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January 12, 2005

Bernie, Jaret, and Carl
by SG

The Yankees not getting Carlos Beltran was obviously a surprise to most. In a Newsday article titled They wanted arms first, Beltran second, there is some explanation as to why the Yankees felt Beltran was not a fit.

In the eleventh-hour negotiations between the Mets and Astros for Carlos Beltran last Saturday, the Yankees were offered the free-agent outfielder for $99 million over six years, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman confirmed yesterday, but declined because the team was not in a position to shell out more money given its commitment to retool its pitching.

I do not disagree that the Yankees needed to strengthen their pitching staff. However, paying $10 million a year to Carl Pavano and $7 million a year to Jaret Wright were probably not the optimum way to go about it.

I'll look at the Wright signing first. For an additional $1 million a year, they could have signed Matt Clement or Odalis Perez instead of Wright. Wright had a very good year last year, but it was so far out of line with what he had done in the past, that it is extremely risky to expect him to repeat it again, especially for three years. The Braves offered Wright 2 years, $4 million, and they would know better than anyone how much Wright might be worth. I will grant that Wright has talent, and that he may have finally put it together last year, but combine his various injury problems with his lackluster results, and he is a signficant risk.

The other pitching acquisition which I'm not as down on is Carl Pavano. I do think the Yankees overpaid, and I do agree that he has been an average pitcher until 2004. However, pitchers often reinvent themselves, by learning a new pitch, or by better coaching, or whatever. Pavano was such a highly rated prospect that he was once the key chip in the Boston trade for Pedro Martinez. If you look at his minor league statistics, he combined good control (2.28 BB/9 innings) with a solid strikeout rate (7.85/9 innings). In the majors, he's managed to improve his control every year since 2001.

In 2001, he walked 3.4 men every 9 innings.

In 2002, he walked 3.0 men every 9 innings.

In 2003, he walked 2.2 men every 9 innings.

In 2004, he walked 2.0 men every 9 innings.

ESPN's scouting report from Stats Inc. describes Pavano thusly:

Velocity no longer is the thing with Pavano, who is far wiser after several surgeries on his throwing arm. He features a 91-94 MPH fastball that he can locate to all four quadrants of the strike zone. He complements the fastball with a tight slider and has a split and a change to keep lefties honest. Pavano's biggest strength is his ability to throw any of those four pitches for strikes in any count. Surprisingly, considering the false starts of his early career, Pavano has become one of the more durable and reliable pitchers in the game.

There are legitimate concerns about Pavano. His strikeout rate last season was a pedestrian 5.63K/9 innings. His career rate of 5.92 is also unimpressive. There is also the fact that he pitched half his games in a pitcher's park

A 1.000 is a league average park factor. Any thing below 1.000 would favor the pitchers, any thing greater would favor the hitters.

R: 0.898
HR: 0.987
H: 0.951
2B: 0.930
3B: 1.025
BB: 1.058

So Pro Player boosts 3B and BB, but lowers everything else, which is a legitimate concern.

What's interesting about that though, is Pavano's Home/Away splits last year:


Home 388 106 23 3 8 39 23 7 69 10 4 .273 .325 .410 .734
Away 450 106 23 2 8 33 26 4 70 6 1 .236 .282 .349 .630


Home 3.20 3.55 6 6 14 14 101.1 106 40 36 8 23 69
Away 2.83 2.98 12 2 17 17 121.0 106 40 38 8 26 70

He has pitched better at home than on the road if you look at his last three years, but in his best season he did not get any significant advantage from his ballpark. Also, many times a pitcher will give up a large amount of unearned runs which may give a false indication of his effectiveness, but this was not the case with Pavano last season.

His HR rate is good, but not great. He will also be leaving the National League for the American League and the DH, which will hurt him.

Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projection puts Pavano at 13-11 this year, with a 4.36 ERA. To me, that's the worst case scenario that last year was a blip and he reverts back to career form. If he did in fact figure something out last year, I could see him being closer to his 2004 numbers, with a league and ballpark adjustment. He also brings relative youth to the staff, as he will be 29 next season.

If you think of Pavano as a younger version of Jon Lieber, with good control and lackluster K #s, it's not such a terrible signing, and I think he will be solid as a third starter for this team.

So the question remains, who'll play CF? I think it's clear that it will be Bernie, because if the Yankees felt Bernie was a problem, they would've gone after Beltran. I would like to see them make a move, but I don't know that there's a fit out there anywhere. They do have an extra arm in the bullpen, and could try to flip someone like Gordon or Felix Rodriguez for a CF, but I don't think they would be able to get anyone of quality for just one reliever.