Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Game 132: Reelin' In The Years

The Yankees are probably sad to see August go. After winning two-thirds of their games in July (18-9), they took three-quarters of their games in August (21-7). If they carried out that .750 winning percentage through the entire season, it would top the 1998 team's record of 114-48 by almost 10 games. It was clearly and by far the Yankees' best month of the year as they expanded their lead in the division from 0.5 games to 6.5 helped greatly by going 6-1 against the Red Sox.

A.J. Burnett wasn't much help though. The Yankees lost 7 games in the month, and Burnett was on the hook for four of them including the 14-1 disaster against the Sox during which he gave up 9 runs.

Despite striking out more than one batter per inning and recording his highest K/BB, August was Burnett's worst month of this season, as he compiled an ERA over 6 and a WHIP of 1.473. Some of that may be explained by the fact that his BABIP was .337, whereas it had been below .300 in every other month this year and is .288 for his career. Nonetheless, his season ERA was 3.53 heading into his start on August 1st and now stands at 4.10.

It sounds pretty bad, but he really only had two poor starts out of six last month, one 7 run shelling against the White Sox on the 1st and the disaster against the Red Sox on the 22nd. Those were also his only two non-quality starts of his last 13 which include his great run through June and July with a 1.68 ERA and 6 wins in 8 outings.

The Orioles will send 24 year old right hander David Hernandez to the mound tonight. No, not this David Hernandez. He probably throws like a chick. According to his Wikipedia page, the David Hernandez the Yanks will be facing only got drafted by the Orioles because of the connections his father had within the organization. Seriously, check it out.

Hernandez is a fastball-slider-change up pitcher, who struck out 10.2 batters per nine innings in the minor leagues, but has only K'd about half that many in his 74 innings in the majors. He's got a bloated WHIP of 1.520, and K/BB of only 1.34 and has given up 14 HRs in 13 starts including 10 in the month of August. Despite those poor peripherals, Hernandez carries a 4.24 ERA. The Yanks have already seen him this year, and he held them to one run over 6 innings back on July 20th.

The Yanks head into September on a four game winning streak, as hot as they've been all year. The 5 call ups will walk into the clubhouse today and become a part of the best team in baseball for what figures to be an interesting month of baseball. Soon postseason berths will be clinched and teams will be officially eliminated. All that's gone on throughout the course of the year solidify and things start to fall into place.

September is a month of transition. August becomes October and the dog days become cool nights. You feel the energy and freedom of summer being inexorably pulled away and replaced with the chill and constraints of fall. No one wants to see summer end, but in baseball, that's what you look forward to all year.

Your everlasting summer,
You can see it fading fast.
So you grab a piece of something,
That you think is gonna last.

Well, you wouldn't know a diamond,
If you held it in your hand.
The things you think are precious,
I can't understand.

Yanks Make Minor Move

Midnight last night/this morning marked the deadline for teams to acquire players and have them eligible for post-season play. While the Dodgers made two fairly big deals, the White Sox officially gave up, and the Rockies were tricked into thinking Jose Contreras would help their rotation, the Yankees made a minor move, acquiring outfielder Freddy Guzman from the Orioles organization for a player to be named later.

This is not a move made with an eye towards the post-season. Guzman was not added to the 40 man roster, nor will he be, so he will not even be eligible for post-season play. And that's a good thing, because Freddy Guzman is a career .213/.263/.281 (47 OPS+) hitter in 95 career MLB PA and has hit a miserable .219/.261/.289 in three AAA stops this year covering 355 PA.

However, there may be some value in this move in as much as Guzman is a warm body to occupy the Scranton roster for the final week of their season and their playoff run. Guzman's presence will make it easier for the Yankees to recall Ramiro Pena, Shelley Duncan, or maybe even Austin Jackson if they so choose.

Mitch Williams Is An Idiot

You probably knew that already anyway. If you don't recall as such from his playing days, perhaps you've listened to him trip over his own tongue repeatedly on the MLB Network this year. If not, simply refer to the picture below.

"I cut the sleeves off because it looks awesome, now get your head in the game!"

Last night, after finishing the recap, I checked a few other Yankee sites and had MLBN on in the background. I was only half listening. I noticed that recently DFA'd former Yankee and all-around good guy Tony Clark had joined the studio team - good for him. Combined with Sean Casey, last night's panel had two of the most well-liked Big Leaguers of the past twenty years or so.

But for all the goodwill that The Mayor and Tony the former Tiger can generate, one meandering argument from The Wild Thing ruined it all for me.

I'm not even quite sure what point Williams was trying to make. Maybe that's because I wasn't dedicating my full attention, or maybe it's because Williams hasn't made a lucid argument in his entire time with the fledgling network.

Regardless, the conversation started with the increasingly tiresome AL MVP debate. Williams stated that Mauer is at a disadvantage because he's a catcher and his legs are going to go on him at some point before the season's over. Except then Mitch said that Mauer is at an advantage because he missed the first month of the season, so he's fresher than he would be. Ok, advantage: push.

Then Derek Jeter came up. And Mitch made some point about batting average being an overvalued statistic. "Wow," I thought, "Mitch Williams is making a salient point."

Then Mitch took a turn for the inane. For some reason, Williams started comparing Jeter to Jimmy Rollins, who while a shortstop, plays in an entirely different league - so I'm not quite sure what any of it had to do with the AL MVP discussion.

That said, Williams, again emphasizing that batting average is an overvalued statistic, illustrated this by pointing out that despite a cavernous gap between them in batting average, Jimmy Rollins has 10 more doubles than Derek Jeter and has a fielding percentage that is superior by .007. End of story.

Well that's just great Mitch. Now let's finish the discussion. A .007 advantage in fielding percentage is nearly meaningless. The average Major League shortstop last year fielded 728 chances. A .007 difference in fielding percentage means that over the course of a season Rollins would turn roughly five more chances into outs. Five. That's less than one per month over the course of the season.

Of course, since Mitch is so plugged in to which stats are overvalued, he probably knows that fielding percentage is not a very accurate method of measuring a player's defensive value. A more advanced metric would be UZR/150. Now there's no denying that over the course of their respective careers, Jimmy Rollins has been a much, much, much better defensive player than Derek Jeter, holding a career edge in UZR/150 of 10.2 runs. However, this year, Derek Jeter's UZR/150 is 6.8 as opposed to Rollins' 5.9. So for 2009 at least, advantage Jeter.

How about offense? Well yes Mitch, Rollins does have a whopping 10 double lead. How about the other three types of hits a batter can get? 2009 slugging percentage Jimmy Rollins: .415. 2009 slugging percentage Derek Jeter: .482. And before anyone mentions a word about the new Yankee Stadium, let's remember that Citizens Bank Park is also very hitter friendly. Its one year park factors (102/101) are only slightly less offensive than Yankee Stadium's (103/103), and its multiyear factors (103/102) are nearly identical to how the Stadium has played in its brief history.

But, offense is more than just doubles. As Mitch knows, batting average is overrated. On base percentage is probably the best single measure of offensive value. 2009 OBP Rollins: .290. 2009 OBP Jeter: .398. Huge, huge, huge advantage Jeter. Both men bat leadoff. Over the course of a full season, Jeter will be on base roughly 83 more times based on their current OBPs. Jimmy Rollins' OBP is the absolute lowest of any Major Leaguer with at least 450 plate appearances this year. There are but six American Leaguers with a better OBP than Jeter.

How about something really advanced and all-encompassing: 2009 Wins Above Replacement Rollins: 1.8. 2009 Wins Above Replacement Jeter: 5.9. Once again, huge advantage Jeter. He's been worth more than three times as much to his team this year.

I'm not trying to bag on Jimmy Rollins. I'm not trying to suggest that Jeter is or isn't the AL MVP. But I am absolutely stupefied as to what point Mitch Williams was trying to make. That Joe Mauer has legs? That Jeter's not the MVP? That Jeter hits for average and that's all he's good for? That Jimmy Rollins isn't having an absolutely abysmal season? I don't know. I'm not sure Mitch knows. But, by virtue of his employment at MLBN, the guy is supposed to be a national authority on the sport. Whatever point he was trying to make, it was poorly, poorly constructed and its delivery was even worse.

In summary:
Joe Mauer's legs = a blessing and a curse, he may want to hedge his bets and cut one off
Batting average = overrated
Doubles = underrated
Fielding percentage = just right
UZR/150, OBP, WAR = non-existent
Mitch Williams = rivaling John Kruk for dumbest '93 Phillie turned analyst

An Interview With Mike Pagliarulo

Mike Pagliarulo was the Yankees' third baseman from July of 1984 until he was traded to San Diego in July of 1989. He was one of my childhood favorites.

Pags' Baseline Group backs the website Dugout Central, where I contributed before joining Fack Youk. He agreed to an email interview with me last month. We'll run the full interview in a few parts later this week, but a sneak preview with some of the highlights is currently posted at River Ave Blues.

If you're reading here, you're likely already reading at RAB, but if you're not, you really should be. Either way, head on over and give it a read. And be sure to check back here later this week for the full interview.

(Photo from the NY Post)

Not To Rain On The Pettitte Parade, But...

[Update: I need to work on my PitchFX interpretation a bit. Will from IIATM,S sets me straight and you should probably just read that]

It wasn't just the magic in the air and the abundance of Yankees fans at Camden Yards cheering him on last night that helped Andy Pettitte flirt with perfection:
[The red squares are called strikes and the green squares are balls]

According to the PitchFX tool on Brooks Baseball, Home Plate Umpire Marvin Hudson called 24 of the 104 pitches (23%) Pettitte threw last night as strikes when they should have been balls. Conversely, he called only two balls inside the zone strikes, both very close pitches at the knees. Not that the strike zone is perfect denoted by the black box in the chart above, but it is the width of home plate and gives you a pretty good idea of what is what.

Pettite threw 73 "strikes" last night, but only 8 of them were swinging. He threw 32 breaking pitches, 24 of them for strikes, no whiffs. None. Is ths because he has all of a sudden developed an incredibly deceptive curveball and slider, or because the pitches were not in the zone?

Below, I drew the red box to represent what Pettitte's actual strike zone looked like last night.
When you look at the red box as the strikezone instead, there are 13 "strikes" being called balls, which makes it twice as accurate as Hudson's zone, with which he incorrectly identified 26 pitches. The only problem is that the zone is roughly twice the size it should be. Home plate is 17" inches wide, but apparently to Hudson last night, it was nearly 36". The difference between the highest and lowest pitch he called for strikes, just for Pettitte, was more like 39".

Sure, Hudson was more or less consistent in calling pitches for both teams, mainly in terms of expanding the strikezone inside to right handed batters (which was more beneficial to Pettitte as a lefty), but in what other profession does being consistently wrong make it okay? The strikezone has to be a little subjective since it varies with each hitter, but not to the point where it can be doubled in size, right?

At certain point, Hudson had to know that he was calling pitches that were well off the plate for strikes. Andy Pettitte sure did, because he took advantage of it again and again. He also changed speeds beautifully, but some of the credit has to go to the extra-large target he was throwing to.

So while some might be tempted to blame Jerry Hairston, Jr. for his error in the 7th inning which broke up Pettitte's perfect game, they should be thanking Marvin Hudson for his ridiculous strikezone which made Pettitte's dominant performance possible in the first place.

A Look At September Call-Ups

Good morning Fackers - at least as good as it can be now that the summer months are officially over. One of the many things that makes baseball unique when compared to other sports is the expansion of rosters each September. Baseball goes through approximately 85% of its season with a 25 man roster. Then, right as the season enters its homestretch, when the games are supposed to matter most, the permitted roster size increases by a whopping 60%. Other sports don't expand their rosters at all.

But I don't have a problem with the practice. I think it's fun when the rosters expand. Teams that are out of it get a look at their prospects, teams that are in it get to bring in some reinforcements to give them a bit more roster flexibility.

Thankfully, the Yankees are in the latter category. So even though others have already weighed in on this elsewhere, I've long been planning to take a look at this once the calendar turned to September. So here's the official Fack Youk look at potential Yankee call-ups.

Only players on the 40 man roster are eligible for recall. Right off the bat, the Yankees lose three of their potential 15 call-ups, as Ian Kennedy, Christian Garcia, and Kevin Cash are all out for the year with injuries. I suppose the Yankees could DFA Cash to open a spot; but I'm not quite sure what the rules are on that is it pertains to an injured player. I'd imagine if they could, they would have already. Why else would they be keeping him around?

A fourth player that can be ruled out is 2007 first round draft pick, Andrew Brackman. The tall righty didn't make his pro debut until this year thanks to Tommy John surgery, and after a decent start to the season, he's absolutely lost it: 2-12 with a 6.26 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, 6.8 BB/9, 10 hit batsmen, and an astounding 26 wild pitches. He's spent the whole season with low-A Charleston, so even if he were effective, he'd be a long, long shot for a recall.

Xavier Nady and Chien-Ming Wang are both on the 60 day DL, so they do not count towards the forty man. Brett Gardner is on the 15 day DL (and nearly ready to begin a rehab assignment), so he does count towards the 40 man, and of course will be activated as soon as he's ready.

That leaves ten possibilities. Six of these possibilities are pitchers. Given the Yankees willingness to carry an ungodly amount of pitchers for much of the season, the current uncertainty about Sergio Mitre after Saturday's come-backer, and the plan to intentionally truncate the length of Joba Chamberlain's starts, it's a safe bet that most, if not all, of these pitchers will be recalled. Some of these names are familiar: Jonathan Albaladejo, Mark Melancon, Edwar Ramirez, and Anthony Claggett have all seen time with the big club this year. I expect that Albaladejo and Melancon will be recalled right away. For Ramirez and Claggett, this month could represent their last chance to stick with the organization.

The remaining two pitchers on the 40 man are left-handers who have yet to play in the Major Leagues: Mike Dunn and Wilkins DeLaRosa. Dunn is a fifth year pro who was converted to pitching from the outfield after he struggled through 219 minor league PAs to the tune of .499 OPS. He spent most of his pitching career as a starter before being made a full time reliever last season. He's split this year between AA Trenton and AAA Scranton. He's striking out an impressive 12.1 per 9, but walking an unacceptable 5.7 per 9, including 6.5 per 9 at AAA. He's also allowing an unsightly 1.43 baserunners per inning. Given Phil Coke's recent struggles the team may want another left hander in the pen, and Dunn would be the first choice. If he doesn't get a call up, he's off to the Arizona Fall League.

Like Dunn, DeLaRosa is a converted outfielder, who OPS'd at .621 through 533 PAs in his first two pro seasons. Now in his third year as a pitcher, De La Rosa has spent most of the season in Trenton's rotation after making three starts with high-A Tampa. Combined, he's 5-5 on the year with a 3.17 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. He also has experience out of the pen, with 30 of his 63 pro appearances coming in relief. I'm not expecting to see him get called up.

Amongst the position players, Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Pena are sure bets to be recalled right away. Nearly every team will be recalling a third catcher this month. Cervelli was impressive during his stint earlier this year and certainly deserves another look. Jorge Posada's finger injury makes Cervelli's presence all the more necessary and with Jose Molina's contract expiring at season's end, this will double as a final audition for Frankie. Cervelli was off the Scranton roster with a hand injury for about three weeks earlier in August, but he spent a few rehab games in the Gulf Coast Rookie League and rejoined Scranton a week ago.

Meanwhile, the Yankee bench has been short since Pena was optioned down on August 21st. His absence has left Jerry Hairston Jr as the lone back-up infielder, back-up centerfielder, and he's also been serving as the emergency catcher with Posada's injury. Pena's recall will ease the burden on Hairston a bit and help the Yankees to rest Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Cano down the stretch.

Shelley Duncan and Juan Miranda are the last two position players on the 40 man roster. If either are recalled, it probably won't be right away. Both Duncan and Miranda were recalled for a day earlier this year, but neither got into a game. However, both do have Major League experience: Duncan in both of the last two years, Miranda with 14 September plate appearances last year. Both have destroyed AAA pitching this year, with 48 HRs between them.

The Yankees may want to showcase Miranda a bit. He's a first baseman exclusively and the Yankees have other plans there for the next seven years or so. But he can hit - .291/.377/.483 in Scranton the last two years - and he's taking up a precious 40 man spot. The Yankees will likely use him to rest Mark Teixeira down the stretch and to dangle him as trade bait for the off-season.

Conceivably, the Yankees could make some moves to add players to the 40 man and recall them this month. Zach Kroenke is another lefty reliever, with a 1.96 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. He strikes out less batters per nine than Dunn (7.1), but also walks fewer per nine (3.8). Like Dunn, he's off to Arizona this fall if he's not brought up.

Kevin Russo is primarily a second baseman with experience at third base and, and minimally at shortstop and the outfield corners. He doesn't have much power, but has great on base skills with a .415 OBP this year. As I stated earlier this summer, I'd like to see the organization give him the Ramiro Pena treatment and make a true utility man out of him. That said, he'd be redundant with Hairston and Pena already on the roster, but he's a name to remember as he'll need to be added to the 40 man this off-season. Cody Ransom is also at Scranton, and if the Yankees needed to add another infielder he'd likely have the inside track over Russo.

Austin Jackson is one of the Yanks top prospects, and we've looked at him intermittently over the course of the year. AJax has had a fine year at Scranton as a 22 year-old. Between his performance and the Gardner injury, a September call-up for Jackson seemed like a sure thing earlier this year. But now, given the 40 man situation and the recent indications that the Yankees want to give him another season at AAA, I don't think we'll see him in 2009. He does need to be added to the 40 man after the season though, so there is a chance the Yankees may try to add him now and give him a taste of the Majors.

One last thing to keep in mind is that the minor league seasons don't end for another week and that Scranton currently holds a 2.5 game lead in their division. While the Big Club certainly won't put themselves at a disadvantage to help Scranton's post-season chances, they do need to keep enough warm bodies in AAA until the season wraps.

[UPDATE 9:30 AM: Jon Heyman tweets that it's Melancon, Dunn, Pena, and Cervelli for now (h/t lenNY's Yankees). I'm surprised Albaladejo isn't included. Girardi's comments yesterday were "more than two pitchers"]