Matt LaPorta

The Yankees are still arguably the best offensive team in baseball. Contrary to all the reports coming out of Detroit, Miguel Cabrera’s VORP of 71.4, while 74.7 runs greater than Brandon Inge’s -3.3, is still not enough of a difference to make up for the 81 runs that the Yankees outscored Detroit by last year, even accounting for the 1.9% difference (which would actually be .95% of runs) in park factor between Yankee Stadium and Comerica Park.

That said, it is easy to argue that the Yankees lineup could be a heck of a lot better given their current situation at first base. Some combination of Shelley Duncan, Wilson Betemit, Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane is not very likely to yield anything better than league average, and is in fact quite likely to be in the lower third of 1B production in MLB. So, what alternatives, if any, do the Yankees have, acknowledging that any solution is likely to come after the current season?

There is always Mark Teixeira. Teixeira, currently playing 1B for the Bravos of ATL, will be a free agent after next year, at the age of 28. According to Baseball Prospectus’ MORP tool (which puts dollar values on a player’s performance over replacement level), Tex projects to be worth about $20M a year through 2011. However, although the numbers after ’11 aren’t available, one can easily project the beginning of a string of slight season to season declines in value from thereon out, given that Tex will be 31 by the end of that season. So, if you’re the Yankees, giving Tex the 7 year, $20M plus contract he’s likely to command is not exactly a sure thing, although it probably will end up being the best move available. If you’re going to give out that epic kind of contract, Tex is the kind of player you do it for. He’s a position player with elite production who has a solid history of health and won’t even be 30 when he signs on the dotted line.

Let’s have some fun with this though – let’s imagine the Yankees suddenly have to fall back into the middle of the pack in payroll (I don’t know, maybe global warming happens a lot faster than everybody thinks possible, and Manhattan is 70% underwater in 2009, thereby making New York a mid-size market). What would the Yankees do about 1B if they didn’t have more money than God? Well, one solution which would seem to work for both parties involved would be the acquisition of Matt LaPorta from the Brewers. LaPorta, as you will see from his stats in college and his time in the minors last year, is an absolute monster with the bat. However, despite starting out his college career as a catcher, and spending time working out in the outfield and at third, LaPorta’s defensive inabilities relegated him to being a full-time first baseman. So, when he was drafted by the Brewers, it left some people scratching their heads. Prince Fielder, after all, isn’t exactly moving to shortstop. The Brewers intend to play LaPorta in a corner outfield position, which again could prove to be a problem because of Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, two very talented young hitters currently occupying those positions for the big club.  Unless Hart would move back to center, or Braun back to third, the Brewers won’t have a position for LaPorta.

Enter the suddenly financially limited Yankees. With the Yankees plentiful quantity of young pitching, and the Brewers sudden glut of hitters, perhaps both clubs could find a way to work out a deal. LaPorta can’t even be traded until June 2008, but that’s no reason not to play armchair GM.

The Hawk

The Hawkins signing certainly couldn’t hurt. I was worried about Luis Vizcaino leaving … for about five minutes.

Besides, on a personal note, “the Hawk” brings a smile to my face. You see, that was the nickname we gave to a college buddy of mine, who is from the Midwest and a Chicago Cubs fan. The reason? His inability to close the deal with girls. 

At the time, Latroy was making a mess out in the bullpen himself trying to wrap up games (hopefully, the Yanks aren’t getting that version of him). We all thought of him as the worst closer in the game, except for our friend of course. Guys, if a girl asks you to take a walk with her on the beach during post-exams that’s about the biggest hint you’re ever going to get…

 Oh well, I’m off to do some Christmas shopping. Maybe this year, instead of the usual gifts, I’ll buy a college football bowl game, seeing as even the San Diego County Credit Union now has one.

That prestigious contest, known as the Poinsettia will kick-off a bowl season with too many games to count. Ok, so there are 32, but that means that over half of Division 1 teams are involved.

Seriously, what’s next? The Sports Musings Bowl presented by Sports Musings in accordance with Word Press? What a joke.

Latroy Hawkins

The Yankees have agreed to a 1 year contract with Latroy Hawkins. Let’s take a look at what’s coming to New York:

Basic Statistics

Year

Age

 

Team

G

W

L

IP

TBF

H

2B

3B

HR

R

ER

BB

K

ERA

RA9

2005

32

MLB

SF

45

1

4

37.1

166

40

 

 

3

18

17

17

30

4.10

4.34

2005

32

MLB

Chi NL

21

1

4

19.0

81

18

 

 

4

9

7

7

13

3.32

4.26

2006

33

MLB

Bal

60

3

2

60.1

261

73

12

3

4

30

30

15

27

4.48

4.48

2007

34

AAA

Col Sp

4

1

0

4.0

15

2

0

0

0

1

1

2

5

2.25

2.25

2007

34

MLB

Col

62

2

5

55.1

225

51

5

3

6

21

21

16

29

3.42

3.42

Extended Statistics

 

Year

Age

 

Team

BB/PA

K/PA

BABIP

GB%

HR/Air

FIP

BsRA9

2005

32

MLB

SF Giants

10.2%

18.1%

.347

 

 

4.09

 

2005

32

MLB

Chi NL

8.6%

16.0%

.272

 

 

5.71

 

2006

33

MLB

Baltimore

5.7%

10.3%

.330

46%

3%

3.91

4.76

2007

34

AAA

Co Spngs

13.3%

33.3%

.250

63%

0%

2.50

1.49

2007

34

MLB

Colorado

7.1%

12.9%

.265

65%

10%

4.41

4.00

Interestingly, there is a discrepancy in the 2006 groundball rate between firstinning.com and thebaseballcube.com, but it is only one of 3%.

A lot of Yankee fans on the internet don’t seem to think much of this move, and see the Yankees as having only acquired a marginal reliever. The general reaction seems to be lukewarm, and people are happy that the contract is only for one year. I agree that it is good that the contract is only one year, but I think I am happier about this signing than most.

The reason for my optimism comes from Hawkins’ extreme ground ball rate. His 65% mark in 2007 ranked him 2nd in the NL and 3rd in baseball among all pitchers with more than 30 IP. My belief is that the Yankees know this, and at some level are capitalizing on the undervaluing of ground ball rates among MLB front offices. If Hawkins can post a similar figure this year, even with the low strike out rate, he figures to be one of the better middle relievers in the American League. With that in mind, and also factoring in the money and years, this appears to be a great signing by the Yankees.

If that groundball rate holds, I would not be surprised to see Hawkins outdo both David Riske and Scott Linebrink next year, two much more highly sought after (and now more highly paid) middle relievers.

Don’t even bother showing up American League

The Yanks are closing in on Mark Loretta.

Update:  Loretta and the Yankees have apparently had no serious contact.

The LHP from Minnesota

The most talked about and approved package across the Yankee blog world is one consisting of Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, and perhaps Austin Jackson.

There is also obviously going to be a lot of money given to Santana. First, let’s look at what the Yankees would be getting.

Basic Statistics

Year

Age

 

Team

G

W

L

IP

TBF

H

2B

3B

HR

R

ER

BB

K

ERA

RA9

2004

25

MLB

Minn

34

20

6

228.0

880

156

 

 

24

70

66

54

265

2.61

2.76

2005

26

MLB

Minn

33

16

7

231.2

904

180

 

 

22

77

74

45

238

2.87

2.99

2006

27

MLB

Minn

34

19

6

233.2

923

186

39

5

24

79

72

47

245

2.77

3.04

2007

28

MLB

Minn

33

15

13

219.0

878

183

40

4

33

88

81

52

235

3.33

3.62

Extended Statistics

Year

Age

 

Team

BB/PA

K/PA

BABIP

GB%

HR/Air

FIP

BsRA9

2004

25

MLB

Minnesota

6.1%

30.1%

.270

 

 

3.07

 

2005

26

MLB

Minnesota

5.0%

26.3%

.289

 

 

2.96

 

2006

27

MLB

Minnesota

5.1%

26.5%

.273

43%

7%

3.09

3.16

2007

28

MLB

Minnesota

5.9%

26.8%

.275

40%

9%

3.89

3.93

It’s tough to argue with the assertion that he has been the best pitcher in baseball over this four year set, and that the Yankees would be much better off with him on the team.

We have never heard anything about a ceiling of Yankee spending for this offseason, but we learned when Carlos Beltran went to Queens that there was, at least in the minds of the Yankees, a limit. That was a situation (although not quite comparable) in which a star hitter had to be left to the side because Randy Johnson was on his way into town. On a side note, that contract for Beltran isn’t turning out looking half bad.

If Santana gets this contract from the Yankees, the Yankees may be staring at a rather glaring hole at 1B after next year that they can’t fill with Mark Teixeira. Regardless of that’s the specific costs, theoretically the Yankees will be constrained in their purchase of other free agents down the road. However, these are the Yankees, and a lot of money (Giambi, Farnsworth, Pavano, Pettitte, Mussina) will be coming off the books after next year. Therefore, the potential cost of not being able to sign a Teixeira or a Bedard may well be not worth discussing.

It’s nice rooting for the Yankees, though I think most Yankee fans would agree that it’s not really fair we can sit here and dream of Johan Santana in pinstripes while Brewers fans are forced to get their kicks looking at Jason Kendall in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform (you know, when he used to be good)

Some other things to consider – baseball revenue is growing like wildfire – they just topped 6 billion dollars a year, and it figures to only keep growing. This escalating total amount of money in baseball is gradually being filtered back to the players. Thus, Beltran’s contract may end up being an extremely prudent signing, and pitchers that are barely league average get $8+ million annually begins to make more and more sense. I am not sure exactly how the numbers translate, but if baseball revenue has grown 50% in the last few years then it makes sense that a Kyle Lohse, whom we would think is worth about $5-6M annually, suddenly becomes worth $8-9 M annually. Thus, where a previous contract for Santana might have made sense at $14M just three years ago, now maybe it makes more sense to think in terms of $21M annually.

The Yankees pay more than other teams, not only because they’re the Yankees, but because New York costs more to live in. I remember hearing Cashman mention that such a reason was part of the reason for the difference in Damon’s offers from the Red Sox and the Yankees.

The Yankees will have to give up a 1st Round Pick if they sign Santana as a free agent after ’08. This is generally overrated as a cost, but is still something to consider, and should help to mollify some of the unhappiness about the players that are given up in exchange for Santana.

Pros:

Johan Santana pitches for the Yankees….

Having a pitcher of Santana’s caliber relieves the burden at the back of the rotation because Santana would ultimately take the position of the Yankees worst SP, whoever that ends up being.

Finally, these are my thoughts on the feature players the Yankees figure to be giving up.

Losing Ian Kennedy:

Although most Yankee fans are more than willing to part with him, Kennedy was the minor league pitcher of the year and could very well be one of the upper tier of pitchers in the American League in three years. He could also be the next Brandon Claussen.

Losing Phil Hughes:

From everything I have ever read about Phil Hughes, it seems clear that this is a move that should not be made. Just last year he was the #1 pitching prospect in all of baseball, and not a lot happened last year that has led me to any different conclusions. I do, however, think that Rob Neyer’s point here is pretty solid.

Adam (NYC): It’s hard to believe that Santana will win another 100 games though…wouldn’t Hughes have a better chance of reaching that mark than a 29 year old pitcher past his prime? If the Yanks sign Santana to a 10 year extension, they’d be paying Santana $20 million a year at age 39…at the same time Hughes would be entering the prime of his career. Can you say Kevin Brown? Not a very wise business move to say the least.

SportsNation Rob Neyer: Adam, here’s a chance for some research. Go back and make a list of 20 pitching prospects with Hughes’ credentials. Then make a list of 20 pitchers with Santana’s credentials. I’ll bet you the Santana comps won more games afterward than the Hughes comps did.

Doug (NY): A little research; according to BA, the top pitching prospects since 1990: S.Avery, T.Van Poppell, B.Taylor, Bere, J.Baldwin, B.Pulsipher, P.Wilson, K.Wood, R.White, R.Ankiel, R.Anderson, J.Beckett, M.Prior, J.Foppert, E.Jackson, F.Hernandez, Liriano. It’s too early to tell on some of them (King Felix for example), but other than Beckett, not really a list of HOFers

SportsNation Rob Neyer: Exactly. Thank you for doing what I couldn’t do. Granted, Hughes has done more than Van Poppel or Taylor or some of those other guys had done at his age. But the point still holds, I think.

Losing Melky Cabrera:

For a man who ranked 2nd to last amongst CFers in the +/- system and went .273/.327/.391 in ’07, I can’t say I’d be too upset to have him go. He’s young, he could one day be a good regular, and he’s got a piss of an arm. However, the thought of a Damon/Matsui/Abreu/Duncan OF isn’t much different IMO than if Melky’s in that mix. I will, however, miss periodically seeing a cannon explosion go off in CF. Seems to me most Yankee fans agree that losing Melky wouldn’t be such a big deal.

Losing Action Jackson:

I think I differ from a lot of other Yankee fans on this. Clearly Jackson has had a breakout season and in so doing has vaulted himself to the front of all Yankee prospect discussions. I, for one, was astonished when Baseball Prospectus’ Bryan Smith ranked AJax ahead of Wieters in Hawaii. Wieters, if anyone doesn’t know, was the 5th overall pick in the draft this year – a power hitting switch hitting catcher who gets positive enough reviews on defense that it looks like he’ll be able to stay behind the plate. Kevin Goldstein of BP ranked Wieters as a 5-Star Prospect, meaning that Smith puts Jackson in that same category, even if Goldstein does not. In other words, Jackson’s pretty good.

Where I disagree, however, is that Jackson is a long way away from the bigs most likely – his numbers were put up in high A and in the HWBL. And, while many Yankee fans are comparing AJax’s HWB showing to Joba Chamberlain’s last year, the comparison seems far fetched. Joba was head and shoulders above that league, putting up about a 40/3 K/BB ratio. Jackson was amazing, but nowhere near that level of success.

There are still many things that have to go right in order for Jackson to pan out, and none of those are certainties. He may well be at the peak of his value right now, and trading him now may be a sell high opportunity. I think that back in 1995, none of us would’ve traded Ruben Rivera either. Ruben was the #3 prospect in baseball (ahead of Jeter) according to BA and was just off a monstrous season at AAA at the age of 21.

Trading prospects is generally unsound. But this is Johan Santana, and he’s not coming to the Yankees for Brian Bruney and a bag of baseballs.

A little example of Joba’s dominance

The first sixteen times he threw his slider and someone swung at it (in MLB), they missed completely. The first hitter to make contact was Magglio Ordonez, and he hit a foul ball.

Credit goes to: http://blog.stats.com/2007/08/joba_watch_1616.html

The Yanks’ Pen in 2008 (as of right now)

There seems to be some concern about the state of the Yankees bullpen going forward, especially with the potential defection of Mo. Let’s take a moment to assess the current state of the pen, and see what holes there are and what Yankee fans should be most worried about behind the starters.

Chris Britton

Basic Statistics

Year

Age

 

Team

G

W

L

IP

TBF

H

2B

3B

HR

R

ER

BB

K

ERA

RA9

2004

21

A

Delmarva

27

9

4

84.0

353

76

 

 

11

38

35

31

80

3.75

4.07

2005

22

A+

Frederick

46

6

0

78.2

302

47

 

 

5

15

14

23

110

1.60

1.72

2006

23

AA

Bowie

13

1

0

16.0

67

14

5

0

0

5

5

6

24

2.81

2.81

2006

23

MLB

Baltimore

52

0

2

53.2

221

46

4

2

4

22

20

17

41

3.35

3.69

2007

24

AAA

Scranton/WB

37

4

2

57.1

233

51

11

5

3

19

16

14

58

2.51

2.98

2007

24

MLB

NY Yankees

11

0

1

12.2

51

9

2

0

2

5

5

4

5

3.55

3.55

Extended Statistics

Year

Age

 

Team

BB/PA

K/PA

BABIP

GB%

HR/Air

FIP

BsRA9

2004

21

A

Delmarva

8.8%

22.7%

.308

 

 

4.61

 

2005

22

A+

Frederick

7.6%

36.4%

.282

 

 

2.58

 

2006

23

AA

Bowie

9.0%

35.8%

.400

33%

0%

1.25

2.80

2006

23

MLB

Baltimore

7.7%

18.6%

.273

37%

4%

3.59

3.41

2007

24

AAA

Scranton/WB

6.0%

24.9%

.310

39%

3%

2.54

3.14

2007

24

MLB

NY Yankees

7.8%

9.8%

.179

30%

7%

5.52

3.71

Much to the consternation of the Yankee blog world, Britton was hardly used by the Yankees last year. The Yankees’ (or perhaps just Joe Torre’s) neglect of Britton becomes all the more mysterious when you consider that the man already had one year of MLB success under his belt when he came over from the Orioles. My take on Britton going forward is that he will start the season as an integral part of the Yankees pen and that Girardi will give him the chance to succeed or fail at the ML level.

Edwar Ramirez

Basic Statistics

Year

Age

 

Team

G

W

L

IP

TBF

H

2B

3B

HR

R

ER

BB

K

ERA

RA9

2006

25

A+

Tampa

19

4

1

30.2

112

14

2

0

0

4

4

6

47

1.17

1.17

2006

25

Wint

Licey

5

1

0

7.0

28

5

1

0

0

4

4

1

12

5.14

5.14

2007

26

AA

Trenton

9

3

0

16.2

67

6

1

0

1

1

1

8

33

0.54

0.54

2007

26

AAA

Scranton/WB

25

1

0

40.0

153

20

6

1

0

4

4

14

69

0.90

0.90

2007

26

MLB

NY Yankees

21

1

1

21.0

103

24

5

0

6

19

19

14

31

8.14

8.14

Extended Statistics

Year

Age

 

Team

BB/PA

K/PA

BABIP

GB%

HR/Air

FIP

BsRA9

2006

25

A+

Tampa

5.4%

42.0%

.241

33%

0%

0.85

0.88

2006

25

Wint

Licey

3.6%

42.9%

.357

71%

0%

 

1.60

2007

26

AA

Trenton

11.9%

49.3%

.217

57%

10%

1.72

1.75

2007

26

AAA

Scranton/WB

9.2%

45.1%

.308

41%

0%

0.98

1.23

2007

26

MLB

NY Yankees

13.6%

30.1%

.400

38%

18%

6.50

8.24

The minor league numbers are ridiculous. We all know that. However, once Ramirez came to the majors, he wasn’t able to live up to the hurricane of hype generated around him in the blog world. Looking at some of his underlying stats, we may be able to get some clue as to why.

A .400 BABIP is extremely high, and can be counted on to come down at least .050 next year. An 18% HR/Air is also very high, and can be counted on to come down probably about 5-6%. Ramirez’s ground ball rate is about league average, and so with his astronomical strikeout rates one has to think that all that hype just may come to fruition in the coming season. Needless to say, I am optimistic about Ramirez going forward.

Kyle Farnsworth

Basic Statistics

Year

Age

 

Team

G

W

L

IP

TBF

H

2B

3B

HR

R

ER

BB

K

ERA

RA9

2004

28

MLB

Chicago

72

4

5

66.2

296

67

 

 

10

39

35

33

78

4.72

5.27

2005

29

MLB

Atlanta

26

0

0

27.1

102

15

 

 

4

6

6

7

32

1.98

1.98

2005

29

MLB

Detroit

46

1

1

42.2

174

29

 

 

1

12

11

20

55

2.32

2.53

2006

30

MLB

NY(AL)

72

3

6

66.0

289

62

11

0

8

34

32

28

75

4.36

4.64

2007

31

MLB

NY(AL)

63

2

1

59.0

262

59

10

0

8

34

31

26

48

4.73

5.19

Extended Statistics

Year

Age

 

Team

BB/PA

K/PA

BABIP

GB%

HR/Air

FIP

BsRA9

2004

28

MLB

Chicago(NL)

11.1%

26.4%

.355

 

 

4.35

 

2005

29

MLB

Detroit

11.5%

31.6%

.311

 

 

2.49

 

2005

29

MLB

Atlanta

6.9%

31.4%

.206

 

 

3.50

 

2006

30

MLB

NY (AL)

9.7%

26.0%

.318

39%

7%

3.82

4.62

2007

31

MLB

NY (AL)

9.9%

18.3%

.295

30%

6%

4.87

5.14

The precipitous decline in strikeout and groundball rates is cause for legitimate concern. If Farnsworth isn’t traded, and his ERA comes in around 4.50 in ’08, I think Yankee fans have to be happy about that.

Jose Veras

Lights up the radar gun but not much else. I don’t think we can expect much here. I would be surprised if Veras makes it out of May on the major league roster.

Ross Ohlendorf

Another hard-thrower whose numbers don’t match up with the velocity, Ohlendorf came over as part of the RJ trade before last season. If Ohlendorf can prove to be the ground-ball machine that he was hyped as when he came over, then perhaps he can be of some utility in the pen. My most intense streaks of optimism see his major league debut as a turning point…. these are usually tempered by looking at all the other numbers he’s put up in his career. If playing baseball doesn’t work out he has a possible future as a GM – a degree from Princeton isn’t exactly a bad thing to fall back on.

Luis Vizcaino

Unfortunately, even a 4.32 ERA probably should’ve been higher for Vizcaino. Only having 4% of flyballs end up in HRs doesn’t come from skill – it comes from luck. And had that number been closer to league average, Vizcaino’s ERA probably would’ve been higher than Krazy Kyle’s. This does not bode well for Vizcaino continuing to be the Yankees setup man.

Brian Bruney

I ought to have smelled something fishy about Bruney’s ’06 0.87 ERA when his walk rate was 17%. I don’t think he makes it out of May on the roster.

Ron Villone

Again, I wouldn’t expect much here. However, Villone is another striking example of how veteran pitchers can go down to AAA and be pretty dominant. If a 21-year old was putting up those numbers in Scranton, it’d be pretty exciting.

Humberto Sanchez

A true power arm, Sanchez came to the Yankees as the centerpiece of the Sheffield trade. Perhaps the biggest wild card in the group, if Sanchez is healthy there’s a chance he ends up winning the job of Yankees setup man in ’08.

J.B. Cox

Another wild-card with arm issues (and apparently bar-fight issues also) , Cox could prove to be a real asset to the Yankees pen. His ground ball rate at AA in ’06 was ridiculously high, and he kept the walks under control. We have to wait and see how he bounces back from ligament surgery in his arm, but there is reason for guarded optimism here.

T.J. Beam

Came back strong from injury in ’07. Important enough to the Yankees that they have given him a 40-man roster spot. Numbers in ’07 do represent a slight drop-off from the promise he showed after being promoted to AAA in ’06. Can’t expect too much here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.