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March 16, 2006

Looking Ahead to 2006 - The Lefty Relievers
by SG

Wayne Franklin. Wayne Freakin' Franklin. The mere thought of his name conjures up the memories of perhaps Joe Torre's worst decision of last season, where he brough in Franklin to blow a 1-0 lead in a 2-1 loss in Texas.

It's been nine months, and I'm still aggravated.

Over the last few years the Yankees have cycled through a comical procession of horrendous pitchers whose only asset was that they wore their baseball glove on their right hand. Gabe White, Felix "The Run Fairy" Heredia, Mike Stanton after he was infected with Mets stench, Buddy Groom, Alex Graman, Darrell May, Donovan Osborne, C.J. Nitkowski, Jesse Orosco, and Sterling Hitchcock, among others.

With this in mind, the Yankees chose to bring in two lefties to shore up a bullpen that's been very top heavy over the last two years.

Their first move was to sign lefty reliever Mike Myers away from the Boston Red Sox, for two years and $2.4 million. Myers is the prototypical LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY. He throw assorted slop from a funky delivery somewhere between sidearm and underhanded. This makes his delivery very deceptive for lefties, but gives righties a very nice clear look at his pitches, and the result is not pretty.

I ran through these numbers back in December, but here they are again.

Vs. L: .158/.198/.211
Vs. R: .385/.510/.641

Vs. L: .208/.278/.318
Vs. R: .331/.450/.509

Total from 2002-2005
Vs. L: .195/.261/.290
Vs. R: .341/.464/.534

A quick graphical comparison of Myers's OPS against by lefties and righties confirms this, and shows that the gap is growing.

There is some good news on this front, according to this article from the Star Ledger.

Mike Myers worked in the bullpen yesterday on changes to his delivery to see if he can be more effective against right-handed hitters. In 2004-2005, Myers -- a lefty sidearmer -- held lefties to a .197 average but had right-handers hit .360 against him.

To try to combat that, Myers will experiment with moving from the first-base side of the rubber to the third-base side when facing righties, and also to make his stride shorter and less closed. The goal is more movement on his pitches.

It's worth a shot Mike. Whatever you're doing now isn't working.

Projecting someone like Myers based on their innings and contribution to run differential is not very useful in my opinion. He is a strategic option, used to neutralize another team's lefties. Basically, if he can get someone like Travis Hafner or Eric Chavez out a few times, he probably earns his keep. Regardless, here are his projections.

For a reliever like Myers, his ERA is basically useless. He has averaged 2.7 batters faced per appearance over his career. He will often be coming in with other pitchers' runners on, and often leaving with his own runners on, meaning his actual value to the team could be misconstrued if you just look at his ERA.

All I care about with Myers is that he continues to hold lefties to an OPS in the .551 range. And get David Ortiz out every time he faces him.

The other lefty that was imported was New Jersey native and long-time Yankee fan Ron Villone. I won't hold his being from Jersey against him, yet. Villone talked about his time growing up as a Yankee fan in this interview.

Villone's scouting report from 2005:

Villone's stuff is considered average, though his cut fastball gave lefthanded batters a lot of trouble in 2004. Villone also uses a changeup and a hard slider. The Mariners liked Villone's fearless approach to pitching. He goes after people and isn't afraid to go inside, even to righthanders, which also can get him in trouble. He's an average fielder who does a good job of controlling the running game. He has three pickoffs in each of the past two years

Villone is a versatile pitcher who has started, relieved, and closed. He's fairly durable, having pitched an average of 111 innings from 1999 through 2005. He's not great, but he doesn't have to be. He's replacing Wayne Franklin and Darrell May. Villone's biggest problem throughout his career has been his control. In 2004 and 2005 he's walked 4.9 per nine innings.

As you would expect from a lefty, Villone has had better success against lefties than righties over the last three years.

Vs. L: .227/.324/.330
Vs. R: .238/.340/.399

Villone's projections aren't overwhelming, but they are in line with his career.

Villone and Myers project to give the Yankees around 114 innings and 33 pitching runs created. The combination of Alex Graman, Mike Stanton, Wayne Franklin, Buddy Groom, Felix Rodriguez, Darrell May, Alan Embree, and Steve Karsay provided 113 innings and 24 pitching runs created, so this looks like a one win upgrade relative to last year.

The next lefty on the depth chart is probably Matt Smith. Smith's gotten a fair amount of work this spring and has looked pretty good for the most part. He'll most likely start the year in Columbus and could get the call if Myers or Villone is either hurt or ineffective. Smith was a mediocre starting prospect moved to relief last year, and has a fastball around 90 mph and a good slider, but his control still needs work.

Spring Training Update
Mike Mussina was very impressive against St. Louis yesterday, throwing 5 easy innings, 78 pitches, 60 of them for strikes. He walked one and fanned eight, as the Yankees killed Houston 11-1

News is that Aaron Small will begin the season on the DL, which is not a big deal in and of itself, until you realize that it means that Scott Erickson may make this team, and Jaret Wright is closer to having to start a game. Hopefully Small's hamstring strain is minor and he can come back before Erickson or Wright can do any damage.

Kevin Thompson went 4-5, with 2 2B and is hitting .469 on the spring. Bubba Crosby has to be hearing footsteps, although if the Yankees start the season with 11 pitchers they can probably carry both Thompson and Crosby. The NY Post thinks that the Yankees would be best off carrying either a backup infielder or third catcher.

Yeah, you need two backup infielders for all those times you bench or pinch-hit for Rodriguez, Jeter, and Cano, right?

Robinson Cano had another great game, going 3 for 4 with a hard 2B. Every time Cano succeeds, it's a victory for fat people everywhere. Cano has a fan in fellow fat person John Kruk, who predicted three batting titles for Cano. I'm really excited about his potential after watching him this spring.

The diagnosis is in, and Johnny Damon has shoulder tendinitis.
"This is something that should calm down and should be able to get out of the way in time for our season to start based on what I have been told by Dr. Yocum," Cashman said.