Thursday, November 24, 2005

Bullpen

Happy Thanksgiving and all that jazz. Yes, I'm posting on a national holiday, on a day I'm guaranteed single digit hits. But, since I work on Friday (for an hour or two) and don't normally post on the weekend, I want to get a few things off my chest.

Okay, a few things means one thing, and that is the current bullpen situation. Everyone is getting their panties in a bunch because of the Cubs signing Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry, two guys on the Yankees radar. Combined with "pussy ass bitch" (pardon my french) B.J. Ryan and the unlikelihood of acquiring Kyle Farnsworth, everyone seems to think that the bullpen could be the tragic flaw of the 2006 Yankees.

As I said the other day, I think that Jose Veras was a great signing, considering his numbers in the defensive independent department. In the same light, the Yankees have a few farm hands in the same position.

Matt Desalvo: 149 IP, 9.12 K/9, 4.05 BB/9, 0.48 HR/9
Ben Julianel: 87.2 IP, 10.88 K/9, 5.13 BB/9, 0.72 HR/9
Justin Pope: 77 IP, 6.43 K/9, 2.34 BB/9, 0.23 HR/9
Colter Bean: 10.3 K/9, 4.90 BB/9, 0.63 HR/9
J. Brent Cox: 27.2 IP, 8.78 K/9, 1.63 BB/9, 0.33 HR/9
Matt Smith: 82.2 IP, 10.04 K/9, 3.93 BB/9, 0.54 GR/9

Okay, so they're not flawless. But certainly this crop of relievers can do better than the likes of Buddy Groom, Paul Quantrill, and Mike Stanton, who so notoriously tainted the Yankees bullpen for the first few months of 2005.

And I'm not saying that all of these guys are going to be stars in the Major Leagues. I'm just saying that the Yankees have enough relief pitching prospects to make due for 2006 without any overbearing disasters. Call up Matt Smith and Colter Bean to start the year, for instance, and give them enough innings to gain confidence. Pope, Desalvo, and Julianel could provide a formidable bullpen at Columbus (read: the reserves), while James Brent Cox could be the second coming of Huston Street.

Despite my derision of this year's crop of free agent bullpen relief (and how the Cubs totally misappropriated funds), I still think that Gordon and Farnsworth provide worthy options for the setup role. While I want to see these farm hands test their mettle in the Major Leagues, it is also a weight off my mind to know that Mo has somoene else in the bullpen for support who has a track record.

In my opinion, bullpen help is much too volatile to throw tons of guaranteed cash at, except in rare instances like Mo, Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman, and the like. Though, there aren't many guys quite like them...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thome for Rowand

Yes, it’s the third entry for today, but 1) I want to get stuff in before the holiday weekend, 2) traffic is slow, and I could use the hits, and 3) in some odd sort of way, this affects the Yankees.

Coveted by the Yankees, White Sox center fielder Aaron Rowand about to be shipped off to Philly for expendable first baseman slugger Jim Thome.

Of course, White Sox GM Kenny Williams already nixed the idea of trading Rowand to the Yankees, stating that the Yankees did not have a match in their farm system that they were willing to trade. All hopes of a three-way trade were squashed with the breaking of this story.

This leaves the White Sox in prime position to acquire Juan Pierre from the Marlins to fill the void left by Rowand, taking another name off the potential suitors for center field in the Bronx.

But this story isn’t all downside for the Yanks. With Rowand on board, the Phillies may be willing to listen to offers for Endy Chavez, who has been discussed as an option for the Yankees in the past week or so. And since Rowand has proven himself as an everyday guy in center, Chavez becomes very dispensable.

The major problem with this scenario is that Chavez bats lefty, same as Bubba Crosby, negating any possibility of a platoon. Any acquisition of Chavez would be more of an experiment than a certainty. He posted his best year in 2004 with the Expos, averaging .277/.318/.371 in 502 at bats. Call me crazy, but I think that Bubba could post similar numbers given that number of at bats.

I would urge Cashman to ignore the calls regarding Chavez, but unfortunately, Cashman doesn’t exactly have an ear for my voice right now.

Mets Set To Acquire Delgado

The Marlins fire sale continues, with Carlos Delgado reportedly headed to Flushing in exchange for pitching prospect Yusmeiro Petit and first baseman Mike Jacobs. This is all in accordance with Omar Minaya’s new plan for the Mets: overpay to win now. That may sound like a negatively connoted statement, but it’s really not.

Omar, by reputation, was usually on the selling end of such deals, having been the GM of the cash-strapped Montreal Expos for so many years. So one way of looking at this is that he’s excited to actually have a workable (and then some) budget, and is throwing cash around just because he can.

Part of a GM’s job is to figure out where the team stands, how it can benefit by the addition and subtraction of players, and assess the real chances of a pennant run. The Mets have plenty already invested in the team, and 2006 looks like the year they could peak. Pedro most likely has a Pedro-esque season left in him, but all bets are off when it comes to 2007. David Wright is entering a stage where he’ll be one of the most productive guys on the diamond. Same goes for Jose Reyes. Cliff Floyd is in the same boat as Pedro, his age punctuating his future ability with a question mark.

It just seems like an ideal situation in which to ante up a few prospects and a few dollars to bring in names that will help fill roles. Last year the Mets had holes in the bullpen, first base and second base. In the month that has passed since the World Series, Minaya has (reportedly) acquired a first baseman with a big bat, and has made a more than generous offer to top-tier closer Billy Wagner. And with the Marlins fire sale still hot, second baseman Luis Castillo could still be on the radar.

The question still remains, though: will Manny be in left field for the Mets in 2006? Signs point to no, since Manny reportedly wishes to head to the west coast, even considering the dismal Mariners as a stopping point. While adding Manny surely would multiply the Mets chances by a thousand, he’s not necessarily integral to a Mets pennant run.

Pos.2005 Starter2006 Starter
CMike PiazzaTBD
1BDoug MientkeiwiczCarlos Delgado
2BMatsui/Cairo/AndersonTBD
3BDavid WrightDavid Wright
SSJose ReyesJose Reyes
LFCliff FloydCliff Floyd
CFCarlos BeltranCarlos Beltran
RFMike CameronTBD/Xavier Nady


The first TBD will more than likely be Ramon Hernandez, who provides a combination of youth and skill (though, once again, his horrendous at bat with the tying runs on base in the top of the ninth of Game One of the NLDS has me wondering about his mental toughness). The second base hole can be filled ably by a guy like Tony Graffanino or even Mark Bellhorn. And in the outfield, there are a number of options available, though ostensibly the Mets have filled that right field position with Xavier Nady. That would all change, though, if the Mets would acquire Manny.

I’m sure Omar is far from done this off-season as he continues to construct a team with the modus operandi to “win now.” And – to take a page from Peter Gammons – if Carlos Beltran returns to his 2004 form, if Pedro still has a dominant year in him, if Jose Reyes continues his development, and if they can get productivity out of Aaron Heilman and Jay Seo, the Mets could certainly make a run ending the Braves 14-year streak.

The Big "What If?"

WARNING: I may be re-posting this later on in the off-season, depending on where the Yankees stand come mid-January or early February. But since I labored over these numbers for quite some time, I think I’m going for it right now, in hopes that it gathers a little bit of attention.

Center field, center field, center field, lame John Forgerty joke, center field, center field, center field. That’s all I’ve been reading lately. And with all the names tumbling about the rumor mill, the New York media has been able to stick with this story every day. And I’m no slacker in that department myself; I think I’ve mention Brian Giles’s name about 3,262 times in the past three weeks.

Here’s a quick list of what fascinates me followed by a slightly longer list of what doesn’t fascinate me.

Fascinates Me: following the trade, minor league, and free agent markets and figuring out how to build a ball club with them.

Doesn’t Fascinate Me: people making assertions with no support, oft-injured power pitchers with a pitcher-friendly home park and terrible home/road splits, and people making assertions with no support.

I’ve examined what is available, and have concluded that Brian Giles is the best candidate to fill open position in the Yankees outfield. This should come as a surprise to no one.

Problem: Giles might not want to sign with the Yankees, no matter how many of George’s dollars are offered to him. The alternatives aren’t that attractive, starting with the sure-to-be-overpaid Johnny Damon (courtesy of Scott Boras) followed by Torii Hunter and dropping even further to names like Milton Bradley, Juan Pierre, Corey Patterson, and Aaron Rowand.

I’m actually not totally down on these guys, it’s just that they will all come with a price tag that I don’t believe will resemble a bargain. I wouldn’t call Giles a bargain either, but I do believe that he will put up superior numbers to everyone in that group, making a hefty contract in the neighborhood of 3 for $30 seem rather rational.

Anyway, I do see a bargain out there, however. Bubba Crosby. I know there are plenty of people who don’t think that Bubba can perform to the level of a major leaguer for the duration of a season. And most of those people probably never have even looked at his minor league statistics. Because if they did, they might not be so quick to discount Bubba. So here they are, courtesy of Joe’s new obsession with tables (I omitted two minor league stints in which he gathered 12 and 42 at bats because of the small sample size).

YearLevelTeamABAvgOBPSlgISOOPS
1998ASan Bernadino199.216.274.281.065.555
1999ASan Bernadino371.296.376.377.081.753
2000AVero Beach274.266.355.460.194.815
2001AAJacksonville384.302.369.432.130.801
2002AAJacksonville150.260.317.367.107.684
2002AAALas Vegas279.262.312.409.147.721
2003AAALas Vegas277.361.410.635.2741.045
2003AAAColumbus63.302.366.460.158.826
2004AAAColumbus116.276.365.379.103.744
2005AAAColumbus160.231.306.363.132.669


Maybe not the marks of a superstar, but they’re a far cry from bad. Most people dwell on his paltry offering at the MLB level, though he’s only been presented with the opportunity for 163 Major League at bats over three years, 98 of which were in 2005. And you know where his best Major League performance was? You guessed it, late in 2005.

There is evidence presented in the above grid that supports the notion that given time to settle in, Bubba can be a viable asset at the plate. True, this may not be the most compelling evidence, in that it doesn’t mean that Bubba is sure to have a solid year if given the chance. But it should be enough to at least make someone think that hey, this kid been able to hit at various levels of ball. Maybe if he’s given enough time, he can provide a bit of frustration for opposing pitchers. Remember, we’re merely trying to replace the fifteenth best center fielder in a fourteen-team league, not trying to find the next Griffey.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Jose Veras?

Just a quickie here, because I just read about the Yankees signing former Rangers farm hand Jose Veras for bullpen duty. Always the curious one, I headed over to milb.com with calculator in hand and punched out a few pitching numbers.

IP:   61.2
K/9:   10.5
BB/9:   4.82
HR/9:   0.58

According to ballparks.com, the dimensions of the park are about on par with the rest of the Pacific Coast League (actually one of the shallowest at the corners, but that 415 right-center is nearly the deepest part of any park in the league).

All around, Veras looks to have quite a bit of potential. K's up, homers down, though his walk totals are a bit high. But, I have not known many a rookie to have impeccable control.

This could be one of "those" signings. Then again, this could be me being overly optimistic.

More On Center Field

You know it’s the heart of the off-season when the same topics are revisited on a daily basis. Yes, we all know the Yanks need a center fielder and a few good arms in the bullpen. From what I’ve gathered though reading newspapers, other blogs, and message boards, there have been plenty of discrepancies about who should fill what role. Or, rather (at least in the center field case), what type of player would be best suited for the job.

Center field was such a gaping hole last year not only because of Bernie’s lack of range and arm, but also because of his dead bat. Since the Yankees lineup is for the most part filled with more than capable bats, the focus seemed to lie on the defensive aspect, leading to an outcry for a defensive outfielder with little consideration for plate performance.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Yankees ranked 10th in the AL in defensive efficiency, ahead of only Boston, Tampa Bay, Texas, and Kansas City. Yikes. Problem is, it’s tough to gauge the defensive abilities of a player, since defensive statistics are, in my opinion, very unreliable. But, even though it’s tough to prove statistically, anyone who watched the Yankees this year clearly saw that Bernie just wasn’t getting to balls in center that he should have. Combined with the minimal range of Gary Sheffield (I’ll give some defensive props to Matsui and leave him out of this discussion for the time being), this meant a lot of fly balls dropping in where they would have been gobbled up by more efficient outfields.

I want to list some defensive statistics here for context, like Range Factor, but I still believe they are highly misleading. Range Factor multiplies assists plus put outs by nine and divides by innings played. The problem is that it does not take into consideration the pitchers on the player’s team. If Team A has a slew of groundball pitchers, an outfielder isn’t going to have as many put outs as a player on Team B, whose pitchers induce mostly pop-ups. So what we really have to judge an outfielder is our eyes, and little more.

This is the question I’m getting at: was Bernie’s defense so egregious this year that nearly any available center fielder could provide a relative defensive boost? I think the answer is a sure yes. Even Brian Giles can provide more ground coverage than Bernie could. So the Yanks probably shouldn’t be going for the top of the defensive spectrum with on regard to offense; they just need an improvement in any form on defense, which shouldn’t be a problem. Where the Yanks could make a real, discernible improvement is with the stick.

Just take a look at the offensive production of the 14 starting AL center fielders in 2005 (if a team juggled the position, the one with the most games started at the position is listed):
PlayerAvgOBPSlgISO
Johnny Damon.316.366.439.123
David DeJesus.293.356.445.152
Grady Sizemore.289.346.484.195
Luis Matos.280.337.373.093
Mark Kotsay.280.324.421.141
Aaron Rowand.270.327.407.137
Vernon Wells.269.320.463.194
Torii Hunter.369.337.452.183
Nook Logan.258.295.335.078
Gary Matthews.255.319.436.181
Jeremy Reed.254.320.352.098
Bernie Williams.249.321.367.118
Damon Hollins.249.295.418.170
Steve Finley.222.270.374.153


For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 12th in batting average, 8th in OBP, 12th in slugging percentage, and 11th in isolated power. Additionally, and this can be taken at whatever the reader thinks it is worth, there isn’t a single player on that list who ranks below Bernie in every category. Even Steve Finley and Damon Hollins, who both rank below Bern in average and OBP, beat him out in slugging and ISO (though Nook Logan only scores higher in batting average).

We can be pretty sure that Bernie was worse defensively than everyone on that list. And, by way of batting statistics, we can prove that he was among the worst, if not the worst himself (depends on how you look at it) in offensive productivity. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, here are Giles’s numbers in these categories: .301/.423/.483/.182, ranking 2nd/1st/2nd (by .001)/4th if placed in that group. Now here’s a complete look at the other center field candidates:

PlayerAvgOBPSlgISO
Brian Giles.301.423.483.182
Milton Bradley.290.350.484.194
Juan Pierre.276.326.354.078
Corey Patterson.215.254.348.133
Aaron Rowand.270.327.407.137
Torii Hunter.369.337.452.183
Gary Matthews.255.319.436.181


Notice how every one of them is an offensive upgrade over Bernie (okay, maybe not Corey Patterson, but we've been over this). And, as I have determined by ears and eyes, each presents a more favorable option defensively as well.

I believe it was Billy Beane who emphatically stated in Moneyball that defensive is overrated. Of course, defense still plays a role, but what Beane means is that a killer hitter should be favorable over some flashy leather. And as we all know, the Yankees do in fact possess some killer bats. Listed in order of Bill James’s defensive spectrum (by difficulty of position defensively), here are the 2005 Yankees, their Value Over Replacement Player and the rank among AL players of the same position.

Pos.PlayerVORPAL Rank
1BJason Giambi58.42
LFHideki Matsui52.92
RFGary Sheffield56.52
3BAlex Rodriguez99.71
CFBernie Williams7.315
2BRobinson Cano27.58
SSDerek Jeter66.33
CJorge Posada32.64


It should also be noted that Cano was fourth in the AL among rookies in VORP, which puts his rank of eighth among second basemen in better perspective. Having said that, well, just look at the table and you know what I’m getting at. The only non-rookie to rank outside of the top four at his position ranked FIFTEENTH! Oh, and Brian Giles had a VORP of 65.1 and was ranked first among NL right fielders in 2005 (even with Andruw Jones, he still would have ranked first among NL center fielders).

The Yankees should be looking for a bat to replace Bernie as hard as they are searching for some legs and a glove to do the same. Defense is difficult to quantify, but offense is not. With the addition of Brian Giles, the Yankees stand to have each of their starters rank in the top five in VORP for 2006 – considering no one goes into dramatic decline and Cano does what young players do and develops.

(Yes, I know that Giles might just sign elsewhere. I'm just pointing out that he's the best man for the job, regardless of whether he takes it or not)

By focusing on defense too intensely, the team will be trying to fill a gap that is tough to measure. By turning their attention to the offensive side, they can make a drastic improvement in an area that can be measured.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Over Stimulation

Repeat it with me: I will not get worked up over Ichiro. I will not get worked up over Ichiro.

It’s one thing for The Seattle Times to mull the possibility of an Ichiro deal, in light of his recent disparaging comments. But for Newsday to pick up such a story so quickly and link it to the Yankees is bordering on ridiculous.

Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to see Ichiro in pinstripes. Who wouldn’t? No one available via trades or free agency brings more to the table than Mr. Suzuki does. He’s an outfielder with impeccable range (read: center fielder) and a cannon for an arm. For those Yankees fans out there who think that Jeter isn’t the answer at leadoff, Ichiro certainly would be (though I think DJ is just fine leading off). Yeah, maybe he doesn’t draw a boatload of walks, but the guy can flat out hit.

There are just a few problems with this scenario, the first of which being that Seattle isn’t likely to dish him. You don’t just make a guy the center of your franchise and then go dish him two years after inking him to a contract. That is, unless the situation escalates to Vince Carter proportions and the only remedy is to part ways with the player at 50 cents on the dollar. But even with Carter, it wasn’t his complaining that got him shipped out of Toronto, it was his complaining followed by him merely going through the motions during games. Here was the franchise guy doing just enough to not get benched.

Another aspect that must be considered is that the media is probably blowing this whole shindig out of proportion. Here’s a simple rule of thumb in the New York media regarding the Yankees: if there is a top flight player who has even the remotest possibility of being traded, talk it up until everyone is sick of the story.

Finally, the potential price tag wouldn’t be one the Yankees should be eager to meet. Just imagine this exchange between Cashman and Seattle GM Bill Bavasi:
Bavasi: Please take Ichiro off my hands! I’ll take anything!
Cashman: Isn’t this a happy coincidence? You are desperate to sell, and we are desperate to buy.
Bavasi: Desperate, eh? Advantage, Bavasi. This is my offer. I think you’ll find it’s most UNfair, but those are the breaks.
Cashman: But Bill, this is twice his market value.
Bavasi: That’s my final offer. Take it or leave it.
Cashman: All right, Bill, you win. But beware. We Yankees aren’t all smiles and sunshine.
Bavasi: Ooh, the Yankees are mad at me. I’m so scared. Ooohh, the Yankees.
Cashman: Stop that.
Bavasi: Uh oh, the Yankees are coming to get me.

And in the process the Yanks will have lost Cano, Pavano, Duncan and Philip Hughes. Some say, however, that losing Cano would be a small price for a guy like Ichiro. But I ask you, the Yankees faithful, a question posed over on Replacement Level: what is a more attractive scenario: Cano at second and Giles in center, or Womack at second and Ichiro in center? Does anyone else think this is a no brainer?

The case for Ichiro can be made a thousand times over, but the fact remains that he’s simply not available. Maybe if this was MVP Baseball or a fantasy league, something could be worked out. But this is the real world, and in the real world, the New York media sensationalizes any story with a semblance of a pulse.

If, however, Ichiro does become available, it likely won’t be in the near future. Hopefully by that time, the Yanks will have filled their center field needs and won’t have any need for Ichiro. Let some other team sell the farm to acquire him.

Now to more important, pressing issues like bullpen help. The list, in essence, was shortened by two last week, as Scott Eyre signed an inflated deal with the Cubbies, and B.J. Ryan admitted that he has no rocks and doesn’t want the stress of New York. Yet, he visited the Mets. What, does he think the tabloids here avoid the team from Flushing? Last time I checked, they made a series of high profile moves last off-season, and are being held under the microscope.

What I’d really love is for Toronto to waste their surplus cash this off-season on Ryan and A.J. Burnett. Both will command top dollar, and both will be inked to long term deals. I don’t have high hopes for either pitcher (I did for Ryan, until he proved a pansy), so a big splash this year in free agency could mean they’ll be at a stalemate for next year’s round.

A couple of other rumors to touch base on, just because I have the space. I’m sure it’s printed elsewhere, but Lee Sinnis over at The Hardball Times has a blurb about the potential Rangers-Marlins deal that would send Hank Blalock and a pitching prospect to Florida for Josh Beckett and the contract of Mike Lowell. Apparently, the deal is just about ready to go through, but the Marlins want to test the market and see what they can squeeze out of the Red Sox. Shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez is reportedly being demanded by the Marlins, and I’m sure an arm like DelCarmen will be involved as well.

Repeat after me: I will not try to figure out who the Yanks could give up for Josh Beckett. I will not try to figure out who the Yanks could give up for Josh Beckett…

In other Marlins fire sale news, the Mets are reportedly interested in acquiring second baseman Luis Castillo or catcher Paul LoDuca, while the Orioles are pursuing first baseman Carlos Delgado. First off, I think the Mets would do well to acquire both LoDuca and Castillo, IF the price is right. However, I just don’t see the two of them being shipped anywhere for anything remotely resembling a bargain. Prospects is the name of the game, and the Mets would do well to avoid the entry fee.

Oh, and those wacky Orioles. Do they ever learn? Hey, let’s add another big bat so we can try to bludgeon our opponents to death. Sure, Delgado will be more productive than Sammy Sosa, but when are the O’s going to wise up and not beef up their offense until they add a viable starting pitcher? It’ll be the same old story next year with the Orioles. But hey, they’re in the AL East. What am I complaining about?