Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Training #5

Before I get into the OF’rs I have to follow-up on a quote I saw from Girardi. “Serge was more of a starter; He was never really a one-inning guy.” This is the part of Girardi that rubs me the wrong way; he simply says things that insult my intelligence. Does he really think everyone just listens without thinking? If Mitre really was “more of a starter” than why was his ERA as a starter 7.16 and 5.93 in 2009 and 2010 while being 4.70 and 2.45 as a reliever?

Sorry just had to get that off my chest.

OK, on to the outfield.

Swisher: Swisher was an excellent acquisition by Cashman. He has had back to back years with an OPS of .869 and .870. The interesting part is he arrived at the numbers in different ways. Last year he hit for higher average, but walked a lot less, in fact it was the lowest walk per AB ratio of his career. He walked about 16% of the time in 2009 and only 9% last year. However, he made up for it with more hits in the place of the walks. He has been very consistent outside of the hits and walks replacing each other; he played 150 games and hit 29 homers in each of the past 2 years with 33 and 35 double respectively. Going into this write-up my feeling was that Swisher would see a little down tick, but his consistency has been excellent. At 30 he is in his prime, but something tells me I would predict a little bit less from him; I would say an OPS more in line with overall career numbers (.827) around a .835 OPS.

Granderson: I went on record stating I liked the Granderson trade, but I also was concerned we didn’t have a platoon partner for him and the sooner the Yanks realized they need to get him out against lefties the better. The Yankees never addressed this and Granderson continued the exact same thing I stated would happen (even though everyone said it would be different this year) he had an excellent ops against righties of .866 and a very weak .646 against lefties. That being said, I would be disingenuous if I didn’t point out how much better he played in the 2nd half after Kevin Long quieted his bat. Granderson had an OPS of .861 in the 2nd half after only a .718 in the first half. I don’t have the numbers of how he did against lefties in the 2nd half, but I would expect them to be over an OPS of .700. While still not good against lefties, it does reduce the amount of times he should not play against lefties. Based on the 2nd half of the year, he is not “Jose Molina” against lefties anymore, but still not a good option. However, he remains a tremendous hitter against righties, especially for a fast OF’r. I see Granderson adding about 30 points to his OPS and finishing around .830.

Gardner: I took a lot of heat when I said Gardner was a better overall option than Damon (and a lot less costly) and letting Damon go was the right move. Gardner really played great until he hurt his wrist. He had an OPS of .811 at the All Star Break but only .698 after the injury. He finished the year at .762. keep in mind when you take into account 47 SB’s and only being caught 9 times, he actually added 29 bases (subtracting 2 for every CS) to his numbers which gave him an equivalent OPS of .813. Then, when you add in his defense, where he has about as much range as anyone and an arm which was surprisingly accurate and strong, you have a really good player. I believe Crawford won the GG, but Gardner might have been better with 5 more assists (a total of 12) and only 1 error all year (Crawford only had 2). BTW, Crawford can’t throw at all so I am sure that Gardner stopped more advancement bases than Crawford also. While Crawford is a better hitter, Gardner is not very far behind Crawford as an overall player. At less than a mil/year Gardner is an amazing value. I believe Gardner can give us an OPS approaching .800 and when you add another 45+ SB’s to the defense that really should be in CF (I discussed this a lot last year), he is more valuable than people realize.

So I expect our overall OF to be slightly better.

Bench: We added Eric Chavez and Andrew Jones as the major bench guys to go along with Nunez (who I expect to beat out Pena) and whoever our 5th OF’r will be. The backup catcher will eventually be Montero and that will/should be a good bat when he comes up. Chavez has been the talk in camp as he has hit great and the former Oakland 3rd baseman gold glover should help spell ARod and Tex and be a decent bat option.

Jones is an important piece here as we know Granderson struggles against lefties and Gardner is better against righties as well so having an OF’r who can bat against lefties is a key piece. In steps the 33 year old Andrew Jones who had a nice year last year with a respectable .781 OPS against righties, but a stellar .931 OPS against lefties. Obviously if he can duplicate these numbers (he did have 330 AB’s) this would be a great addition. The issue I have is that his swing didn’t look all that great and last season was big resurgence compared to the prior 3 years. He did post a .782 OPS in 2009 but he actually hit a little better against righties. This signing made some sense based on the platoon need, but I am not sure what Jones has left in the OF defensively. I would expect Gardner to move to CF when Granderson gets platooned.

I like our bench better than last year, especially with Montero on the team, but at 21 he is still young and while he looks like a can’t miss hitter, one never knows.

Bottom line for the Yanks is that our hitting is better than last year and we already scored the most runs. Our defense should be about the same overall with an increase at catcher being offset by my own expected drop at SS and everyone else being about the same.

With an improved bullpen (not mentioned I think Joba will have a good year this year) and better offense, does that make up for the loss of Pettitte? Pettitte really pitched well last year, but the answer is yes. Overall, I don’t see our starters being worse than last year. If Burnett is better and our 5th starter is better, does that make up for the loss differential from Pettitte to Nova? One could say very close when you also add the time Pettitte missed and how poorly what we replaced him with. We also have better depth with Colon waiting in the wings.

So while most see the Yanks really struggling because they didn’t add Lee and didn’t retain Pettitte, the starters are not a lot worse in my opinion and even if slightly less, the much better pen and still top ranked offense should give this team another mid 90’s victory tally. Boston should be very tough as they added some guns and last year they were really banged up. But TB should drop with some of their losses. Baltimore did play well under Buck at the end of the year, but they don’t have the guns to compete yet. We have a little better depth than Boston and we have the fire power to get someone if we need it based on the money we had reserved for Pettitte and Lee. We will be enjoying the postseason games again as long as we don’t get hit hard with injuries.

Spring Training #4

The Yankee offense is the best in the league! That sums it up pretty nicely. Last year, the Yankees led the league in runs scored and I predict the offense will be better! Combined with the best bullpen is baseball, this team will once again win in the mid 90’s regardless of what the “experts” say. A few weeks ago you could put down money on the Yanks over/under at 90.5. Nothing is guaranteed, but the over is a good bet.

Let’s go position by position with the infield today and OF with bench in the next day or 2:

DH: Last year Thames did a really good job for us putting up an OPS of .841 in 237 AB’s. Others did pretty poorly; guys like Juan Miranda, Kearns, Berkman and even Nick Johnson (in only 20 games). I don’t have the exact numbers at the DH position for the Yanks, but Posada had an OPS of .811 last year and while he did struggle when he DH’d last year, it is reasonable to think he can give you above an .800 OPS. He is 39 and adjusting to the DH role, but I can tell you form experience that catching wears on your body and hands and staying free of all those dings should be enough to offset his age and the changed role in DH’ing. Posada has had an OPS of .835 over the past 3 years. His adjustment is the hardest thing to predict as sitting on the bench gives Jorge a lot of time to decide how he is going to guess pitches (Jorge is a notorious guess hitter); but this is probably a negative for him as you can out think yourself. Overall, I think the DH position will be better overall as Posada’s hitting skills have not eroded; again I do worry about the adjustment.

Catching: This is an area that where the defense will be better than last year, but the offense will not be as good. Jorge hit the ball very well as a catcher last year (.844) and this year we have a question mark in our new starting catcher Russell Martin. I flip flopped on my opinion of signing Martin when I saw the price to sign went from a 3 year 30+ mil contract to a $4 mil deal with arbitration next year (and incentives). This was well worth the risk as prior to the last 2 years Martin was one of the brighter young catcher stars. After his first 3 years, his OPS was over .800 as a full time catcher who caught most every game; he followed then with 2 poor years (OPS of .680). So who is he? I honestly have not watched him so I can’t give an educated opinion, so while I normally lay it out there, I can’t say anything at this time other than we should expect about a .700 OPS and see what happens. The offense is supposed to come from Montero, but our young hitting stud did not have a good spring training, although he hit better than anyone else who would be our backup (Romine, Gustavo Molina) the Yanks will probably send him down to get into a groove before bringing him back up. Montero looks to be the past of an excellent hitter and I would not let the spring training change my overall view; this means I would probably bring him north with the club and let him start getting acclimated to the club. However, his defense is not strong so some more work would be OK and getting his batting stroke going with a lot of AB’s makes sense also; tough call that is hard to take a absolute stance on, but I slightly lean toward bringing him north with the club and this is mostly because the backup options are worse. The latest feeling is Molina (the one who got 7 AB’s with Boston last year) would be the backup and probably rarely play. He would only be there if Martin got hurt. Martin is a horse so he will probably play almost every day if Montero is down in the minors. If Montero is sent down, I would not be surprised if it is just for a month. This would give the Yanks another year of control of him. Montero looks the part of a very solid major league hitter and if he is sent down I think he will be back in May if not sooner.

1st base: Texiera will once again man this area. After a .948 OPS in his first year with the Yanks, Tex had his worst offensive year of his career (not counting his rookie year). His .846 was 67 points below his career OPS which is now .913. Tex has become much more pull happy, especially from the left side of the plate, but I expect him to make adjustments and get his OPS up back close to that .900 mark again…

2nd base: What can I say about Cano that I haven’t said already? I made very bold predictions about him the last 2 years and he hit both of them (after his OPS of 715 in 2008). His OPS was .915 last year and it is hard to predict an uptick from here, but is surely would not surprise me. His wrists and hands are as good as you can see. His mental game is the part that still has some room to improve. His ability to hit anything hurts him because he thinks he can swing at everything. His ability to lay off the bad pitches is the only think stopping him from breaking the .950 and then 1.000 area of OPS. His rise in walks and thus better control of his “I am going to swing at this pitch no matter what” is the reason his OPS was over .900 for the first time in his career. I still think Cano can see a little increase in his OPS this year; around .925.

SS: Jeter is back and after a very weak hitting year had a slight change in his batting approach. His .710 OPS was very poor and I was expecting them to stop his swaying of his bat before the pitch, but they have not done that. They did shorten (almost stop) his step during the pitch and this will help with all the movement he had but I was very surprised they didn’t calm his bat down like the Yanks did for Granderson, Swisher and even ARod. While Jeter’s defense will be worse this year, I am looking for the 36 year old to bounce back with an OPS around 40-50 points higher than last year. Some people think he is what he is now, but he is going through an adjustment that older players have to do and last year was a little farther of a drop than one could have expected. In 2008, Jeter had an OPS of .771, I see Jeter more like that than last year or 2009.

3rd Base: Like Jeter, I expect ARod to have a bounce back year also, but unlike Jeter, I expect a full bounce back from ARod. His relaxed bat really suits him well. He is over his hip injury and was able to work out all off season. I know ARod is a lightning rod for people, but he guy works as hard as anyone and I always felt he stood and took the heat when he didn’t do well. I was almost by myself in my support of ARod when everyone said how un-clutch he was. Well I have discussed that to death, but his postseason OPS is higher than his regular season OPS so hopefully people now realize that if the poster child for “un-clutch” is not un-clutch, perhaps people will realize the truth that players at this level really don’t have an issue with pressure, they have dealt with it their whole lives and if there is a rare exception the entire clutch and un-clutch discussion is blown way out of proportion. So what do I expect from ARod? I think a mid .900’s of OPS is in line. I see ARod increasing his OPS by about 100 points this year. I have very high expectations of him this year.

So, looking at the infield and DH, we have one position where the offense will be weaker (catching) and I see improvement every where else; slightly at DH and 2nd base, decent amount at SS and 1B and then a large increase at 3rd base.

All predictions are assuming no large injuries, but one has to assume normal dings and bruises.

Feel free to comment!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

2011 Spring Training #3

I mentioned the bullpen is the best in baseball in a previous blog.

Many people were upset we grabbed a Met and Felciano has done nothing this spring, but I think getting Feliciano was a good move. The guy has been a quality option to get lefties out for a long time. He is 34, but for 6 straight years, lefties have an OPS under .600 against him. The last 3 years he is .583 against lefties and .898 against righties so he is a guy who must be used correctly. You bring him in to face a lefty or lefties and you only let him face a righty if more lefties are behind him. He is a guy you would like to face 60% lefties if you can. Many of you know I have wanted a 2nd lefty for awhile so I thought this was an excellent move. I am not sure why Cashman finally made it a priority, but I think they realized how it hurt their flexibility in the playoffs (should have just read this blog). Maybe Marte can also still be an option for us later in the year; he is a solid option if healthy. Of course, we now have Logan who really pitched well for us last year. He was a surprise last year, but he has the stuff to be effective.

The Soriano move was/is an interesting one. He is not really a stuff guy, but he has excellent control and was fantastic last year. He seems to really know how to pitch. Dollar wise, we might have spent a little more than expected, but there is no question the team is better with him and if he pitches as well as he did last year he will be well worth it, even in a setup role. Overall, this would not be a signing one would do, but in the situation the Yanks are in, it isn’t bad. We may even get the 1st round pick back if Soriano decides to back out after one year. One way to look at it is that the better he pitches the more chances of him opting out and thus getting us a 1st round back when he is signed by someone else. If he doesn't pitch as well as he has in his career then it will not be a good move, but while he might not be as lights out as last year, there is no reason to think he will not be very effective...

With Joba and Robertson as quality options form the right side and probably Colon or Garcia (I get the feeling Colon) the bullpen is stacked. We could take a 5 inning start and easily shut the opponent down with one run or less the rest of the way; with our offense, we should be in good shape.


Before I get into them, I want to say that I like the limited amount I have seen from Rothschild (new pitching coach). He went after the main thing I saw in Burnett and that was that Burnett used to swing his front leg (left) and his plant spot was all over the place. Rothschild just focused in coming straight down with the leg in a consistent spot and that is one area that will make a big difference in Burnett. The lack of consistent delivery is what hampered AJ the most. As much as AJ is annoying to watch (and if you remember I was not in favor of even starting him in the postseason last year), it is really very hard to predict anything other than a better year out of him. Will he pitch to his prior levels? Hard to say that, but getting for a guy who has a career ERA of under 4 to all of a sudden jump his OPS against up 100 points and ERA to 5.26, I project him in the mid 4’s which would still be above his norm. Even though predictions with AJ are hard, I would be expect his ERA to drop at least a half a run and I would not be surprised if it approached a full run. I was much happier going out on a limb with Cano than a head case like Burnett, but I just feel that way.

CC is a solid #1

Hughes had a 4.19 ERA and finished 18-8 last year. The ERA seems about right to me; it is now up to Hughes to make his own corrections after 2nd half of the year that saw his ERA jump to 4.90 after a 3.65 before the All Star Break. I don’t think he is a 4.90 guy or a 3.65 guy, but I think splitting the difference and moving a little closer to the 3.65 makes sense.

Colon and Garcia. I think both of these pickups were excellent. It remains to be seen whether these guys help us or not, but I really like the VERY low cost of finding out. Garcia can be fine as a #5. Colon’s stuff looks pretty good in the one game I watched. He had a lot of movement on his pitches and if you can throw strikes (and spot the ball) with good movement you can pitch in this league. Colon’s stuff projects a little better in the pen than Garcia, but I think Colon has a better upside than Garcia. Either way, I think these were two good signings.

Nova – I already stated that I think this kid will be pretty good for us this year. I like his makeup and think his stuff is pretty good. He gets erratic in his wind up and needs to clean that up, but he will not be a liability for us and we will like our chances with him on the mound.

And the Genius Maker hopefully keeps going!

Last quick note, I am fine with the Yanks trading Mitre for a 4th/5th OF’r. He is ok, but I would rather keep Colon and Garcia (I never felt Nova was in jeopardy). For Mitre, the Yanks got back Chris Dickerson who is a 28 year old lefty OF’r who showed that he run pretty well and isn’t an auto out at the plate. In 454 big league AB’s he has a .759 OPS. Seems like a 4th or 5th platoon OF’r as almost most of his AB’s have come against right handed pitchers.

I will discuss hitters later this weekend and then go through last year predictions and see how I did.

Please feel free to post your feedback.

Monday, March 21, 2011

2011 Spring Training #2

Some of the notes I had were from awhile ago, but I said I would fire blogs off after my last one and I failed to get it done. Let’s get at it…

The one bad item from the off season was that Girardi retained Robby Thompson as our 3rd base coach. Robby Thompson is simply bad as a 3rd base coach and I am annoyed Girardi didn’t make a move there. Loyalty is fine, but Girardi's job is to put the team in the best position to win games (now and in the future). Thompson is simply poor at what he does and the part that is the most frustrating was that when presented with the facts that he had been responsible for getting a lot of guys thrown out at home plate with less than 2 outs, his only answer was “I will always be aggressive.” That is just moronic. It is OK to be aggressive, but common sense must also prevail as getting aggressive is OK if you have good judgment and understand the game situation. The quickest example I can give is being down by 5 runs with a guy on 2nd base with nobody out and a batter hits a single. Scoring the runner from 3rd on any play that is even remotely close is just idiotic. Enough said, you know my opinion; I can only hope he doesn’t cost us games.

I have already commented on Cliff Lee. He was worth spending money on, but I don’t think missing out on him is a terrible move as he does have question marks in durability, age and the fact he was in the minors not too long ago (which is hard to imagine). Because there was not much else worth going after I did not want the Yankees to spend money just because they have it. I would rather them save it for when we really want a guy. We also don’t want to trade away minor league trade value guys for a fix that isn’t that much better than someone we have… and with no upside. Therefore, you wait for the stud 29 or less year old guy to become available as free agents or via trade and you get them that way. In the meantime IF you have been doing it right all along (like signing Tex and CC) you have some young players you are developing and you give them a shot. I was very confident in Gardner last year (many people wanted Matsui and Damon) and I think he played extremely well overall. If you take how well he did before hurting his wrist he was on par with Crawford and at the salary Gardner is at, he is an enormous value. Anyway, let's see what guys like Nova have in our rotation. I think he will do just fine.

As for cheap signings, Cashman really seems to have done a good job in this department. Eric Chavez, the former A’s gold glove 3rd baseman has looked smooth at the plate and was always a good defender. Bartolo Colon has shown very good movement on his fastball and a good change and curve as well. He doesn’t throw 97-98 anymore, but from what I saw (there was no gun) it looked like he was throwing 92-93 with movement. Garcia is a guy who I expected to win the 5th starting job, but I am not as sure now as Colon has outpitched him in spring training. Either way, I think both are worth keeping and if I had to choose between the 2 of them and Mitre, I would let Mitre go. Because Joba and Feliciano are a little banged up perhaps we will be able to start with all of them? Colon probably suits the bullpen better than Garcia though based on the way I see their stuff translate.

I have not seen Andrew Jones swing the bat this offseason and he is projected to be the platoon OF’r against lefties. Last year he was excellent in that role, but prior years he didn’t show a propensity to hit lefties better. I am not sure if it was an aberration or not, but while many felt he was a lock to make the roster, it wouldn’t shock me if the Yanks went a different route. I will say that if he can hit lefties well, it is definitely a need for this team and is also the reason why he was locked into the roster in most people’s eyes.

ARod looked VERY solid at the plate against TB. Not talking about the results, but he had little movement and just looked good to me.

Jeter, who has had a good spring, has slowed his big step down a lot, but he is still waving the bat to the point where the barrel points toward the pitcher (kind of like Julio Franco used to) and I don’t think that is a good thing. They have calmed his lower half down, but with that bat waving he may still struggle some. I think he does better than last year though. I will set out my predictions before opening day (probably this upcoming weekend.

And now for some odd coincidental numbers…The All-times saves leader Trevor Hoffman has decided to retire. Mariano Rivera is 42 saves behind Hoffman. The fact the number 42 is involved is interesting because Rivera is the last person who will wear the #42 in MLB. Rivera needs 42 to tie and 42 just happens to be the number of Post Season saves he has. Interesting coincidence? BTW, Rivera had Rivera had 33 saves last season and 44 the year before.