The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


On the 40-man: Danny Burawa

Continuing our trip through the entire Yankees 40-man roster, we’ll next look at a hard-throwing reliever who was left exposed to the Rule 5 draft last winter only to be protected this offseason.

BurawaDANNY BURAWA

Age on Opening Day: 26
Acquired: Drafted in the 12th round in 2010
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 in November

In the past: Hard-throwing kid out of New York — went high school at Rocky Point, played college ball at St. John’s — who had a perfectly solid 2011 before losing 2012 to injury. Pushed to Double-A in 2013, he was pretty good again, but his walk rate kept the Yankees from protecting him from the Rule 5 draft, and he slipped through unselected. Last year he spent most of the season in Triple-A, but he was demoted to Double-A for about a month. When he doesn’t walk guys, he’s been pretty good.

Role in 2015: There are a lot of Burawa-types in the Yankees system at this point, and he’ll likely be one of many vying for innings in Triple-A while hoping for opportunities in New York. Burawa, Chris Martin, Branden Pinder and Jose Ramirez are all in basically the same boat as hard-throwing righties on the 40-man. They should be competing with lefties Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb and James Pazos — as well as non-40-man righties Nick Rumbelow and Mark Montgomery — for call-ups. Burawa’s role will depend on his performance.

Best case scenario: Probably the ideal situation for Burawa is that he follows footsteps similar to his fellow 2010 draftee, Tommy Kahnle. Last winter, it was Kahnle and not Burawa who was chosen in the Rule 5 draft, and Kahnle stuck with the Rockies while pitching to a 1.19 WHIP. He struck out nearly a batter an inning while also walking nearly a batter ever two innings. Quite a few walks, but Kahnle made it work. The Yankees would like Burawa to do the same.

Worst case scenario: Given all of the upper-level alternatives — guys who play basically the exact same role — Burawa could be thoroughly overshadowed very quickly if he doesn’t put up good numbers in Triple-A this year. As a guy who passed through the Rule 5 last winter and then didn’t pitch overwhelming well last season, Burawa could certainly become a DFA candidate should the Yankees need to open a roster spot. The worst-case scenario is that Burawa’s walks return to their 2013 level and the Yankees give up on him entirely.

What the future holds: As a first-year player on the 40-man, Burawa could be optioned back and forth to Triple-A for the next three years and still come to spring training with a chance to win a big league job in 2018, all without ever making substantially more than the minimum. He could basically play this same depth role for the foreseeable future, but if he doesn’t establish himself at least a little bit, he’ll surely be crowded out of the mix by the other big arms in the minor league system.

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Sunday, February 1st, 2015 at 1:59 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Pinch hitting: Sean McLernon

Sonia Sotomayor

Our Pinch Hitter for today is Sean McLernon, a first-year student at Georgetown University Law Center and a freelance journalist. He wrote that his Yankees fandom continues a family tradition dating back nearly 100 years, beginning with his grandmother Rosemary Sheehy who saw Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth play in person. You can find Sean on Twitter: @SFMcLernon

For his post, Sean wrote about a personal experience that speaks to a broader issue: one of sports and community.

Mariano RiveraWhen Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a surprise appearance at a panel discussion on statutory interpretation early in my first semester at Georgetown Law, I was thrilled to be in the same room as her. Just not for the reason you might expect.

“Justice Sotomayor, I’m so glad to see you,” I told her after the event. “I moved to Washington last month, and I haven’t found anybody here yet to talk about the Yankees!”

She immediately let out a huge sigh and started shaking her head as she grabbed my hands: “It’s been such a tough season.”

I admire Justice Sotomayor for many reasons, including her brilliant legal mind, her exceptional writing skills, and her willingness to ask piercing questions during oral arguments, but in that moment she was a Yankees fan to me more than anything else.

We both had plenty of venting to do: Injuries to starting pitchers, aging position players, A-Rod’s contract – it was all discussed. It all needed to be discussed. Our favorite team was missing the playoffs for the second straight season, and we were not happy about it.

Not that it was all bad news. Justice Sotomayor told me about how great a time she had at Derek Jeter Day earlier that month, and we both praised the Yankees as an amazing franchise. And even if most of the talk was about disappointments and shattered expectations, it made me feel better to talk about it with someone who understands.

I know that Yankees fans like myself have it good. Not just because of the 27 World Series titles or the countless Hall of Famers who have worn the pinstripes, but because the fan base stretches across the globe.

Tigers Yankees BaseballWhen we care about something, we want to share it with people. Our devotion to a professional sports team is no different. It’s easiest to do it in New York City. Only a few days after moving to Brooklyn in 2012, I purchased a Yankees partial-season ticket package, and I regularly spent Sundays at the Stadium with more than 50,000 friends-for-a-day.

Even outside of the ballpark Yankees caps and T-shirts could be found everywhere. The team belongs to the city, and the city belongs to the team.

The problem for me was that I didn’t always belong in the city. I grew up on Long Island and went to several games a year with my parents, but I moved south of the Mason-Dixon Line as a teenager. I went to college at the University of Virginia and stayed in Charlottesville to work as a newspaper reporter. Then it was off to York, Pa., before joining the Peace Corps and spending more than two years in West Africa and the Caribbean.

Luckily, I found Yankees fans wherever I went. I bonded with a friend in my college dorm over our appreciation for Don Mattingly (both his sweet swing and sweet mustache). I discovered one of my co-workers at my first full-time job had an interlocking NY tattoo on his calf. It would happen periodically in Virginia and Pennsylvania – I would find another one of our tribe, and we would be grateful to have each other to talk to.

These were people with whom I could both celebrate and commiserate, people who made me feel like I was still in New York.

It was a little different when I joined the Peace Corps and my home became a mud hut in the rural Nigerien village of Dungass. There are Yankees T-shirts in Niger, but I never met anyone wearing one who knew anything about the Yankees. Nobody spoke English, but they still wanted to wear clothes from America with English words on them.

When you can’t find another Yankees fan, however, Yankees fans find a way to get to you.

I received the news of the 2009 World Series championship while I was traveling from one village to another on the floor of a crowded van in which I was wedged between two goats, one of which was in a bad mood. My mother called me as soon as she woke up, detailing Hideki Matsui’s heroics and A.J. Burnett’s surprisingly strong pitching performance. A few days later I received a package from my Aunt Mary and Uncle Ed with copies of the Daily News and Newsday from the morning after the game-clinching victory. My dad sent me the World Series championship T-shirt.

After completing my Peace Corps service, I had three great years in New York before being lured down to the nation’s capital a few months ago to study the law at Georgetown. D.C is a pretty good town, and Nationals Park is not a bad place to watch a ballgame, but I do often miss that stadium in the Bronx.

It helps to know that even while I’m living a couple hundred miles away, I’m still part of a community of fans – a community that is so strong that it enables a first-year law student like me to connect on a meaningful level with a Supreme Court Justice.

Oh, and Justice Sotomayor, if you ever want to take a road trip up to New York for a weekend game this summer, just let me know. The tickets are on me.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Sunday, February 1st, 2015 at 9:00 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

On the 40-man: Bryan Mitchell

Bryan Mitchell

Next up in our look at each individual piece of the Yankees 40-man roster is a young starting pitcher who made his big league debut a year ago and could be first in line for a call-up should the Yankees need a spot starter this year.

MitchellBRYAN MITCHELL

Age on Opening Day: 23 (turns 24 in April)
Acquired: Drafted in the 16th round in 2009
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 draft in 2013

In the past: A pretty highly touted prospect throughout the minor leagues, Mitchell talent always seemed to outshine his results. His numbers were rarely overwhelming — career 4.45 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in the minors — but scouts always loved his stuff (even if they didn’t love his command). Mitchell throws pretty hard, has a good curveball, and showed positive signs in his three big league outings last season. His spot start was OK, and his final outing spanned four strong innings of relief with just one run.

Role in 2015: Could be a legitimate bullpen candidate out of spring training, but more likely Mitchell is heading to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a potential rotation headliner in Triple-A. Mitchell made nine Triple-A appearances last year, and his 3.67 ERA matched the lowest of his career at any stop where he pitched more than three times. There’s still some work to be done, but Mitchell is arguably the system’s top upper-level starter other than Luis Severino.

Best case scenario: The ideal comparison is probably Shane Greene. Back in 2013, Greene put himself firmly on the radar by cutting his walk rate way down. His strikeout and home run rates were basically the same, and his hits per nine actually went up, but simply throwing more strikes took Greene from fringy prospect, to a spot on the 40-man, to having a breakout rookie season in New York. If Mitchell can also get his walks under control, he could follow a similar path, perhaps with an even higher upside.

Worst case scenario: Pretty obvious, really. If Mitchell can’t control the strike zone and bring down his walk totals, he’ll be just another guy with good stuff and no real clue how to use it. Yankees and opposing scouts have always liked his stuff, but if Mitchell can’t use it effectively, he could flame out quickly, before he even gets a chance to prove himself one way or another in the big leagues. In a real doomsday situation, the Yankees rotation falls apart again, Mitchell is forced into action and falls apart.

What the future holds: Like a lot of on-the-verge prospects, Mitchell’s future really depends on his performance. He has two option years remaining, which means the Yankees can send him to Triple-A this year and next year before worrying about passing him through waivers. And he’s still young enough that the organization doesn’t have to rush him. He’ll either make enough progress to stick around, or he won’t.

Associated Press photo

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Saturday, January 31st, 2015 at 1:59 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Pinch hitting: Vincent Capone

Angels Yankees Baseball

Today’s Pinch Hitter is Vincent Capone, a teacher, writer and real estate agent who started cheering for the Yankees at age 8 (back when the Yankees were an underdog against the powerhouse Braves in 1996). Vincent has lived in New Jersey all his life and “has endured numerous arguments about territorial bragging rights with Phillies fans in the battleground of Central Jersey.” His favorite Yankees: “David Cone and anyone who has worn No. 11, especially Brett Gardner.”

For his post, Capone looked back at past World Series wondering what would have happened had Major League Baseball never changed the playoff format.

World Series Royals Giants BaseballAfter last year’s Royals-Giants World Series was set, I heard rumblings that it was one of the worst World Series matchups ever. Granted, the Royals and Giants weren’t the juggernauts we might have expected or hoped for, but this got me thinking: What if the 162-game season still determined the league champions?

What would the past 46 seasons have looked like if there were no wild cards or play-in games, no divisions or playoff series? What if the best team in the American League met the best team in the National League, and the best of the two won it all?

Here’s a World Series projection – assuming no extended playoffs and giving benefit of the doubt to the team with the best record — for each season since 1969 (granted, with ties there are some hypotheticals in here):

1969 – Baltimore Orioles (109-53) defeat the New York Mets (100-62) to win their second title. Amazin’s find moral victory in their first pennant.

1970 – Orioles (108-54) repeat, beating the Cincinnati Reds (102-60).

1971 – Baltimore (101-57) wins third straight title, this time over the Pittsburgh Pirates (97-65).

1972 – Oakland (93-62) takes the AL pennant and the World Series, beating the Pirates (96-59).

1973 – The Reds (99-63) avenge 1970 with a World Series win over Baltimore (97-65). It’s the Reds’ first title since 1940.

1974 – Los Angeles Dodgers (102-60) roll to nab their fifth title over the Orioles (91-71).

1975 – The Big Red Machine (108-54) gets back on top with a win over Oakland (98-64) for its fourth title.

1976 – The Reds (102-60) steamroll the Yankees (97-62), who are back in the Series for the first time in 12 years.

1977 – Royals (102-60) squeak past Yankees (100-62) for the American League pennant, then they beat the Phillies (101-61) for their first World Series win.

1978 – Third time is the charm! Riding the momentum of a one-game playoff win over the Red Sox, the Yankees (100-63) defeat the Dodgers (95-67) for their first title since 1962.

1979 – Orioles (102-57) beat the “We Are Family” Pirates (98-64) in a 1971 rematch, securing the title of Team of the 70’s; it’s the Pirates’ fifth championship.

1980 – The Cinderella Houston Astros (92-70), coming off their first NL pennant, lose to the Yankees (103-59), who capture their 22nd title.

1981 – In a severely-shortened strike season, the Reds (66-42) again defeat the Athletics (64-45) for their sixth World Series championship.

1982 – Harvey’s Wallbangers, the Milwaukee Brewers (95-67), win their first World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals (92-70).

1983 – The Chicago White Sox (99-63) finally erase the demons of the 1919 Black Sox, beating the Dodgers (91-71) for their third title.

1984 – The Chicago Cubs (96-65) finally make it back to the Series, but it’s not enough as the Detroit Tigers (104-58) win it all.

1985 – The Toronto Blue Jays (99-62) continue the decade of Cinderella teams with their first pennant, but it’s not enough to overcome the Cardinals (101-61).

1986 – The Curse of the Bambino lives and the Mets (108-54) get their first World Series win over the Red Sox (95-66).

1987 – The Tigers (98-64) beat the Cardinals (95-67) in 1968 rematch for their fifth Series win.

1988 – Athletics (104-58) defeat the Mets (100-60) to win their seventh World Series.

1989 – Athletics (99-63) repeat as the Cubs (93-69) are once again denied in the Fall Classic.

1990 – Oakland (103-59) becomes first “Three-peat” champs since the 1969-1971 Orioles, beating the Pirates (95-67).

1991 – The Pirates (98-64) topple the Twins (95-67) for their fourth title, and first since Mazeroski’s 1960 walk-off.

1992 – Blue Jays (96-66) return to the series – they win the pennant over Oakland – but ultimately fall to the Braves (98-64).

1993 – Atlanta (104-58) denies Toronto (95-67) again; the Braves repeat and win for the fourth time.

1994 – What strike? The Montreal Expos (74-40) win their first pennant and first World Series over the Yankees (70-43).

1995 – The Cleveland Indians (100-44) win for the first time since 1948, beating the Braves (90-54).

1996 – The Indians (99-62) and Braves (96-66) go at it again, with the same result. Cleveland captures 3rd championship.

1997 – The Braves (101-61) get over the hump, defeating the Orioles (98-64).

1998 – In Joe Torre’s third season, the Yankees (114-48) cruise to their 23rd world title, and even the four consecutive NL pennants of the Braves (106-56) can’t stop them, in one of the best World Series matchups ever.

1999 – Again the Braves (103-59) return for a rematch, but this time they prevail over the Yankees (98-64). It’s the Braves’ fifth straight NL pennant and fourth title in seven years, clinching supremacy as Team of the 90s.

2000 – San Francisco Giants (97-65) beat the White Sox (95-67) for their sixth crown and first since moving from New York. In the Bronx, Torre feels the heat for his team’s September slide of 15 losses in 18 games.

2001 – While America’s heart is with the Yankees and Mets after the September 11 terrorist attacks, it’s the Seattle Mariners (116-46) who sprint to an AL record 116 wins, their first pennant, and their first World Series win over a fellow expansion team, the Astros (93-69).

2002 – The Yankees (103-58), after a tiebreaker with the Athletics (103-59), clinch No. 24 by beating the Braves (101-59).

2003 – The Yankees and Braves with identical 101-61 records meet for the fourth time in six years. The Braves, with Chipper Jones, prevail over the Yankees and their rental third baseman, an underperforming Aaron Boone, acquired from Cincinnati at the trade deadline. The trade proves to be a loss for the Yankees when Boone tears up his knee the following February, ending an unremarkable six months in the Bronx.

2004 – The Cardinals (105-57) beat the Yankees (101-61) to win their tenth title.

2005 – The Cardinals (100-62) repeat against the White Sox (99-63).

2006 – All aboard! The Subway Series returns for the first time in 50 years as the Yankees (97-65) and the Mets (97-65) clash in the Fall Classic. The Amazins, riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak from the end of the regular season, take down the Bombers, who are still searching for No. 25. Blame for the Yankees’ inexplicable loss inevitably falls on Alex Rodriguez.

2007 – The expansion Diamondbacks (90-72), in their tenth season, clinch their first pennant, but fall to the Red Sox (96-66), who survived a tiebreaker with the Indians to conquer the Curse of the Bambino after 89 years.

2008 – The curse continues for the Cubs (97-64), who win their third NL pennant in 25 years but lose to the Angels (100-62), who claim their first World Series title.

2009 – The Yankees (103-59) secure their 25th championship, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers (95-67) in a rematch of 1978.

2010 – The Rays (96-66) make their first World Series, but the Phillies (97-65) win their first championship in their 127-year history.

2011 – After a 127-year wait, the Phillies (102-60) waste no time repeating, this time over the Yankees (97-65).

2012 – The Washington Nationals (98-64) join the party with their first title as the reincarnation of the Expos, again defeating the Yankees (95-67).

2013 – Boston (97-65) meets St. Louis (97-65) and the Red Sox claim their seventh ring.

2014 – The Angels (98-64) get their second championship, taking down the Nationals (96-66).

Associated Press photos

 
 
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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Saturday, January 31st, 2015 at 9:00 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

On the 40-man: Garrett Jones

Garrett Jones

Continuing to look at every individual player on the Yankees 40-man roster, we’ll next look at a new guy who was a secondary piece in one of many significant trades the Yankees pulled off this winter.

JonesGARRETT JONES

Age on Opening Day: 33
Acquired: Traded from the Marlins in the Nathan Eovaldi deal
Added to the 40-man: The trade became official on December 19

In the past: A 14th-round pick in 1999, Jones was stuck in the minors until 2007 (I actually saw him play quite a bit when I was covering the International League). Consistently overshadowed in the Braves and Twins organizations, Jones finally got an extended big league opportunity with the Pirates in 2009 and stuck as a power-hitting lefty capable of playing first base and the outfield corners. He has a career .450 slugging percentage — .479 against righties — but his power numbers have been down the past two years.

Role in 2015: Two reasons Jones seems to fit the Yankees: His left-handed swing and his limited versatility. While his power numbers might have declined the past two seasons, a full year in Yankee Stadium might bring them back up to expectation. That short porch in right will surely be tempting for a veteran slugger. And although Jones can’t play a ton of positions, he can backup three at which the Yankees have some serious health concerns: first base, right field and designated hitter.

Best case scenario: Home runs. Maybe not a ton of them — ideally, Jones won’t get enough at-bats to reach his career-high of 27 — but if he can provide some left-handed thump while occasionally giving Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran a day off, that’s the perfect situation. If Jones is playing too often, it means something has gone wrong with someone else, but a few starts a week should help everyone else stay healthy and give Jones enough at-bats to play a meaningful role.

Worst case scenario: Too many at-bats without enough production. If the Yankees have to lean on Jones, and he keeps hitting the way he did the past two years — .240/.300/.415 — that won’t be ideal production from a guy who plays three offense-first positions. That’s pretty close to the production Teixeira and Beltran provided last season, and the Yankees are obviously looking for more at first base and right field.

What the future holds: In a word: nothing. Jones is a one-year insurance policy when the Yankees have some questions at key offensive positions. This could be the final window before guys like Greg Bird and Aaron Judge are ready to help in some capacity — at least serving as readily available depth — so Jones has a role for the short term, but the Yankees shouldn’t have much need for him beyond this season.

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Friday, January 30th, 2015 at 8:53 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Winter ball notes: Recapping the Yankees offseason standouts

Jose Pirela

Kind of a pointless exercise — you could probably say that about 80 percent of offseason stories and blog posts — but it occurred to me last week that you could put together a pretty decent organizational all-star team based on the guys who played in winter ball this year. The pitching is thin, and there’s not really a standout behind the plate, but otherwise the Yankees had one pretty solid young player at almost every position.

Just because it’s a Friday, here’s an attempt at a starting lineup of guys who played in winter ball this year. Let’s consider this a kind of recap of the winter standouts.

Flores1. Ramon Flores CF
A lot of corner outfielders in the mix, so Flores shifts from left to center. He hit .347/.435/.505 in Venezuela and could be the first outfielder in line for a big league call-up this season. If he weren’t left-handed, he might have a better shot of making the team out of camp.

2. Jose Pirela 2B
Pulled from the Venezuelan playoffs because of a relatively minor hand injury, Pirela showed once again why he’s a candidate for a utility job with the Yankees. He hit .296/.394/.515 while playing second base, third base, left field and right field.

3. Aaron Judge RF
Probably the top offensive prospect in the Yankees system, Judge capped his professional debut by hitting .278/.377/.467 in the Arizona Fall League. That’s after he hit .308/.419/.486 during the regular season. Seems headed for Double-A. Question is, how quickly can he move up?

Bird4. Greg Bird 1B
Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League, Bird hit .313/.391/.556 and established himself as one of the top first-base prospects in the game. The converted catcher has always had an advanced approach at the plate, but this year the power seemed to really arrive.

5. Tyler Austin LF
Primarily a right fielder — with time at first base and third base — Austin started playing some left field in the Arizona Fall League, perhaps setting up the possibility of a big league bench role this season. His bat is still the key, and Austin hit .304/.392/.449 in Arizona.

6. Dante Bichette Jr. 3B
After a strong regular season, Bichette went to the Arizona Fall League and fell flat with a .260/.317/.274 slash line. That said, 2014 restored some of his prospect status as he seemed to make meaningful adjustments at the plate to hit .264/.345/.397 across two levels. That’s an OPS jump of basically 100 points better than the previous two years.

Garcia7. Adonis Garcia DH
His team lost in the Venezuelan championship series, but Gracia was key in simply getting them that far. He hit .313/.369/.468 as a regular in the middle of the order for Navegantes del Magallanes. After playing only the outfield corners in the winter ball regular season, he saw some time back at third base in the playoffs.

8. Ali Castillo SS
Not really considered much of a prospect, but in the Yankees’ thin system, Castillo might be the top upper-level shortstop (even if he’s more of a utility man). He hit .305/.346/.408 while playing all over the field in Venezuela this winter, but he might have to return to Double-A this season.

9. Francisco Arcia C
Despite all the catching depth in the minor league system, the Yankees didn’t have a big name behind the plate this winter. Kyle Higashioka got into just six games in the Arizona Fall League (hit .409/.480/.682 in those limited chances). Arcia was in Venezuela and hit just .184/.228/.218 through 87 at-bats. He hit a little better (.235/.316/.353) in the playoffs.

RogersStarting pitcher: Esmil Rogers
Certainly not a prospect at this point, but Rogers was pretty much the headliner among Yankees pitchers in winter ball. He had 18 strikeouts and just four walks through 11.1 innings in the Dominican Winter League (he worked strictly as a starter), then he got into the playoffs and pitched to a 3.55 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with 28 strikeouts and six walks through five starts.

Left-handed reliever: Jose De Paula
Although he’s really a starter, De Paula’s quickest path the big leagues is probably as a reliever. Signed to a major-league deal this offseason, De Paula made just two appearances in the Dominican Winter League — both starts — with 10 strikeouts, one walk and one run through 10 innings.

Right-handed reliever: Kyle Haynes
The Yankees were position player heavy in their Arizona Fall League assignments. Branden Pinder was on the initial list and would have been the pitching standout, but he was replaced by Haynes, the hard-thrower acquired in last winter’s Chris Stewart trade. He had a 2.31 ERA in Arizona, but an ugly 1.63 WHIP.

Associated Press photo of Pirela

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Friday, January 30th, 2015 at 5:55 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Yankees add Scott Baker for veteran rotation depth

BakerClearly in the market for additional rotation depth, the Yankees seem to have found some in veteran right-hander Scott Baker. According to Baseball America’s Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed Baker to a minor league contract. He will presumably get an invitation to big league camp and likely head to Triple-A to serve as insurance.

Now 33 years old, Baker had a pretty good run with the Twins in the late 2000s. From 2007 to 2011, he had a 3.98 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. He had three straight years of double-digit wins, including a 15-win season in 2009, but an elbow injury thoroughly derailed his career in 2012. He was solid in three starts for the Cubs in 2013 (two particularly good starts, one bad one), and he spent most of last year in the big leagues with the Rangers shuffling between the bullpen and the rotation. He kept his WHIP down to 1.19 — same as during that 15-win season — but his ERA ballooned to 5.47 through some particularly bad outings. In the second half he had a 3.95 ERA with a 1.024 WHIP.

For the Yankees, Baker adds a veteran to the collection of projected Triple-A starters — Chase Whitley, Jose De Paula and Bryan Mitchell — who could slide into the big league rotation should someone get hurt in spring training. Which isn’t, you know, out of the question.

 
 
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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Friday, January 30th, 2015 at 3:00 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Looking for underappreciated players on the Yankees roster

Chris Young

If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written about the Hall of Fame, you might already know this: I love the Hall of Fame, but I don’t get too worked up about Hall of Fame debates. I think they’re interesting, and I think they’re worthwhile — they force us to re-examine some great careers, and that’s meaningful — but I ultimately don’t get too fussed about who’s in and who’s out.

Erik’s post this morning made a pretty incredible case for Mike Mussina as a Hall of Famer, but I’m still not mad that Tom Glavine is in and Mussina is not. I thought of Mussina as a Hall of Famer before, I’m more convinced now, and I find the conversation interesting. I’m just not losing sleep over the end result. I think Glavine deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I think Mussina should join him. And even if he doesn’t, Mussina will still have been a really, really great pitcher.

What Erik’s post got me thinking about most was the idea of an underappreciated baseball player. Perhaps Mussina was one. Maybe Tim Raines was one. I realized a few years ago that Fred McGriff was one. Most underappreciated players, though, far fall short of the Hall of Fame standard and will never be a part of a Hall of Fame debate.

Until last year, I think you could argue that Brett Gardner was an underappreciated baseball player. He had to walk on to his college team. He spent much of his minor league career labeled as a fourth outfielder. He had a hard time winning everyday playing time in the big leagues. The past two years, though, Gardner’s emerged as a legitimate everyday left fielder. Maybe he’s not a conventional left fielder — not so much power, more speed and defense — but he’s been a good one, and the Yankees have rewarded him with a contract extension and regular at-bats.

So who from this year’s Yankees might be underappreciated at the moment? Here are a few possibilities:

Stephen Drew1. Stephen Drew
Last year’s numbers were awful, and because of that, Drew’s easy to dismiss as an absurd investment, even on a relatively small one-year, $5-million contract. But only a year ago, plenty of Yankees fans wanted Drew on the roster. He has a career OPS of .747, and until last season he’d never finished remotely close .536. His strong 2013 with Boston was pretty close to a typical season for him. Now, Drew’s had a regular offseason and should have a normal spring training, which is surely a good sign for him. He missed much of the 2011 spring training because of an abdominal issue. He missed the start of 2012 because of an ankle injury. He missed most of the 2013 spring training with a concussion. He got a late start last year because of his contract situation. Drew’s been a pretty good middle infielder through most of his career, and could be a solid buy-low opportunity for the Yankees.

2. Mark Teixeira
Granted, he’s being paid like an MVP, and there’s little hope that he’ll actually hit like an MVP. In terms of contract status, Teixeira is far from underappreciated. But at some point, public opinion might have swung too far toward the negative. A severe wrist injury forced Teixeira to miss nearly all of 2013 and forced him into an unusual winter heading into 2014. If that’s the reason his bat declined in the second half of last season — because he wasn’t in his usual shape — then Teixeira might not be the lost cause he’s often made out to be. Through the first three months of last season, before fatigue might have set in, Teixeira slugged .474, which is a really good slugging percentage these days. He doesn’t have the all-around production that the Yankees expected in 2008, but if he can maintain his power numbers this year, he could still be a viable run producer.

3. Adam Warren
He’s only seven months older than Dellin Betances. His fastball has gotten sneaky fast out of the bullpen, averaging 95 mph last season. His 2014 WHIP, FIP and strikeout rate were each better than Hiroki Kuroda’s or Brandon McCarthy’s (after McCarthy came to New York). And while it’s not really fair to compare a reliever to a starter, all of Warren’s numbers except his strikeout rate were better than Shawn Kelley’s last season. He’s not a flashy guy — and he had an unmistakably bad month — but Warren had a really nice year. And while he was never a huge prospect, he was always a good one. The guy can pitch, and given his background as a starter, he’s probably worth considering as solid rotation insurance in spring training. If we thought of David Phelps that way, why not Warren?

4. Nathan Eovaldi
Just an observation, but there seems to have been a lot of regret about losing Shane Greene without much excited about the addition of Eovaldi. Last season, Eovaldi had a lower FIP, a lower WHIP, and a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Greene. Eovaldi is also younger than Greene by more than a year. And if this is a comparison of upside, it’s worth noting that Eovaldi was considered a Top 100 prospect, which is far higher than Greene ever ranked on lists like that. Greene took a giant step forward the past two years, and that made him an organizational success story, but there’s certainly a chance — maybe even a good chance — that Eovaldi will be better than Greene this season. For a 25-year-old fourth starter, Eovaldi could be a better addition than he gets credit for being.

5. Chris Young
As an everyday player, no thank you. Young used to bring a fairly reliable .750 OPS with about 20 homers and 20 steals while playing center field. That’s not superstar quality, but he was a 5 WAR player twice (Jacoby Ellsbury was only 3 WAR last year, according to Baseball Reference). These days, though, Young’s numbers have slipped, and advanced metrics show he’s not nearly the center fielder he used to be. He’s more of a fourth outfielder at this point … and that’s exactly what the Yankees are asking him to be. His splits against lefties were unusually low last season — even in his disappointing 2013 season, he hit lefties much better than last year — and as long as those drift back toward the norm, he should be a nice fit as a right-handed bench player. If someone gets hurt, those splits should help him fit nicely in a replacement platoon. Teams can’t get much for $2.5 million, but Young might actually be a better fit than he gets credit for being.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Friday, January 30th, 2015 at 12:02 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Pinch hitting: Erik Didriksen

Mike Mussina

Today’s Pinch Hitter is Erik Didriksen, a 26-year-old from northeastern New Jersey, now living in Astoria, N.Y. (“with my wonderful girlfriend of six years,” he wrote, trying to win brownie points). Erik works for NBC as a software developer by day, and he writes Pop Sonnets at night. He described himself as three things: a musician, a proud uncle, and a trivia buff. He got into the Yankees because of his father, and he has been “blessed with the good fortune to attend fifteen games a year with him for the last decade.” Among those games: the last walk-off and the last game at the old Yankee Stadium, and all three postseason walk-offs in the new Yankee Stadium.

For his post, Erik is writing about one of many borderline Hall of Famers who’s likely to keep generating a lot of annual discussion when ballots are released.

Mike MussinaMike Mussina stood on the mound and looked in for the sign. He’d retired 26 Red Sox in order and had pinch-hitter Carl Everett down to a 1-2 count. Everett was just 1-for-9 with seven strikeouts against Mussina – four strikeouts, all swinging, had come in a single game three months prior. Mussina elected to stick with the same game plan: get ahead in the count, then go to the high fastball.

The pitch came in on the black and at the letters, right at the corner of the strike zone, enough to freeze a batter but still get the call. Everett did not freeze, though. He swung, looping the ball into left-center field. Just like that, the perfect game was gone.

Bad luck was nothing new for Mussina. September 2, 2001 was the fourth one-hitter of his career, and not only had he just lost a perfect game, the score was 1-0: the tying run was now on base. He was pitching the season of his life in front of the fifth-best offense in the league, yet somehow was given the third-worst run support in the league. In a few short weeks, he would end the season with 214 strikeouts (second to Hideo Nomo), a 3.15 ERA (second to Freddy Garcia), and a glowing 1.067 WHIP (second to Mark Buehrle) … to place fifth in the Cy Young voting.

What separated that pitch from all of the other disappointments, though, was that Mussina controlled the situation. He could never make the diving outfield catch, slug a home run, or cast a Cy Young vote. All he could do was pitch. And with a perfect game on the line, he did what a truly great pitcher would do – he made the perfect pitch.

The perfect result, and the glory that might have come with it, simply did not follow.

That’s the story of Mike Mussina. Despite a long career of consistent dominance, he is without a Cy Young award, a World Series ring, or a plaque in Cooperstown. For now, he appears on just under a quarter of the Cooperstown ballots, while peers like Tom Glavine have been inducted on their first ballot.

Yet the differences between Mussina’s and Glavine’s stat lines are astounding. Glavine allowed more hits per inning than Mussina. For every nine innings pitched, Glavine walked an extra batter and struck out two fewer. Glavine’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is less than half of Mussina’s.

In all the rates you could compare between them, Glavine bests Mussina only in ERA: 3.54 to 3.68. Even then, it’s hard to compare their ERAs when they pitched in such different leagues. Mussina squared off against designated hitters in the height of the steroid era; Glavine faced pitchers who squared up to bunt. The numbers confirm the narrative. In every season of Glavine’s 22-year career, the National League’s overall ERA was lower than the American League’s by an average of a third of a run. In 1996, the year before interleague play began, the National League’s average ERA was 4.18. The American League’s was a whopping 5.00.

If we account for these differences and measure each pitcher against their competition we find Glavine’s career ERA was 18 percent better than league average while Mussina’s was 23 percent better. Even in ERA, Mussina grades out as the better pitcher.

Career rates aren’t everything, though. Season-to-season dominance is important in making a true Hall of Famer. Glavine led the league in wins five times while Mussina only led his league in wins once. But if you expand your criteria ever so slightly, the playing field suddenly looks even. Glavine finished top-five in the league in wins eight times; Mussina managed the same feat in seven season. Glavine posted a top-five finish in ERA five times; Mussina did it seven (if we expanded it to top-six instead, it’d be five to ten.) Glavine posted a top-five finish in strikeouts once; Mussina did it six times. Glavine finished top-five in WHIP once. Mussina? Ten.

In his best showing, Glavine was eighth in the NL for strikeout-to-walk ratio. Mussina was top-five in the American League thirteen times. Yet when they both were up for election for the first time in 2014, Mussina barely made 20 percent of the ballots while Glavine was inducted with a startling 91.9% of the vote. When all of the numbers point to Moose as the better pitcher, what could possibly push Glavine so far ahead of him?

Marty Noble will tell you the answer: the voters aren’t looking at the numbers. Instead, they’re looking for the archetype of the Hall of Fame Pitcher™. Glavine reached the magical 300-win benchmark while Mussina “only” won 270 – in four fewer seasons. Is Glavine a first-ballot Hall of Famer simply on longevity? He retired when a shoulder injury and a slowly growing ERA forced him to. Mussina, on the other hand, chose to go out on top, retiring after a season with 20 wins and an ERA well above average. It’s not a stretch to imagine a team signing him into his 40s and allowing him to pad his résumé.

While 300 wins has long been the yardstick of the Hall of Fame, the importance of the pitching win in the post-Moneyball era is pretty much nil. It’s not as if the BBWAA doesn’t recognize this: Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award in 2010 with a 13-12 record. So if they no longer believe wins tell us who had the best season, why are they still using wins to tell us who had the best career?

Furthermore, they’re compounding the problem by focusing on the awards they gave based on the same outdated criteria. Arguably the biggest difference between Glavine and Mussina’s résumés are Cy Young Awards: Glavine has two to Mussina’s zero. But Felix’s sabermetrically-sound win in 2010 eerily echoes Mussina’s 2001 fifth-place finish. Felix led the league with 7.1 WAR while Clay Buchholz was a distant second, mustering 5.6.

In 2001, Mussina led the league with 7.1 WAR; Roger Clemens ranked second in the league with 5.6. Clemens, however, won the Cy Young on the strength of a 21-3 record. This despite Mussina’s otherwise superior statistics – ERA, WHIP, IP, K, H/9, HR/9, BB/9, K/BB, you name it. The discrepancy in win-loss record came down to run support: the Yankees scored two more runs per game for Clemens than Mussina. Does that make Mussina an inferior pitcher or Clemens a superior one?

The voters in 2010 wouldn’t think so – but in 2001, success was still spelled out in wins.

Glavine’s Cy Youngs were awarded the same way. Granted, he still would’ve won his first Cy by any standards. Not only did he reach 20 wins, he finished almost three wins ahead of second place on the WAR leaderboard. His 1998 campaign, on the other hand, likely would’ve ended differently. Though Glavine led the league in wins, the Padres’ Kevin Brown led the league with 8.6 WAR, almost two wins above the second-place finisher, Al Leiter. Glavine trailed Greg Maddux and Curt Schilling for fifth in the NL.

Perhaps regular season success is not enough to make a Hall of Fame career. Maybe postseason success is what separates the two. Glavine has a ring; Mussina does not. Glavine is a World Series MVP, earned on the strength of a one-hit, eight-inning gem against the Cleveland Indians in the decisive Game 6 of the 1995 World Series.

But postseason glory is like wins: you get nothing unless your team cooperates. Two years after Glavine’s gem, Mussina also hurled an eight-inning playoff one-hitter against the Indians. The difference – other than the ’97 Indians being the better offensive team – is that Baltimore couldn’t score behind him. Mussina took a no-decision in an eleven-inning, 1-0 game that ended the ALCS. Had the Orioles scored even one run behind Moose that series (he also pitched a seven-inning three-hitter in Game 3, another extra-innings loss) his 1997 postseason might’ve been the stuff of legend. He was eliminated from the playoffs with 29 IP, 41 K, a sterling 1.24 ERA, and two Division Series wins against Hall of Famer Randy Johnson.

Even when Mussina’s team won on the strength of his clutch performance, it was overshadowed. No one remembers that Mussina held the Oakland A’s scoreless for seven innings in an elimination game. People only remember Derek Jeter’s flip.

No one remembers Mussina pitching in relief for the first time in his career to bail out Clemens. The Rocket gave up four runs, leaving Mussina with runners on the corners and no outs. Moose stopped the bleeding, pitching three clean frames to give the Yankees a fighting chance. But no one thinks about that when they remember the image of Aaron Boone depositing a knuckleball into the left-field seats.

But even if you do believe a Hall of Fame starter ought to bring his team a ring, how do you explain the Hall of Fame trio of Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddux earning just one together? Even if you believe the Cy Youngs matter, is the gulf between Glavine and Mussina so wide that one’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer while the other can’t crack a quarter of the ballots?

Hasn’t Mike Mussina been unlucky enough?

Associated Press photo

 
 
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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Friday, January 30th, 2015 at 9:00 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Ichiro: “I’ve come to an age that I don’t really like being at”

Ichiro Suzuki
For the past two and a half years, Ichiro Suzuki was a fascinating player to see up close. The Yankees caught him near the end of his career, when he was no longer at the level that made him a remarkable superstar for a full decade, but even that diminished version of Ichiro was exciting, if only because he remains unique in his preparation and approach. I’ve honestly never covered a player like him, and multiple Japanese reporters who know him much better than I do have said he’s the single most interesting man they’ve ever met. The guy got to the big leagues at age 27 and still has a real shot at 3,000 hits. That’s pretty incredible. I hope he gets there. Ichiro signed with the Marlins this month. He’s projected to be a fourth outfielder, but he was supposed to be a fifth outfielder last season before getting the bulk of the Yankees’ playing time in right field. Here’s Jim Armstrong of The Associated Press writing about the next chapter for a fascinating short-term Yankee. By the way, Ichiro said he’s spent the past two years looking for the Marlins’ kind of enthusiasm.

Ichiro SuzukiTOKYO (AP) — Ichiro Suzuki says a renewed sense of enthusiasm was behind his decision to sign a $2 million, one-year contract with the Miami Marlins.

“When I met (Miami) team executives yesterday, I felt incredible enthusiasm,” Suzuki said at a press conference on Thursday. “So I wanted to respond to their enthusiasm and I believe that is something I have been looking for the last two years.”

Suzuki’s deal includes $2.8 million in performance bonuses based on plate appearances: $400,000 for 300 and the same amount for each additional 50 through 600.

The 41-year-old Suzuki, a 10-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner, is expected to be the team’s fourth outfielder behind Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.

Suzuki is the first Japanese player to sign with the Marlins. He hit .284 and stole 15 bases for the New York Yankees last season.

Suzuki is a career .317 hitter in the majors and a two-time AL batting champion. The former AL MVP has 2,844 career hits.

In his first press conference in Japan since 2000, Suzuki was his usual quirky self, at one point turning the tables and asking a veteran reporter what was behind his line of questioning.

He told members of the press that difficult questions make him cough, and proceeded to start coughing when a reporter said that he was about to become the oldest active position player.

“That’s a scary question,” Suzuki said. “As a baseball player, I’ve come to an age that I don’t really like being at. I’m 41 but there are many people who are 25 but look like they are 41. I want to be the opposite of that and will continue working bit by bit to achieve that.”

Five Marlins executives, including president David Samson, president of baseball operations Michael Hill and general manager Dan Jennings, made the 18-hour trek to Tokyo for the announcement.

“It was very important for us to be here today,” Samson said. “Because commissioner (Rob) Manfred back in New York and all of us around baseball realize the importance of MLB and baseball in Japan and we’re very proud to be here.”

Hill said the Marlins hope to get the most out of the durable Suzuki.

“We’ll use him in various ways to keep him sharp and give him as many at-bats as possible,” Hill said. “He’s in incredible shape. He doesn’t look like a 41 year old. He looks like he still has a number of years left in him.”

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Thursday, January 29th, 2015 at 8:59 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post


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