OK, so maybe not

    Thursday, July 29, 2010, 4:23 PM [General]

    Wednesday’s speculation on Roy Oswalt proved to be the merest Hail Mary into the night after the stadium’s lights were turned out, as the Astros and Phillies have now come to terms on a deal; Oswalt has apparently given his blessing to the deal. The sad aspect of this whole business is that if Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. had merely hung on to Cliff Lee instead of dealing him to the Mariners for what he claimed was a prospect reload, they never would have had to trade for Oswalt in the first place.

    I expect that someday we will find out that ownership ordered Amaro to trade Lee and he has been forced to grin through a deal that was 99 percent likely to backfire. Roy Halladay and Lee was always going to be better than Halladay or Lee, particularly when the Phils had such a thin rotation to begin with. I’m working on a longer consideration of the following for tomorrow: you can almost never trade a Cliff Lee-level talent and get proper value in prospects, just because very few prospects achieve that level of greatness and, taking things a step further, very few prospects achieve any level of greatness at all.

    Meanwhile, we wait on the Yankees and have a greater mystery to ponder. Did the Yankees withdraw Joba Chamberlain from trade talks for Dan Haren? As much as I think that Chamberlain will improve, a Haren in the hand is worth a lot more than hopes pinned to Chamberlain’s peripheral stats and radar gun readings.

    As I completed this section, the prospects included in the Oswalt deal were apparently revealed and they aren’t any better than what the D’backs got for Haren. They may be worse. At these prices, the Yankees should be able to trade a real prospect like Jesus Montero for two future Hall of Famers and a year of backrubs from the supermodel of their choice, or to put it another way, they shouldn’t have to trade Montero at all to get real talent, especially if that talent makes money. Heck, the Astros apparently are paying $11 million to ease the sting of Oswalt’s salary and they’re still not getting much back—a league-average starter type in J.A. Happ and two middling prospects. Reportedly it appears that the Astros didn’t get much at all. Bring on Adam Dunn—the Yankees offer a bag of onions.

    Buck Showalter will take over as the Orioles’ manager next week. He will be the first strong-willed, personality-driven manager they have had since Davey Johnson. Showalter has opinions about how an organization should be run, which the Orioles probably need after so many years in the wilderness. He also tends to wear out his welcome with the intensity of his feelings, and I recall that whatever the controversy in the media when George Steinbrenner canned him for Joe Torre after the 1995 playoffs, those within the organization weren’t at all conflicted. In this, Showalter has a bit of the old Billy Martin in him. The question will be whether ownership stays out of his way enough to let him do what needs to be done, and if he will get to stick around long enough to finish the job instead of getting terminated the year before his club wins a World Series. On the other hand, the Orioles have so far to go that if he gets fired with the club on the precipice of a championship he might have put in 20 years on the job.

    No manager can take a club as hopeless as the current O’s and make them a winner, but in Matt Wieters, Ada Jones, Nick Markakis, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and others the team had young talent that was expected to give a better accounting of itself than it has to date. That talent remains waiting to be tapped, and sometimes a new manager can find ways of helping those players take a decisive step forward. If Showalter can get just a few of those guys to do things in the majors that are more consistent with their minor league performances, the Orioles could get better in a hurry—not Yankees/Rays/Red Sox better, but they can at least reach the outer country of “respectable.”

    • Continuing my just-for-fun run of managerial best-of teams, I have the Chuck Tanner All-Stars up at BP. Tanner was rumored to be taking over the Yankees at one point during the annual Lou Piniella-Billy Martin rotation. Be thankful it didn’t happen.

    • As always, you can follow me on Twitter at PB_Steve.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    We fear the unknown

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 5:22 PM [General]

    As Matthew Pouliot writes, the Yankees lose disproportionately to pitchers they’ve never seen before. YES also had this as a graphic during last night’s game. Including Josh Tomlin, 11 pitchers have made their Major League debuts against the Yankees since 2000. For the most part, these pitchers are now well-established fringe types or have never been heard from again, with the exception being Josh Peavy. The Yankees have gone 3-8 in those games.

    I haven’t done the research, but I also have the distinct impression that the Yankees have hit good pitchers better than bad ones, which is to say that if a pitcher comes into a game against the Yankees with an ERA of 3.30, he’s more likely to get thrashed than a pitcher who comes in with an ERA of 5.30. This is purely an uninformed impression I have from years of looking at the daily pitching matchups and seeing things like Andy Pettitte vs. Joe Kickmesign of the Orioles and thinking, “Tonight’s score is going to be 11-1,” but in actuality it ends up being 2-1. Rob Neyer says that this would be an example of a confirmation bias, and he’s probably right. He also says that those 11 pitchers have been more lucky than good, and he’s almost certainly right about that as well. It’s still frustrating to watch.

    One wonders if the Yankees are lying in wait on Roy Oswalt. Having been outbid/cheated out of Cliff Lee and been caught napping (or something) on Dan Haren, Oswalt remains the only game-changing starter available. The Cardinals are supposedly out, the surging Phillies supposedly in, but that seems to be it in terms of prominent bidders. The hang-up, as it has been, are twofold: Oswalt has a full no-trade clause and he has a poison-pill option for 2012 at $16 million (or a $2 million buyout). To get him to bypass one, you probably have to agree to the other. The Yankees are one of the few teams that could swallow the money if they felt like doing so. Oswalt will be 34 in two years, which is old but not frighteningly old. The bigger question in my mind is whether he would be comfortable in New York. He’s from a one-horse town in central Mississippi, and the Bronx is about as far from there as you can get in terms of cultural and physical environment. I’ve been to Mississippi several times—my wife is from there—and what’s surprising is just how empty and rural much of it is compared to the Northeast. If New York is the city that never sleeps, Mississippi is the state that’s in a coma.

    Given those obstacles, what remains is Ed Wade’s asking price. Given the inflated contract and the inevitable push on the option, the Astros can expect salary relief or prospects but not both. Given that the Cardinals just publicly slammed the door on a deal, the Astros, to paraphrase W.S. Gilbert, do not yet have their eyes open to their awful situation. You don’t get Jesus Montero in return for taking on roughly $40 million in unanticipated salary. The alternative for the Astros is that they keep paying an ace pitcher to lose games for a bad team, not getting anything for him when he leaves as a 35-year-old free agent, and they don’t get to add anything at all to their system. The perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good, especially when your club is 41-59 and your farm is as likely to bloom as the Sahara desert in summer.

    Assuming that Houston does not lessen its intransigence, I remain intrigued by big Prince Fielder. The Brewers are reportedly deciding if they are out of it or not, but given that they are eight games out in their division and 9.5 games behind the wild card leader, it’s not clear exactly which scales have to fall away for them to get the picture. Fielder, currently hitting .262/.400/.504, is the kind of big left-handed power hitter who would give the Yankees their own version of David Ortiz for awhile. Sure, it would lock up the designated hitter position, but the Yankees aren’t doing anything with it anyway. Failing that, jumping in on the .292/.349/.568 Corey Hart as a split outfielder-DH wouldn’t be a bad idea either, though no one has whispered the word “Yankees” in connection with him as of yet, but as we’ve seen, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Pinstriped Big Brother isn’t watching. The main problem with Hart, as opposed to Fielder, is that with Prince you know that he is what he is. Hart’s Major League career consists of 1.5 good years and 2.5 that aren’t helpful when coming from a corner outfielder. Buy at your own peril, but in the short-term, and with careful benching against select right-handers and extensive use at DH (probably his best position), he could help.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Javy's homer rate

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010, 2:07 PM [General]

    You’ve heard this from me before, but I’ve been trying to lose weight. I’ve been successful this time around and am down a nice handful of pounds, though I have gotten so zeppelin-like that it’s difficult to tell—though I was accosted by a professional sushi vendor the other day and told that I could bring $250 a pound at auction in Tokyo. He was so disappointed when I convinced him I wasn’t a carp.

    Yesterday, as I made my usual rounds of doctor’s offices, I spent the time listening to Sirius/XM’s MLB Radio, a channel I quite enjoy and have been fortunate enough to occasionally appear as a guest. The commercials, though, were hard on a man who hasn’t eaten, or eaten as much as he might like to, in about six weeks. “Presenting the fantastic new diet product, STUFF-U-SHAKE! We’ve impregnated each glass of STUFF-U-SHAKE with alphaprobathyominedroxyl™! This revolutionary new compound is not only delicious, but it accelerates your metabolism to a place that nature is incapable of achieving on its own, helping you shed pounds while standing stock still, as if a bear were stalking you. And because alphaprobathyominedroxyl™! is derived from industrial packing materials, you will feel as full as if you had just eaten a spring-fattened buttered boar! No more feeling hungry, ever! Just one dose of STUFF-U-SHAKE and your appetite will permanently cease to exist! Yes, you will be a mere ghost of yourself in days with STUFF-U-SHAKE! (Warning: Stuff-U-Shake is not FDA approved, nor has it been reviewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Do not consume if pregnant. Do not even look at Stuff-U-Shake if your name is Alex Rodriguez as there will be hell to pay when the media finds out. Weight loss is dependent on your actual diet and not guaranteed by Stuff-U-Shake.)

    When a man is driving down the highway, knowing that at home he will tuck in to a dinner of lettuce, tomato, and aspirin while the rest of his family dines as if it’s Orson Welles Day on TCM, these commercials are hard to take. There are no shortcuts. I’ve had enough surgeries, thank you, so I’m not bypassing anything voluntarily. I shouldn’t have gotten here in the first place, and while I feel like I have some legitimate excuses, medically speaking, it doesn’t change the fact that I earned it and now the only way out is that I have to pay it back, bit by bit until it’s all gone. No pain no gain. Also, no apple pie a la mode no gain. Calories in, calories out, and no magical elixirs—but, oh, how I want one!

    The average American League pitcher allows about one home run per nine innings pitched (.94), which is about 20 in 200 innings. Javier Vazquez, scary-yet-effective fly ball guy, allows 1.5 home runs per nine innings, or about 34 in 200 innings. While Vazquez has mostly pitched well (3.11 ERA) since mid-May, or about the same moment that Phil Hughes started pitching badly, and the home run rate has declined a bit as the year has gone on, but remains above average and probably will, as home runs are just the way the guy rolls.

    Vazquez’s home runs are what makes him such a bad bet in the postseason. He doesn’t discriminate as to who gets to knock one over the wall. Real power hitters like Andruw Jones, Hideki Matsui and Carlos Pena have taken him deep this year, but so have Travis Buck, Bobby Wilson, Mark Kotsay and Willy Aybar. This is one reason why his career postseason record, brief though it is, is so miserable: facing better lineups, the home run rate jumps up. In 15.2 postseason innings, he’s allowed six home runs, or 3.4 per nine innings. At that point he’s not pitching, he’s throwing batting practice. He may be the quintessential example of a pitcher who can give excellent value to a team in the regular season but none once they get to October.

    The Yankees almost certainly won’t see the two teams with the most home runs in the AL in the postseason, as the Red Sox and Blue Jays seem certain to go home. The White Sox (if they hold on in the central) and the Rangers also have their share of power hitters, and the latter plays in a ballpark more than a little conducive to home run hitting. This brings us back to the postseason question we’ve been asking throughout the July trading-fever period: after Sabathia and Pettitte, if Pettitte, who?

    • Forgot to mention that over at Baseball Prospectus as part of a just-for-fun look at manager’s best-of teams, I have the Whitey Herzog All-Stars. One former Yankee on there, one should-have-been-a-Yankee (or at least a Yankees property that should have been given away for more. I have Ralph Houk and Joe Torre coming up next in the series (free).

    • After a layoff due to all my recent family medical fun, I have a new original tune up at Casualobservermusic.net, a true story about my meeting a girl who talked to the animals and felt certain that they talked back. I had to call it “Twilight Bark.” I hope you enjoy.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Coming up empty in trade talks

    Monday, July 26, 2010, 5:23 PM [General]

    Having been forced to the sidelines when the best pitcher on the trade market went to Texas, the Yankees were again outbid, at least in someone's perception, for the second-best. In a trade that has been almost universally panned by the cognoscenti (baseballscenti?), the Diamondbacks picked up Joe Saunders, a let-‘em-hit-it lefty who will only be as good as his defense and his luck, as well as an undistinguished middle relief candidate, a 20-year-old lefty starter whose stuff suggests a future at the back of a rotation, and a player to be named -- widely assumed to be 2009 supplemental first-round pick Tyler Skaggs, a teenage lefty with a big curve ball. He’s far enough away that what he turns out to be is anyone’s guess, but his stuff is currently less than electric and anyone who says that he will someday be a No. 1 or 2 starter is indulging in an act of uninformed projection, blind faith, or team boosterism.

    The Angels had better prospects than they gave away in this deal. They still possess catcher Hank Conger, who they don’t seem to have much interest in for their own team despite a long DL stint for Jeff Mathis and the injury to Kendry Morales forcing Mike Napoli to first base. They have centerfielder Peter Bourjos, who may not hit all that much but has, according to Baseball America, “game-changing defensive ability.” And they have New Jersey’s Mike Trout, possibly the best player in the Minors this year. The 18-year-old centerfielder was recently promoted to the California League after hitting .362/.454/.526 with 45 steals in 81 games for Cedar Rapids. That’s just the top three; it’s hardly an exhaustive list. For a pitcher of Haren’s quality, you’d think the Angels might have to dig a little deeper, but no.

    For the Yankees, the question is, were they given the opportunity to top the Anaheim offer, and if so, why didn’t they? As we discussed here a few times over the past month or so, a Haren trade would have served the Yankees in two ways, bolstering the rotation for the stretch run in 2010 and filling one of the empty spots that might arise for 2011, be it Andy Pettitte’s or Javier Vazquez’s. Ted Lilly doesn’t offer nearly the same benefits. As I wrote the previous sentence, Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the Yankees “aren’t on Lilly at this time,” so perhaps they see it the same way -- which makes the lack of a push for Haren all the more perplexing. It’s a problem that must be reckoned with, because even if Andy Pettitte comes back in a hurry and picks up exactly where he left off, this isn’t necessarily a rotation built for the postseason.

    It should be said that this same question, “Why didn’t you top that shoddy offer?” could be asked of about 20 other organizations, not just the Yankees. Almost every team has a Joe Saunders. Almost every team, with the possible exception of the Diamondbacks, has a fistful of might-be-decent right-handed middle relievers. As for two lower Minor League left-handed pitchers who might someday staff out the back of a rotation, new versions of that prospect materialize in every draft, particularly if you’re shopping in the “Less than 95 mph” aisle of Prospects ‘R’ Us.

    As for the bullpen, it’s not built for next Tuesday, let alone October. Mariano Rivera has done his usual fine job, but consider that he has pitched all of 36.2 innings. Sure, they were 36.2 important innings, but they represent just four percent of the total innings available to the team this year. Joba Chamberlain has pitched more innings, and David Robertson and Chan Ho Park aren’t too far behind him. The great Mo is on a pace for 60 innings, which would be his lowest total since 2002, a season in which he made three trips to the DL. In protecting their 40-year-old Hall of Fame closer, the Yankees have minimized his impact and shifted innings onto the shoulders of pitchers who aren’t half as capable. No wonder then that they “dangled” (according to Jayson Stark) Jesus Montero to the Royals for Joakim Soria, one of the best closers in baseball. Righties can’t touch him, lefties don’t do much better, and you would effectively have “shortened the game to seven innings,” as they said of Rivera and John Wetteland back in 1996.

    Soria is only 26, the same age Rivera was when he was doing all that shortening, and he’s signed through 2011 with a series of options extending through 2014, so the Yankees would be getting some extended value out of the move, not to mention closer insurance for whenever Rivera wants or is forced to hang up his guns. The Royals apparently weren’t interested, and while you would think they wouldn’t mind turning their closer into 2.5 good players (or whatever the price is now that the Haren deal so devalued real talent), you can see why they wouldn’t jump at Montero. They already have a Montero equivalent in Billy Butler, who, as the old saying goes, has gloves that never get old because they so rarely come in contact with the ball. With two of those players, you’re forced to DH one and put one in the field, whereas the optimal usage pattern might be to take away the gloves from both. That being the case, given that the Yankees don’t have any prospective non-pitchers who can be mentioned in the same breath as Montero, the dance reverts back to pitching, pitching, pitching, and one imagines the Yankees aren’t too eager to part with a Hector Noesi or Manny Banuelos for a reliever, no matter how good. One, maybe. Two…

    They’re a different team than when the Yankees last saw them, maybe not a substantially better one, but a younger one with so many younger players in the lineup. On most nights, they have four players 25 or younger in the starting lineup, with a couple of others not much older than that. Travis Hafner aside, the oldest player in their lineup Sunday was Jayson Nix, and he’s 27.

    Some of them are starting to perform. Since coming back from the Minors, Matt LaPorta has hit .320/.386/.560 in 21 games, though a good deal of that was in his first week back; he’s got an 11-game homerless streak going. Catcher Carlos Santana has been a bit cold of late, though he has been very patient, just as he was in the Minors. As a switch-hitter, he seemed to do more from the right side in the Minors, but the opposite has been the case so far in the bigs, with the kid hitting just .154 in 51 plate appearances against southpaws (take those numbers with a grain o’ salt given the small sample). The Indians are also eagerly waiting for Trevor Crowe and Michael Brantley to justify their playing time. It might be a long wait in Crowe’s case; he’s going to be a fourth outfielder on a good team one day, but Brantley should hit eventually, despite averaging an almost-literally powerless .162 so far this year in enough plate appearances that it could legitimately bother you.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Haren another egg for basket

    Friday, July 23, 2010, 3:51 PM [General]

    599 EH
    Craig Calcaterra has a fine post up about the lack of excitement regarding Alex Rodriguez’s imminent home run No. 600. Now, when you write a post talking about the general lack of excitement about something, you run the risk that you are projecting your lack of excitement on the rest of the populace. Since I share said lack of excitement, I have no problem with presuming universal home run fatigue, A-Rod fatigue, or fatigue in general. In this case, I don’t think it’s Rodriguez, though his frequently observed anti-charisma probably has something to do with it. No, it’s that in modern baseball, home runs have become so cheap that it feels as if all of the 500 and up guys of recent years—Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Thome, A-Rod, Junior Griffey, Barry Bonds—didn’t quite earn their way up the list.

    My saying that has nothing to do with the fact that there have been PED associations with everyone on that list except Thome and Griffey. I am still skeptical that PEDs had a lot to do with what we’ve been seeing. Rather, the overall level of home run hitting was so inflated in this period that historical 20-homer guys became 30-homer guys and 30-guys became 40 guys and so on. It’s not that they necessarily did anything wrong, particularly Junior and Thome, but simply that, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, in the currency of home runs, 10 cents wasn’t worth a nickel.

    That said, Rodriguez deserves some credit. He’s a legitimately great player, and it wasn’t just the environment; not every player from the last 15 years has popped 600 home runs, or 500 for that matter, or 400. He had the ability to prosper in the low-gravity/friendly ballpark/rabbit-ball years that we just went through. We call that ability “talent.” Maybe, then, it comes down to the lack of emotional attachment after all. I despite all of that arbitrary “true Yankee” stuff—if your paycheck says “Yankees” you’re a Yankee—but Rodriguez is one of those players will go into the Hall of Fame with a blank cap, or should. If the deal with the Red Sox had gone through, he’d be a true Red Sox. It didn’t, so it happens that he’s a Yankee.

    Again, there’s a risk of projection in that evaluation, but it’s not about Rodriguez’s personality or lack thereof. It’s just an inevitable fact of his three-team history and the manner in which he was acquired from the Rangers.

    The asking price on Roy Oswalt is apparently painfully high—the Astros are rumored to want to reboot their whole roster on the basis of this one deal, a dubious notion given that Oswalt has no-trade rights that he’s trying to leverage into the activation of his $16 million option for 2012. This isn’t a bad thing for buyers because Arizona’s Dan Haren is the better target. He’s younger, has a track record of pitching with excellence in the American League, and is more of a strikeout guy. At least superficially, he has also not pitched as well as Oswalt—defense-independent ERA estimators suggest they’ve been quite comparable—and that might mean a somewhat lower asking price. Like the Astros, the Diamondbacks need a bit of help everywhere except perhaps catcher, so the price is going to come down to whether Jerry DiPoto’s illusions are as grandiose as Ed Wade’s. On the positional front, a solid outfielder or second baseman couldn’t hurt (Kelly Johnson is having a good year but isn’t long for that position or Arizona), and as far as relievers go, you name it, they need it.

    I’m still a bit iffy on the whole trading-for-a-starter thing, but with Andy Pettitte on the DL for an indeterminate amount of time, Phil Hughes putting up a 5.51 ERA since mid-May, A.J. being A.J., and Javier Vazquez being a scary-fly-ball free agent, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to go for a Haren, he being a good piece not just now but for next year and the year after (at least as much as you can tell with pitchers). If such a deal happens, it would go a long way towards making the postseason results more predictable, but it wouldn’t necessarily solve every problem. The bullpen still needs more help, Curtis Granderson—“hot” against lefties all the way to .223/.263/.298 still needs a platoon partner. Eggs need to be in multiple baskets.

    Complicating the eggs/baskets solution is the age of players like Derek Jeter, A-Rod, and Jorge Posada. The Yankees need ready replacements for the next wave of injuries and declining production. Since coming off of the DL, Posada has hit .226/.355/.395, and those catchers the Yankees have need to stay in the organization lest the club get stuck with a full season of Frankie Cervelli hitting .250/.330/.330 or worse.

    I’m depressed about (a lot of things, but also about) Jamie Moyer, who is going on the disabled list with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and strained flexor pronator tendon in his left elbow and probably won’t be rejoining us for the rest of his life. As long as Moyer continues to pitch, I’m still young. Please, please, get well soon, Jamie!

    2.3 (1 Ratings)

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