Friday, November 12, 2004

I wanna make 'em wish they never sent me 

Check out my debut appearance on Baseball Prospectus Radio this Saturday morning at 8:00 AM on or your local BP Radio affiliate. In this episode, Alex Belth, Jay Jaffe, Steven Goldman and I have at it with host Will Carroll over the state and fate of the Yankees. I'll post a link to the archived show on once it's been posted.

posted by Cliff at 7:03 PM

The Official 2005 BRB Dream Team, part 2: Arms 

This is where the Yankees will make or break the 2005 season. The selection of pitching talent, particularly starting pitching talent is the most important task facing the front office this offseason. With that in mind, the fact that Eric Milton has been the name most often associated with the Yankees in the rumor mill thus far is a very bad sign.

To be honest, I could not for the life of me figure out what possible interest the Yankees had in Milton other than the fact that he was a farmhand they "let get away." That's revisionist history. To begin with, I don't see the Yankees clamoring after Cristian Guzman, offering to convert him to second base if he'd just "come back home." And they've never made a move toward Brian Buchanan who is perpetually available, most recently being designated for assignment by the Mets just prior to rosters expanding in September. Those are the other two men (no, Danny Mota doesn't count) who were included in the trade for Chuck Knoblauch. Knobby may have lasted just four years with the Yankees, but he did help them win World Championships in each of his first three seasons and make it to the seventh game of the World Series in the fourth. I guess all that pales in comparison with to a pitcher with a career 4.76 ERA.

Nope, I couldn't figure it out. That was until I remembered that Milton was left-handed. I'll say it again, the Yankees do not need left-handed starting pitching. They need good starting pitching. Eric Milton is not a good starting pitcher. What's more, he has a consistant and pronounced reverse split, so it could be argued that he's not even terribly left-handed. Over the past three seasons Milton's held righties to a .242 GPA while lefties have smacked him around for a .299 GPA. Even if I did agree that the Yankees need a lefty starter (which they don't), this is not the man to get. Neither is 39-year-old Al Lieter, who despite his impressive 3.21 ERA in 2004 averaged fewer than six innings per start (not the solution for a team with an overworked bullpen). Nor is 41-year-old David Wells, whose stiff back cost the Yankees the 2003 World Series. Eliminating those three leaves a bunch of detritus (such as Shawn Estes, Darren Oliver and Glendon Rusch) and the man the Yankees should sign: Odalis Perez.

Let's compare Perez to Milton, shall we? Perez is two years younger. Milton has never had an ERA below 4.32 in a season in which he's started more than three games. In three years as a full-time starter Perez has ERAs of 3.00, 4.52 and 3.26. Milton threw 172 1/3 innings at age 22, more than 200 innings a year for the next three seasons, and has a total of 1188 1/3 innings on his left arm. Perez was eased into starting with 10 2/3 innings out of the bullpen at age 22 and just over 90 innings in each of the next two years, having totaled just 803 innings on his career. All of which means Perez is less likely to suffer a collapse because he wasn't overworked in his early 20s. Both pitchers had reverse splits last year, but Milton's split, as I mentioned above, is consistantly reversed, while Perez had a strong regular split in 2003 and over the past three seasons combined has held lefties to a .223 GPA (to .230 for righties).

What more do I need to say? Perhaps you're concerned about Perez being a product of Dodger Stadium. Well, it's true that he had a rather pronounced home/away split in his disappointing 2003 season (2.73/5.59), but in his strong 2002 and 2004 seasons he posted road ERAs of 3.31 and 3.21 respectively, numbers which include intra-division games at Coors Field. If the Yankees really want a lefty starter, they should sign Odalis Perez. The team is reportedly ready to offer Milton $7-8 million per year for three years. I'm sure Perez could easily be had for a similar deal. Otherwise, they should save the lefties for the bullpen and go after the best starters available. And who are they, you ask?

Well there's Pedro Martinez, but he's a headcase with declining skills who also happens to be Public Enemy No. 1 in the Yankee clubhouse. Some Yankees have pointed out that Roger Clemens was also greatly disliked in the Bronx before he came to the team following the 1998 season. What they fail to mention is that Clemens had just completed back-to-back triple crown seasons in 1997 and 1998 (two seasons in which he actually deserved the Cy Young awards he was awarded, imagine!), while Pedro's 2004 was his worst season since 1996 and saw him post the worst ERA of his career. Then there's the fact that he bursts into flames at 100 pitches. No thanks.

Russ Ortiz was the best starter not named Randy Johnson that was reportedly available at the trading deadline this year, but when compared to his competition this winter, his high walk rates push him much further down on my list.

That leaves four men younger than Jon Lieber as the four best starters on the market: Carl Pavano, Brad Radke, Kevin Millwood and Matt Clement. It is my opinion that the Yankees should go after Radke and Clement. Here's why:

Millwood spent so long being overrated that he is now underrated (at least in my mind). That being said, the 30-year-old righty has only been something other than an average major league pitcher twice (1999 and 2002). What's more, 2004 saw him dip below average for the first time before going on the DL for more than a month at the end of the season with tendinitis in his pitching elbow. This is a guy who made $11 million last year. No thanks.

Carl Pavano is a curious case. He'll turn 29 in January, making him the youngest established starter on the market other than Odalis Perez. That's a good thing, as is the fact that he doesn't have a lot of innings on his arm, having not exceeded 136 innings pitched until 2003. That being said, he hadn't exceeded 136 inning pitched until 2003, a season in which he had an ERA more than a quarter run below league average. In 2004 he went 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA (137 ERA+), but that was just the second time in his entire career that he finished the season with an ERA above league average. That's just not enough of a record to run on, as far as I'm concerned, not for the kind of money that Pavano is likely to demand. I may eat my words on this in the future (and if so, I hope it's because of what Pavano accomplishes as a Yankee), but if it were up to me, I'd pass on Pavano and sign Matt Clement.

Yeah, that's right, Matt Clement. Clement is little more than a year older than Pavano, has started 30 games in each of the last six seasons, and has been above league average in each of the last three. What's more, he's a strikeout pitcher (9.45 K/9 in two of the last three years) whose walk rate declined every year from 2000 to 2003. He's also not been a central name in the rumor mill thus far and could come at a reasonable price (he earned $6 million from the Cubs last year).

To Clement, Mussina, Perez and Javy Vazquez (whom I would not trade), I would add Brad Radke. Much like Millwood, I though Radke was overrated to the point that I wound up underrating him. No more. Radke has been below league average just twice in his ten year career with the Twins. The first time was his rookie year. The second was in 2002 when he missed two full months with a recurrent groin injury. Last year he posted the best ERA+ of his career. He's been a fixture in Minnesota for a reason, to which one can add a 2.19 career postseason ERA prior to his poor outing against the Yanks this year, and the fact that he hasn't walked more than 28 men in a season since 2000 despite surpassing 200 innings three times in that span. Radke and Mussina would make a fantastic pair of veteran starters to anchor a rotation fleshed out by quality youngsters like Vazquez (28), Perez (27) and the underrated Clement (30). By the way, old-man Radke is only 32. Huzzah!

Things are much simpler in the bullpen. QuanGorMo will be back, hopefully with a full season of an effective and injury free Steve Karsay backing them up (not to mention and healthy and effective Paul Quantrill, we shall see on both counts). Karsay's presence should take a significant amount of the burden off the other three. Sixty innings from Karsay--who threw 88 in both 2001 and 2000--would take 20 innings away from each of the Big Three, bringing them each down to a reasonable 60-70 innings.

That leaves two spots, one for a lefty and one for a long-man. There's really only one lefty set-up man on the market worth mentioning, that's Steve Kline. For the long-man/spot starter spot I think the Yankees should go with Brad Halsey. This team needs to develop its young pitchers and the Earl Weaver method of giving a young starter a year in the pen is one proven way to do that. Halsey, who turns 24 in February, is the Yankees best candidate for this sort of thing and has the minor league K/BB ratio (3.29) that suggest he could be another Ted Lilly. For those not paying attention, Lilly, who had a minor league K/BB ratio of 3.36, was tenth among pitchers in the AL in VORP this year. K/BB ratio being the stat sabermatricians consider the best predictor of future success in minor league pitchers. Added advantage: like Lilly he's a lefty. He also had an extreme split during his eight game stint with the Yankees this year, which could make him an effective second LOOGY when needed (such as against the Ortiz/Nixon Red Sox).

Oh, and for some insurance I'd then offer minor league contracts to El Duque and Tanyon Sturtze.

And there you have it: The Official 2005 BRB Dream Team.

posted by Cliff at 1:34 PM

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Official 2005 BRB Dream Team, part 1: Bats and Gloves 

I created the Official BRB Dream Team last year so that loyal BRB readers would know up-front how I think the Yankees should improve their team during the offseason. Before they make a single trade or sign a single free agent, I want you all to know what I think they should do and whom I think they should go after. For full accountablility, I'll keep my Dream Team roster posted on the side-bar until the real 2005 team takes shape, and I'll provide a link to the two posts that explain my reasons behind each selection. This is the first of those two posts and will concern the starting line-up and bench. Tomorrow (hopefully), I'll discuss the pitching staff.

On with it . . .

1B: To begin with, for better or worse, the Yankees are stuck with Jason Giambi. Giambi is signed through 2008, will earn $15.5 million in 2005, and an average of $20.5 million in 2006-2008. The Yankees have a $22/$5 million team option for 2009, which will be Giambi's age-38 season. This is not pretty. However, Giambi, who over the past two seasons has struggled with a staph infection in his eyes, a blown out left knee, a twisted ankle, an intestinal parasite, and a benign tumor (did I miss anything?), was given a clean bill of health by his doctors at the end of last season. That he was unable to contribute down the stretch and in the playoffs was as much the result of poor timing and Joe Torre's inexplicable refusal to play him (he started just nine of eighteen games after being activated on September 14) as it was his various health problems.

Looking back on 2004, we must assume that Giambi was never at 100 percent because of the tumor. With that in mind, the fact that he hit .310/.385/.638 in May should comfort Yankee fans who fear that Giambi is washed up. That torrid May ended a week early when Jason twisted his ankle rounding first in Texas. As he was also suffering from hip and back problems at the time of the injury (okay, so I did leave something out) he was placed on the DL to rest all of the above. That was basically it for his season. When he returned to the team in early June he contracted the parasite and hit .162 until he was returned to the disabled list in late July, at which point the tumor was discovered.

Looking ahead, I would say that the worst case scenario for Giambi in 2005 is Tony Clark with a much better OBP (in a nearly identical number of at-bats last season, Clark hit .221 with a .297 OBP while Giambi hit .208 with a .342 OBP). Monster contract aside, that would be so terrible as long as he has a platoon partner (which I'll get to in a moment). As for best-case scenario, well Giambi could still make a full return to his .300/.400/.550-plus glory, but even if he were only able to repeat his "disappointing" 2003 season, .250/.412/.527 is still mighty fine production (.317 GPA, yeah, that'll do).

Clearly the Yankees need to sign a player who can not only back up Giambi at first, but who would not create a gaping hole in their offense should Giambi's heath problems continue. At the same time, this team is not in the market for a premier free agent at first base, thus eliminating Carlos Delgado and Richie Sexson from the conversation. With all of that in mind, I think the Yankees should make an attempt to sign Troy Glaus.

Now, I imagine the immediate reaction most of you just had was either "Troy Glaus isn't a first baseman" or "Troy Glaus is a premier free agent." I'm not sure I agree on either point, and the reason is the same in both cases: the torn rotater cuff and frayed labrum in his throwing shoulder that landed Glaus on the DL in May, causing him to miss most of the 2004 season after robbing him of two months of the 2003 season.

After being activated in late August, Glaus didn't play a single inning in the field in any of the 32 games in which he played through the end of the regular season and ALDS. This leads me to believe that any team interested in signing Glaus as a third baseman is extremely misguided. If logic prevails (admittedly a huge if), his stock will drop as National League teams will loose interest and American League teams will be forced to judge him exclusively as a hitter, at which point they might realize that prior to his abbreviated 2004 season he hadn't slugged higher than .464 since 2001. Others will notice that he hit just .209/.324/.477 last September. Less clever teams will see him as a career .253 hitter. Meanwhile, the Yankees can swoop in and offer him a one or two year make-good deal and land themselves a 28-year-old slugger with an impressive post-season track record (.347/.427/.820 in 19 games) whose career OBP is more than 100 points higher than his career batting average.

The advantages here are many. First off, Glaus is a righty, so if both he and Giambi need significant time off, they will fall into a natural platoon. Secondly, although he's never played an inning at first base in the major leagues, Glaus had a pair of seasons in which he was a superlative third baseman and even played ten errorless games at shortstop with the Angels, all of which suggests that he could easily make the transition to first. There's even a chance that he could become a superior defensive first baseman much like Albert Pujols, another young slugger who was moved to first after being limited by injuries to his throwing arm. Then there's always the outside chance that he will be able to return to third, which could be huge if the Yankees fail to sign Carlos Beltran. A 2006 defense that features Glaus at third, Alex Rodriguez at short and Derek Jeter in centerfield (his natural position if you ask me) would be a mighty fine site in the Bronx, especially when one considers the fact that Jeter is the oldest of the three.

Of course, I don't expect the Yankees to sign Glaus. The prevailing rumor right now has them bringing back Tino Martinez to back-up Giambi. Condsidering the fact that the other alternatives out there are Travis Lee, the ghost of John Olerud, Brad Fullmer's blown knee and a collection of even less desirable leftovers and senior citizens, I would happily welcome Tino back to the Bronx, provided he takes a significant pay cut from the $7.5 million he made in Tampa this year. One condition: Ruben Sierra (whom I, unfortunately, expect will be re-signed) needs to give Tino Rickey Henderson's number back.

2B: Miguel Cairo had a career year in 2004 (he had similar rate stats in 2001, but in 204 fewer at-bats). That made him good enough to be the Yankees' starting second baseman regardless of the fact that all that was standing between him and the job was the appalling Enrique Wilson. He also has a strong career postseason record (.328/.414/.459) and was the only Yankee other than Derek Jeter to hit better in Games 4-7 of the ALCS than Games 1-3. However, one has to expect some regression from the 30-year-old Cairo in 2005, even if he does credit Don Mattingly with reinventing his swing. As he was basically league average in 2004 (.260 GPA), any regression would make his presence in the starting line-up unacceptable. Thus the Yankees need a real second baseman to push Cairo (whom I fully expect will be re-signed, a move of which I approve) into the utility infielder role.

The best second baseman on the market is Jeff Kent. A notorious clubhouse cancer (to the degree that his bad rep may keep him out of the Hall of Fame), Kent turn 37 during spring training. Though it should be noted that he's a much better defensive second basman than he's generally given credit for, and easily better in the field than Cairo, I don't feel that the Yankees should waste their money on Kent when they have bigger (and younger) fish to fry on the pitching staff and in center field. Rather, I suggest they go after the vastly underrated Placido Polanco.

The 29-year-old Polanco hits like Todd Walker (about .290/.340/.440) without the need for a platoon partner and fields like the good version of Bret Boone, if not better. After Kent, Polanco is the best second baseman on the market across the board, as well as the youngest. He also made half as much as Kent in 2004 (just under $4 million). To me, this one is a no-brainer.

SS, 3B, C, RF, LF: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui.

CF: Carlos Beltran, obviously. It's unreal how good this guy is. I'm hoping I can save explaining exactly how good until the Yankees sign him, though I'm not as confident as the mainstream media seems to be of that eventuality. One back-up plan circulating right now has Andruw Jones coming over in a deal that sends Kevin Brown to Atlanta and leaves most of his contract in the Bronx. Jones is exactly one day older than Beltran and one hell of a back-up plan if there's any shred of truth to those rumors [update: no truth to those rumors, Shuerholtz isn't that stupid]. I'd much prefer Beltran, but certainly wouldn't mind Jones. Meanwhile, I'll keep watching Derek Jeter make Randy Moss catches in shallow left and imagine what could have been . . .

As for Bernie Williams, he'll be making $12 million in this final year of his contract in 2005 while the Yankees hold a $15/$3.5 million option for 2006. What that means is that 2005 is essentially his last chance to go all Paul Molitor in the Bronx, a fact that he's acknowledged to the press. Quothe Bernie:
"Obviously, it would be an understatement to say this is going to be a huge year for me. It doesn't matter what I've done in the past. My future in the organization is going to depend on what I do this year."
Surprisingly, he's also expressed the desire to play well beyond his Yankee contract (I had always assumed Bernie could take or leave baseball once his skills started to decline). That suggests that unless Bernie comes up big as the Yankees' DH in 2005, we could all be treated to the disconcerting sight of Bernie Williams in another team's uniform in 2006. Enjoy his spinning pop-up slides, unerring batting eye and babyface while they're still around, Yankee fans.

DH: Some combo of Bernie, Glaus and Giambi as per the above.

Bench: We've already placed Miguel Cairo here, finally banishing Enrique Wilson to the particular circle of hell reserved for men who can't hit their weight yet complain about playing time. We'll also have the least productive or least healthy member of the Williams/Giambi/(insert alternate first sacker) trio. That leaves three spots, one of which has to be used on a back-up catcher.

I say enough with John Flaherty. Flaherty's two seasons with the Yankees have been almost identical. In 105 and 127 at-bats respectively he has hit .267/.297/.457 and .252/.286/.465. The slugging numbers are by far his career bests while the on-base figures are an exact match with his career average. The Yankees can do better than a 37-year-old with a sub .300 career OBP who has never had a OPS+ above league average. How much better? How about a 34-year-old who has more than 600 fewer games behind the plate on his odometer and has been better than league average three times in his career, including last year when he hit .281/.368/.525. Sound good? Well come on down, Doug Mirabelli! Now, Mirabelli's 2004 campaign was likely a fluke career year, but the good news is that it wasn't Fenway assisted (.293/.363/.531 with two thirds of his homers on the road). Mirabelli has power and a career .331 OBP as well as 12 games worth of post-season experience (in which he's hit an empty .294, which is still better than Flaherty, who has never reached base in the postseason). As an added bonus, signing Mirabelli would rob the Red Sox of their designated knuckleball catcher, which could make Tim Wakefield's starts very entertaining for those outside of New England next year.

So we've got an infielder, a back-up catcher and some sort of 1B/DH/Bernie creature. It would serve this team well to sign a back-up outfielder. Trolling the list of available free agents, John Mabry stands out as a guy who can hit in a limited role and play all four corner outfield and infield positions. A lefty, Mabry hit left-handers just fine with the Cardinals after (at least) two years of not being allowed to face them. I would prefer the Yankees lefty bench bat to have more power (thus I came real close to going back to the well with Ruben Sierra, who has come up with some huge hits for the Yankees over the past two regular and postseasons), but Mabry is actually useful in the field, capable of getting on base a third of the time he comes to bat, and is a full five years younger. Done deal.

The final spot on the bench should be filled by Andy Phillips who can play every infield position except shortstop and hit .318/.388/.569 with 26 homers in 434 bats with the Clippers last year after being selected as the Yankees' Minor League Player of the Year in 2002 (he lost most of 2003 to injury). A strong performance by Phillips, who singled and homered in eight at-bats with the big club in September, could make the Yankees' back-up first-baseman expendable come the trading deadline. He could also fill the Glaus role in the afore mentioned Glaus-3B/Rodriguez-SS/Jeter-CF Beltran back-up plan. And if the Yankees fail to pick up Placido Polanco, he could even wind up beating out Miguel Cairo for the back-up second base job. Phillips turns 28 in April, so it's now or never for him. Time for the Yankees to pull the trigger.

Together Mabry and Phillips would give the Yankees a righty and a lefty both of whom can hit and play a minimum of three different positions. Compare that to this year's bench, which featured the incredibly redundant Tony Clark and Ruben Sierra (both switch-hitters who were significantly better batting lefty and away from Yankee Stadium, Clark hit .221/.297/.458 to Sierra's .244/.296/.456), who essentially played one position between them (Sierra is an outfielder only by force of habit at this point). Add to those two another lefty outfielder of questionable defensive merit with a severe split (Kenny Lofton, who has one foot out the door already), and Enrique Wilson's .196 GPA (.213/.254/.325) and the room for improvement on the bench is downright staggering. Indeed, a lot was made during the playoffs over the fact that the Yankees monstrous payroll was unable to buy them any worthwhile bench players, but the issue wasn't cost, it was selection. Looking at Cairo, Mabry, Mirabelli and Phillips, not one of them made a million dollars in salary last year.

posted by Cliff at 1:17 PM

Catching Up 

Alright. It's been more than a week since the election, more than two weeks since the end of the baseball season, and more than three weeks since the Yankees' last game of 2004, so let's get this party started right.

To begin with, here's what's happened since my last baseball post:

The Yankees declined Travis Lee's $3 million option for 2005, buying out the remainder of his contract for $250,000. A no brainer.

They also declined Paul Quantrill's $3.6 million option for 2006, another smart move. Quantrill's contract was structured so that the Yankees would have to decide on the 2006 option prior to the 2005 season. Considering Q's late-season struggles, tweaky knee, and rapidly spinning odometer, it makes sense not to commit to him for his age 37 season. Quantrill gets a $400,000 buyout for '06. He'll make $3 in 2005.

The final option decision the team had to make concerned Jon Lieber's $8 million/$250,000 team option for 2005. This was a tougher call as Lieber was the team's second best starter down the stretch and in the playoffs and seemed to have the Red Sox's number in September and October. The Yankees opted to buy out Lieber, leaving themselves open to the possibility of resigning him to a multi-year deal at a lower annual salary. Considering the glut of number two and three starters on the free agent market this offseason, most of whom are younger than Lieber (who will turn 35 in early April), I have to agree with this move as well.

Meanwhile, there's been much ado about Joe Torre's coaching staff. As you know, Willie Randolph was finally given a managerial job after eleven seasons as a Yankee coach and countless interviews. He'll be helming the cross-town Mets and will attempt, along with new GM and fellow New Yorker Omar Minaya, to inject new live into that moribund franchise. I couldn't be more happy for Randolph, who not only got a managing job, but one with a local team with money to spend and young talent like David Wright and Jose Reyes that just happens to be Willie's favorite team from childhood.

That of course frees up the bench coach position, one I'd long hoped would be filled by former Yankee catcher and YES broadcaster Joe Girardi. Amazingly, Girardi will indeed be the man at Joe Torre's side in 2005. Adding Girardi also allows the Yankees to replace two men (Randolph and catching instructor Gary Tuck, who resigned after the ALCS) with one. Meanwhile, despite some reports to the contrary, both Mel Stottlemyre and Don Mattingly will return as the pitching and hitting coaches respectively. Stottlemyre, who has been threatening retirement for several years now, has said that 2005 will absolutely be his final year.

Perhaps in preparation for the departure of Stottlemyre in 2006, the Yankees are expected to replace bullpen coach Rich Monteleone with Columbus Clippers pitching coach Neil Allen (who was the primary candidate to replace Stottlemyre had he not decided to return). The addition of Allen has not been announced yet, but it's one I'm greatly in favor of. To begin with, his 2004 staff at Columbus was filled with success stories (Colter Bean, Brad Halsey, Alex Graman, Juan Padilla, Scott Proctor, Sam Marsonek, Chien-Ming Wang). The problem was that none of them were either able to (Graman/Proctor) or given a legitimate chance to (Bean/Halsey/Padilla) make an impact in the majors. Hopefully with Allen on Torre's staff these pitchers (especially Bean and Halsey) will be shown more respect in the Bronx, which could only be to the Yankees benefit.

In other news, Derek Jeter won his first Gold Glove, being selected as the best defensive shortstop in the American League for 2004. This is clearly a poor selection as Carlos Guillen and Miguel Tejada (both of whom also had better offensive seasons than Jeter), Cristian Guzman, Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby and the perennially underrated Jose Valentin were all better than Jeter in the field this year. That said, there have been worse Gold Glove selections (Rafael Palmeiro and his 28 games at first base over Tino Martinez in 1999 instantly springs to mind), and Jeter has been denied more significant awards that he has actually deserved (specifically the 1999 AL MVP--what was it with the voters in 1999 anyway?). That's not to say that past mistakes justify future ones. Rather, anyone upset over Jeter's selection should remember that Gold Gloves awards are usually based on little other than reputation. Be glad that, at the very least, Jeter's came in the one season in which he was not only within hailing distance of average in the field for the first time, but actually a hair above it.

Now that we're up to date, I'll start cutting wood for the hot stove. Hopefully I'll have a post up later today or tonight announcing the 2005 BRB Dream Team.

And awaaaaay we go!

posted by Cliff at 10:22 AM

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