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8 years ago  ::  Nov 02, 2010 - 11:55AM #51
Posts: 65,303

What happens if the Yankees trade Montero?

By Joe Pawlikowski

(Kathy Willens/AP)

During the three and a half years of RAB’s existence we’ve gotten excited about a number of prospects. At our inception it was Phil Hughes, and it quickly turned to Joba Chamberlain (and even Ian Kennedy). The latest in the prospect craze is Jesus Montero.  He is considered by many talent evaluators, including Baseball  America’s Jim Callis, to be the game’s best hitting prospect. The only  question is of whether he can catch in the bigs.

At the end of the regular season I answered a mailbag question about the Yankees catching situation in 2011. Ideally they’d carry Montero, Jorge Posada, and Francisco Cervelli.  That would allow Montero and Posada to rotate between catcher and DH,  with Cervelli serving as a true backup (i.e., plays once a week). But we  know that ideal situations don’t often come to fruition. Plenty stands  in the way of the Yankees and their heavy hitting catcher rotation.

Reader Mike writes in with an interesting question about the situation:

Isn’t 2011 the make or break year to use Montero? I mean lets say  the Yankees want to go with Posada/Cervelli at C and someone else DHing  that means Montero will end up in AAA again. But won’t that block Austin Romine‘s  development? Isn’t Romine due for a promotion to AAA, and you can’t  have both those guys on the same level considering both need to be  playing everyday in the minors.

I’m not sure it’s a make it or break it year, but it certainly will  mean something for Montero’s development. There’s a decent chance that  Montero breaks camp with the team and plays the role described above.  Yet there’s still a good chance that he opens the season back in  Scranton. That means Romine starts in Trenton again, since, as Mike  mentions, both players at this point need to catch full time. Romine  could then move up to AAA once the Yankees are ready to promote Montero.  Splitting the season between AA and AAA might be a good thing for  Romine, who still has plenty of development ahead of him.

That might not seem interesting; it actually sounds pretty normal.  What’s interesting is the question I asked myself after reading Mike’s  question: What happens if they trade Montero? He might be the team’s  best hitting prospect since Nick Johnson,  but he’s not untouchable. As the Yankees rebuild the pitching staff  this winter they might find that Montero helps them more as trade bait.  We can all make a list of what players the Yankees should target if they  trade Montero, but what I want to know is what the team plans to do at  catcher in that scenario.

Going with Posada and Cervelli again is a poor idea. Posada started  just 78 games at catcher, 10 fewer than in 2009. The Yankees simply  cannot count on him to provide much production behind the plate. I doubt  they sign a DH this off-season, in fact, because Posada will have to  fill that spot often. That leaves Cervelli as the starting catcher, a  role for which he is not suited. As a once-a-week back-up he’s more than  adequate. Even if he has to spot start while the starter goes on the  DL, you could do a lot worse. But if he’s the only one who can take on  full-time catching duties, the Yankees should look elsewhere for a  better alternative.

On the free agent market there aren’t many upgrades. Victor Martinez  is the best of the lot, but there are a number of points against him: 1)  He’ll cost a draft pick, 2) He’ll be 32 next year, 3) He has defensive  issues, 4) He’ll almost certainly be overpaid by a catching-starved  team. There are a couple of free agent catchers, John Buck and Miguel  Olivo (should his option be declined), who can hit for power, but that’s  the only dimension to their games. Perhaps the Yankees could look to  one of these guys as a one-year stopgap, but I’m not sure that they  present that large an upgrade over Cervelli.*

While Olivo had 3.2 WAR and Buck 2.9, they did it with over 100  more PA — and there’s no guarantee that they can repeat that in 2011. At  the same time, I expect Cervelli’s defense to improve, since most of it  consisted of mental lapses, which is a correctable issue.

Another option is to work a trade. This would likely be for a player  coming off a down year, such as Mike Napoli, or a 2012 free agent. Again  there aren’t many attractive names there, though Ryan Doumit does stand  out a bit. The Pirates recently acquired Chris Snyder, who will likely  start behind the plate for them in 2011. That means the Pirates can  trade Doumit, who is one of their better bargaining chips. The only  issue is that he is also not a great defensive catcher. Neither is  Napoli. But, since Montero isn’t, either, I’m not sure the Yankees would  be losing out in this aspect.

There will be temptation this winter, particularly if Cliff Lee signs  elsewhere, to trade Montero in order to upgrade the pitching staff. But  doing so would leave the Yankees in a bind of sorts. The available  veteran catchers are not world beaters; Montero could potentially outhit  them all next year. He might not stick at catcher in the majors, but  he’ll hit anywhere, even if it’s DH. After looking at the alternatives, I  think it’s better to hold Montero and try to use other pieces, or just  cash, to upgrade the pitching staff.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
8 years ago  ::  Nov 02, 2010 - 11:56AM #52
Posts: 65,303

What Went Wrong: Chad Ho Moseley

By Mike Axisa

Every team has a few of them every single season; replacement level  relievers, or worse. Most of the time these guys are buried in the back  of the bullpen, throwing low-leverage innings once or twice a week when  his team had a big lead or a big deficit. The Yankees were (un)lucky  enough to have three guys like that this year, and they even came with a  cheesy nickname: Chad Ho Moseley. Let’s review…

(AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)

Chad Gaudin

After a solid job as the Yankees’ makeshift fifth starter down the  stretch last season, Gaudin was rewarded by being released in Spring Training. He ended up back in his old stomping grounds in Oakland, at least until they released him after 17.1 innings of 5.91 FIP pitching. The Yanks brought him back in late-May for the pro-rated  portion of the league minimum and stuck him in their bullpen as a mop-up  guy.

That’s pretty much exactly what Gaudin was, because opponents mopped  the floor with him during his second tenure in pinstripes. He was  somehow even worse with the Yanks than he was with the A’s (6.25 FIP),  and a late season audition for a playoff spot which featured the Yanks  forcing him into some high-leverage spot went predictably awful. All  told, Gaudin put a -0.8 fWAR in 48 IP just with the Bombers in 2010  (-1.1 overall). Yuck.

Chan Ho Park

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Park was a late addition in the offseason, signing a low-risk  one-year, $1.2M contract after pitchers and catchers had already  reported in February. His relief stint with the Phillies in 2009 was  excellent (53-15 K/uIBB ratio and 0 HR in exactly 50 IP), good enough  that even with normal age-related decline (he was 36 when they signed  him, after all) and the AL-to-NL transition that there were still  reasons to expect him to be a serviceable relief arm.

As it turned out, CHoP was anything but serviceable. He made three  appearances in April, taking the loss in the first game of the season,  before hitting the disabled list for a month with a bad hamstring. That  bought him some more time. CHoP returned in mid-May and allowed at least  one run in four straight outings and in five of six, earning himself a  demotion to mop-up duty. After five scoreless outings in June, CHoP  pretty much fell apart. He was designated for assignment after the Yanks  acquired Kerry Wood at the trade deadline, finishing his Yankee career  with a 5.60 ERA and more than one homer allowed for every 16 outs  recorded.

It was a worthwhile gamble that completely blew up in the Yankees’  faces; Park was worth -0.2 fWAR in pinstripes. That the Pirates claimed  him off waivers and saved New York the final $400,000 of his salary was  nothing more than a minor miracle.

Dustin Moseley

The Yanks brought in the former Reds’ first round pick on a minor  league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, and he pitched  well enough in Triple-A (3.67 FIP in a dozen starts) that he forced the  Yankees’ hand when his opt-out clause kicked in in late-June. Pitching  in a mop-up role initially, Moseley moved into the rotation once Andy Pettitte‘s groin landed him on the disabled list.

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Moseley wasn’t terrible at first, giving the team two quality starts  in his first three outings. It all kinda went downhill from there (6.41  ERA, .932 OPS against) as his inability to miss bats (13 BB, 11 K)  manifested itself in his next four starts. Somehow the Yankees still  managed to win three of those games, but Moseley found himself back in  the bullpen with rookie Ivan Nova usurping him in the rotation.

In the end, the 28-year-old righty finished the season with with a  5.99 FIP and -0.4 fWAR in 65.1 innings for the big league team. He  slightly redeemed himself with two scoreless innings in Game One of the  ALCS, paving the way for the eighth inning comeback, but meh. Dustin’s  effort was admirable, yet completely forgettable.

* * *

It’s unfair to toss Sergio Mitre into this mix because at least he managed to be replacement level this  season (exactly 0.0 fWAR), but we have to mention him somewhere. He  allowed just seven runs in his final 24.2 innings (2.55 ERA), so  unlikely the Chad Ho Moseley monster he at least finished strong.

A trio of sub-replacement level long relievers (total damage: -1.4  fWAR, 148.2 IP, or 10.3% of the team’s total innings) didn’t sink the  Yankees season by any means, but it sure was painful to watch.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
8 years ago  ::  Nov 02, 2010 - 11:59AM #53
Posts: 65,303

What Went Right: Boone Logan’s Second Half

By Joe Pawlikowski

(Paul Sancya/AP)

Real quick: take a look at Boone  Logan’s 2010 numbers. They look pretty spiffy, no? You can’t ask much more  from a young lefty reliever. What made Logan look even better was the value he  provided. Although he faced just 169 batters in 40 innings, he still produced  0.4 WAR, which was 0.6 more than the other player the Yankees acquired from the  Braves last winter. Since Logan provided more value this year and will continue  to provide more in the future, we can accurately term this the Boone Logan Trade. But it  wasn’t always that way.

Because the Yankees started the season stocked with bullpen arms, Logan  started the year in AAA Scranton. He made his way to the big league club early  on, and made his first appearance on April 20. Things didn’t go so well during  that first stint. Logan faced 49 batters in 10.2 innings and walked seven  batters while striking out six. It led to six earned runs, a 5.06 ERA. The  Yankees optioned him, but then recalled him again in mid-June, though that  didn’t exactly go well either. This time Logan faced 33 batters in 7.2 innings,  striking out seven and walking five. The results were better, but he clearly  still had control issues.

Logan’s 3.93 first half ERA didn’t look so bad, but his walk issues made it  hard to trust him against tough left-handed hitters. He finished the half with  12 walks in 18.1 innings, leading to an opponent OBP of .390. He threw 314  pitches to 82 batters, almost four per. Clearly something would have to change  if he was going to stick in the second half. By the time the Yankees recalled  him for the third time in the season, something had.

The second half didn’t open ideally for Logan, as he allowed a run in 1.2  innings against the Rays. The good news is that he didn’t walk a batter, and he  threw 15 of 23 pitches for strikes (65%). He continued to throw strikes in  subsequent appearances, and it paid off. He walked just eight in 21.2  second-half innings, a marked improvement over his first half numbers. It led to  a mere .264 opponents’ OBP. Hitters also had trouble making solid contact, as  his BABIP went down to .235. This was due, in large part, to a mere 8 percent  line drive rate, down from 25 percent in the first half.

How did Logan accomplish this mid-season transformation? Part of it was  certainly throwing more strikes. In the first half he threw 60 percent of his  pitches for strikes, while in the second half that was up to 63 percent. That  might not seem like a huge increase, but it can make a big difference when  you’re often working one batter at a time. But it doesn’t account for the entire  difference. The biggest change, as most of us can probably intuit, was pitch  selection and effectiveness.

In the first half Logan was extremely fastball heavy, throwing it 70.9  percent of the time. He got a meager 8.9 percent whiff rate on it, leading to a  21.5 percent in play rate. In the second half he started leaning on his slider a  lot more, using it 32.4 percent of his time. Opponents put it in play just 10.2  percent of the time, while whiffing 27.8 percent of the time. The pitch ended up  being his best per FanGraphs’ Pitch Type Values, 3.8 runs above average overall,  and 2.34 per 100 pitches. All it took was him using it more and commanding it  better.*

*Looking at the PitchFX numbers, Logan got -0.07 inches of vertical break  and -1.13 inches of horizontal break on the slider in the first half. In other  words, it darted downward and towards a right-handed batter. In the second half  it was 2.02 inches of vertical break and -0.29 inches horizontal. That might  seem like less movement, but I have a pet theory on this. It basically goes that  Logan was letting the slider fly more in the first half and was a bit more  careful with it in the second half. He might have had more movement in the first  half, but he was wild with it. In the second half the lower break figures point  to a greater command over the pitch. Again, this is just a pet theory, but I’d  love to hear some point-counterpoint on this if anyone is interested.

Just so you can see the difference, here are Logan’s slider plots from the  first and second halves.

First half

Second half

Everything was away in the second half, and he buried plenty in the dirt.  It’s tough to pick out the subtleties, because he threw far more in the second  half than in the first. But I do think it’s clear that he kept the slider below  the zone in the second half, while he was low and away in the first half. This  probably led to the pitch being a lot more effective.

Given his second half performance, it’s hard to not like Logan as the primary  lefty in 2011. He showed great improvements, from his peripheral numbers — 10.38  K/9, 3.32 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 in the second half — to his pitch selection and  command. Whether he can maintain these improvements remains to be seen, but  he’ll get every chance to do so. With Damaso Marte out for most  of, if not all of, the 2011 season, Logan becomes the primary lefty in the pen.  Six months ago that would have left me feeling queasy. Amazing what a little  improvement can do.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
8 years ago  ::  Nov 02, 2010 - 12:00PM #54
Posts: 65,303

Rule 5 decisions looming for Yankees

Posted by: Chad Jennings

Last  winter, the Yankees added seven minor leaguers to the 40-man roster. If  I had to guess, I’d say it will be closer to four or five this winter.

Of the players eligible for the Rule 5 draft, only Dellin Betances  and Brandon Laird jump out as guys who absolutely need to be protected.  Beyond that, each addition is likely to depend on how many roster spots  come open and how highly the Yankees think of some of their lower-level  players.

This post is not an attempt to list every Yankees minor leaguer who’s  eligible for the Rule 5 draft. These are simply some of the names who  jumped out to me as leading candidates at various positions. My friend  Donnie Collins has a more comprehensive list.

ph_476454Pitchers: Wilkins  Arias, Dellin Betances, Jairo Heredia, Craig Heyer, Alan Horne, George  Kontos, Adam Olbrychowski, Jonathan Ortiz, Lance Pendleton, Ryan Pope,  Pat Venditte, Kevin Whelan, Eric Wordekemper

Betances (right) is the no-brainer of the group. He’s a huge  talent who seems to be finally healthy, and it’s not out of the realm  of possibility that he could pitch his way to New York as early as next  season.

Heredia is also a pretty big talent, but injuries have held him to  only 39 innings above Low-A. The Yankees took a chance on getting the  young and raw Ivan Nova through the Rule 5 in 2008, and that worked out.  They took no such chances with Hector Noesi last year. The Yankees have  to make a similar decision on Heredia this year.

Beyond Betances, the names that standout most are Arias, Pendleton  and Pope. Arias is the only lefty on the list, Pendleton is coming off a  nice year in Double-A (he finished in Triple-A) and Pope was invited to  big league camp this spring then got an Arizona Fall League assignment  this offseason. Heyer is also in the Fall League. Those Fall League  assignments suggest the Yankees like the potential of Heyer and Pope,  but one year ago Zach Kroenke, Grant Duff and Colin Curtis were all sent  to the Fall League, but each was still left exposed to the Rule 5.

Horne and Kontos would be much more prominent in this discussion if  not for injuries. Kontos is pitching again, but after a solid regular  season, he’s struggling in Arizona.

ph_477186Infielders: Brandon Laird, Jose Pirela, Brad Suttle

Laird (right) was terrific this season. He can already play  the infield corners, now he’s in the Fall League learning to handle the  outfield. He seems like a lock.

Pirela is the biggest name of a few small-name middle infielders who  are eligible. He’s never played above Class A, and the Yankees already  have quite a few middle infielders on the roster. Suttle is an  interesting case: A fourth-round pick who showed an impressive bat in  college but missed all of 2009 with a shoulder injury. He started to hit  in the second-half of this season, but I’m not sure he could actually  stick on a Major League roster at this point.

ph_444859Outfielders: Abraham Almonte, Zoilo Almonte, Austin Krum, Melky Mesa, Damon Sublett

The top candidate here is Mesa (right). He can hit for  power, he can run and he can throw. He also struck out 129 times in 121  games this season. And that was an improvement on last year’s 168  strikeouts. Strikeouts aside, Mesa can play center field and he brings a  ton of tools. Beyond Laird, I’d say Mesa is the top position player  worth a spot.

Of the other outfielders: Neither of the Almonte’s has played above  Class-A, while Krum and Sublett hit below .230 in Double-A this season.  Sublett and Abraham Almonte are converted infielders.

ph_468474Catchers: Jose Gil

No big names are eligible at catcher. Right or wrong, Gil (right)  has been treated more like an organizational catcher than as a  prospect. P.J. Pilittere will become a free agent this winter, but he’s  not someone the Yankees are likely to consider adding to the roster, and  he’s much better off finding a new organization.

Jesus Montero and Austin Romine are a year away from Rule 5 eligibility.


"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
8 years ago  ::  Nov 02, 2010 - 1:18PM #55
Posts: 65,303

Orioles Decline Option On Hendrickson

The Orioles officially declined their $1.2MM club option on lefty Mark Hendrickson, according to a team press release.  They'll pay a $200K buyout instead.  The move was widely expected.

Hendrickson, a 6'9" southpaw, turned 36 in June.  This year he posted  a 5.26 ERA, 6.6 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, and 42.9% groundball rate in  75.3 innings.  He deserved an ERA more like 4.18, according to Baseball Prospectus' SIERA stat.  Hendrickson's FanGraphs splits show he's been plenty effective against left-handed batters over the past few years.


"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
8 years ago  ::  Nov 02, 2010 - 1:28PM #56
Posts: 65,303

Free Agent Market For Left-handed Starters

The free agent market for right-handed starters mainly offered innings eaters.  Here's a look at the available southpaws.

Baseball's Sixth $100MM Pitcher

He may have taken the loss in two World Series games, but Cliff Lee is still the marquee name among all free agent starting pitchers.  The  32-year-old has a 2.98 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, and 0.61 HR/9 in 667.3  regular season innings since 2008.  He tossed 248 innings this year  including the playoffs despite not making his first start until April  30th.  Lee is eligible for free agency for the first time in his career  and will finally get to settle down with one team.  For more on his  market, check out Mike Axisa's October 4th post.

Strong, Abbreviated Seasons

As usual, Andy Pettitte's options appear to be retirement or a return to the Yankees.  That leaves Jorge de la Rosa as the second-best lefty available and perhaps the second-best starter overall since the Dodgers locked up Ted Lilly.   As a Type A free agent, De La Rosa will cost a draft pick along with  his contract.  De La Rosa, 30 in April, missed ten weeks this season  with a torn tendon in his finger.  He throws hard, strikes out plenty,  gets groundballs, and walks too many.

Three Semi-Interesting Names

If you dig a bit you'll find Hisanori Takahashi, Chris Capuano, and Bruce Chen as a trio of lefties capable of starting.  All three had decent  peripherals as starters this year, though only Chen topped 100 innings  in the role.

Hoping To Stay Healthy

Jamie Moyer and Jeff Francis managed to top 100 innings despite injuries, while Doug Davis, Erik Bedard, and Mike Hampton didn't pitch much if at all.  Francis' shoulder remains a concern, but  he'll be 30 in January and may have something left to offer.

Looking For Work

Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis will have to prove themselves in the minors, as might Jarrod Washburn after sitting out 2010.  Rich Hill and Mark Hendrickson are in a similar boat; all of these guys should be flexible on their roles.

Non-Tender Candidates

Zach Duke, Scott Olsen, Andrew Miller, Brian Tallet, and Glen Perkins are the names to watch here.  Duke, 28 in April, has been useful at  times but dealt with elbow trouble this year.  Olsen's issue was his  shoulder.  Miller was once among the game's top prospects; Mike Axisa discussed his case on Saturday.


Many teams in the starting pitching hunt just won't have the cash to  seriously bid for Lee.  De La Rosa will get plenty of action, but there  aren't many other free agent lefties you'd plug into a rotation.


"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
8 years ago  ::  Nov 02, 2010 - 1:31PM #57
Posts: 65,303

On eve of free agency, Cliff Lee offers no indication on where he will sign

 Updated: Tuesday, November 02, 2010, 12:33 PM

texas-rangers-cliff-lee-mlb-free-agency-112.jpg.JPGCliff Lee lost twice in the World Series, including Monday night's series-clinching win for the Giants.  

In the losing clubhouse Monday night, pitcher Cliff Lee spoke about  the enjoyment he gets playing for the Texas Rangers. At the same time,  he gave little indication that Monday's Game 5 start in the World Series  wouldn't be his last in a Rangers uniform.

Lee, along with numerous others, embark on free agency this week now that the baseball season has officially concluded.

However, Lee stands out among the roughly 150 free agents on the  market as the most coveted of the class: a former Cy Young winner, a  former 20-game winner, a proven big-game pitcher.

Likely atop the Yankees' free-agent wish list, as well as the lists of other teams as well, Lee spoke Monday about what the future might have in store. The one certainty from what Lee told reporters: You never know.

I expect this team to do some really good things next year. I don't know  if I'm going to be a part of it or not. To be honest with you, I would  love to be, but so many things can happen. You never know.


"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
8 years ago  ::  Nov 02, 2010 - 3:11PM #58
Posts: 1,376

Guadin and Ring outrighted, Mesa added

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Misc on Nov 02, 2010 Print This Post Print This Post | ..."email_popup(this.href); return false;" title="Email This Post">Email This Post ..."email_popup(this.href); return false;" title="Email This Post">Email This Post  

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The Yankees have made their first 40-man moves of the offseason.

Chad Gaudin and Royce Ring were both outrighted to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, removing them from the 40-man roster. Gaudin immediately elected free agency.

Filling one of those spots is toolsy outfielder Melky Mesa. Mesa would have been eligible for free agency had he not been added to the 40-man, hence this move being made immediately before other players are protected from the Rule 5.

8 years ago  ::  Nov 02, 2010 - 4:27PM #59
Posts: 65,303

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner says Yankees payroll will remain roughly the same

Tuesday, November 02, 2010,  4:22 PM

hal.jpgYankees owner Hal Steinbrenner.  

NEW YORK -- Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said his  team's payroll will remain at roughly the same levels going into next  season. If that is so, it appears the Yankees will likely have room for  one major new free agent signing, with their top priority being Rangers  ace Cliff Lee.

"I can safely say we're going to stay within the same level,"  Steinbrenner said, on an interview Tuesday afternoon on ESPN 1050. "I'm  obviously not going to get into details. But we know we're expected to  field a championship caliber team  and we're going to do what it takes  to do that. So, if we have to get creative in a trade, or if we have to  go out for a big free agent, we're going to do it."

The Yankees opening day salary was an estimated $206.3 million this  season, up from $201.5 million on opening day 2009. But even if the  Yankees slightly increase payroll once again, it may be enough to sign  another top free agent, assuming the Yankees make good on Steinbrenner's  goal of re-signing franchise icons Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

Speaking at the conclusion of organizational meetings in Tampa,  Steinbrenner said general manager Brian Cashman has reached out to the  agents of both Jeter and Rivera.

Steinbrenner said he wants both to remain in pinstripes, though he added: "Having said that, we're running a business here."

Meanwhile, Steinbrenner said he believed the apology he received from  Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg was sincere. The Yankees owner said  Greenberg conveyed to him that his remarks about Yankees fans were  "ridiculous, if not stupid."

On a radio interview on Monday, Greenberg called Yankees fans "violent", "apathetic," and "an embarrassment."

Speaking to WFAN radio later in the afternoon, Steinbrenner called  the Yankees' ouster in the ALCS to the Rangers a head scratcher, and  wondered if the long layoff between playoff series played a factor.

He admitted to being "a little bit too raw" from the loss to expand on the positives of 2010.

Notes: The Yankees outrighted right-handed pitcher  Chad Gaudin and and left-hander Royce Ring to Triple-A  Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In response, Gaudin elected to become a free  agent. The Yankees moved outfielder Melky Mesa to the 40-man roster.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
8 years ago  ::  Nov 02, 2010 - 4:56PM #60
Posts: 65,303

What Went Right: Don’t Ya Know

By Mike Axisa

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It all started with a challenge.

The Yankees, fresh off their 27th World Championship, let World Series MVP Hideki Matsui depart as a free agent after the 2009 season in their never-ending  quest to get younger and more athletic. When camp opened up in February,  it was unclear who would replace Godzilla as the fifth hitter in the  lineup, protecting cleanup man Alex Rodriguez and mopping up any messes left behind by the middle of the order. Joe  Girardi and the rest of the shot-callers could have taken the easy way  out and stuck Jorge Posada in the five-hole. He’s a long-time Yankee stalwart with plenty of  credentials to claim that spot, so it was a natural fit. Even Nick Swisher, fresh off a 29 homer season, would have made sense.

They didn’t take the easy way out though. Instead of going with the easy pick they issued a challenge to Robbie Cano,  one of their youngest regulars. It’s time for you to be more than just a  (very good) complementary piece, we need you to be a cornerstone, a  centerpiece off the offense. Robbie’s excellent 2009 season (.370 wOBA,  4.4 fWAR) was marred by his failures with runners in scoring position  (.207/.242/.332, .251 wOBA) and in high-leverage spots (.255 wOBA),  understandably causing some to question the decision to move him up into  the heart of the order. If he couldn’t hit with runners on base, how is  he supposed to protect Mark Teixeira and A-Rod? We all knew that Cano had all the talent in the world, but could he deliver in his new role?

Cano’s response to those questions was a quick and emphatic YES. He  opened the season with five hits (including a double and a homer) in  three games at Fenway Park, and it wasn’t until the 17th of April that  Robbie went hitless in a game. His month of April was the best by a  Yankee not named A-Rod in more than a decade, as he finished the  season’s first month with a .400/.436/.765 batting line (.497 wOBA) and  eight homers. The hot hitting didn’t stop after April ended either, Cano  entered the All Star break with a .336/.389/.556 line (.400 wOBA) and  as the league’s first 4.0+ fWAR player.

The overall season performance is MVP worthy; a .319/.381/.534  batting line that featured career highs in wOBA (.389), homers (29),  runs scored (103), runs driven in (109), walks (57, more than 2008 and  2009 combined), isolated power (.214), bWAR (6.1), and fWAR (6.4). Cano  didn’t stop there either, he was the team’s best hitter in the  postseason, a .343/.361/.771 (.464 wOBA) effort with four homers in the  team’s six ALCS games. When Tex’s season ended in Game Four because of a  hamstring injury, Robbie stepped right into the three-spot and homered  the very next day. Regular season or postseason, Cano was an absolute  monster in 2010, and it was all because of some subtle improvements.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Remember those struggles in men on base in 2009? Forget about that.  Robbie hit .322/.407/.515 (.352 wOBA) with runners in scoring position  and an even sexier .449 wOBA in high leverage situations this year. He  was even better away from the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium (.402  wOBA) than at home (.376), as hard as that can be to believe. Comparing  his 2009 and 2010 spray charts (courtesy of Texas Leaguers),  you’ll see that he traded opposite field singles and doubles for balls  yanked hard into rightfield, mostly over the wall. Cano’s pre-game  screen drill with hitting coach Kevin Long is the stuff of legend,  designed to help him keep his hands in on pitches over the inner third  of the plate while stilling hitting the ball with authority, and it  certainly paid off this season. His defense went from strong to  spectacular, with jaw-dropping plays on balls hit up-the-middle becoming  his specialty.

On a personal level, Robbie also reached many career milestones in his sixth big league season. He picked up his 1,000th career hit with a bases loaded ground rule double in the eighth inning of a late  July game against reliever Victor Marte of the Royals, reaching that  milestone in fewer at-bats than any Yankee not named Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly. A fourth inning solo homer off Brian Moehler of the  Astros a few weeks earlier tied the game and was Robbie’s 100th career long ball.  He also notched his 200th career double in his second plate appearance  of the season and his 500th career RBI on the third to last day of the  season, both again the Red Sox in Fenway.

Robinson turned just 28 years old two weeks ago, so he’s very much in  the prime of his career. In fact he should be just entering his prime  years. That’s pretty impressive considering he was a .306/.339/.480  (.356 wOBA) career hitter with a pair of 4.4+ fWAR seasons before 2010.  Cano proved to everyone that the young kid with a knack for getting the  bat on the ball hitting in the bottom third of the order was capable of  carrying the Yankees as their older stars continue to fade into the  background, and his emergence as one of the game’s elite was far and  away the highlight of the 2010 season. When he’s locked in, few are more  fun to watch that the guy with the smile on his face.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
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