An Upgrade UPDATED

On the surface, the McCarthy for Nuno swap between Arizona and the Yankees looks like little more than a shuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic. But, beneath the surface, the Yankees have made themselves a bit better.

You our have to look beyond ERA to evaluate this deal and become comfortable with the notion that pitchers have no control over what happens to balls hit in the field of play. They could have a good defense behind them that gets to everything, or they could have a terrible defense behind them that let’s everything drop in. In either instance, their ERA would be greatly impacted.  That’s where FIP comes in. It attempts to neutralize the affects do defense and give you an ERA for a pitcher based on things they can control- strikeouts, walks, home runs.

Vidal Nuno has been awful this year, but the Yankee defense hasn’t helped him. Nuno’s FIP is 5.15, but his ERA is 5.42. Basically, he should be a bit better than his numbers suggest, but a FIP over 5 is still bad.

McCarthy has been bad, but the Arizona defense is to blame for a bunch of that. His ERA is 5.02, but his FIP is 3.79. If you look at his raw numbers compared to Nuno this makes sense,  he records more strikeouts, walks batters at about half the rate as Nuno, and gives up fewer home runs. Using WAR, he is about one win better than Nuno so far.

But there are two problems with this analysis. The Yankee defense will not help him and he is switching to the AL. He should still be better than Nuno, but this is not a huge upgrade. It is more like adding a fifth starter in exchange for someone who should not be starting. Value is created, but that is more a factor of how big some of holes the Yankees have to fill are than the talent of the player they acquired.

UPDATE. Yankees have DFAed Soriano. Not a shock, but it does make you wonder who is coming up and what their role will be. Maybe this means Jose Pirella’s time has arrived?  We probably won’t find out until after the game today or tomorrow as the Yankees have recalled Brian Billings for now.

International Love

The Daily News gave the best explanation of what the Yankees are doing today, and it sounds like the Yankees are cornering the international market today. Buster Olney says they have either signed 10 of the top-15 or 11 of the top-18 prospects out there. Let’s delve into this a bit deeper.

The Yankees are blowing past their pool allotment. Probably by $15-million or so. That will bring them a huge penalty of around $10-million and they will not be able to sign anyone next year for a bonus of more than $250,000. Despite the warnings in the Daily News, this is exactly what the Yankees should do because of five clear facts.

Fact 1- The Yankees need young talent right now.

Fact 2- Most teams are signing their potential free agents before they reach free agency.

Fact 3- You can’t pay over slot like you once could in the MLB draft.

Fact 4- Big payrolls incur big tax penalties and revenue sharing.

Fact 5- The system could change in the next CBA which expires December 2016.

So what the Yankees have done is flexed their substantial financial muscles in the one area they still can. They will not be able to do this again in 2015, but they will in 2016. It’s sort of like a NBA team that has the ball with 40 seconds left in the quarter. They are going 2-for-1. They will overload in 2014 and 2016, while being basically shut out of the 2015 international market.

The problem is that projecting players who are 16 is tougher than projecting players who are 18 or 20, so expect a lot of misses out of this approach. But, if the Yankees develop one All-Star out of this class, it will be well worth it.

A-Rod Part 40

Sports Illustrated released a new A-Rod story today. Before you shrug your shoulders and return to your day, consider the title- “How MLB let A-Rod use PED’s during the ’07 Season”  That probably got your attention.

Now one of the things that has mystified me during this process is how the Yankees could let those home run clauses in A-Rod’s contract stand uncontested. Why would the Yankees pay A-Rod for home runs that were hit with the help of PED’s? I think we might have an answer.

A-Rod applied for and was given an exemption to use testosterone before the 2007 season by MLB. Personally, I find that amazing, but shock is probably something I should stop feeling when it comes to MLB and PED’s.  You can make the argument that MLB wouldn’t necessarily have told the Yankees about that exemption, but I can’t really believe that. And if the Yankees knew about that and then signed him to that massive deal, they lose any credibility they would have had in a courtroom.

So my first question as a member of the press to the Yankees’ brass today would be, “Did the organization know that Alex had a testosterone exemption for the 2007 season?” My second one would be, assuming the answer to the first one is yes, “How did that affect your contract negotiations with him after the season?”

Stay tuned.

Hey Brian!

The Yankees just brought the infield in a scoreless game with one out in the top of the second. I think your manager is trying to tell you that he doesn’t trust his lineup.

Can you blame him? Currently, six Yankees have sub-.700 OPS’s. That’s the most in baseball. Some are surprising, like Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, some are not- Brian Roberts and Ichiro. The question is, what are you going to do about it?

Here’s my suggestion- nothing. Don’t make a trade for a bat that can carry this lineup. Don’t make a trade for a pitcher who can fix this rotation. Admit that after half a season this team is fundamentally flawed. Try to do better in 2015. I have some ideas about how that might be possible.

1- Soriano and Ichiro have some value to teams in contention with particular holes. Trade them to those teams and eat all of the money. You will get better prospects.

2- Let Brian Roberts go, or trade him for a bag of balls, and promote Refsnyder or Pirela. Clearly, the Yankees will need both a new shortstop and second baseman next year, one of these guys could be that answer. It’s time to find out.

3- David Robertson has tremendous value right now- trade him for future pieces. I don’t know if Betances can be the future closer, but I wouldn’t bet on anyone as a future closer unless their name was Mariano Rivera. the truth is closers mostly flame out quickly. Why not capitalize on the one you have and turn him into something for the future?

It’s weird to wave the flag of surrender when you are only two games back, but the Yankees have to face up to their flaws at some point. Tanaka is under contract for two three more years after this season, I would recommend you make the most of those and give up on 2014 right now.

Not Feeling It

Usually a Yankees-Red Sox series brings fires me up. After all, I created a website around it! But, its a bit harder to get fired up about this series. We have the third and fourth-place teams in the AL East meeting about halfway through the season. What happened to these two teams?

Well, I don’t think the Yankees are a big surprise right now. Before the season I predicted 85 wins and they are on pace for 84. I think the biggest worry you have to have as a Yankee fan right now is that the run differential, -34, indicates they should be much worse than they are. They’ve lost 3/5′s of their rotation and the offense has been mediocre. And, they may burn the bullpen out by August at this rate. Unless some big reinforcements are coming, I don’t think this team finishes above .500.

Boston is a bit more interesting. Dustin Pedroia is having a terrible year, I wouldn’t expect that to last. Xander Bogarts hasn’t lived up to the hype and Jackie Bradley has been awful. But, they have two very good starting pitchers in Lackey and Lester and a nice bullpen, so they could easily make a run.

But for now we have two mediocre teams facing off in late June. If the names on the front of the uniforms read something other than “Boston” or “New York” would we pay any attention?

Time For Changes

The Yankees can’t hit. Well, some of the Yankees can’t hit. Looking at the team, your eye is drawn to five players- Beltran, Roberts, McCann, Soriano, and Jeter.  None of these guys are hitting at this point, but I think it is fair to expect McCann to turn things around, so let’s forget about him for now. Even if you don’t, he has a huge contract and isn’t going anywhere.

Soriano has been demoted to a platoon player with Ichiro. That’s a very smart move as he can’t hit righties anymore, so let’s forget about him for a minute as the Yankees may have solved that problem.

Beltran has been hurt and probably will hit, so let’s forget about him for a minute. Again, big rule contract applies here.

That leaves Roberts and Jeter, and here we have huge problems. Roberts is a switch-hitter who has always been better against RHP than LHP. That hasn’t changed this year, but his numbers against LHP (.231/.310/.288) are beyond bad. The Yankees need to at minimum bench him against lefties and put Ryan in there. At least he will provide some defense (more on this in a minute)  and his numbers against lefties in his career  (.247/.312/.323 ) are an improvement over Roberts’. But this isn’t much of a solution and the Yankees are going to need to address the middle infield soon.

That is because of Jeter. The fact that a 40-year old Jeter isn’t hitting is not a shock. But, his BABIP is over .300 and his line drive rate is 19%. That means he isn’t being hurt by bad luck, he simply isn’t hitting. Now Jeter is a guy you are loathe to count out, but the Yankees need to be realistic about him. Putting Jeter 2nd in the lineup isn’t doing anyone any favors. If he was hitting against LHP, you might be able to argue that he should stay there, but he isn’t  (.619 OPS vs. LHP and .609 OPS against RHP)  How much longer can the Yankees pretend he is going to hit?

Now if he could play defense, the Yankees would probably look beyond his hitting, but we know that isn’t the case. The Yankee announcers haven’t figured out that the reason for all the shifts this year is the defensive problems the Yankees have. We know Jeter has never been a very good shortstop and this year isn’t any different. What is different is that he doesn’t have Robinson Cano playing to his left and a fair number of grounders are getting through the middle.

Now defensive stats are tricky, but consider these numbers for Jeter and Roberts. Both of them are near the bottom of the AL in range factor for their positions.  Now range factor’s two flaws are the fact that teams that give up more flyballs will have lower range factors and having a great defensive player next to you will lower your range factor as he gets to more balls. Both are fair, so let’s look at a more general number- DER.

DER- or defensive efficiency rating measure how often defenses covert outs on balls in play. In 2013, the Yankees were 24th in the league at 69.7%. In 2014 they are 29th at 69.2%. Why have they dropped off? I would suggest it has something to do with Roberts and Jeter. If you don’t trust your eyes, or don’t buy range factor, just think about it. Defensively, the outfield is probably better than last year, or at least as good. Where do the most balls in play go to in a game? Exactly, short and second.

So what do the Yankees do with two guys who aren’t hitting and not playing great defense? Well, I think Roberts’ days are numbered. The Yankees just moved their AA second baseman to AAA. Their AAA second baseman, Jose Pirela is hitting .326/.365/.458 in 246 PA’s. He’s not that good, but I suspect he gets a chance soon. As for Jeter, I wouldn’t expect that situation to change for awhile.

Another Way To Go

Kendry Morales is the easy answer to the question of how to fix the Yankees offense. Morales has been a good hitter in his career and the thinking is that plugging him into this lineup will spark the offense. My question is, where are you going to play him?

Sure, if Mark Teixeira is out for a long period of time you can play him at first. But, it sounds like Teixeira is going to be back, just needing to rest from time to time. Carlos Beltran seems to be on his way back as well. Now Beltran could need surgery, the Yankees won’t really know until he plays a bit, but if he is on the roster that will tie up some DH AB’s. And even if he isn’t, how many games do you want Alfonso Soriano to play the field in? What about Jeter? The Yankees have plenty of DH types on their current roster and adding Morales would give them another one.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t understand how Brian Cashman could construct the 2014 Yankees without thinking about a backup who could play first, but that’s the reality of what he did. So, instead of reaching outside the organization for an answer, how about we try and solve this internally? I have an idea if Teixeira gets put on the DL. Recall Austin Romine, put McCann at first and let Murphy catch.

McCann isn’t hitting, but I don’t expect that to last. And, if he hits like he has in the past, he would provide adequate production at first. But this is more about finding out what the Yankees have in Murphy. Clearly they like him as they moved him ahead of Romine on the depth chart. His numbers this year are not realistic as he has a .441 BABIP (league average is .294 this year) and a line drive rate of 31% (league average is 20.2%), but there is something intriguing about him. At worst, he appears to be a very good backup catcher. At best, he could be a regular starter. That has a lot of value, maybe not for the Yankees with McCann signed for four years after this, but for some team. Murphy could be the chip who brings back a pitcher to stop the bleeding in the rotation. The Yankees need to find out and if Teixeira is going to miss time, I would rather they try this than go out and sign another player.

I Have A Problem

I have a problem with what David Ortiz said the other night about David Price. First, here are his comments:

“I have a lot of respect for the guy, man, but it’s over. I have no more respect for him. Last year we kick his ass in the playoffs, he went off, talking (expletive) about everybody, (Sports Illustrated writer) Tom Verducci and everybody. Players.We kind of got to talk on the phone. We kind of straightened things out. He was kind of upset. Me as a veteran I kind of let him know how things go in this game. Later on he called me and apologized because he knows he was wrong. He apologized in public. He apologized to myself. Everything was cool. So first at-bat of the season against him he threw at me.

I mean, it’s a war. It’s on. Next time he hits me, he better bring the gloves. I have no respect for him no more.

You can’t be acting like a little girl out there. You aren’t going to win every time. When you give it up, that’s an experience for the next time. But when you’re to be acting like a little (expletive) every time you give it up, bounce back like that and put your teammates in jeopardy, that’s going to cost you.

I was going to let him know. I respect everybody in this league and I get the same respect from everybody. If you’re mad because I take you deep twice, let me let you know, I have almost 500 homers in this league. It’s part of the game, son.”

A lot of people are focusing on Ortiz talking about war. Personally, I don’t believe he was literally comparing this situation to war or trying to disrespect troops in any way. War is used as a metaphor in sports by plenty of people and it would be great if they stopped it. War is a horrible thing and should never be trivialized like this. But, the war portion of Ortiz’s comments dominated the story, while the following got almost completely ignored-

You can’t be acting like a little girl out there. You aren’t going to win every time. When you give it up, that’s an experience for the next time. But when you’re to be acting like a little (expletive) every time you give it up, bounce back like that and put your teammates in jeopardy, that’s going to cost you.

There were many things Ortiz could have said here. He could have said, “You can’t be acting like a tremendous ass our there”. Or he could have said, “You can’t be acting like a total jerk”. But he decided to say “little girl” because apparently that is the same thing.  He also added a word for a female dog that is primarily used as an insult to women.

We have to stop this. We have to stop equating being a girl with something bad. And we have to start noticing when people say things like this. It wasn’t that long ago that using a term that questioned a player’s sexuality would have gone almost completely unnoticed. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. But comments like this that equate being a girl with a negative thing persist. I don’t know if David Oritz even realizes the implications of what he said, but it is time he does.

I am the proud father of two girls. I want them to grow up in a world where people judge them by their character. I want them to grow up in a world where they are not limited by their gender. I know I am just like millions of fathers out there in that respect and I hope those numbers will help to change this behavior. Being a “little girl” is not an insult at all. We shouldn’t use it like it is and we definitely shouldn’t teach our children that it is.

A Tale of Two Ballparks

I can’t think of a better example of the differences between Yankee Stadium and Citi Field than the past 4 games. Monday and Tuesday in Yankee Stadium- 35 runs. Wednesday and Thursday at Citi Field- 5 runs. Two slugfests in the Bronx followed by two pitching duels in Citi Field.  And for those of you who feel baseball games are too long I agree, last night’s 1-0 game took 3:04 to complete.

The latest injury news for the Yankees is Carlos Beltran to the DL with bone spurs in his elbow. This was another predictable event, let’s just hope that he doesn’t need surgery. That would put him out 6-8 weeks. In the interim, expect the Yankees to go with Ichiro in right as a replacement. That’s a better idea than running Soriano out there, but the Yankees need to think about how they are using some of their players.

Let’s run through the offense a minute. McCann’s not hitting and neither are Jeter or Roberts. Soriano is also worthy of a look. I don’t worry about McCann and I am willing to give Jeter the benefit of the doubt for now, but Roberts and Soriano are worth discussing. Roberts has an OPS of .663, but against RHP he has a respectable line of ..267/.349/.414. This is not a shock as for his career he has hit righties much better than lefties. (.781 OPS vs. .710) Soriano has an OPS of .691, but he is killing lefties (.333/.352/.588) and disappearing against righties (.202/.238/.319) I am not about to suggest that a platoon of these two would work at second, Soriano left that behind him years ago, but the Yankees have some platoon options.

First, why not try Kelly Johnson at DH against LHP? Johnson has hit .238/.304/.492 against them this year. Nothing great, but a whole lot better than what Soriano has done. At second, how about putting Brendan Ryan there against LHP? Ryan doesn’t hit, but he hits lefties a bit more than righties and his defense is much, much better than Roberts. Normally, I don’t worry too much about defense, but I would bet almost anything that the reason the Yankees are shifting so much this year is to cover up their very poor infield defense.

The early fielding stats are not promising. Every regular infielder has below average UZR and RF numbers. The Yankees DER (how efficiently they turn balls in play into outs) has dropped from last year. (imagine if they weren’t shifting as much) Defense is going to be something the Yankees will need to watch closely as the year goes on.

 

Trouble

The Yankees are seeing the injuries pile upon their pitching staff. Today came the double blow of CC Sabathia being sent to the DL and word that Michael Pineda will be out more than four weeks. (Cynics will say Sabathia isn’t much of a loss these days, but I am not prepared to think that way- yet.)  Word is Sabathia will be back in 15 days, but with pitchers can you ever really know? Look at Pineda, he was supposed to miss four weeks and that has now been bumped to six.

So that leaves Kuroda and Tanaka as the only starters who have been here all year. We have Phelps, Nova and now Alfredo Acveves in the final three spots of the rotation. The good news is that they don’t play a team with a record above .500 until June. But they will be stiffly tested over the final three weeks of May.