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January 31, 2007

Boston Herald: Yankees ask Cabrera to skip Caribbean World Series
by SG

Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera will skip the Caribbean World Series at the team’s request so he can rest up for next season.
Cabrera played the last part of the winter league season in the Dominican Republic and participated in the playoffs, said Mark Newman, the Yankees’ senior vice president of baseball operations.
”We’ve asked that he shut it down at this point. It’s been a long year for him,” Newman said Tuesday on a conference call to discuss the team’s top prospects. ”We thought he needed some rest.”

Rest? When I was Cabrera's age I didn't need any rest.

It's a slow news time, with what looks to be a set roster and spring training slowly approaching while we all eagerly await Fabian's Wayne Franklin writeup.

I'll probably start my player previews over the next week or so. A reader sent me a question that might be good topic for discussion so I'm going to throw it out there and invite everyone to provide their opinions if they feel like it.

As you know, many sports teams are owned by corporations – AOL owns the Braves, News Corp owns the Dodgers, Cablevision owns the Lakers… Well, if they’re going to go to the trouble of owning them, why not bank on them? Instead of naming the team after the city, name them after the corporation. Or even if they are personally owned, they could sell the name of the team to the corporation. For example, instead of the Boston Red Sox there would be the Tampax Red Sox… What do you think?

Tampax Red Sox. Sounds good to me.

January 29, 2007 - Torre wants to give Bernie a chance
by SG

Yankees manager Joe Torre has told GM Brian Cashman that he'd like to give Bernie Williams a shot at making the team, according to a source close to Williams.

However, the Yankees' 40-man roster is full, and there appears little opportunity for Williams to contribute.

What are the odds that if Bernie gets a shot at making the team from Joe Torre, he doesn't make it? Please Brian Cashman, hold firm.

In some non-Yankee news, since a lot of Yankee fans seem to be overly concerned about Boston possibly picking up Todd Helton, I ran some more Diamond Mind simulations, swapping out Todd Helton for Mike Lowell and moving Kevin Youkilis to third base. This ended up being about a fairly decent offensive upgrade, but a five run or so defensive downgrade, and nets them out out as one whole win better in 2007. These are over 100 trials with the latest rosters using CHONE.

DIV and WC are division titles and wild cards over 100 trials respectively. StD W, RF, and RA are the ranges for wins, runs for, and runs against within one standard deviation of the mean.

This doesn't mean Helton can't outperform his projections with better health this season, or that Lowell doesn't underperform his which makes the difference more stark, but any Yankee fan panicking about Boston getting Helton is overreacting.

Update: Out of curiosity I decided to look at the Helton/Lowell swap numerically. Using their PECOTA offensive projections, here's how Lowell, Helton, and Youkilis project for 2007, in terms of batting runs above average by linear weights (not position adjusted).

Helton 33
Lowell 7
Youkilis 23

We have to park-adjust the batting runs accordingly. For Colorado the 3 year weighted average for runs is 1.24, for Fenway it's 1.04. So adjusting these we get these new values.

Helton 26
Lowell 7
Youkilis 22

Defensively, here's how they project using a weighted average of their zone ratings plus aging/regression.

Helton 1
Lowell 4
Youkilis -1 (at either 1B or 3B)

So combination 1 of Lowell at 3B and Youkilis at 1B combines for 29 runs of offense and 3 runs of defense above average, a total of +32.

Combination 2 of Youkilis at 3B and Helton at 1B gives 48 runs of offense and 0 runs of defense, or a total of +48.

So it's a 16 run net upgrade overall, or a win and a half. Not much different than the simulations.

January 26, 2007

More on Clutchness
by SG

I still don't know if clutchness is a real word, but anyway...

By request, I ran the 2004-2006 clutch numbers that I ran for Alex Rodriguez a few days ago for the motley crew of Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, and some person named Ortiz David or something. I did see the requests for Mauer, Morneau, and Vlad Guerrero and will try and get to them next week.

I won't clutter up the blog with all the numbers, so you can go to this Google Spreadsheet link for the gory details. I'm just going to post the wOBA in the various situations I'm looking at here.

First up, let's look at the splits for these guys when their team is trailing, tied, or leading, compared to their base wOBA. Remember, wOBA scales to OBP. I split out 2006 for Jeter only due to time constraints.

Albert Pujols is clutch-defined. According to the data I'm looking at, Pujols had 629 plate appearances over the last three seasons where his team was trailing and hit .366/.429/.698 for an OPS of 1.127 and a wOBA of .466.

It's interesting to see that Jeter and Ortiz both do better when their team is trailing, which lends credence to their clutch reputations.

And here's how they do by inning.

Lastly, let's look at the situations that I'm defining as the plate appearances where their team needs them the most, tied or trailing by 1-3 runs in the 7th inning or later(including extra innings).

Hideki's more clutch than Ortiz! Not really, wOBA doesn't include intentional walks or changes in win expectancy. It assumes average run values of all the offensive events. It's pretty obvious that Ortiz's production has helped his team win more games than they would have been expected to. You can also certainly quibble with the criteria that I've defined as clutch.

Anyway, I don't know that any of this is predictive. Research says it's probably not, but the fact is that by the time the players we would be trying to predict accrued enough plate appearances in these situations to show that it can be predicted, it'd be too late to make much use of it.

This all gets back to the clutch hitter, and whether or not he exists. He may, or he may not, but clutch situations definitely exist. You can look at the great work done by Tango Tiger on Leverage to see that.

January 24, 2007

by Fabian

Jose Tabata, 18, RF
Previously Ranked: 4th prior to 2006
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 2nd, Baseball America 2nd, John Sickels 2nd(B+)

Physical Ability: Jose Tabata is an extremely young, extremely gifted teenager in the Yankee farm system. He possesses solid or better tools across the board and it is this broad base of tools that make him an exciting prospect. While his American debut gave the impression that he was/is a speedster, Tabata has lost some of that ability due to weight gain. How well he is able to keep his weight under control may be the determining factor in how far he goes as a big leaguer. At present, Tabata still possesses solid speed and is surprisingly adept at picking his spots on the bases. Unlike many young hitters, Tabata does not struggle to get on base as he both hits for average and controls the strike zone. Tabata is a good hitter for average due to level stroke and consistently getting good wood on the ball. While he projects to hit for power in the 30+ home run range, Tabata has only tapped into a bit of that raw ability. Defensively, Tabata has played all three OF positions to this point of his career. He projects as a solid or better defender in either OF corner.

What Happened in ’06: Tabata began the year playing for the Charleston Riverdogs of the South Atlantic League. Through the July 4th weekend his performance was excellent as he had posted an OPS of .824 while making consistent adjustments and improvements at the plate. It was around this time where he began to suffer through a series of hand injuries that would derail his season. The Yankees tried a DL stay as well as some good old fashioned time off, but neither was effective in curing what ailed their top offensive prospect. Tabata would cap his year by playing in the Venezuelan Winter League. While he was initially a bench player, Tabata’s offensive performance forced his coaching staff’s hand and he took hold of a starting spot. Unfortunately, it was then that his was derailed by a wrist injury.

What Lies Ahead: Normally, I’m afraid of what going to the Florida State League will do to an offensive prospect’s numbers, but in the case of Tabata, I’m fairly confident he will have a representative season. He does not put the ball in the air that much and did a good job dealing with an adverse offensive environment in Charleston, so that bodes well.

Grade: At the moment, there are two flaws in Tabata’s prospect profile. The first is his weight, the second is injury history. In regards to the former, Tabata came into the year overweight and while he worked his way into shape as the season progressed he was still wider than you’d like a top hitting prospect to be at his age. So, that’s going to be a concern until it can be established that last offseason’s weight gain was a fluke. His build is also going to be a contributor to this problem as well as inflating the issue. The second concern is injuries. Over the past few months, Tabata has battled some hand and wrist issues, which are particularly troublesome. They have a tendency to sap power and it appears that that may have occurred in Tabata’s case. The Yankees are once again claiming Tabata is fully recovered, so hopefully that is a thing of the past. If you’re looking for or find any other legitimate flaws, you’re probably looking too hard. If things work out, Jose has a chance to be a Kevin Mitchell/Bobby Abreu type and if everything goes right, he may just be Manny Ramirez. A-

Humberto Sanchez #3

NY Times: Williams Not Willing to Give Up Pinstripes
by SG

There is no spot on the Yankees’ roster for Bernie Williams, who is uncomfortable as a free agent after 16 seasons in New York. Williams does not want to retire, yet he does not want to leave the Yankees.

Jorge Posada, who received an award at the Baseball Assistance Team dinner in Manhattan last night, said he has kept in close touch with Williams this winter. Apparently, retirement is not an option.

“He’s not even talking about that,” Posada said. “He said he wants to play one more year.”

Posada said Williams, 38, has told him that other teams have called. But with the start of spring training less than three weeks away, Williams has resisted.

I feel a little for Bernie here. It can't be easy to be facing the end of your career. If I were him, I'd want to keep playing forever. It's possible that he could be an asset in an extremely limited role that keeps him off the field, but with the current personnel on the team it'd be a waste of a roster spot, and with Joe Torre around, it's unlikely his role would be limited enough to not hurt the team somewhat. It's also a potential harm to Melky Cabrera's development.

If Bernie is really done as a Yankee, it closes another small part of what's been a great time to be a Yankee fan. Try not to just think of the guy whose knee injury in 2003 brought a great career to a swifter than expected decline. Also think of the guy who put up OPS+s of 130,148,159, 157, and 136 from ages 27-31 while helping the Yankees win four World Series in five seasons.

I'll get to the rest of the clutchness stuff over the next few days. I'll run the numbers for 2004-2006 for David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, and Derek Jeter. If you have anyone else in mind, post it in the comments.

January 23, 2007

Alex Rodriguez and His Clutchness (or Lack Thereof)
by SG

For as long as Alex Rodriguez has been and will be a Yankee, the question about his "clutchness" or lack thereof has been coming up and will likely keep coming up. Thanks to the great book Baseball Hacks, and the wonderful organization, I've been able to create a play by play database on my computer that can let me look at data that was previously almost impossible to look at in any reasonable time frame.

Today I'm going to use that data to try and break down Alex Rodriguez's performance as a Yankee in certain situations. As a caveat, we're dealing with very small sample sizes in many of these situations, so keep that in mind.

The first myth I'd like to deal with is that Rodriguez's production always comes when the Yankees are already ahead. Thanks to the play by play data, that's easy enough to verify. This chart breaks down Rodriguez's production based on the deficit the Yankees were facing at the time of his plate appearances. A negative deficit indicates the Yankees were trailing by that many runs, a positive number means they were leading by that many. In addition to the well-known stats like AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS, I've added Weighted On Base Average (wOBA), which does a better job of weighing the components of an offensive player's performances relative to their value in run-scoring. wOBA was devised by Tango Tiger, Andy Dolphin, and MGL in The Book, and scales very closely to OBP, ie: .300 is not so good, .400 is pretty good, .500 is outstanding. (click on any of the images below to enlarge them)

So Rodriguez has batted 730 times with the Yankees trailing, and he's hit .301/.395/.553 for a wOBA of .408. He's batted 776 times with the Yankees ahead and has hit .321/.402/.562 with a wOBA of .415. That's a slight difference, but hardly the chasm the media and many fans would have you believe exists.

But what about the myth that Rodriguez does all his damage early in the game, when it supposedly doesn't count?

Here's a graphical representation of that chart, plotting Rodriguez's wOBA by inning.

There's a bit more of a split here, as he's hit .303/.403/.560 for a wOBA of .414 in innings 1-6, and .297/.377/.536 for a wOBA of .392, but again not nearly the split that you'd think given his coverage in the press. You can use wOBA to estimate a run value by multiplying it by the plate appearances and dividing it by 1.15. To figure out the difference in the performance we can subtract one wOBA from the other and do the same thing.

So (.414-.392)/1.15 x 600 PA gives you a difference of about 11 runs over a full season.

This table just looks at the sum of his production by both inning and deficit. The sample sizes here are again way too small, so this is really just for information.

Let's take just the plate appearances where the Yankees are trailing by 3 runs or fewer or are tied, from the seventh inning on.

Now we can see a pretty severe falloff, although we're dealing with just 204 plate appearances.

In summary, these numbers tell me that Rodriguez's reputation of failing in the clutch is a little unfair. The last table is certainly valid evidence that he has not been as good in the specific situations where the Yankees needed him most, but the other stuff about how he does all his damage in blowouts and early in games is pretty overblown.

I've uploaded this data to a Google Spreadsheet for anyone who wants it.

These don't include playoff games, which I hope to eventually incorporate into my play-by-play database. Next time, I'm going to look at the same splits for Derek Jeter, whose clutch reputation is the polar opposite of Rodriguez's.

Update: By request, here are Rodriguez's splits by deficit broken down into 2004, 2005, and 2006. I cut off the deficits that were not present in all three seasons for comparison's sake, but they were all very small samples. The Google
spreadsheet has also been updated for the visually challenged.

Another Update Over at Was Watching a reader noticed my numbers were off for the season data. I re-checked and he was right, so here are the revised numbers for 2004, 2005, and 2006.

January 22, 2007

Journal News: Cashman glad he's not Boss' puppet anymore
by SG

In the 14 months since he wrestled power away from George Steinbrenner's cabal of advisors in Florida, Cashman has reformatted the Yankees into an organization determined to develop star players rather than pay a premium for them. Along with significant roster changes, Cashman has made a series of personnel moves within the baseball operations department, firing several longtime scouts and coaches and reassigning others.

I think a lot of us are glad that Cashman's not the Boss's puppet anymore.

It's hard to evaluate Cashman as a GM, because it's tough to know which deals are his and which ones are Tampa's. I think he tends to get a pass on some bad moves that are his doing (like Pavano, the Mike Lowell trade, etc.) because of that. I do like the direction he's taking the team in over the last two season though, and think it bodes well for the future.

January 19, 2007

by Fabian

Humberto Sanchez, 23, RHP
Previously Ranked: N/R
What Others Say: Baseball America N/A, Pinstripes Plus N/A, John Sickels 3rd (B+)

Physical Ability: Humberto is…a big RHP who…pitches off his low to mid 90s fastball. In addition to the being big, right-handed, and throwing hard, Humberto also displays the other Yankee pitching prospect trait of throwing a heavy fastball. The fastball is typically complemented by a slider and change. The change isn’t too great at the moment, but the slider has shown potential. When he’s able to snap it off correctly, he can go to it for the strikeout. Humberto is going to need to improve the control and command of both those pitches because neither is overwhelming to the point that he can miss with them and get away with it. As far as battling left-handed batters, as long as Sanchez holds up physically he has enough stuff to not have to worry too much about platoon issues, but his health is a major question at this point.

What Happened in ’06: Sanchez began the year pitching for AA Erie in the Tigers organization and got off to a quick start. Considering he was repeating the level that was somewhat to be expected. The key to his success seemed to be better command of his stuff than he had demonstrated in the past. He finished the year in AAA and struggled down the stretch as he had to deal with injuries for the umpteenth time in his young career.

What Lies Ahead: Sanchez should open 2007 at AAA Scranton. Beyond that, his role is up in the air. There have been rumors that he may be placed in the bullpen, but that has not been confirmed in any way. Whether he’s in the bullpen or in the rotation he should have ample time to ready himself for big league action as there will be numerous options for both positions. I think the Yankees start him off in the rotation, and based on how he does there, they will decide whether or not that is his final role. I can’t see them putting the ceiling of reliever, even if it is shut down reliever, on a guy that for all intents and purposes is one of their big offseason acquisitions.

Grade: Since Sanchez has only been in the organization this fall/winter, I don’t have as great a read on him as I do a lot of the other guys on this list. That said, I think his prospect status is a bit overblown. Yes, he’s a big guy with a big fastball, but his fastball is not THAT big. Yes, his slider has been a great pitch at times, but those times haven’t been frequent enough. Yes, he showed great progress in his performance last year, but he still had his playing time cut short to injury. As you can tell, I see a lot of red flags with Sanchez. When he was in the Futures Game I remember thinking “how did this guy get here”. However, on the strength of the opinion that others have of him, I am going to concede that there may be something I’m missing. I’m very interested to see how he progresses this year. B

Joba Chamberlain #4

January 18, 2007

by Fabian

Joba Chamberlain, 21, RHP
Previously Ranked: N/R
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 11th, Baseball America 4th, John Sickels 4th (B)

Physical Ability: Joba Chamberlain is yet another big bodied Yankee hurler. Standing 6’3’’ and listed at 225, Joba has actually been considered too big at times. As you would hope with a guy his size, Joba also possesses a terrific fastball. Joba The Hutt typically pitches in the mid 90s with his fastball and can even get it up to the high 90s at times. In addition to throwing his fastball very hard, Joba has uncanny control and command of the pitch. His repertoire is rounded out with a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. At the moment, none of these pitches is anything to write home about. Fortunately, they aren’t terrible either. The slider has shown the most promise thus far. It will be interesting to see whether the Yankees let him be with that as his breaking ball of choice or try and push him towards the curveball as is the organizational preference. As I’ve alluded to, Chamberlain has struggled with his weight at times. Some feel that his struggles with a knee injury during college can be attributed to carrying too much weight. It remains to be seen how much of a problem that, as well as his triceps tendonitis of the past year, will be in the pros.

What Happened in '06: Like just about every other Yankee draft pick in 2006, Chamberlain was an early favorite to go in the first round. In fact, he was projected in the top 10. However, due to the aforementioned injury concerns, which led to poor performance, Joba fell on draft day. Unlike a guy such as Ian Kennedy, Joba did not have much, if any, track record to fall back on as he had only emerged as a legitimate prospect the year prior. Fortunately for Joba he has greater physical talent than Kennedy and once he was signed and allowed to play, he made teams begin to regret their decision to pass on him. Chamberlain’s pro debut was in the resurrected Hawaiian Baseball League where he was probably the league’s best pitcher. While his control wasn’t as good as the 46:3 K:BB ratio would indicate, it was still impressive. More impressive was his command, especially on the occasions where he would fall behind batters only to perfect place a pitch and get opposing hitters to turn hitter’s counts into outs.

What Lies Ahead: Chamberlain will most likely begin 2007 in Tampa. I don’t expect him to be long for Tampa. In fact, I hope/think his 2007 will look a lot like Phil Hughes’ 2006. Despite that, I think he’s further away at this point than Phil Hughes was a year ago. In terms of top pitching prospects, Joba is more Mike Pelfrey than Phil Hughes. In other words, he’s going to be able to get at least decent minor league results because he has an overpowering fastball. What will determine how quickly he can be ready is getting one of his secondary offerings, most likely the slider, to the point where he can give batters a different look. Developing those secondary pitches will help him have the means to get outs against quality left-handed batters.

Grade: While Clippard lacks stuff, Joba lacks a performance record. While Clippard has never missed a turn in the rotation (hey, more Barry Zito similarities), Joba has injury concerns. Overall, I think they’re fairly comparable pitching prospects and I’m going to err on the side of potential and “tools”. We’ll see how it turns out. Hopefully, Joba makes good on his ability and can give the Yankees some terrific years near the front of the rotation. B

Tyler Clippard #5

January 17, 2007

by Fabian

Tyler Clippard, 22, RHP
Previous Ranking: 3rd prior to 2006, 5th prior to 2005, 7th prior to 2004
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 5th, Baseball America 7th, John Sickels 5th (B)

Physical Ability: Though he has now increased his weight to about 200 pounds, by most accounts, the 6’4’’ Clippard still has a somewhat slight build. Some look at that as evidence that he may have even more filling out to do, which will lead to a further increase in his velocity. This is such a critical point because Clippard’s velocity is universally cited as the red flag of his prospect profile. As it stands, a typical Clippard fastball registers 90 on the radar gun. When he’s locked in and reaches back for something extra, he can get that up to 94. When it comes to fastball velocity, there are days when Clippard is 86-90, then there are days where he is 89-92, and finally there are the days when he just repeatedly hits 90. It all has to do with how well he’s finishing his pitches and how in-sync his motion is. In addition, to the 4-seam fastball, Clippard’s other primary pitches are the curveball and change-up. He throws a slider from time to time, but it’s not a huge part of his repertoire. Clippard’s curveball regularly comes in at 75 on the gun and has the 12-to-6 break that everyone loves to watch. In the past, he has struggled with leaving this pitch up, but did a better job of commanding it in the second half of 2006. Clippard’s change-up has never been as good as it was from June onward this past year, garnering consistent 80 MPH strikeouts.

What Happened in ’06: Clippard began the year pitching for the Trenton Thunder, and pitching terribly. In the early going, it was simply a matter of opponents being able to count on a bloop and a blast. However, as the losses piled up, it became more than that. On June 9th, Tyler Clippard hit rock bottom. His control was poor, rainy conditions did not help, and his ERA ballooned to 5.29 following a 1 inning outing. The results accumulated by the Tyler Clippard who pitched prior to and during that game were never as dominant as the results accumulated by the Tyler Clippard who pitched following June 9th. While Clippard has had hot months in the past, he has never pitched so well for so long as he did to close out last year’s regular season. His fastball was the same, his curveball was the same, but his change-up took a giant leap forward. Having the change-up as a reliable weapon made life much easier for Clippard. Instead of relying on his curveball when he needed a big pitch. He could now go to his change-up without worry, which allowed the fastball to become more of a weapon in those situations as well.

What Lies Ahead: Having successfully made the AA transition, Clippard now has to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke and repeat his success at AAA. That’s the reality of being right-handed and not having a “wow” fastball. In a rotation that will be looked at as Phil Hughes, The Injury Replacements, and some other guy, Clippard may be able to force himself to the forefront. The Yankees do not want Phil Hughes to pitch more than around 180 innings in 2007. As such the likely candidate for first call-up will be one of The Injury Replacements. If Clippard is measurably outperforming them and/or they struggle when given their shot, Clippard may be able get a roster spot and a chance in the big leagues. It’s a narrow window of opportunity, but it’s there.

Grade: Based on results, Clippard is probably about a B+ prospect, but given that there are valid concerns about how he gets his result, his grade gets knocked down a bit. It should also be noted that he is not the extreme flyballer many would have you think, but rather, a pitcher with fairly neutral batted ball tendencies. In addition, I think his potential is more than simply back of the rotation. He might pitch “backwards”, but I think if everything works out, Clippard can be a guy you slot in at the 2/3 slot on a club and sit back and watch as he gives you 200 innings of 3.8-4.1 ERA baseball. Again, that’s IF EVERYHING WORKS OUT. At the least, I think he should be able to give decent innings in a swingman role out of the bullpen. B

Jeff Marquez #6

January 16, 2007

by Fabian

Jeff Marquez, RHP, 22
Previously Ranked: 6th prior to 2006, 14th prior to 2005
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 9th, Baseball America N/A, John Sickels 17th (C+)

Physical Ability: Jeff Marquez is a 6’2’’ right-hander who weighs in around 190 pounds. Marquez doesn’t have the natural downward plane of some of the taller guys in the system, but nonetheless generates tremendous sink on his 2-seam fastball. It is a pitch that typically registers in the low 90s and is complimented by a 4-seam fastball that Marquez can touch the mid 90s with. In addition to the sinking fastball, the other pitch Marquez is well known for is his change-up, which has been a plus pitch for him to this point in his career. Jeff’s primary arsenal is completed with the curveball, which is probably the pitch Jeff is working on the most at this point. Despite still needing some work, it has been a plus pitch for him on occasion.

What Happened in ’06: In 2006, things just didn’t break right for Marquez. Jeff came into the season hoping to pitch well in Tampa and get promoted to Trenton. I thought that was a reasonable enough expectation given his talent and the composition of the minor league squads at the time. Unfortunately, that did not happen. As tends to happen with groundball pitchers from time to time, Marquez was beset with bad luck in April. His BABIP was way beyond where it should have been and resultantly, so was his ERA. Then once the numbers began to make sense, Marquez was placed on the disabled list with a muscle strain. This would keep him out for the better part of 2 months. Upon returning to Tampa, Marquez continued to pitch well, but at that point it was too little too late and he would have to settle for only having a solid year at Tampa. Sent to the HBL to complete the calendar year, it seemed that Marquez would dominate, unfortunately he struggled with his command and the results were poor.

What Lies Ahead: The key for Jeff’s development will be how well he commands his fastball within the strike zone. At the moment, he’s got pretty good control, he can get the ball in the strike zone on a regular basis, but he needs to throw more quality strikes. Once he does that, the natural movement on his pitches, particularly his fastball, will further increase his already excellent groundball rate. The other development to watch with Marquez will be how quickly he picks up the curveball. It has shown flashes, but is still not dependable. If he can get the hang of it, Marquez could potentially be the proud owner of 4 plus pitches. Additionally, while he has not shown any pronounced platoon splits to this point, such a development would allow him to more easily dispatch left-handed batters. Given the logjam of pitching, especially at the upper levels, the Yankees will be able to be patient with Marquez.

Grade: Marquez is probably the prospect where my opinion is the most divergent from the mainstream. Part of this is that he is one of the guys that I just have a good gut feeling about. The other part is that I feel he profiles very well from a tools point of view. In addition, his performance has been better than his more basic numbers would indicate when accounting for the type of pitcher he is. He already strikes out a fair amount of guys, and I think he may strike out more as he develops as a pitcher, he’s got solid overall control/command, and he gets tons of grounders and pop ups. If everything works out, I think Jeff Marquez might just be Brandon Webb (you know, Chien-Ming Wang without the little voice in the back of your head whispering “where are the strikeouts?”) and for that, I’m bullish on his prospect status. B

Dellin Betances #7

January 15, 2007

by Fabian

Dellin Betances, RHP, 18
Previously Ranked: N/R
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 3rd, Baseball America 3rd, John Sickels 6th (B)

Physical Ability: I guess with Christian Garcia’s injury, Betances takes the title of Yankee Minor League Pitcher With Unlimited Physical Potential, or YMLPWUPP. Betances is rail thin at 6’7’’ and 185 pounds. His tall frame allows him to throw on a downward plane, but he still gets the ball up in the zone from time to time. In addition, his build worried some scouts that he would have serious issues repeating his delivery, however to this point in his pro career he has done well at keeping himself under control. Betances’ fastball is a four seamer that comes in around 93-95 and has touched all the way up to 98. In addition, Betances has thus far proven to be a fast learner, as his change-up and curveball have been much better than expected given his amateur background.

What Happened in ’06: Months ahead of the 2006 draft, Betances was looking like a sure-fire first-rounder, but fell precipitously as the draft neared. The primary reason was his stuff supposedly taking a step back as he was reportedly throwing only high 80s on occasion and looked as though he may be far greater a project than your typical HS pitcher. This decline was coupled with an increase in bonus demands and so the Yankees were able to snap him up in the 8th round and pay his asking price. During the 2006 GCL season, he looked very much like the guy who deserved to go in the first round. GCL batters were simply overpowered by Betances, struggling to make solid contact with anything he threw at them. While I was concerned Betances would be a high walk guy, he did not demonstrate such a problem in ’06, hopefully that will continue.

What Lies Ahead: Betances will begin 2007 as the star of the Charleston squad. Regardless of how well he does, I doubt he ever gets promoted due to the amount of pitching in the organization as well as the Yankees preference to take it slowly with first year HS pitchers. The most important thing to watch for with him should be walk totals. Given the worries about his lack of polish prior to the draft, I’m leery of taking his post-signing performance as who he suddenly is. Rather, I would expect him to struggle with his control from time to time, but still show flashes of dominance. Basically, I think when it’s all said and done his first full year in the system will be more Christan Garcia than it will be Phil Hughes.

Grade: Betances has higher flameout potential than just about everyone in the Top 10. However, his physical talent is also amongst the best in the system. While I’m not ready to disregard my concerns about him, I can’t ignore his raw talent. As such, I feel my ranking is striking a compromise. If he does better than I expect, he may well make his way to the top of the list. B-

Ian Kennedy #8

Can the Yanks March to 1000 Runs in 2007?
by SG

One of the things we tried tracking last season was the 2006 Yankees and their March to 1000 runs™. Unfortunately for the Yanks, injuries ended the march before it had a chance to really get going.

Through Game 29, the Yankees were on pace to score 1022. Then came a DL stint for Gary Sheffield, and Hideki Matsui breaking his wrist on May 11. The Yankees fell to a 992 run pace the day of Matsui's injury, and from there they never really approached a legitimate shot at it, finishing at a very respectable 930 runs scored.

So what about 2007? What are the odds/chances of the Yankees scoring 1000 runs? Funny you should ask...

Sean Smith e-mailed me last week to let me know that he'd just posted his final version of his Chone projections. So I updated my Diamond Mind program and kicked off a new set of simulations. I ran these 1000 times. It's still to soon for the standings results to mean much, so I won't post them here. This was primarily to look at the Yankee offense specifically.

In 1000 seasons, the Yankees scored an average of 943 runs, and won an average of 97 games. Out of those 1000 seasons, they scored 1000 or more runs 102 times. Frankly, the whole purpose of writing about this is to bring back the pie chart, so here we are...

So assuming the CHONE projections are a reasonable baseline for the Yankees' expected performance, they have a 1 in 10 chance at it.

Part of the reason I like taking these projections and running them through Diamond Mind is it gives us an idea of the volatility of a team's performance in any single season. We can look at the average results to get an idea of the rough talent of the team, but in any given seasons things can happen to skew the results positively or negatively. To illistrate that, here's a graph of the frequencies of the different amounts of runs scored over those 1000 seasons. (Click on the pictures below this line to enlarge them)

Unsurprisingly, it's a bell-shaped curve. The Yankees' standard deviation for runs scored was 46, and 663 of their runs scored totals fell within one standard deviation of their mean 943 runs (898 - 989).

Predicting playing time is probably the most important part of making these simulations as realistic as possible. The projectors don't do it, so I try to use Diamond Mind to do it. So here's how the Yankees performed on average over those 1000 seasons, which led to their mean offensive output of 943 runs.

That should give you an idea of how I allocated playing time. I tried to be somewhat realistic here, as opposed to penciling in the best 9 players for 162 games each.

Let's compare that to the averages over just the seasons where the Yankees scored 1000 runs. Incidentally, the Yankees averaged 103 wins in those seasons.

Here's where the differences showed up.

There's no real magic formula there. They hit for a higher average, hit for more power, and drew more walks. The three players whose performance seemed to drive the offense the most in those seasons were unsurprisingly Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, and Alex Rodriguez.

So, according to CHONE the Yankees do have a chance at doing it, but of course injuries will be the key. It'll be interesting to see what the other projection systems say.

January 9, 2007

The New RLYW
by SG

OK, since Blogger's not cooperating, we've set up a new temporary blog, at We're hoping to eventually have a new site up and running off Blogger completely, but for now this will be where our new posts will be located. Try not to be too intimidated by the fanciness of the new site. The comments section will work the same as it does on here.

January 3, 2007

by Fabian

Marcos Vechionacci, 3B, 20
Previously Ranked:
8th prior to 2006, 3rd prior to 2005
What Others Say:
Pinstripes Plus 15th, Baseball America N/A, John Sickels N/R

Physical Ability: Marcos Vechionacci is a 6’2’’ 170 pound 3B. While I’m fairly certain that his listed weight may be low, it’s not by much as he is still growing into his frame. When his frame fills out Vechionacci may come closer to showing his 30 HR potential. His advanced knowledge of the strike zone and swing also seem to indicate that he will be a solid hitter for average. Defensively, scouts are almost unanimous in their praise of Vechionacci’s game as he has good range, an excellent arm, and is usually consistent with his actions. For the second year in a row he was named the South Atlantic League’s best defensive 3B as well as best infield arm. As you can tell by now, the physical skills are there.

What Happened in ’06: The Yankees gave Vechionacci an ill-advised promotion to Tampa to begin the year. In addition, they also rebuilt his swing. The combination of the two was a recipe for disaster as Marcos was completely overmatched against FSL pitching. Demoted to Charleston, Vechionacci played much better. He walked more than he struck out, hit for a league average BA, and displayed better than league average power. Had he not had previous experience at the level, this season would have been much better received. Unfortunately, that is something that has to be looked at to place his “progress” in perspective.

What Lies Ahead: Vechionacci is likely ticketed for the Tampa hot corner in 2007. I would expect him to spend his entire year there and am fairly confident that he’s figured things out offensively. This means to expect a solid BA and OBP with a decent SLG. If he comes into camp noticeably larger, I reserve the right to upgrade that SLG expectation. Right now he’s struggling at driving the ball to the opposite field with authority. This may be taken care of by simple physical maturation. Given his struggles in A-ball to this point, I don’t expect him to tear the league apart to the point where the Yankees would be forced to promote him. Of course, it would be nice if that happened.

Grade: Vechionacci has been disappointing thus far. However, because he began playing professionally so young he is still right on track as far as where you want your good prospects to be at his age. In addition, while the tools, other than plate discipline, have not yet completely transitioned to skills they are on their way. Vechionacci may never make the majors. He also has a non-zero chance of being Bill Mueller. If everything works out, he might even be Scott Rolen. Taking that into account as well as his progress controlling the strike zone and showing a bit more power, I really like Vechionacci. If he has a good year, he may just head this list next year. C+

Mark Melancon #12

January 2, 2007

Trading RJ - Revisited
by SG

Randy Johnson is still a Yankee, although it would seem to be just a matter of time before that's no longer true. A lot of people seem to think that it's addition by subtraction to get rid of Johnson, but I need to reiterate again that I think it is going to hurt the Yankees in 2007, especially if the rumored package of a few minor league arms is what's coming back in return.

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Johnson's effectiveness heading into 2007. He's going to be 43. He just had back surgery, and he's had knee problems for the last several years. He also gave up a ton of runs last year, despite underlying peripherals that point to this being somewhat of a fluke.

All that being said, all the projections I've seen for Johnson have him providing 180-200 innings of above average to good quality. Focusing on only his recent season and his ERA+ of 88 is not good player evaluation. To show why, I took a look at all the pitchers who've put up an ERA+ of 90 or worse in 200 innings or more since 1945.

Here are the cumulative totals of all those players, Year 1 being the year they put up the ERA+ of worse than 90, and Year 2 being the following season.

In this chart, ERA+ is the league average ERA adjusted for the players' home park, divided by the players' ERA, then multiplied by 100. HR+ is the league average HR/Batters faced divided by the players' HR/Batters faced and multiplied by 100. BB+ is same thing, but for BB instead of HR. K+ is the pitchers' K/BF divided by the league average K/BF and multiplied by 100.

As you can see, the biggest difference between the first and second year is the HR rate. Research has shown that HR rate is at least partly a function of fly balls allowed and has some fluctuation from year to year. BB rate and K rate are pretty constant, which indicates that at least part of the poor performance may have been on factors not in the pitchers' direct control. In the interest of full disclosure, the average age of these pitchers was 28 in Year 1 and 29 in Year 2, so they had relative youth on their side, something with Johnson doesn't have.

As a group, these pitchers went from an ERA+ of 83 to an ERA+ of 95 the following season, and cut their runs allowed total by over 1/2 run per nine innings.

Now, looking at this in this way could put us in danger of selection bias, as the people who were really bad may have been culled from the Year 2 sample, which would boost that performance accordingly, as the 14000 inning shortfall may possibly indicate. Therefore, I pared the list down to people who pitched at least 200 innings in both of the seasons, and matched the innings totals so that everyone contributed to each sample equally, which will again help remove any possible selection bias (better pitchers getting more innings in year two, etc.)

So this group went from an ERA+ of 84 to an ERA+ of 100 (exactly league average), and cut their runs allowed by over 2/3 of a run per nine innings.

The point here is that basing your player evaluation on one season of ERA is not smart. Single season ERA can have a lot of fluctuation, and is a poor predictor of future performance.

Replacing Johnson with a combination of Jeff Karstens, Darrell Rasner, etc., is probably a 2-3 win downgrade. I re-ran my simulations from last week with them substituted for Johnson and the Yankees went from allowing 809 runs a season to 833. That's based on a pretty optimistic projection for Johnson, but it's still something that needs to considered.

Now, if the Yankees do end up trading Johnson and saving a decent amount of money, it may still make sense, particularly if they can use the money or extra depth to shore up another are of weakness. Apparently a Roger Clemens return is one such option. I guess we'll just wait and see what happens, but it is imperative to me that the Yankees don't just give RJ away.

Update: Darren asked me to look at players over the age of 37. Since I don't want to give Darren the satisfaction of doing precisely what he asked, I pulled the same data above but restricted the pool of pitchers to those above the age of 35 in their season of an ERA+ of less than 90.

It seems that the bounceback effect is real, even for the older group.

Another update.

I would think that you would also have to adjust these sample sizes so they have the same innings pitched, because like you said the first time you did it, the truly bad players didn't pitch (or saw their innings significantly drop in relief) the following year.

Jeteupthemiddle is of course correct, so here's the same group of pitchers, restricted to those who threw at least 162 innings in each of the two seasons, with their innings totals matched up to have the same weight in both samples.

Once again, we see the bounceback in effect pretty clearly.