Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pulling For Joe?

Great news, my fellow baseball fans, our long national (pastime's) nightmare is over. Those were a couple very cold and lonely nights without baseball gracing our television screens. As Yankee fans, we were eased into this break with Game 4 of the Phillies vs. Rockies series on Monday and we'll be eased out of it with Game 1 of the NLCS at 8:07 tonight.

You may be familiar with the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers - his name is Joe Torre. He worked for the Yankees for a couple of nondescript years in a low profile position a while back. Anyway, Peter Gammons was on Michael Kay's radio show yesterday and insinuated that Mr. Torre, despite his affinity for wheatgrass, is not enjoying his time in the City of Angels (link via BBTF):
Kay asked Gammons if he agreed that Joe Torre would only stay on as the Dodgers' manager through the 2010 season, when his contract ends.

"Yes, I do buy that," said Gammons. " ... I wouldn't be surprised and I think a lot of things will probably come out here in the next few months but I think (Torre's) life with the Dodgers is pretty much a living hell."

Kay: "Really!?"

Gammons: "Oh, yeah."

Kay: "So he thought he had it bad in New York and it's worse there?"

Gammons: "Oh, yeah ... Oh, yeah. There'll be a lot that comes out in time with Dodger ownership, but that is a mess [link added], and I don't think anyone wants to have to put up with it too long."
This may give some of you a bit of satisfaction since the reason that Torre ended up in LA in the first place was because he was "insulted" by an offer from the Yankees that would have made his the highest paying manager in the Major Leagues before any of the incentives involved with the deal kicked in. Or others who thought it was a little hypocritical to compare Michael Kay to Rhona Barrett to gain respect from his players when he first arrived on the scene and then write a tell-all book with Tom Verducci called "The Yankee Years" after he left.

Torre responded to comments, sounding a bit like your ex-girlfriend who broke up with you only to find out that what you had wasn't so bad, saying, “My relationship is fine here”and forcing a smile.

I never held it against Torre that he turned down the Yankees offer, probably because I thought it was time for a new manager anyway. My old roommate and I were actually at Mickey Mantle's on Central Park South the day that he flew down to Tampa to inform the Yanks of his decision. We were interviewed by one of the local news stations who sent a crew to the bar and I said something about it being "time to turn over the chain of command to someone a bit younger who can handle the pitching staff better" or something like that, except even more unintelligible since it was in front of the camera.

Oddly enough, Torre is now being lauded for his bullpen management after he brought in his closer, Jonathan Broxton in the 8th inning to face the heart of the Cardinals' order despite being down a run. Torre knew that Broxton would likely have to be removed for a pinch hitter if the Dodgers got anyone on base in the home half of the inning (which they did), but he still chose his best pitcher for the highest leverage situation, something that sabermetricians have been suggesting for years. Pretty crazy, huh?

Are you rooting for the Dodgers in this series? I don't think there's an appreciable difference in match-ups should the Yankees fulfill their end of the bargain which would be the first consideration, so it probably just comes down to preference. I'll admit that last year, since the Yanks did terribly, I wanted the Dodgers to get bounced as early as possible so that Torre's decision to spurn the Yanks wouldn't be vindicated (by the media anyway).

This year? Not so much. When you're happy with your own situation, it's a lot easier to pull for others.

[Update: Awesome gallery of old school Torre from Big League Stew]

Two Thoughts On Game Two

I know Game One isn't even until tomorrow, but here are two thoughts on the two hot button issues from this post-season, both of which affect Game Two (weather permitting).

First, Mike Scioscia's decision to pitch Joe Saunders in Game Two has been widely questioned, and with good reason in my opinion. I understand Scioscia's desire to utilize a lefty in Yankee Stadium in order to neutralize the Yankee lefties and switch hitters, since Yankee Stadia have historically favored lefties.

However, this Yankee Stadium has been a launching pad of historic proportions through its first 85 games. And as I pointed out when Saunders pitched against the Yanks three weeks ago, he is particularly prone to giving up the gopher ball. Saunders surrendered 29 long balls this year, tied for second in the American League despite the fact that an August DL stint limited him to 186 IP on the year. His 1.4 HR/9 also tied for second worst in the AL. Meanwhile, fellow lefty Scott Kazmir has more experience in the new Yankee Stadium, is a better pitcher overall, and allowed just 1.0 HR/9 this year, slightly less than league average.

A further thought regarding Saunders, Yankee batters this year hit .282/.360/.476 against right handed pitching and a slightly better across the board .286/.365/.480 against left handed pitching. There's no discernible platoon advantage there. The Angels would be best off throwing their best available pitcher in Game Two, and that pitcher is not Joe Saunders.

The second issue is whether Jose Molina will again catch A.J. Burnett. The Yankees have yet to announce that decision, though I'm inclined to believe that he will. But, even if he doesn't, I think we may see a bit of Jose Molina in this series anyway. Despite ranking just 11th in the AL in SB%, the Angels ranked third in the league in stolen bases with 148. In an effort to neutralize their running game, I wouldn't be surprised to see Jose Molina behind the plate in the late innings of game if the Yankees are leading.

This happened once already this year, early in the season in this game. Afterwards, Jorge Posada left the park without addressing the media. If this were to happen in the ALCS, the media storm would dwarf the Molina-gate squall that preceded Game Two of the ALDS.

I'm not sure what to make of this one. No one is going to confuse Jorge Posada with vintage Pudge Rodriguez behind the plate. And Posada shouldn't put his ego ahead of the good of the team. But, given that the Angels were below average in SB% and that all Yankee catchers, including Posada, were above league average CS%, it might be to the Yankees' advantage to tempt the Angels to give outs away on the bases.

Furthermore, if you subtract out caught stealings attributed to the pitcher making a pickoff attempt, Jorge Posada's catcher's caught stealing percentage of 21.6% is close to the league average of 21.9% and superior to Jose Molina's 17.9%. In fact, though the sample size is relatively small, the numbers suggest that if the Yankees decide to make a running based defensive substitution behind the plate, the nod should go to Franciso Cervelli who had an off the charts catcher's caught stealing percentage of 38.1% (8 of 21) in the equivalent of about 27 games behind the dish.

Guzman In, Hinske Out

Via LoHud, Joe Girardi announced that Freddy Guzman will be added to the ALCS roster at the expense of Eric Hinske. They've got the audio and the relevant part can be found around the 2:00 mark.

Joel Sherman (among others) advocated this move yesterday, reasoning that while Hinske does have a solid bat, there are few occasions that he would be used:
The Yanks should stick with Hinske only if they intend to start him vs. Jered Weaver, against whom Hinske is 4-for-11 with a homer lifetime. Hinske could start in left for struggling Johnny Damon (3-for-19 vs. Weaver with no extra-base hits) or as the DH rather than Hideki Matsui (2-for-10 vs. Weaver) or Jorge Posada (2-for-14, but with a homer and double).

My gut, though, tells me Girardi plans to ignore small sample sizes and go with his standard lineup vs. Weaver. In that case, the Yanks should meet Angels' aggression with aggression of their own, and put Guzman on the roster.
We haven't been very big proponents of the Freddy Guzman experiment around here, but we are literally talking about the 25th man on the roster in this case. Hinske didn't leave the dugout except to celebrate during the ALDS, and the presence of Guzman will allow Joe Girardi to start Brett Gardner over Melky Cabrera (which is probably optimal) and still have a pinch runner available on the bench.

It also means that Francisco Cervelli will still be around for the ALCS, creating some interesting possibilities for catching in the later innings. Like we saw in Game 2 against the Twins, when Jose Molina starts, he could be pinch hit for by Jorge Posada, who could later be pinch run for (in this case by Guzman) and replaced by Cervelli for defense. In games Posada starts, the second half of that equation still holds true with Molina being the likely defensive replacement.

Check back in a little while, as Matt will take a closer look at the catching situation for the series.

Swisher v. Abreu

This morning, Matt did a great job debunking the myth of Bobby Abreu's resurgent season and magical contagious plate discipline out in Anaheim. I also want to chime in on Abreu's production this season, but in relation to his ostensible replacement - another cheap acquisition via trade for the Yankees - Nick Swisher.

Although Xavier Nady was slotted as the starting right fielder and Swisher was supposed to man first base at the time the Yankees declined to offer Abreu arbitration on his $16M 2008 contract, Nady was done for the season by April 14th and Swish ended up getting over 600 plate appearances for the Yanks. Abreu sounded a bit like a spurned lover when talking about the Yankees cutting him loose but the reality is that at the time $16M was far too much to offer a corner outfielder with limited range when the market are held players like Raul Ibanez, Adam Dunn, Milton Bradley and Pat Burrell - even before taking into account the state of the baseball economy.

The decision made itself. The Angels waited out Abreu's attempts at a large, multi-year deal and got great value on highly productive hitter. Meanwhile, the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira and Swish ended up taking Abreu's place in right field of the New Yankee Stadium. They made essentially the same amount of money in 2009, so who got the better player?

Both guys love to work the count and put up solid OBPs, but that's pretty much where their similarities end. Let's take a look at the numbers (bold print represents an advantage):

A cursory look at the basic stats would give the nod to Abreu. His batting average is far higher than Swisher's and he batted in 14 21 more runs while stealing 30 bases.

However, while Abreu complied 41 more hits than Swisher, he actually had 14 fewer go for extra bases. The OBP advantage goes to Abreu, but more importantly, the slugging crown is Swish's by a wide margin. The home run totals are skewed by the New Yankee Stadium (although Swish only hit 8 at home), but not so much that Abreu would have hit twice as many there.

Abreu batted either second or third in the Angels' line up while Swisher was typically hitting somewhere between 6th and 8th for the Yankees, which explains the difference in RBIs. The 30 stolen bases at a 78% success rate do represent a major advantage for Abreu, but adding those 22 net total bases to Abreu's total isn't enough counteract Swisher's advantage in slugging percentage while subtracting the 8 times on base brings with OBPs closer together.

Usually, you would expect the guy who is a better base stealer to have the advantage in fielding as well, but that's not the case in this scenario. Swish didn't even attempt to steal a base all year long but still was better, or should I say "not as bad" as Abreu in right field.

Mainly on the strength of defense and power, Swisher had a higher value for the Yankees this year. Since Abreu hit all the plate appearance-based incentives in his contract this year, it means that Swish was the cheaper option by about $700,000 as well.

Both teams made out very well, but for different reasons. Swisher was cost controlled because of the deal he signed buying out his arbitration years and Abreu's contract was one of the most team-friendly in a historic buyer's market. The Yanks got an average fielding slugger while the Angels got a singles-raking base stealer. And with the teams meeting in the ALCS, I don't think there are too many regrets with how this scenario played out.

The Fallacy Of El Comedulce

Good morning Fackers. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 allowed for far easier and faster transportation from the East Coast to the West Coast than had previously existed. Yet, from what I've been hearing and reading over the past several months, the concepts of the base on balls and working the pitch count still did not make its way west until some 140 years later when Bobby Abreu signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Don't get me wrong, Bobby Abreu is a very good baseball player. Depending upon how the Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui situations work out this off-season, he might be a good option for the 2010 Yankees to explore. He was initially acquired in one of the best deals Brian Cashman has made and provided the Yankees with two and a half years of good to excellent offensive production, even if his phobia of outfield walls was downright comical by the end of his tenure in the Bronx. The Yankees rightly refused to offer him arbitration following last season, as the $16M he earned in 2008 would have made his 2009 arbitration figure far more than what he's worth. That coupled with the collapse of the free agent market last off-season in light of both the U.S. economy and the ever changing landscape of baseball economics allowed the Angels to sign Abreu for the bottom basement price of $5M for 2009.

While the prevaling narrative is that Abreu enjoyed something of a comeback season, the reality is that his OPS+ of 115 this year is worse than last year (120), essentially equal to his 2007 (114), and the second lowest total of his career since becoming an everyday player in 1998. Some of that can be attributed to the continued diminishing of his power late in his career. But while his OBP of .390 and his BB% of 14.1 are improvements on 2007 and 2008, they still rank as his third lowest marks since 1998.

Yet if you were to listen to the announcers during ALDS or any other nationally televised Angels' game this year, or if you were to google "Bobby Abreu influence on Angels", you would be subjected to scores of hyperbolic statements crediting Abreu with teaching the Angels, who have made the playoffs three straight seasons and six of the last eight, how to finally work a pitch count and take a walk. Nevermind that as recently as 2007 the Angels finished third in the AL in OBP, just as they did this year, with a mark .345, just a half percent lower than this year's .350.

In this post yesterday, Rob Neyer, vamping on Tyler Kepner's piece in The Times, pointed out that the Angels walked 66 more times this year than last, boosting their walk rate from 7.8% to 8.7% and rising from 11th in the AL in OBP back to third, where they had finished in 2007. Yet Neyer also notes that the difference can be entirely attributed to the performance of Abreu alone, who had 65 more walks than the man he replaced - Garrett Anderson, a notorious free swinger whose career high in walks is a whopping 38. In addition to Abreu, Chone Figgins walked 39 more times this year than in 2008. So outside of Figgins and swapping Anderson for Abreu, the rest of the Angels walked 38 fewer times than they did in 2008.

While their average pitches per plate appearance increased from 3.65 to 3.88, that only equates to about 12.5 extra pitches per game, of which about 5.5 can be attributed to Abreu and Figgins. So the rest of the line up saw, on average, one extra pitch each over the course of a game. And while the team's walk rate did increase by 0.9% this year, their IsoD is consisent with last year (.065 this year as opposed to .062 last year). Their 20 point boost in on base percentage is just as much due to a 17 point jump in batting average, which in turn can be attributed to a 23 point jump in team BABIP despite just a one percent increase in LD%. So much for Abreu's influence; it appears luck has far more to do with the Angels' surge in OBP than Abreu does.

Bobby Abreu was the best bargain of the 2008-2009 Crazy Eddie style off-season. You don't need FanGraphs to tell you that Abreu was a steal $6M ($5M base plus $1M incentives), but just to put a number on it, FanGraphs places Abreu's worth at $11.8M this year, nearly twice his salary. That's one helluva deal the Angels got for themselves, but it doesn't mean that Abreu, as one of the most selective hitters in the game, has bestowed his patience upon the rest of the lineup through his mere presence. Keep that in mind as Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, Ken Rosenthal, and the print media try to beat that story line into our head over the course of the ALCS.