 2004, when he pulled a Kevin Brown on the bullpen phone. I can see him as a Sheffield kinda guy, though. Stick him in the Bronx, and watch the energy flow. Or at least that’s my hypothesis, unproven of course. If someone can make a compelling argument as to why he’d self-destruct in New York, I’m all ears.

Jason Grimsley is a name that may fly under the radar, but could be a decent addition to the pen crew. He tosses some serious heat and is a ground ball guy, something I’ve always liked in a reliever. Michael Lewis put it best: no matter how hard you hit a ground ball, it’s not going out of the park (paraphrased). I think I’d rather have him than exercise the $1.5 million option on Tanyon Sturtze. In fact, I think there is very little that could make me want Sturtze back next year.

To close out the ranks of relievers, Octavio Dotel is rumored to be sought after by the Mets in a set up role. If he’s going to set up in Flushing, why can’t he set up in the Bronx? Problem is, Dotel is a serious risk right now, considering his entire elbow was reconstructed over the summer (which was a smart move, considering Billy Beane was more than likely going to trade him at the deadline). Though, I guess he’s really only an option if Ryan doesn’t sign.

I know I said to keep the center field search on the trade block, since the market for center fielders is, well, basically non-existent. Johnny Damon and Preston Wilson head the list, proving that the Yankees are not going to find the answer here.

But wait, there’s still a chance for salvation in the free agency market. Remember the whole thing where Hideki can play center (yes, I’m assuming his deal will get done)? So slide Matsui to center, and sign Brian Giles. Yes, this idea has been up at NoMaas.org for quite a bit now, but it still warrants mentioning. Age is a factor with Giles, as he’s 34, but just remember what age we signed Sheff at (yes, exactly).

The statistic that stood out to me most about Giles: .423 OBP, and when his caught stealings and double plays are factored in, he still doesn’t make an out 39.5 percent of the time. If that’s not enough, he strikes out once every 10 plate appearances, which is better than any current Yankee performed in that category in ’05. Oh, and he walks at a considerably higher rate than he strikes out: 119-64 last year, 313-202 over the past three.

He’s not a power hitter, but he smacks doubles with the best of them, and as mentioned before, has a propensity to get on base, which is invaluable. Plus, he put up those 2005 numbers at Petco Park, which is a pitcher’s kind of place. Who knows what he could do in the much more neutral Yankee Stadium.

Unfortunately, Giles has not been mentioned in connection with the Yankees at all this off-season. His name has made headlines in St. Louis and Cleveland, but it seems that he isn’t going to make his way to the East Coast. This is a shame because not only do I consider Giles a perfect fit for the Yanks at this point, but I think he’s the best free agent on the market, period.

That brings us to the backups, unless the Yankees intend to reel in a full-time DH, which is unlikely, considering the way Joe likes to juggle his lineups. Personally, I think Tino is done, and isn’t going to contribute much should he return in 2006. His numbers are particularly inflated because of the stretch in May where he carried the team, and for that the Yankees Faithful are greatly indebted. But the team really needs to move on, and by move on, I mean move backwards to a name that appeared on the 2004 roster: Travis Lee. Granted, Lee may stick with the D-Rays if he is the starter, and may be able to find a starter’s gig elsewhere. But should be wish to return to New York and get some reps in at first while Giambi DHs, I say pounce on the opportunity.

He puts up decent numbers, .272/.331/.426, along with 22 doubles in ’05. Plus, he’s not particularly handicapping, striking out at about the league average rate (about once ever six and a half plate appearances), and drawing his share of walks. He also provides the kind of glove Joe loves to use in the eighth inning of a tight game.

Doug Mientkiewicz’s name is sure to pop up along the way somewhere, but I’d avoid him. Not only is he the dick who stole Boston’s World Series ball (after being there for what, three whole months?), but he also made some disparaging remarks about the Mets with the intention being for them to not pick up his option. Good job, Douggie, you’re a first-class douche bag, and I hope you end up playing on the Royals next year.

Back up catcher is next, and let me tell you this: there is absolutely no one on that list the Yankees could use. The two best options are to convince Flaherty to not retire (again), or let Will Nieves do the back up work next year. Molina would be a colossal mistake, as would Ramon Hernandez, though both of them aren’t likely to sign with the Yanks due to the presence of Posada.

And that, folks, is basically what the Yanks need heading into next year. The fourth outfielder role can be more than adequately filled by Bubba Crosby, and the team proved in ’05 that when you have A-Rod, Jeter, and Cano in your infield, the matter of a utility man isn’t of much importance. Most of the back up roles I’d like to see filled by guys from the farm system (the aforementioned Nieves, Kevin Thompson, to name two). On a parting note, I’ll recap the Sporting Brews Yankees Off-Season Plan:

Bullpen: B.J. Ryan, any two of the following: Julian Tavarez, Dennys Reyes, Jason Grimsley, Al Leiter
Outfield: Brian Giles, Brian Giles, Brian Giles
First Base/DH: Travis Lee

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

2005 Off-Season, Part III: I'll Trade You My Apple For Your Fruit Snacks

Now the fun begins. Well, kind of. Today is my scouring of the trading block thus far, and all I can say right off the bat is that I’m sure this topic will be revisited many times this off-season. The reason is simple: there aren’t many names being tossed around at this point. It’s not exactly top-notch PR to announce that a guy is up for bids while you still have free agents to sign and advance tickets to sell.

Four names top this list, and not because they’re the best players out there: Torii Hunter, Milton Bradley, Juan Pierre, Corey Patterson. Yep, the center fielder hunt is on, and with the free agent market bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, bartering is seemingly the best option.

Hunter is on the top of everyone’s wish list, since he provides the defense that Yankees fans pined for while watching Bernie come up short on seemingly routine fly balls in 2005. Unfortunately for those frothing at the mouth, Hunter is really nothing special at the plate. This presents an interesting situation, since I went on the record yesterday saying that we didn’t need a huge upgrade to improve upon Bernie’s 2005 contribution of a .288 non-out percentage and .427 efficiency rating.

Over the past three seasons, Hunter has averaged a non-out percentage of.283 and an efficiency rating of .510. So if you’re willing to forgive an out here and there, Hunter looks like a solid replacement, with his defense and all, right? I still don’t buy this one, mainly because I know that Twins GM Terry Ryan will not let him go on the cheap. Hunter’s defense isn’t worth a hoard of prospects and/or Robinson Cano. The best case scenario here is that the Yanks wait it out until right before Spring Training, where Hunter’s price tag will dwindle should he still be on the market (and not wearing an Angels jersey).

Next up: board game pioneer Milton Bradley. His future is rather uncertain now, as the old GM in LA said he wanted to trade Bradley. But he was fired and the GM position is up in the air. I’m going to make a prediction here: if the Dodgers hire a traditional “baseball guy,” – which I think they will, seeing as they terminated the DePodesta relationship rather quickly – Bradley will be out, and on the cheap. Traditional baseball guys don't care about the guy’s OBP or Slugging percentage; they care that he gets suspended for indecent behavior once a year, and they don’t want that kind of guy ruining clubhouse chemistry (they have Jeff Kent for that).

But if you’re building a team with no team chemistry consequences, Bradley is the guy. His NOP over the last three years is a bulbous .343, while his efficiency rating is .533. Combine that with some speed (read: defense) in center, and you have a complete upgrade over Bernie.

I would love it if Bradley was like Sheffield, and just needs an environment like New York to thrive. Sheffield was always notorious for having a bad attitude (wow, that makes me sound like a Little League coach), and was relocating every few years because of it. But he arrived in New York, and just seemed like a perfect fit. It’s almost like being on this team in this environment has humbled him in some slight way. Sure, he runs his mouth here and there, but that’s only to be expected.

Unfortunately, I don’t see Bradley making the transition. Of course, I have no hard evidence for this, just a gut feeling. Sheffield may have behaved badly in the past, but never to the degree of Bradley (at least not that I remember). Supposedly, jail and anger management taught Bradley a lesson, but he had that whole incident with Jeff Kent this year, which I have beef with. I just hate it when professional athlete publicly play the race card on a teammate, and Jeff Kent was just an easy target. I’m not saying that Kent doesn’t harbor contempt towards other races, but I’m saying that Bradley was wrong to bring anything of that nature to the public light.

As a relative compromise, I’m going to put my name under the Juan Pierre column. I was never really a fan of Pierre, especially after watching him struggle this year – at least more so than in years past. First off, he is a decent on-base guy, making an out in less than 70 percent of his plate appearances (.307 NOP). Second, he’s a singles machine. Usually, power is the key, but the Yankees have plenty of power to go around, so a true singles hitter/walk drawer is something the team could surely use.

Third, he’s a legitimate base swiping threat. Over the past three years, he’s been a 74 percent success rate, but augmented that with a 77 percent performance this year. Fourth, he’s only grounded into 28 double plays in 2212 plate appearances over the last three years. In my research of MLB players and their efficiency, I’ve come across a lot of leadoff hitters, and without any actual calculations, I think he has the lowest GPD rate in the league. Fifth, he has struck out once every NINETEEN at bats over the past three years. Once again, he did this as a leadoff hitter, which makes it an even more astounding feat. Remember, 2212 plate appearances, and he only struck out every nineteenth. And with an efficiency rating of .454, he’s even an improvement over Bernie in that category.

Finally, we get to Corey Patterson, who was demoted to Triple-A this season due to his free-swinging ways that led to an overt number of strikeouts. After a breakout 2003 in which he went .298/.329/.511 (traditional stats), he fell off the boat in ’04 and ’05. His 2005 line, .215/.254/.348, was particularly horrible, and he struck out 118 times, or roughly once every four plate appearances (read: once a game).

Still, I expect the asking price for Patterson to be relatively steep, probably in the area of an Eric Duncan. And as much as I don’t think Duncan has a real future with the Yanks, I don’t think he should be traded for Patterson. For starters, despite Duncan’s below expectations performance at Trenton this year, he still was able to draw a fair amount of walks (59 in 451 AB). Plus, he’s absolutely tearing up winter ball, at least through 20 games (82 AB), posting a line of .366/.416/.756.

If Patterson can be fetched for a similar price (a couple of relievers that most likely aren’t going to make it) to Chacon, I say go for it. Anything more expensive, however, will make the risk outweigh the cost, and while I’m an advocate of risk taking, this doesn’t seem like a high percentage one. Plus, if Damon splits from Boston, the Red Sox may be willing to part ways with more to get Patterson. And in that case, I’d shake Corey’s hand tell him to have fun in Beantown.

These four are merely the names being tossed around at the moment, and there is no guarantee as to the availability of them. And, as we all know from off-season experience, other names may pop up in the coming months. The guys I like that haven’t been mentioned yet, but might: Raul Ibanez, Rocco Baldelli. The guys I like but probably won’t be waved around as bait: David DeJesus, Frank Catalanotto, Coco Crisp, Aaron Rowand. And finally, guys I’m iffy on, but would probably be available for the right price: Gary Matthews, Emil Brown. I have a feeling that I’ll be getting to at least two of these guys later in the off-season.

Sure, there are other big names being floated in trade talks, but none of them will land in New York. Manny (Red Sox certainly won’t deal him to the Yanks, though they did offer him up for free in ’04), Wells (wants to play on the West Coast/still bitter feelings over the ’03 World Series), and Barry Zito (don’t have the goods to land him). So let’s keep the focus on center field with the trades, relief pitching and a backup first baseman/DH in free agency, which I will get to manana.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

2005 Off-Season, Part II: What You Got?

Yes, I realize that most Yankees fans (and especially ones who would be reading this here site) know the players that remain under contract for the 2006 season. So listing them by position and noting the gaps wouldn’t be all that productive, right? I certainly hope not, because more or less, that’s what I’m aiming at today.

What I’m trying to prove today is what the Yankees need to complete the puzzle, where “what” is 100 percent ambiguous. No names, no ideas on specific players to fill the holes. This way, when I go over the list of free agents tomorrow, I can take the players and try to fit them in the mold. And finally, on Thursday, filling in the rest of the pieces via fantasy GM trades (I’ll try to stay as reasonable as possible).

Just a quick word on the pitching staff before I launch into two through ten. This is the first year in which the Yankees won’t be scouring the starting pitching market, seeing as they have six (supposedly) capable arms to start games: RJ, Moose, Pavano, Chacon, Wang, Wright – and you can throw in Small there, though he’ll more than likely be placed in the bullpen. Accordingly, I’m not going to go over the state of the starting pitching, since it’s probably set and not subject to free agent signings.

On to the second half of the battery. At catcher, Jorge Posada is entrenched in his position. There have been cries that his drop in productivity is hurting the team, and that they need to bring in a guy like Ramon Hernandez or Bengie Molina to actually get production out of the backstop. This talk is patently ridiculous. I want to begin by pointing out that Jorge was fourth in the AL in VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), but I’m not quite sure how that number is calculated (still new to this sabermetrics thing). But he did rank fifth in the AL among catchers in OBP (none of which are Molina, while Hernandez ranks 10th in the NL).

He also ranks fifth in the AL for Isolated Power (Slugging minus BA). Once again, Bengie Molina is not one of the top five (Barajas, Varitek, Lopez, and Victor Martinez top the list). In essence, the only thing Molina did well this year is hit for average, something he’s done in the past but never consistently. Throwing money at him would not only mean reduced playing time for Jorge – who by all means is still a top catcher in the AL – but it would guarantee him as the starting catcher on Opening Day 2007 at the age of 32. Jorge was 33 this year.

See, there I go, mentioning free agent names right after I state that I don’t want to do that. I’m justifying it by the fact that I needed a comparison here to prove that Jorge should be our guy in 2006. If he takes a few more pitches (his number of pitches per plate appearance was the worst of his career in ’05), he should continue to be productive, probably more so than 2005.

Making the 90-foot jog, we have Jason Giambi stretching for throws from Jeter at first. This position is the subject of some controversy, as the general consensus is that Giambi is an inadequate first baseman. There are a couple of flaws with this line of thinking, beginning with the fact that he’s not a bad first baseman. Sure, he has Rube Baker Syndrome and can’t deliver a ball from his hand to a teammate’s mitt, but being at first base, that’s not as magnified a problem since he’s at first base, one of the least physically demanding positions on the diamond.

The other flaw is that he is a vastly superior hitter while playing the field. I don’t quite know how to explain this, but the numbers surely speak for themselves: .319/.471/.664, a homer every 10 at bats while playing the field, .209/.404/.367, a homer every 22 at bats while DHing. That was just for 2005, but his composite stats from 2002-2004 speak just as loud: .274/.427/.563, a homer ever 12 at bats as a first baseman, .217/.384/.414, a homer ever 18 at bats as a DH. Quite simply: we need Jason playing first base. The DH we can worry about later.

Now we get to Robbie Cano, who some fans want to see playing for the Twins next year (not going to mention his name, not going to mention his name). To these people I ask: please keep whatever you’re huffing to yourself, because it causes completely irrational thoughts. Sure, Robbie had a few mental lapses over the course of the year (some quite visibly), but once again, the kid is a rookie. Hell, I’m a full half year older than him, if that counts for anything (it doesn’t). These were merely mistakes that rookies are half-expected to make (how can you half expect something?).

The part of his .297/.320/.458 rookie line that jumps out the most is the .320 OBP, which is only poor because of the .297 batting average attached to it. It is a much debated question whether plate discipline is inherent or developed, and Robbie may be a true test of it. He walked only 16 times over 522 at bats, and saw just 3.03 pitches per plate appearance in 2005, proving that he is easily among the least disciplined hitters in the league. If he can just cut down on those first pitch pop outs, he’ll easily have an improved year in 2006.

So there’s one free swinger so far in the lineup. Thankfully, he’s really the only returning player who has such tendencies. I’ve already pointed out Jorge’s on base prowess among catchers, and Jason Giambi could potentially lead the league in OBP for the next 17 years. The four other returning starters – Jeter, A-Rod, Sheff and Matsui – also understand the strike zone. I’m going to forego doing blurbs on these four, since we all know what they bring to the table.

If you have been reading this site lately (and why wouldn’t you be?), you know that I’m trying to tinker with traditional statistics to make them a bit more efficient. The first is on base percentage, which I thought should rather be non-out percentage. The difference is simple: if you are to be credited for a high percentage of getting on base, you should be penalized for being caught stealing (it negates your single, double, or walk) and for grounding into a double play (you took someone else off base).

The other stat I’ve been tinkering with is Slugging percentage, which measures total bases (singles * 1, doubles * 2, triples * 3, homers * 4) divided by at bats. But, if walks truly are important, then they should count as singles, and the total should be divided by total plate appearances. This, in my opinion, should take the place of OPS, which lopsidedly slaps together OBP and Slugging. Also, since stealing a base gives a runner a free bag, I’ve decided that the statistic would be more efficient if the difference between stolen bases and caught stealing were added in. I have also subtracted out double plays, but the more I think about it, the more that seems foolish. Why screw with a guy’s total bases because he hit a grounder with a guy on base? By the way, I’m calling this stat Efficiency Rating.

These are the stats that I’m going to use to evaluate free-agent talent, so they’re the stats I’m going to use to assess the Yankees. People may not agree with them, but I believe that they are more efficient in piecing together a team than the traditional stats. I also recognize that these stats may have flaws of their own; no one said Bill James got it right on the first try.

The Yankees Non-Out Percentages, listed from greatest to least:
.428, .401, .360, .359, .341, .337, .299, .288, .281

Removed will be the .299 (Tino) and .288 (Bernie).

The Yankees Efficiency Rating, listed from greatest to least:
.664, .607, .570, .533, .505, .497, .496, .459, .421

Removed will be .497 (Tino) and .421 (Bernie). Also take note that much of Tino’s success was had over that 10-day stretch in May.

Ideally, the .299/.497 of Tino and the .288/.421 of Bernie can be replaced with more efficient players, whether through free agency or trades. It’s not like they have to replace the .401/.664 of A-Rod or the .428/.607 of Giambi. The Yankees merely have to fill the bottom portions of the spectrum, which presents a positive possibility: replacing Bernie with defense.

It’s not all that difficult to replace a .288 non-out percentage and a .421 Efficiency Rating. In fact, a solid defensive center fielder can more than likely be found who can put up BETTER numbers than that. Since the Yankees did finish first, and since they did have the best offense in the AL according to NOP and ER, they can afford to plug in some defense.

Replacing Tino may be a bit more difficult, since finding a backup first baseman who hits .299/.497 may be a bit more difficult. The solution: find a first baseman who is willing to DH most of the time. This only problem with this is that it wouldn’t allow for Torre to substitute a defensive glove at first in the late innings for Giambi, since the first baseman would already be in the lineup as the DH. The off-season: conundrums abound.

The other solution is to nab a true DH with some minimal fielding skills (so he’s more productive in the field than David Ortiz) and a fielding first baseman as a backup. Any way the search ends up, the main goal is going to be to better Tino’s numbers from last year, which once again isn’t the most difficult task.

I’m going on 1,700 words, so I’ll cut this short before going to the bullpen. The reason is simple: we all know that the Yanks need a totally revamped bullpen. Who to fill those spots, though? Well, that’s the point of tomorrow’s column: Filling the Void.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Innuendo Times Ten

I don't even know what to think of this story from ESPN.com. At first, I thought it was a clever farce, but it was posted at 1 a.m., and it's still up now, so it seems legit. The link:

Dick to replace Johnson vs. Gamecocks

Looks like the ole' Johnson couldn't stand up to the challenge, so Coach Nutt (yes, that's his name) is starting some fresh meat against the Gamecocks. Whether Dick can thrust his way to victory against the Cocks remains to be seen, but what we can tell you is that this will be a BIG game.

2005 Off-Season, Part I

Open season on free agents might not begin for a few weeks, but the talks have been rampant since October 10th on what the Yankees should do to improve this off-season. This has been an increasing dilemma since 2000, and each year it seems that smart signings (Sheffield, Matsui) are coupled with bone headed transactions (Womack, Mondesi), helping kill the Yankees chances of winning it all.

This is not to say that poor free agency decisions are the reason the Yanks haven’t won it all since 2000. It’s just asserting that had more thought out moves been made, maybe one of those years could have been salvaged. But instead, they were stuck with a thorn or two in their sides, and that goes a long way when you’re trying to best 29 other teams.

Today is the opening segment in a week long series on what the Yankees can do to improve this off-season, which directly coincides with meetings being held in New York on the same topic. I’ll be providing some thought out rhetoric on the moves that I truly believe can elevate this team, just like Cashman is sitting down with George Steinbrenner, Randy Levine, Billy Connors et. al.

However, I’m not going to launch into a my “we need to sign X and Y and Z” today. That will come Thursday. Tomorrow will be the state of the team as it stands at the moment, and Wednesday will be exploring the trading block. The reasons for this are 1) I’m working on a unique system of evaluation for teams in the American League and 2) I wanted to take some time to gripe about poor Yankees off-season (and a few in-season) moves from the recent past.

So let’s start following the 2000 season. Plenty good happened then, but the big news was nabbing Mike Mussina, the most highly coveted pitcher on the market. In addition, we got our hands on a young lefty named Damaso Marte. When you factor in the inking of O’Neill, it seemed like a positively productive off-season. Sure, David Cone and Doc Gooden were gone, but they were both over the hill and unlikely to find a spot in the 2001 rotation anyway.

This would have been all fine and dandy, had it not been for one trade that kinda gets under my skin in hindsight. The Big Name: Drew Henson. The price tag: Wily Mo Pena. Now, Pena might not be a superstar, and at the time he was traded there was little evidence that he’d bloom into a major leaguer. But here go the Yanks again, giving up prized prospects to get a big name for the headlines. So Pena is enjoying relative success in Cincinnati at the age of 23, while Henson is sitting on the bench for the Dallas Cowboys.

The lesson for the 2005/2006 off-season: don’t be so quick to give up low level prospects for big names (::ahem:: Torii Hunter).

Some in-season beef: trading Marte for Enrique Wilson and Randy Flores for Randy Velarde. Marte may have been one of the weaker links in the White Sox bullpen this year, but he was certainly better than any lefty reliever that passed through the Yankee Stadium doors daily. Same goes for Randy Flores, who was perfectly average in ’05, but would have been a lefty upgrade for the Yanks.

The moves in the ‘01/’02 off-season were a bit more prolific than those of the previous year. Right off the bat, the Yanks snatched up the premier name on the list once again, Oakland A’s slugger Jason Giambi. This was in addition to picking up Steve Karsay, who had a great season in the bullpen for the Braves, and Rondell White, a perpetual .290-.300 hitter. The off-season was capped by the return of Boomer, who broke a verbal agreement with the D Backs in order to return to New York.

See, nothing bad happened there. Instead of mortgaging prospects, George merely opened up the checkbook and roped in a few big names. So he overpaid for all those names; big deal. He’s George friggin’ Steinbrenner, and if he has to overpay for talent, well, it’s better than having no talent at all.

But then came July 2002, a month that retrospectively makes me want to tear my eyeballs out, possibly with a spork and knife. The first blunder was dishing Scott Wiggins to Toronto for Raul Mondesi. It’s not that Wiggins was a particularly special player in my book, but there are few players less special than Mondesi. Given the chance to reverse one of the Yankees trades from these years, this one or the next one would be it. Yes, I hate Mondesi that much.

Apparently, having a young lefty on the roster isn’t something Steinbrenner particularly approves of, especially when a young, loose cannon righty can be had in his place. Apparently, the Yankees had been stalking Jeff Weaver for quite some time, knowing the Tigers were looking to ship him elsewhere. During negotiations, one of baseball’s finest opportunists saw something he liked, and stuck his neck in, wanting a piece of this trade’s pie.

Billy Beane had something Detroit wanted: highly touted prospect Carlos Pena. Detroit had something the Yankees wanted: pot-smoking righty Jeff Weaver. And the Yankees had something Oakland was seeking: young lefty Ted Lilly. But don’t think Beane was content at such a simple switcheroo. He swindled the Yanks out of prized prospect John-Ford Griffin in the process. Thankfully, at least Detroit got a laugh out of this one, as they received Jeremy Bonderman later in August as compensation from the A’s.

Thankfully, the Yanks laid relatively low once again in the 2002-2003 off-season. They made three signings of note: Hideki Matsui, Jose Contreras, and Jon Leiber, whom they knew would not be playing in 2003 due to Tommy John surgery. And only two trades were consummated: El Duque to Chicago for Antonio Osuna (d’oh!) and Rondell White for Bubba Trammell (and even though Trammell went MIA mid-season, he was still more compensation than anyone could have expected for White).

Here comes the trade deadline again, and since the 2003 race with the Red Sox was as heated as ever, deals had to be made. Approved deals: sending Mondesi away for more than a Thank You card (actually, we got David Dellucci, who isn’t half bad) and sending Robin Ventura to Los Angeles for Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor. I think we can even lump in the Benitez for Nelson deal here, though neither would be particularly effective.

Unapproved trade: Brandon Claussen for Aaron Boone. Once again, this isn’t because Claussen is a blooming star, but because really, what did Aaron Boone do other than hit a home run off Tim Wakefield? And maybe if Aaron Boone wasn’t on the roster, the Yanks don’t even let it get to a Game Seven. Maybe they’re in the World Series after a five game trouncing of the Red Sox, and have enough left in the tank to finish off the Marlins. Maybe Claussen comes in to relieve an aching Wells, and maybe Claussen becomes the hero. Point is, Aaron Boone may be famous for dooming the Red Sox, but without him around, it might not even have gotten to that point. And, more importantly, Aaron Boone sucks.

Of course, nothing inspires the ire of George Steinbrenner quite like losing a World Series. Changes were going to be made, and made they were. Gaffe No. 1: Andy Pettitte. I’ve expressed my resentment over this trade more than once in this space, so I don’t feel like I need to reiterate. But, I’d like to take this brief second to call Roger Clemens a no-good scoundrel for accepting a Hummer from George Steinbrenner as a retirement gift, then accepting another from Houston as coercion to un-retire. Funny, how both owners game him Hummers to get their way.

Disapproved Trade: Jeff Weaver and Yhency Brazoban for Kevin Brown. Hell, I would have rather had Weaver over the past two years than Brown, and that doesn’t even account for Brazoban. It was a gamble: Brown stays healthy and he’s an ace; he gets hurt and he’s a bust. Yeah, it’s all about the latter.

Sitting on the Fence: Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera for Javy Vazquez. Seemed like a great idea at the time, since Vazquez was one of the rising pitching stars in the league, and there was really no spot for Rivera or Johnson, considering the presence of Giambi and the newly signed Gary Sheffield. Of course, this one kind of blew up in the Yanks face, but it certainly could have been worse.

Then, of course, was Soriano for A-Rod, a trade which – despite his poor postseason performances thus far – was a no-brainer. And once A-Rod realizes that the stuff he spits out to the media about being a team player is how he should actually be thinking, he may turn out to be a winner yet.

Looking back over this list, it doesn’t seem like the Yanks have surrendered a ton of talent over the years. But, they also haven’t gotten much in exchange, unless a boatload of bloated contracts counts for anything. Before the Yankees consider plucking pieces from the farm system, they need to reflect on years past and realize that the 22-year-old making peanuts is probably going to be just as valuable as the guy they’re trading him for.