Monday, January 29, 2007

How Good is Phil Hughes?

All right. I've asked the same question of two sophmores, but can my methods handle a rookie?

Phil Hughes
it the top pitching prospect in baseball. No, Dice-Kai is not a pitching prospect, nor should he be ranked ahead of Hughes even if he was one, but that is another story.

Hughes is one of the more enigmatic prospects in recent memory. Twenty-two teams passed on him before the Yankees had a pick in the 2004 draft. The Yankees, knowing what other teams did not, barely let him throw a pitch that year. They taught him a curveball, let him throw one minor league game, and stashed his golden arm away for the winter. Hughes hit A ball with a storm in 2005, dominating hitters for a 1.97 ERA, 9.44 K/9, and 2.10 BB/9. He earned a promotion to Tampa, where he would pitch 17 more innings of 3.06 ERA before being shut down with mild shoulder concerns. That was one year ago. Since then, you all know what happened.

Hughes has a career minor league ERA of 2.13, K/9 of 10.21, BB/9 of 2.05, and a miniature .23 HR/9. He has the minor's best power/command combination, an exceptional curveball, and a developing changeup. On top of it all, he hold it all together with plus "moxy", or whatever you wish to call it.

He has the kind of package that we see in great pitchers. Mark Prior. Jake Peavy. Chris Carptener. Curt Schilling. Roy Halladay. He is on the level of these right handed pitchers. He has the potential to be even better. Hughes is the kind of prospect that cannot be overestimated.

What do the projection systems say? They are pretty conservative:

CHONE: 4.05 ERA, 90 ip, 75 K, 35 BB, 11 HR
ZiPs: 4.06 ERA, 164 ip, 127 K, 58 BB, 15 HR
PECOTA: 3.91 ERA, 130 ip, 108 K, 45 BB, 14 HR
Average: 4.00 ERA, 128 ip, 103 K (7 per 9), 46 BB (3.23 per 9), 13 HR (.91 per 9)

(Marcel does not project minor league players. These systems don't try to predict playing time accurately, so adjust mentally for whatever playing time you predict for Hughes in 2007)

I included the PECOTA projection because it seems to be floating around every site. PECOTA is a projection system from Baseball Prospectus, which any true stat-head needs to have a subscription to. I think that these projections are lowballing Hughes. I think that Hughes' K rate will dip in his major league season to about 7.5 per 9, but his BB rate will stay in the mid-2s.

Hughes is a unique prospect because few others have combined the power, ground ball rates, and control that he owns. Baseball Analysts just did an excellent study on pitchers who have the best combined groundball and K rates in the minors. Hughes was #2. Unlike any of the other top names on the generated list, Phil has plus-plus control. That is why he is truely special.

I think that Hughes will post a lower ERA in 2007 than those projection systems expect. I think that he'll allow more home runs than he ever did in the minors, but his groundball rates will still remain above average. The Yankee defense should be pretty good in 2007 (more on that tomorrow), so Hughes should gain a boost there.

My prediction: 3.67 ERA, 116 innings, 95 K, 35 BB, 11 HR.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Team Defense, part 1

Measuring defense is a very difficult thing to do. Statitically minded people have been able to deduce hitting to it's very basic parts and put a specific run and win quanitity to every swing of the bat. Defense, and the pitchers who benefit from it, is much harder to measure.

Every defensive discussion in baseball must begin with some baseball theory. The end goal in baseball is to win. Winning is 50% run scoring and 50% run prevention (this is actually disputed, but for now let's assume that it's basically true). A team's ability to prevent runs is divided between the pitcher and the fielder. The vast majority of the ability to prevent runs lies in the pitchers - especially in their ability to prevent home runs, walks, and strikeouts. Pitchers control probably about 80% of run prevention - or 40% of winning games. The other 20%/10% lies in the hands of the fielders.

The second thing that needs to be said in regards to theory is that virtually every major league fielder is very good at their job. This may be the one area where baseball is not about failure. Jason Giambi would be a dominant defensive player in a high school baseball league. He has the training, experience, and physical skills to do so. Bernie Williams has a pretty strong armed when compared to most Division I outfields. The differences in major league players are very subtle. The best defensive shortstop would struggle to make two plays a week more than an average one.

There are a lot of different ways that we try to measure defense. The typical, dare I say "mundane" way of measuring defense revolve around the statistic "errors". Errors may be the worst statistic in baseball. Errors are subjective (it's up to the official scorer's decision) and don't tell us anything (If Derek Jeter boots a ball, he gets an error, but if he simply doesn't get to the ball, there is still a runner on 1st base, but the player gets a hit). Errors are good for determining if a batter gets credit for a play or not, but does a terrible job for fielders.

The best statistic, in my mind, for determing team defense is Defense Efficiency Ratio or "DER". DER is really simply. It takes the total number of outs made by a team's defense (not counting home runs or strikeouts) and divdes it by the total number of balls in play. The Yankees were pretty good last season by DER. DER listed them as 8th in the majors with a .7108 ratio. Only the Tigers in the AL were better.

Great, the Yankees were pretty good last season. The problem is that most individual (looking at the single fielders) statistical systems thought that we were actually pretty bad. There are a lot of ways that people use to attempt to measure individual defense. David Gassko tried to predict the number of plays that a player should make based upon how many balls fell in to that side of the infield. Zone Rating divides each section of the field in to a player's responsibility, and John Dewan of The Fielding Bible uses a +/- system based on individual play locations.

All three are great attempts at determing range, but all three have their problems. They don't account for defensive positioning or shifts. They don't account for ballpark nuances either. All three also peg virtually every Yankee defender at below average or worse. This doesn't line up with what we see with DER. Tomorrow, I am going to have a look at the actual numbers and see if the Yankees indeed have an above average to good defense, or a below average or worse one.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Tribe in the Shadows

There has been a lot of movement this offseason. We've seen Detroit, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago make big changes. Most of those teams have spent big money to lure in free agents, overpaying in the long term for short term gains.

And of course, the small market team gets overlooked. Who is the hidden darkhorse of 2007? Mark Shapiro's Cleveland Indians.

I think that Shapiro is a vastly underrated General Manager. He has completely rebuilt the aging franchise of Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, and Jim Thome. It looked like the Indians were ready for greatness in 2005, as the Indians formed one of the best pitching/defense combinations in the AL, coming within a few games of a playoff appearance. Their young hitters were not ready for prime time. 2006 saw a decline in pitching as those hitters blossomed in to legit stars.

Amid all the big spending, Shapiro got smart. He signed Trot Nixon to a one year, three million dollar deal. He picked up Keith Foulke for 5 million dollars. Joe Borowski to 4.25 million. He may have signed the best deal for a position player of the offseason, signing David Delluci to a 3 year, 11.5 million dollar deal. Shapiro signed Roberto Herndandez for 3.5 million with incentives. He even got Aaron Fultz for just 1.5 million.

He got rid of Aaron Boone. He traded promising hitter Kevin Kouzmanoff, whose position he already has covered with Andy Marte, for the much needed 2nd baseman Josh Barfield.

The Indians simply have a great collection of position players right now. Grady Sizemore may be the most underrated player in all of baseball, and is under Shapiro's control for many years. Travis Hafner may be the AL's best hitter. Victor Martinez may be the best offensive catcher. He has Shin-Shoo Choo, David Delluci, Jason Michaels, and Trot Nixon to get creative and platoon in the outfield. Andy Marte is going to be a great major league hitter once he inherits the full time job.

Pitching wise, the Indians should improve over last season. Westbrook, Sowers, and Sabathia give him three above average or better healthy starters, and Cliff Lee may just give him a fourth. As far as 5th starters go, he's doing pretty well with Paul Byrd. If things go wrong, he can always call up top prospect Adam Miller.

His bullpen? Foulke, Borowski, and Hernandez will fight it out for the closer job. He has Rafael Betancourt, Jason Davis, Aaron Fultz, and Fernando Cabrera to round out the bullpen. That's a pretty strong group. It's not top heavy, but the back end is solid.

I'm not sure how I will predict it in the coming days (when I do my major league predictions), but I'm thinking about sticking my neck out and projecting the 1st place Cleveland Indians.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Word On Prospects

I'm very optimistic on this site. However, I have failed to mention one caveat that must be assumed during any discussion of prospects.

Prospects fail. A lot. The vast majority of those who are considered top-30 prospects will never see a major league pitch. Just like other facets of baseball, good player development depends on how a team can cut back that failure and find the success stories in the rubble.

Prospects can fail for a lot of reasons. Pitchers tend to get injured... a lot. For every major league pitcher, two promising young prospects went down with a career derailing injury. Sometimes prospects get lucky and recover from those injuries - Mariano Rivera for example. Sometimes prospects fade into obscurity. The Yankees are trying so hard to prevent this with Phil Hughes. But even if everything is done that can be done to try and prevent an injury, sometimes it will still happen. Liriano is a perfect example.

Of my top-10 prospects, we will be very lucky if five work out. Hell, if five of them work out, we'll have another World Championship core going. Of our other top 30 prospects, we'll be lucky if another five work out. The ticking clock of age and injury will catch up to some, while others just won't have the hard work and talent in their bodies to succeed at this very high level.

I used to include "Chance of Reaching Majors" at the end of every profile to illustrate this point, but I deleted it because the numbers were pretty arbitrary.

Brian Cashman has decided to overcome this problem through sheer volume. The Yankees have had trouble - Chien-Ming Wang aside - developing pitchers for the longest time. Cashman's solution? Draft, trade, and sign every little pitcher he can. He has eight starting pitchers who could potentially contribute at the major league level in 2007. That is an enormous amount. How many will have successful careers as major league starters? Maybe three. Four if we are lucky. The others will become the next generation of Kris Wilsons and Aaron Smalls, or leave baseball entirely before the decade is over.

When I make a prediction, I have to look for predictive signs that can determine whether or not a prospect will emerge from the crowd. And I am wrong, very often. I don't care what amateur or professional prospect analyst that you reference, we are wrong very often. Like all other facets of baseball, we must seek to act with the least possible amount of failure.

I have a lot of plans for the upcoming season. I will be writing a lot about the MLB Yankee team, but also I want to run a daily recap on the minor league farm system. I will not be writing too much in preparation for the draft - because I do not have the time and know-how to navigate the vast amount of information beyond the first round draft picks. I will however be writing detailed analysis following the draft. I will be away for the summer again - which could shut the blog down for two months, although that is not as certain as it was last year. After the season, I will rerank and reprofile the Yankee prospects.

I am looking forward to all of this (Pitchers and Catchers in less than 3 weeks!), and I hope you are too. If you have any suggestions about what I should cover during the minor league season, please tell me.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

How Good is Chris Britton?

The Yankees traded for a lot of young pitchers this offseason. Ross Ohlendorf. Humberto Sanchez. Kevin Whelan. Steve Jackson. We even got Luis Vizcaino. These guys are all excellent little acquisitions, but I am most excited about the most overlooked pitcher that we brought in - Chris Britton.

Britton was somewhat of a surprise for the Orioles in 2006. In 2005, Britton blossomed in to a top notch relief prospect for his level, pitching 78.2 innings at High A ball. He struck out an obscene 110 and walked just 23. He allowed just 14 runs for an ERA of 1.60.

Despite the numbers, Britton stayed under the radar. The Orioles were more focused on their ace reliever Chris Ray. Baseball America did not list Britton among the Orioles top-10 prospects, but did get a nod for "Best Control".

Britton started out brilliantly at the Orioles's AA affiliate. He did not allow a run in 21 1/3 innings. It took a few recalls from AA for Britton to catch on, but he earned himself a trusted place in the Baltimore bullpen by June. Through August, he pitched 41.2 innings with an ERA of 2.59, striking out 32 and walking ten. He hit a rough patch that earned him a short demotion to AA (I can't find any proof of this, but I'd wager that the Orioles needed an extra outfielder or something, and Britton had options). The rough patch wouldn't look much different from a typical Kyle Farnsworth week - over four appearances he allowed seven runs. Britton was sent down and called up ten days later. He finished the season strong - pitching 7.1 innings in ten appearances while striking out eight and walking 1.42. He allowed just one run over that time.

All told, Britton pitched 16 innings in AA and 53.2 innings in the majors. He posted K/BB ratios of 24/6 and 41/17 at those levels.

Britton was drafted in the 8th round of the 2001 draft out of High School, but suffered a major setback when he was hit in the face with a line drive. He had to have surgery on his face, which set him back a year. Britton was set back further in 2003 when he had to have surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. He missed the entire season. Since that surgery, he's been excellent at every stop in the minors.

Britton has nasty stuff. He throws 92-94, but it looks faster because of his deceptive delivery. His massive stomach hides the ball. Ok, maybe not, but Britton is a big guy. He is 6'3" and reportedly weights 280 lbs. Baseball America reports that the fastball looks more like a 96 mph heater to hitters. Britton complements his fastball with a plus-and-a-half curveball, which is where he gets his strikeouts. Britton also has a changeup, but it's more of a "show-me" pitch. Britton has excellent command and control of both his fastball and his curveball.

What do the projection systems say?

: 74 IP, 4.09 ERA, 61 K, 30 BB
Marcel: 52 IP, 3.89 ERA, 39 K, 17 BB
ZiPs: 72 IP, 3.63 ERA, 65 K, 25 BB
Average: 66 IP, 3.87 ERA, 55 K, 24 BB

What do I think? I see those projections and I think of Scott Proctor. However, Britton has one weakness. Lefties hit .301/.378/.384 off Britton in just 17 innings. Lefties put up a similar split in the minors against him. Right handed hitters hit just .186/.232/.333.

Proctor put up similar splits in 2005, except that Proctor let lefites hit for power too. I think that if Joe Torre used him right, Britton would beat the ZiPs projection by a small margin. I don't think that Joe Torre will use him right. I think that Britton will fall closer to the 3.87 ERA line. If he does, he'll be a valued member of our bullpen. Hopefully Torre doesn't overuse or alienate him.

Of course, Britton has two option years left. We have a loaded bullpen. The Yankees could make the wrong decision and keep Brian Bruney instead of keeping Britton in the majors. We'll see.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

How Good Will Melky Be?

Melky Cabrera is most likely going to be our 4th outfielder next season. Melky entered 2006 in a suspect position. Entering 2006, Melky was just a 21 year old borderline centerfielder who had been promoted quickly throughout the system. Melky had a knack to avoid the strikeout, a cannon for an arm, and above average range for a corner outfielder, but there wasn't much reason to believe that he was anything special. I wasn't a big Melky fan a year ago.

Things can certainly change in a year. Melky spent a month in Columbus, hitting .385/.430/.556 in 31 games. I was ranting and raving about how Melky needed to be called up, but the Yankees only did so when an injury to Gary Sheffield forced their hand. Melky went on to hit .280/.360/.391 in the majors.

So, how good will Melky be? Melky Cabrera's rise is impressive for a few reasons. First off, he was very young. You can count the number of regular 21 year-old hitters in the majors on one hand. However, Melky's success is more important because he showed oustanding strike zone discipline at his young age. Melky struck out 59 times and walked 55 times.

How about his defense? That is a much harder question to answer. SG at RLYW did an excellent week-by-week analysis of Melky's defense performance. He came up with a slightly below average -3 runs over the 130 games. Win Shares at THT would rate Melky at about 3.51 WS over a full season, or 3rd among corner outfielders in the majors. Bill James also thinks that Melky is a top-5 corner outfielder in baseball. Of course, other pundits and fans have observed Melky and rated him as a "Great" defensive left fielder.

My opinion? I think that Melky is better than SG's Zone Rating analysis would pin him at. I don't think that he is an elite left fielder either. His arm is superb, but Melky had a lot of trouble with balls over his head. I'd call Melky above average, at maybe +5 runs over the full season. He should improve in 2007.

If Melky just repeated his 2006 performance, he would be a nice little bench player. He could switch hit, play defense, and pinch run without embarassing us. Taking a quick little look at all the contending teams in 2006, only Boston (Wily Mo Pena / Coco Crisp), Detroit (Thames / Monroe), Oakland (Bobby Kietly) and Los Angeles (Andre Ethier) got that kind of production out of their 4th outfielder. He would provide us a small competitive advantage.

But the nice thing about young players is that they are more likely to improve than decline. Melky's success as a 21 year old is very rare in the baseball world. The following predictions have been made by the various projection systems for Melky Cabrera in 2007:

: .274/.371/.425
ZiPs: .295/.355/.445
Marcel: .289/.362/.421
Average: .286/.362/.430

In addition, PECOTA has predicted a similar line, but I can't publish information available only to premium Baseball Prospectus subscribers.

These predictions seem very fair for Melky. I've heard that 21 year olds increase their offensive output by 15% the next season. After seeing these projections, and taking a look at PECOTA's comprable players Reggie Smith and Carlos Beltran at the same age, I'm starting to warm up to the idea that Melky might just become a good enough hitter to play in a corner outfield spot. He doesn't have the range to hold down centerfield, so this is going to be vital if Melky will ever be more than a 4th outfielder.

Bobby Abreu's contract is up after next season, even though we have an option for 2008. Melky's 2007 performance will determine whether or not we can comfortably decline that option. For now, if he improves he'll be a major competitive advantage on our bench.

My prediction? I'll bet on that average line right there.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Full Season at AAA?

Some blurbs from this excellent Sports Illustrated article:

Here is Cashman's problem: his two best options for those rotation spots should be off limits until June: 20-year-old phenom Philip Hughes (he'll be 21 in June) and 44-year-old legend Roger Clemens. Can Cashman continue to remain patient through the first third of the season while Hughes tears up Triple-A and Clemens waits until he's ready to pitch? While Cashman might have no control over when Clemens pitches -- it won't be in April -- he does have the power to bring Hughes up to the big leagues prematurely, which would be a huge mistake and a departure from the plan of calculated patience that Cashman has developed.

"I wouldn't mind if Philip Hughes spent the full season in Triple-A," Cashman said before leaving on a vacation this week -- yet another sign of his acquisition of power. A Yankees GM leaving on a vacation four weeks before spring training used to be unheard of. "We're going to sit down soon with [pitching coordinator] Nardi Contreras and map out some plans that will be in place when we get to spring training Feb. 13. If Philip Hughes spends a full season in Triple-A, that's not a bad thing."


"The plan that Cashman and Contreras map out for Hughes in the coming weeks should look something like this: Tell Hughes and the major league staff he has no chance of making the big league club coming out of spring training, no matter how well he pitches -- this reduces the chances of Hughes overthrowing to try to make the club -- and send him to Triple-A with the same pitch limits he had in place last season. The Red Sox used a similar plan with Jon Lester last season.

Hughes can help the Yankees in the second half, but only if he doesn't load up on innings in the minor leagues. The Yankees should budget Hughes for about 180 innings this year, postseason included. Better to cut back on those innings early in the cold of Scranton rather than late in New York."

I wouldn't read too much in to Cashman saying "I wouldn't mind if Philip Hughes spent the full season in Triple-A". I think that Cashman is holding all of his options open. The Yankees have five big league starting pitchers right now, and at least three major league ready starters on the outside part of the 40-man. It sounds to me like the Yankees are going to set up a couple of required benchmarks before Hughes is called up to the majors. Hughes is not going to pitch more than 180 innings in 2007, and that's probably a good thing.

However, a few things worry me here. Sports Illustrated speculates that Hughes will be put on the same 5 inning leash that he was put on for the second part of last season. I have mixed feelings about this. First off, I think that Hughes needs to build up to the 100 pitch level. That is the standard for major league players and Hughes has precious little experience throwing that much. I don't want his arm to become conditioned to these 70 pitch outings. However, I think that the only reason that the Yankees would start Hughes on a leash is with the intention of a mid-season call up.

I think that if Hughes spends the entire season at AAA, it will be due to tremendous luck by the New York Yankees. We have a rotation that could potentially be very good or fairly bad. If everything goes right, we may just have a full starting rotation of pretty good pitchers, and we won't need to call anybody up. I think that this is unlikely. Chances are we will finish the season with one or more of our minor league players in the rotation, and Hughes is our best option to help the major league team.

Pitching wise, Hughes is going to tear through International League batters. I don't think that there is any question there. The Eastern League is full of very advanced batters, and some teams have more talent than International League teams. Once he nails down his changeup, Hughes will have little more to learn from the minor leagues. Maybe he'll learn a cutter or something.

I'll close by saying that I cannot remember a pitching prospect as highly touted as Hughes ever being held at AAA for a full season.

Monday, January 15, 2007

20 More Predictions

It's a slow news day. Besides being worried about James Brent Cox, there isn't a whole lot going on. So, it's time for... another 20 predictions! It's time for specific predictions.

Phil Hughes

  • 1. Before Phil Hughes gets called up, the Yankees will try Jeff Karstens and (if he's still starting) Humberto Sanchez.
  • 2. Phil Hughes will be called up in June. If a rotation spot is open for him, he'll stick and post a 3.48 ERA, striking out 8.0 per 9 and walking 2.5 per 9.
  • 3. Between the two leagues, Hughes will pitch at least 170 innings in 2007. He will not make any trips to the DL.

Tyler Clippard

  • 4. Clippard will struggle at first in AAA, and it won't just be a statistical anomaly like last season. His walk and home run rates are going to rise at first, as he adjusts to the new level. However, Clippard will eventually make that adjustment, and finish with an ERA of 3.67 and 175 strikeouts in 170 innings. He will not see major league time until September.
  • 5. If we do make a major deadline trade, Tyler Clippard will be dealt. However, I predict that we do not make a major deadline trade.

Humberto Sanchez
  • 6. Humberto Sanchez will spend some time in 2007 in the bullpen.
  • 7. Humberto Sanchez will be called up to fill in for an injured starting pitcher at some time during 2007.
  • 8. Sanchez will post an ERA of 4.90 in five starts, pitching 27 innings and striking out 20, while walking 15.

Joba Chamberlain

  • 9. Joba Chamberlain will start the season at Tampa [even though he should start at Trenton] but earn a promotion after five starts. He will make 23 starts at Trenton, going 138 innings and posting a 3.05 ERA. He will strike out 130 and walk 46.
  • 10. Joba Chamberlain will be a top-20 prospect in the minor leagues by year's end.

Ian Kennedy

  • 11. Kennedy will start the season at Tampa, and surprise everybody. He'll strike out 11.3 per 9 and walk 2.95 per 9. He won't earn a promotion to Trenton until July however, due to a clogged rotation.
  • 12. Ian Kennedy will have an ERA of 3.40 between the two levels.

Dellin Betances
  • 13. Dellin Betances will dominate A ball hitters, pitching 100 innings of 2.30 ERA ball, striking out 110 and walking 35. The Yankees will shut him down, like they did with Hughes, after 100 innings.
  • 14. Baseball America will surprise everyone and rate Betances ahead of Jose Tabata on their top 10 Yankee prospect list. He will be a top-10 pitching prosect in the league with Joba Chamberlain.

Jeff Marquez
  • 15. Jeff Marquez will put up a Jeff Marquez-like season at Trenton - and will finally be healthy. He'll pitch a bunch of innings with an ERA around 3.6, strikeout about 7 per 9, and post a G/F ratio around 2.00.
  • 16. Marquez will spend the entire season at Trenton.

Christian Garcia
  • 17. Garcia will not throw a pitch until mini-camp, after the minor league season is over. He will play winter ball somewhere.

Mark Melancon
  • 18. Melancon will get a few innings in at the end of the minor league season for Staten Island.

Zach McAllister
  • 19. The Yankees will not severely limit McAllister's innings. He'll throw around 120.
  • 20. McAllister's ERA will be around 4.10. He will struggle to strike people out (~6.5 per 9), but post solid g/f numbers (about 1.50 per 9)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Non-Roster Invitees

Let's take a look of whom the Yankees invited to their Major League Spring Training in addition to the 39 players on the 40 Man Roster.

RHP Phil Hughes - You know him. You love him. You get to watch him on TV. He won't make the team, but we'll enjoy watching him and letting the media speculate that he will.

SS/3b Angel Chavez - Someone has to play 3rd for Columbus. If he sees big league time, it means that Alex Rodriguez is injured.

C Raul Chavez - Will compete for the backup catcher job. May be the worst option of the three. He'll nurse pitchers in AAA.

INF Marcos Vechionacci - His two spring training invites show how high the organization is on him. Lots of scouts are saying that he could still hit 30 home runs, and I love his Strike/Walk numbers. I remember Torre raving about his defense a year ago.

C Ben Davis - Has a very very long shot at the big league catcher job. He'll be sent down to AAA.

C Todd Pratt - A 40 year old who may be our best option at backup. I'm not sure how he still is defensively, but he has a history of hitting well. Things could still work out badly (we all thought that Kelly Stinnett was an upgrade over Flaherty), but I'd take him.

RHP Jeff Nelson - I'm glad he could retire a Yankee. He was an overshadowed piece of our dynasty teams.

RHP Kevin Whelan - This one surprised me a little bit. J.B. Cox didn't get an invite, but Whelan did? The Organization must love him and his strikeout rates. Whelan's next task is to attack the high minors and lower his walk rate.

SS Ramiro Pena - He may be the best defensive shortstop in professional baseball. The Yankees must be very high on Pena to invite him. He was rushed beyond imagination in 2006, so he'll return to Trenton. He'll have to hit better than a pitcher to even be a useful MLB backup.

LHP Ben Kozlowski - For me, he's the most interesting of the group. He was a failed left handed starter in the minors, bouncing around from Atlana to Texas to the Dodgers to Cincinatti and back to the Dodgers. He languished in AA for five years, only conquering the level when he was converted to the bullpen. His two small forays in to AAA weren't pretty. If the Yankees are really really desperate for a second left handed pitcher, he could compete with Henn for a spot. More likely, he'll play Wayne Franklin in Scranton (and hopefully not New York).

RHP Tyler Clippard - The Yankees get a chance to showcase their most valueable asset that they are willing to peddle. If Clippard does well in Scranton, he'll have a lot of suitors. I'd love to see Clippard in a Yankee uniform, but he's way down on the depth charts by virtue of staying off the 40-man roster.

SS Andy Cannizaro - He probably could do Miguel Cairo's job better than Miguel Cairo, but Andy gets another season at AAA. The Alberto Gonzalez trade was horrible news for him. Too bad, because I was hoping to see Andy in the bigs again. He may not get the chance, and that is a travesty.

RHP Ross Ohlendorf - Will be fighting to stay out of the bullpen in Scranton. One starter will have to either be converted or sent down to Trenton, and I hope that Ohlendorf is not it.

RHP Steve Jackson - Same as Ohlendorf, although I would prefer that he is the odd man out.

1b/3b Eric Duncan - He raked last spring, but Duncan's task now is to prove that he is healthy. I hope that the Yankees send Duncan to Scranton, not Trenton. Duncan showed that when he was healthy, he punished AA hitters.

C P.J. Pilittere - Is only on the roster because we will need catchers, but Pilittere will be the primary catcher at Trenton. If he hits like he did in 2006 at Tampa and Arizona, Pilittere could be a mid-season option at backup catcher.

OF Brett Gardner - He's one good season away from a call up. I think that Gardner needs to start at Trenton. There is no pressing need for him immediately anyway. We may see him in September.

OF Jose Tabata - He'll be the youngest guy at the big league camp. Tabata will look to add the one missing piece to his game in 2006 - power. A full season at Tampa will challenge him. He could always pick his game up and move fast, but I think that the organization will prefer to keep him close to their home in Florida.

RHP Steve White - In midst of all the Chaos, White had a pretty good season in 2006. Yankee fans overlook him, but he's still a legit prospect. Trade bait? Maybe. If the Yankee rotation suffers a meltdown, White could be a capable fill in. I'd be interested to see him in a bullpen role though.

C Omir Santos - Just a roster filler. Santos is a good defensive catcher who will never hit. But the pitchers need someone to throw the ball to, right?

I was very surprised not to see J.B. Cox or Justin Christian on this list. I'm also interested to see Alberto Gonzalez, T.J.Beam, Humberto Sanchez, and Juan Miranda in spring training.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Interview with Gyroballer Kyle Boddy, Part 2

Here is the second part of my interview with amateur gyroballer Kyle Boddy of Baseball Delusions.

PP: Do you see the Gyroball as a pitch that a Major League player could use effectively?

Kyle: Absolutely. I look forward to seeing Daisuke Matsuzaka in the MLB, and to see whether or not he develops his gyroball.

PP: Do you expect to see professional baseball players of all levels attempt to throw the gyroball in the next few years?

Kyle: I don't expect to see any established pitchers throw the gyroball, no. For the next few years, I imagine that it will be similar to the knuckleball - a last ditch effort to turn a position player or poor pitcher into a serviceable player in the big leagues. Tim Wakefield is a good example of this.

PP: So it's not the secret weapon that will bring pitchers back to the 60s?

Kyle: Haha, no, I doubt it. I mean, the pitch is very effective and it's a great out pitch, and it's entirely possible - but just as batters adjusted to the splitter, they too will adjust to the gyroball.

PP: How do batters react when you throw the pitch?

Kyle: They typically take the pitch the first time through, since they don't recognize the spin. I've left the pitch hanging a few times, though, and it has been hammered. My go-to out pitch is the side force gyroball, which behaves like a curve ball of sorts with good late break.

PP: Could you explain the different gyroballs that you've learned?

Kyle: Sure. There are four different variations on the gyroball. You can impart positive lift force on the ball by holding it back in the grip and tilting the wrist back, side force by tilting the wrist in and out, and negative lift force by tilting the wrist down. Since you impart gyroscopic spin on each variation anyway, the slightest change in angle will cause the spin to point a different way, and thusly will cause wildly different results

PP: What kind of gyroball have you been throwing primarily?

Kyle: The side force gyroball is the one I'm most comfortable with. I can throw it down and away from RH batters and LH batters by simply tilting the wrist in or out. However, I feel most comfortable throwing it down and away from RH batters. Against an LH batter I stick with locating my fastball and changeup outside.

PP: Will Carroll mentions the same thing. He says that a right handed pitcher will never throw a gyroball to a left handed hitter. Why is this?

Kyle: Daisuke Matsuzaka never throws the gyroball to LH batters because the pitch would move down and in to a LH batter. Since the LH batter already sees the pitch better due to the pitcher being an opposite side thrower, a ball down and in to a LH batter is in the danger zone. Suffice to say that it's right in the wheelhouse of most LH power hitters.

PP: Will Carroll admits that Matsuzaka knows how to throw a gyroball, but probably does not in a game. We've just seen his really good slider on camera. Have you seen video of Matsuzaka's pitch and do you believe that it is a gyroball?

Kyle: I have seen gyroballs thrown by Matsuzaka - by going over his Nippon league games, you can definitely see that he throws them occasionally to RH batters.

PP: What kind of gyroball?

Kyle: A common pitch mistaken for his gyroball is the second pitch in a popular video showing him at the WBC - it has sick late side break to it. However, this pitch is just a forkball/split-change that is very well-thrown. Most of his gyroballs are thrown with the standard grip and regular downforce. This pitch is absolutely a gyroball.

PP: I can see the near-slider grip

Kyle: It's tough to tell with the video quality and angle, and it's possible that it's a slider, but I am of the opinion that this is a gyroball. The slider grip has the fingers on top of the ball while the gyroball grip is on the side. It's tough to tell because of the angle of the release point which pitch this is, but the result looks very similar to a regular gyroball.

PP: Do you think that in he hands of a very talented pitcher like Matsuzaka that the gyroball could be a major weapon, or just the occassional trick pitch?

Kyle: I think it's in between. The pitch is a great out pitch for me, and when hit softly, induces a lot of groundballs. It's definitely not a trick pitch, like the eephus.

PP: Any else that you would like to say on the subject?

Kyle: I'd like to say that with this article, people will undoubtably scour my videos on YouTube and criticize my mechanics, not to mention doubt the validity of the pitch. My response is that I know I'm not perfect, that I'm re-learning how to pitch all over again, and that nothing in my videos or blog should be construed as good advice to learn how to throw any pitches, much less the gyroball. However, the pitch truly does exist, and I can throw it.

I recently took video of one of my better gyroballs, and it can be found here:

PP: Thanks Kyle.

I'd like to thank Kyle again for sharing this information with the baseball community. He has helped to dispel a lot of myths about the gyroball in my mind.

I'll be out in the woods for the weekend, but I will take a look at the Yankee list of non-roster invitees on Sunday... before 8 PM. Jack Bauer starts killing people at 8 PM.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Interview with Gyroballer Kyle Boddy, Part 1

Baseball Prospectus's Will Caroll has made it his personal mission to teach people the gyroball - a new pitch created by a group of Japanese scientists. Several Japanese pitchers have been rumored to throw the gyroball, including the newest Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. I talked with one of Caroll's students - amateur pitcher Kyle Boddy. This is the first part of the interview.

Pinstripes Potentials: Kyle, how did you learn about the Gyroball?

Kyle: Reading Baseball Prospectus and Will Carroll's articles. I have followed Japanese baseball for about 6 months now and I'm very interested in the double-spin mechanics and their theories on pitching.

PP: After learning about the pitch, how did you learn to throw it?

Kyle: Will Carroll agreed to teach me in December if I flew out to Indianapolis. He showed me the infamous gyroball book and how to throw the pitch, and gave me basic instruction on other pitching mechanics

PP: How easy was it to learn the pitch?

Kyle: Fairly easy, actually - learning the concepts is easy when done by a pitching coach, but throwing it well is very tough - not unlike most breaking balls

PP: What other breaking pitches are you familiar with?

Kyle: In high school and college I threw a fastball, circle change, splitter, and cutter. Eventually I learned to throw a slider and curveball, and recently learned how to throw multiple gyroball variants. I now throw a fastball, changeup (experimenting with grips that I like), slider, and side force gyroball.

PP: Exactly what makes a Gyroball a Gyroball?

Kyle: The pitch is thrown without spin on the x/y axes - much like a bullet from a chamber of a gun. The spin is rifle-like in nature, and spins only on the z-axis - better known as gyroscopic force. As such, it removes the lift force from the equation of the Magnus forces on the pitch, and if thrown with the basic grip, will produce a late break downards. The four-seam fastball is thrown with lots of backspin on it with all seams catching the air - giving it a "rising fastball" optical illusion. This is due to the lift force being generated by the Magnus forces. The gyroball has no lift force imparted on it - neither negative (similar to a breaking ball) or positive (a fastball).

PP: Almost like a football's spin?

Kyle: Exactly like a football spin. It is thrown in a similar fashion - imagine pulling down across the laces of a football to impart spiral spin.

PP: How is it thrown?

Kyle: The basic grip for the gyroball is held like a football with the ball between the ear and the hand and the index and middle fingers touching a seam where they are closest together on the baseball (think: two-seam fastball, at the seams – not across the seams). The thumb is positioned directly under the baseball. The gyroball is typically thrown from the same arm slot as any other pitch. After reading these sentences, you may be envisioning a slider grip, but it’s not. The hardest part of envisioning the gyroball grip without seeing it is the ability to grasp the concept of holding a baseball like a football.

When you deliver the pitch, all the motions should be the same as a normal pitch is thrown. However, when you are bringing the arm up to speed, the wrist never breaks at the release point. After throwing the pitch, your wrist will naturally pronate, just like a circle changeup. If this is all you did when throwing the gyroball, it would be an effective off-speed pitch with similar actions to a knuckleball. However, the real “magic” of the gyroball comes when you are at the release point with your wrist locked. As you are about to release the ball and your thumb comes off the ball, pull down with your index and middle fingers, imparting true gyroscopic spin on the ball. Again, remember the analogy to throwing a football – when you throw a football, you pull down with your fingers across the laces to impart spiral spin.

PP: On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is the slowest changeup that you throw and a 10 is the fastest fastball that you throw, how fast to do throw a gyroball fastball?

Kyle: Well, there are four variants of the gyroball (at least). The regular grip can be thrown the hardest, and on that scale, I'd have to say I throw it around a 6.

PP: When you throw the Gyroball with a locked wrist - imparting true Gyroscopic spin on the ball - how much will it break?

Kyle: It's tough to say - the downward break is about a foot, and the side break has been increasing as of late on my pitches. I think I'm really developing it well. Will Carroll says the pitch breaks late and sideways between 1.5 and 2 feet, but I haven't had that kind of success.

PP: Will Carroll writes that in addition to the grip and the wrist action, that to correctly throw a gyroball you have to create "Double spin" by moving your hips. Is this how you throw it?

Kyle: Yes, absolutely. The double-spin mechanics that the Japanese write about have helped increase the velocity on my pitches for sure. Generating the necessary loop-like motion on the delivery requires turning the back leg early to generate powerful spin from the hips, which then turn the shoulders and deliver the ball through the fingers. By doing this, you can gain velocity on the pitches and create a tailing fastball in addition to throwing an effective gyroball. My four-seam fastball has pretty good tailing movement for an amateur league player, I think.

PP: Does it make it mechanically difficult to throw?

Kyle: No, it's very easy on the arm. However, the motion itself is unnatural - just like any changes to your delivery. By "unnatural", I really mean "unfamiliar" to most players.

PP: So it's not going to blow out anybody's elbow?

Kyle: I highly doubt it, but high-speed camera work and other analyses have not been done on the pitch. This is a major reason why I'm not willing to take pictures of the grip and write a tutorial on how to throw it beyond what I have already done - I don't mind risking my arm since I'm an old amateur league player, but I don't want a 16 year old kid in high school reading what I have to say and throwing it incorrectly, leading to injury. Injuries at the youth level are the highest concern of mine, especially when I coach Little League.

PP: So you would not recommend a High School pitcher reading this to go out and experiment?

Kyle: I definitely would recommend against it. The most important thing for youth pitchers to learn is to locate their fastball well and to develop a strong change-up. Breaking pitches, while very awesome looking, aren't the mainstay of any pitcher in the big leagues. They all made it by throwing an effective fastball to spots they want to, and changing speeds easily. However, if they really want to learn (and most kids will experiment no matter what you tell them), they should seek out someone who can help them throw the pitch and coach them every step of the way. Unfortunately, very few people seem qualified enough to do that. Will Carroll is basically the only one in the U.S. I could teach the basics of it, but that's about it.

I'll have Part 2 up tomorrow. Kyle maintains the website Baseball Delusions.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Relief Pipeline

The Yankees have one hell of a starting pitcher depth chart. I've spent plenty of time outlining what might be the organization's greatest strength a year from now.

The Yankee bullpens of the 2000s have been held down by the sheer force of Mariano Rivera. He's had help from Steve Karsay, Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon, Scott Proctor, Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton and others during that time. Except for Scott Proctor, who was traded to the Yankees by Los Angeles, we haven't seen any young relievers break in from the Yankee farm system. Guys like Ramon Ramirez, Matt Smith, Brad Halsey, and others are former Yankee farm now that now come in for other teams, but for the most part we've done a terrible job at developing young relief pitchers.

It worries me. Joe Torre has never liked his young relievers. The list of rookie relievers to break in to the majors with serious roles under Joe Torre is limited to Ramiro Mendoza and Scott Proctor. If Brian Cashman gives Torre a young starter, it's hard for him to not write his name on the lineup card every 5th day. With a young reliever, Torre can let him rot in the back of the bullpen while Paul Quantrill and Ron Villone blow their arms out.

We've got a fantastic array of guys in the minor leagues. Mariano Rivera isn't going to pitch forever. We'll probably find a decent closer replacement in Mark Melancon, J.B. Cox, Kevin Whelan, or even T.J. Beam. I think that we will get a very good lefty reliever out of Chase Wright, and may find ourselves a LOOGY in R.J. Swindle. Maybe even Humberto Sanchez or Steve White or Steve Jackson or Jeff Marquez will find their way to the Yankee pen.

Chances are, we'll find the Ramiro Mendozas and Jeff Nelsons of the next Yankee dynasty in our current crop of farmhands. Just don't expect it until after Joe Torre retires.

Tomorrow I will post part one of what may be my favorite story on this blog ever. I will post an interview with Kyle Boddy of Baseball Delusions, an amateur league pitcher who has been taught the gyroball by Baseball Prospectus's Will Carroll. He brilliantly describes how to throw a gyroball, and offers his insight on it's potential use in major league baseball. I think that you'll all enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

20 More Predictions

I'm back. Time for some more predictions, and then I'll answer some comment questions.

Players that are off the radar, but be top-30 prospects by September

1. Wilkens De La Rosa
2. Abraham Almonte
3. Ferdin Tejada
4. Ivan Nova

Will not rebound from injury

1. Jesse Hoover
2. Erik Abreu
3. Eric Duncan

Will rebound from injury

1. Jose Tabata
2. J.B. Cox

Will be finish the season in the bullpen

1. Tim Norton
2. Darrell Rasner
3. Erik Abreu
4. Rolando Japa
5. Daniel McCutchen

Will not finish the season in the bullpen

1. George Kontos

Will rise at least 2 levels from '06

1. Cody Ehlers (A+ to AAA)
2. Justin Christian (AA to MLB)
3. R.J. Swindle (A- to AA)
4. Phil Hughes (AA to MLB)
5. P.J. Pilittere (A+ to AAA)

b/c - "EJ, stats for Cano and Melky in winter ball?"

We don't know yet. I know that Melky hit a big home run last week though. We probably won't see the statistics until the league is finished (so, like next week).

Gardo predicts that " Three years from now Wang will be a reliever".

To be honest, I thought the same thing before this season. Wang had some very serious health issues. I didn't think that his shoulder could handle 180+ inning workloads. His ability to eat innings makes him a valued starter though. I wouldn't be surprised though if he is playing for a different team in 3 years though.

Mediaj33 points out that " Is it me or Cashman are fascinated with sinkerball type pitchers? Why do you think Cashman draft sinkerball type pitchers in the draft or trade for them. For Example, Wang, Sanchez, Ohlendorf, Mccallister, Marquez and lastly Carla Pavano"

It does seem like 90% of our system is made up of 6'3" 220 lb right handers who throw a 93 mph sinking fastball. I think that this is a mark of brilliance from Brian Cashman. I'd like to direct you to an excellent article at Baseball Analysts. Of course, it means that the Yankees are going to want to focus on infield defense in the future, which might mean a position shift for Derek Jeter.

James writes about the Red Sox - "True, Redsox bullpen are garbage and stink at moment . I feel like when the Redsox plays the Yankees - bad things happen and karma change. Pitching staff for Redsox either steps up their game or goes to higher level when they are playing yankees.Redsox bullpen become great all of sudden and Yankees bullpen on the other hand stinks. For Example Like jeter, He doesn't have great numbers in regular season to wow anyone but when He plays in big games against Redsox, he step up his game. Thoughts?"

I don't think that the Red Sox have any special power to control the baseball Gods. I think that sometimes they are smarter than the Yankees, but it's going to take more than just smarts to fix the Red Sox bullpen in 2007. When Joel Pineiro has a clause in his contract based on games finished, you know that you are looking bad. Guys like Delcarmen and Hansen could evolve in to good relievers, but the Red Sox can't count on them. It's going to be a rough year in the late innings for the Red Sox.

Friday, January 5, 2007

The 2007 Yankee bullpen

Brian Cashman doesn't have a lot to work out between now and opening day. Our starting rotation and lineup are pretty much set. Our bench will be decided in Spring Training. Our bullpen is a different story.

The Yankees have the following locks, barring a trade:

Mariano Rivera - 75 innings, 1.80 ERA
Kyle Farnsworth - 66 innings, 4.36 ERA
Mike Myers - 30.2 innings, 3.23 ERA
Luis Vizcaino - 65.1 innings, 3.58 ERA
Brian Bruney (20.2 innings, 0.87 ERA)

I am going to exclude Scott Proctor for a moment, whom the Yankees are preparing to start "just in case" (102 innings, 3.52 ERA)

The Yankees have on the 25 man roster right now (no options)

Sean Henn (9.1 innings, 4.84 ERA)

And on the 40 man roster, with options:

T.J. Beam (18 innings, 8.50 ERA)
Chris Britton (53.2 innings, 3.35 ERA)
Jeff Karstens (42.2 innings, 3.80 ERA)
Darrell Rasner (unsure, may be out of options) (20.1 innings, 4.43 ERA)
Jose Veras (11 innings, 4.09 ERA)
Jeff Kennard

It seems unlikely that the Yankees will consider a normal 6 man bullpen. They will carry 7 relief pitchers. I'm not going to pretend to know what Cashman will do, but I will tell you what I would do.

  • Trade Brian Bruney. His 20 innings were a major fluke last season. He walks too many people. Bruney will never have success in the major leagues with a walk rate that high. His trade value will never be higher. Sell high.
  • Trade or waive Sean Henn. He isn't going to be a useful major league player. The arm surgery really killed him. Henn didn't take to the bullpen well and he's out of time. Maybe he'll clear waivers, but I doubt it.
  • Keep Scott Proctor in the bullpen. He was very good last season, and hasn't been a full time starter since he was in the Dodger organization.
  • Promote Chris Britton. He was better than any of our relievers besides Mariano last season. He may have some speed bumps, but he's going to be a good reliever for a long time. Of course, if he has a poor spring training, he can be sent to the minors for more seasoning.
  • Promote Darrell Rasner. I'm not too sure, but he may also be out of options. He should be promoted and given the longman role. Karstens could probably do a slightly better job, but Karstens also has two option years left. If Rasner struggles, he can be sent down in favor of Karstens or someone else.

I think that this could be a very good bullpen. I think that, barring injury, it could be the best bullpen in the majors. Some quick predictions:

Mariano Rivera, 80 innings, 1.80 ERA
Kyle Farnsworth, 72 innings, 3.10 ERA (yes, he'll recover)
Scott Proctor, 90 innings, 3.70 ERA (Even though he could easily go down with an elbow injury)
Chris Britton, 65 innings, 4.05 ERA
Luis Vizcaino, 65 innings, 3.85 ERA
Mike Myers, 32 innings, 3.00 ERA
Darrell Rasner, 75 innings, 4.50 ERA

That's a very solid little staff. One or more will probably go down with an injury or by simple ineffectiveness, but that is why we have T.J. Beam, Jose Veras, Jeff Kennard, and J.B. Cox at AAA.

Agreed in Principle

It has been widely reported that the Yankees have agreed in principle to a trade which would send Randy Johnson to Arizona for Jose Vizcaino, Ross Ohlendorf, Alberto Gonzalez, and a fourth prospect, rumored to be Steve Jackson.

I don't know a whole lot about these prospects beyond their stat line, but I can interpret those statistics and get a sense of how good they are.

Luis Vizcaino is a solid major league reliever. He has posted an ERA in the mid-threes for three straight years. He is coming off a year where he saw his walk rate increase to 3.99, but also his strikeout rate jump to 9.92. He has always been prone to the home run, but he throws hard enough that he's pretty hard to hit. He is actually better against lefties than righties, which could define his new role in the Yankee bullpen. He'll be somewhere between Scott Proctor's 2006 and Kyle Farnsworth's 2006. He's one year away from free agency.

Ross Ohlendorf is the best of the three prospects in the deal. I would have prefered Micah Owings, but Ohlendorf is not a bad pickup. I've heard mixed reports about how hard he throws, anywhere from 93-95 to 97-99. He probably throws about 95. On top of this, Ohlendorf has excellent control. In 368 minor league innings, he has walked 2.35 per 9. That's not a whole lot worse than Phil Hughes folks. Of course, he's no Phil Hughes. Ohlendorf has a career K/9 of 7.20. His K rate dipped to 6.33 in 2006. His secondary pitches aren't anything special. He throws an average change and slider. The control helps him eat innings. He pitched 182.2 innings in 28 starts in 2006, or 6.53 per start. I think that Ohlendorf could be a major league starter not unlike David Bush. He's a few months away from being major league ready, and won't turn 25 until August. He'd probably be in the 15-18 range if I reranked the top-30. Update: It looks like the radio reports on his velocity were wrong. Ohlendorf throws closer to 92.

Alberto Gonzalez resembles another player named A. Gonzalez. He's an all-field, light hitting shortstop. He is a career .283/.339/.386 hitter in three minor league seasons. He probably won't hit too much better than that in the majors. He's a very good defender, although he's no Ramiro Pena. He won't be any better than a bad starting shortstop or average utility player in the majors. He'll have an A. Gonzalez-like career.

Steve Jackson just had a nice little AA season, but it remains to be seen if he is for real. He floundered in his first full season in the minors, posting a 5.33 ERA in 158 innings in A ball. He's a groundball pitcher, and found a lot of his ground balls falling in for hits. He struck out less than six per nine, and had good but not great walk rates. The Diamondbacks recognized that he may have been a little unlucky and promoted him to AA, where he had great season. In 24 starts, he tossed 149.2 innings with a 2.65 ERA. He struck out 7.52 per nine, and walked 2.71. Jackson throws a sinking fastball in the low 90s. In his three seasons in the minor leagues, Jackson has been very good at preventing the home run (.66 per 9 innings). I can't see Jackson getting any better than someone like Darrell Rasner. He's ready for AAA, but could be the odd man out of a loaded rotation.

Overall, I think that we made out pretty well with this trade. I was really hoping that Owings would be a Yankee, but Ohlendorf is still pretty good. Vizcaino will give us an excuse to trade Brian Bruney while he still has value, and provide another solid arm for our bullpen. Alberto Gonzalez is a younger version of Andy Cannizaro, and Steve Jackson could end up a replacement-level pitcher. All for a 43 year old former ace who just underwent a serious back surgery and had a 5.00 ERA.

Next up: I take a look at the Yankee bullpen.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

First 20 Predictions for 2007, Minor Leagues

Pitchers and Catchers report in six weeks. Six weeks! It seems like the offseason began yesterday.

I'm going to be making a series of predictions for our minor leagues. Here are the first twenty:

Five players who will break out:

1. Marcos Vechionacci
2. Austin Jackson
3. George Kontos
4. Jeff Marquez
5. Angel Reyes

Five players who will falter:

1. Tim Battle
2. Nick Peterson
3. Colin Curtis
4. Anthony Claggert
5. Jason Jones

Five players who will struggle, but will make progress

1. Zach McAllister
2. Jesus Montero
3. Gerardo Rodriguez
4. Ramiro Pena
5. R.J. Swindle

Five Imports who will perform

1. Carlos Urena
2. Abraham Almonte
3. Jesus Montero
4. Pryllis Cuello
5. Juan Miranda

A Larger Trade?

If Randy Johnson is traded for the rumored package of Micah Owings, Luis Vizcaino, and Ross Ohlendorf, the Yankees will be in an interesting situation. The Yankees will have the following pitchers in their possession:

25 Man Roster, No Options:
Mike Mussina
Andy Pettitte
Chien-Ming Wang
Carl Pavano
Kei Igawa (I'm going to assume that he has a clause in his contract)
Mariano Rivera
Kyle Farnsworth
Brian Bruney
Mike Myers
Sean Henn
Scott Proctor
Luis Vizcaino

40 man Roster, Options:
Chris Britton
T.J. Beam
Humberto Sanchez
Jose Veras
Jeff Kennard
Jeff Karstens
Darrell Rasner (he may be out of options. I'm unclear)
Matt DeSalvo
Chase Wright

In addition to those, they will have at AAA:

Phil Hughes
Tyler Clippard
Steve White
J.B. Cox
Ross Ohlendorf
Micah Owings

That's a lot of pitching. The Yankees have 12 pitchers already stuck on the 25-man roster, and of the 9 others on the 40-man roster, at least five would be worthy of a major league job. At AAA, they have two major league ready starters in Owings and Hughes, with Clippard, White, and Ohlendorf not far off. We're stacked.

Already, speculation has begun as to what we will do with all of this pitching depth. For the next two seasons, we have five rotation spots locked up in the majors. Five spots! If we acquire the two starters from the Diamondbacks, we will have at bare minimum seven starters who are looking for rotation spots, and only five AAA spots to give them. With a loaded AA rotation of Jeff Marquez, Chase Wright, Matt DeSalvo, Jason Jones, and potentially Joba Chamberlain, we don't have a whole lot of opportunity to send these guys down (not to mention that every one of the seven have thoroughly dominated AA).

I agree with the speculation. I think that the Yankees are loading up for a trade. A big trade. I don't really think that Johan Santana is the target, because the Twins are going to contend next season. I think that the Yankees will try to keep Phil Hughes while acquiring a young ace. Jake Peavy, C.C. Sabathia, or even Chris Carpenter are names that I would look for if their respective teams fall out of contention early in the season. Aaron Harang, John Lackey, or Bartolo Colon might also come up.

Or the trade could come before spring training. I don't pretend to know what Brian Cashman is planning. But I do see a tremendous opportunity to acquire an ace. If I am Brian Cashman, I take this opportunity. I just don't touch Phil Hughes.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Doug Mientkiewicz

Word on the internet lately is that the Yankees are trying to sign Doug Mientkiewicz to be their everyday 1st baseman. The move would force Jason Giambi to the designated hitter spot.

I think that Mientkiewicz would be a good pickup on a small, one year deal. He hit .283/.359/.411 last season, close to he career averages. That is a decent little line - a little above league average - but isn't too impressive for a 1st baseman.

Mientkiewicz makes up for it with his glove. It's hard to quantify defense, but the consensus among people who attempt is that Mientkiewicz is the 2nd or 3rd best defensive 1st baseman in the game. BaseballThinkFactory rates him +12 runs.The Fielding Bible rates him about +9 runs. My instinct is that these numbers lowball Mientkiewicz by a little bit. I see Doug as +15 to +18 runs over a full season.

Overall, that would put Mientkiewicz as an average or slightly below average AL 1st baseman. He would improve our defense tremendously over Jason Giambi - whose defense is equivalent to -26 runs over a full season versus the average at his position. Chien-Ming Wang will appreciate the help. There was also statistical evidence last season with the Mets that Mientkiewicz improved the play of Jose Reyes and David Wright.

I think that there is value in improving our defense, even if he results in a net decrease in run differential. Baseball is a game is attrition, and every time that a ball squeaks passed Jason Giambi or a a ball in the dirt isn't scooped for an out, our pitchers have to throw more pitches. I am going to be writing a full article on our defense as soon as the team makes a decision on who to make the everyday 1st baseman.

Worst case scenario: Mientkiewicz sucks. He is signed to a small, one year deal. We turn him in to a valueable late inning defensive replacement and trade for a Richie Sexson or Adam Dunn. We even may get lucky and have a Cody Ehlers, Eric Duncan or Juan Miranda ready by the all star break. Andy Phillips or Josh Phelps could be an asset for us. Roster flexibility is a nice thing to have.