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February 27, 2007

Early ZiPS and Diamond Mind Projections
by SG

I've gotten a few emails from people asking about projections with Diamond Mind. It's still too early to run my big set, but here's a small set of 100. I'm using ZiPS this time, instead of CHONE. Both will be part of my eventual 1000 run set (along with PECOTA and Diamond Mind's own projections), coming sometime next month.

I've added a bit more information in here based on some feedback and comments I've received in the past. One thing I've done is added the results within one standard deviation of the mean for all teams for wins, runs for, and runs against to show variance. The columns under Div (Div W, Div Mode, etc.) are the values for that placing in the division. So in the AL East, the average wins to take the division was 95, to take second place was 88, etc., The last column is just the average # of wins that it took to capture the wild card in that league.

Again, it's probably still too early for this to be very meaningful. However, there's another 900+ run projection for the Yankees.

Newsday: Pavano is only bruised
by SG

he MRI of Carl Pavano's left foot showed only a bone bruise, and the injury-plagued righthander was surprisingly upbeat and honest yesterday regarding his outlook.

For now.

In other news, Bobby's got a boo-boo.
Just when the Yankees received good news on Carl Pavano, the team suffered its first serious injury of the spring, losing Bobby Abreu for two to three weeks with a strained right abdominal muscle.

According to Joe Torre, Abreu felt something early in batting practice, but didn't think much of it. As the session went on, Abreu felt the muscle grab at him, ending his day early.

They can and probably will take it easy with Abreu, especially with Melky around.

February 25, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Bobby Abreu
by SG

Gary Sheffield got injured on April 29 in a collision with Shea Hillenbrand. Sheffield sat out a few games, tried to play a couple of games through the injury, went on the DL, was re-activated and played another six games, then was shut down for the bulk of the season. This pressed Bernie Williams into a full-time role. From the time when Sheffield underwent wrist surgery, Bernie managed to hit .292/.347/.485. Unfortunately it came with subpar defense, and it also pressed Andy Phillips into a full-time role which he was not equipped to handle, hitting .251/.294/.426 from the time of Sheffield's wrist surgery to the end of the season.

The hole in the lineup was something Brian Cashman made a move to fill, and he did it in fine fashion, using the Yankees' financial advantage to provide salary relief for Philadelphia and acquiring Bobby Abreu and the late Cory Lidle for three minor leaguers and lefty reliever Matt Smith.

Abreu had become the object of scorn by a vocal group of fans in Philadelphia despite putting up good numbers, as he was deemed as unclutch and other things (sound familiar to anyone?). However, Abreu arrived in the Bronx and seamlessly integrated himself into the third spot in the lineup.

The Yankees averaged 5.6 runs a game prior to Abreu's arrival. From Abreu's first game August 1 on, they averaged 6.1 runs a game. This doesn't mean that Abreu himself was responsible for adding .5 runs a game to the Yankee offense. However, by adding Abreu, the Yankees created fewer outs per plate appearances and saw a few more pitches every game, which had a cascading effect on the rest of the lineup.

Pre-Abreu, the Yankees saw 159 pitches a game. Post-Abreu, they saw 166. That's seven extra pitches a game. The average relief outing in the AL last season was 19 pitches, so that's an extra inning from a reliever every three games. Assuming those innings are pitched by lesser pitchers, it helps explain at least part of the offensive spike.

The other benefit of acquiring Abreu was that it freed up the Yankees to pick up Gary Sheffield's option and then trade him for some good arms, while improving their likely overall output in RF.

Here's how Sheffield and Abreu project in 2007.

At a salary difference of about $3 million, the Yankees project to be about one win better offensively next season by swapping out Abreu for Sheffield. If you factor in the expected playing time, it's closer to two wins, although that's skewed by Sheffield's injury last year.

One concern I have is that in adding Abreu, the Yankees have made themselves heavily left-handed. While they still have Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter as righties/switch hitters, the bulk of their power comes from lefties. Abreu historically loses a lot of his value against lefties.

Career vs RHP: .312/.426/.549
Career vs LHP: .277/.376/.399

Thankfully there aren't many good lefties in the AL East. The Yankees can probably use this to rest Abreu against some lefties and get Melky Cabrera a little bit more playing time.

Abreu also projects better than Sheffield defensively, although he was pretty bad during his Yankee tenure.

Another knock on Abreu is that he is tentative against the wall. With Yankee Stadium's short right field and close fence, this could be an issue. His Yankee performance in 57 games is certainly a little scary, and could be an indicator of his reputed wall-shyness. Given that it's only a third of a season's worth of innings, it could also just as easily be a small sample size blip.

For comparison, Sheffield projects around a -8 this season. So add another half win to Abreu's value relative to Sheffield.

Abreu brings the Yankees OBP and long at bats in the third spot. Having him on base for Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi is going to drive the offense this season. Even if CJ Henry or any of the others traded end up developing into good players, this was a smart trade at the time, and it looks even better now.

February 23, 2007

Newsday: Hughes throws 'filthy stuff'
by SG

If Phil Hughes was even a tad nervous about throwing batting practice to the Yankees' major-leaguers in front of manager Joe Torre and company, it sure didn't show.

The 20-year-old Yankees prospect took the mound at Legends Field yesterday with a calm and determined look and delivered pitches that looked very much like major-league quality.

"We could have used him last year," Jason Giambi said.

Facing Giambi, Hideki Matsui, Todd Pratt and Raul Chavez, Hughes showed off his impressive repertoire, allowing only two of his 34 pitches to be hit into fair territory.

Hughes is turning into the story of camp so far.

February 22, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Derek Jeter
by SG

Derek Jeter probably should have won the 2006 MVP, at least over Justin Morneau. People like Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, and Grady Sizemore all had comparable seasons, but Jeter was more valuable than Morneau in 2006.

Regardless, he didn't win it, finishing second in what was an outstanding season by any measure. Jeter had his best all-around season other than his sublime 1999, finishing with his second highest OPS+. More impressive is that he did it at the age of 32, when you'd expect players to be getting worse, not better.

Any time a player's batting average spikes, there's a good chance there's some measure of luck involved. In Jeter's case, we can look at his batted ball data to determine if there was a change in approach that can at least partially explain it.

The chart above breaks down Jeter's ball types as a percentage of his total balls in play. g = grounders, f = fly balls, l = line drives, p = pop ups.

Jeter line drive percentage was higher than his established level from 2000-2005 last season, and his fly ball percentage was lower. The combination of the two explains at least part of the extra 40 points of batting average he had. It also explains the low HR output. Jeter's more valuable to the Yankees if he's putting an OBP of .400+, than he is if he's hitting 20 HRs with an OBP of .352.

For a shortstop, it's hard to complain about Jeter's offense. He's been consistently solid offensively every season, with some outstanding seasons mixed in. He projects similarly for 2007.

Jeter projects to hit comfortably above .300, after projecting in the .290 area last season. Add in the positional adjustment, and Jeter is about three wins above an average player, five wins above a replacement player, offensively at least.

But there's the rub. The rub that makes people accuse me of "hating" Jeter. It's the defensive metrics that show that Jeter gives back part of his offensive value on defense.

For the most part, Jeter has scored below average by almost every defensive measure worth considering for almost every season in his career. He has been better over the last three seasons by Zone Rating, which you can see below.

Jeter was pretty solid in 2004 and 2005, but dropped a bit last season. Again, I want to reiterate what it means when you see that Jeter is a -5 defender. It means that over the 150 games he played in 2006, he failed to make a play that an average shortstop makes once every 20 games. If your eyes tell you that Jeter's not a bad defender, it's because for the most part, he's not. Visually, I think it's clear he lacks at least some range, especially up the middle, but the numbers say it's not leading to him missing fifty plays a season that he should be making.

One interesting thing to look at is how Jeter's ZR has fluctuated from season to season. Take a look at the chart below, which shows how Jeter compares to the league average AL SS every season.

Jeter's been a touch above average, and way below average and everywhere in between in his career. At least part of it is probably playing through injuries, and another part of it could be a positioning choices the Yankees have made in different seasons. Defense shouldn't fluctuate that wildly. It's also interesting to see that the general quality of defense at shortstop in the AL has declined over the last 11 years.

I think there's enough data that says Jeter's not a great defender that I'm inclined to believe it. I do think the outrageous spike seasons where he was really bad are probably at least partially explained by positioning.

That doesn't mean he's not a great player to have on your team. He's an entertaining player to watch (when he's not bunting). He gives the team great offense out of the shortstop position, and he gives compelling interviews and sound bites to the media. Well, maybe not that part.

More than any current Yankee, Jeter is hated by non-Yankee fans. It's not Jeter's fault, it's the fault of his treatment by the media and the Yankee hype machine. When someone is built up to be be bigger than they are, the natural tendency is for backlash. Besides, who gives a rat's ass what a non-Yankee fan thinks anyway?

February 21, 2007

Rawlings: 50 Years of Gold Gloves
by SG

A reader emailed me about this. You can go vote for who you feel are the best defenders of the last fifty years. The Gold Glove awards are pretty useless in my opinion these days, but there are some genuinely great defensive players on there who deserve to be recognized.

Out of curiousity, I ran the ZR numbers for all the players on the ballots (basically anyone who played since 1987), and here they are.

When you consider the fact that the numbers above reflect Ozzie Smith's numbers after age 32, they are even more impressive. A lot of these numbers are post-peak for players like Schmidt, Keith Hernandez, Evans, Concepcion, and Dawson, so I keep that in mind.

I wouldn't put much stock in Mattingly's rating as just about average, as I think ZR has some limitations in how much information it gives us about 1B. So feel free to vote for him if you want.

February 20, 2007

NY Daily News: Nice guy Brian now in spotlight
by SG

Cashman knows all Rivera's talk about "respect" and possibly having to "move on" is agent-speak, a ploy to fire up fans and media in an attempt to shame the Yankees into prematurely showing Mo the money. Naturally, if the unexpected did happen, and Rivera winds up flying the coop, the media will torch Cashman. He will be the heavy.

He's already playing that role in this Williams saga. Judging by the facts of this case, Cashman constructed a roster designed to facilitate the end of Williams' Yankees career. If Williams was given any hope of making the team, and then did make it, the next step could be Joe Torre playing him regularly. It is not a reach to suggest Cashman was wincing when Torre went public, detailing his recent conversations with Bernie.

If Williams is finished, there will be some tears. Once they stop flowing, Torre will have preserved his St. Joe image. Cashman? In some media quarters he will be characterized as a cold, calculating businessman who finally slammed the door on Williams' illustrious Yankees tenure.

It may be cold and calculated to squeeze Bernie Williams out, but Brian Cashman's job is to put the best team he can on the field, not live in the past. It's the reason most fans would make awful GMs (including yours truly).

February 19, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Jason Giambi
by SG

-Giambi is DONE. his swing has a gaping hole in it, he can't play defense, and his contract is unmovable. he is the number 1 reason they are stinking up the joint. you can't get zero offensive contribution from your DH. that's the definition of designated hitter.

-I don't think I can watch any more games that Giambi starts.

-Giambi must go. He's such a weasel for taking the money at this point anyway. Should be booed out of the joint every time he has the arrogance to show his face. He's a fraud.

-I don't see why Giambi is any better a choice than Sierra at the end of the game. I seem to remember another situation recently in the ninth inning with the bases loaded where Giambi got his chance and made a fool of himself. I'm sorry, but I'd rather see Sierra up there than the putrid Giambi.

-Dump Giambi. Swallow the bullet and dump him.

-Right now Sierra is a far more dangerous hitter than Giambi and that's the bottom line.

-Release Giambi - it's a big pill to swallow, but he needs a change of scenery. Bring up Andy Phillips, or heck, even Shelley Duncan.

-giambi - sucks and has the worst contract in MLB

-giambi will not hit 20 hrs this year. Will be lucky to get 12.

-SG, thanks for keeping this site going but give it up on Giambi. He's done. Get over it. I just wish the Yanks could find a way to get over it.

-Your eyes should tell you all you need know about Giambi. A lousy 1st baseman, and with his walks he clogs the basepaths real nice. What a waste.

-Giambi's body is literally wasting away in front of us. Pointing out that Sierra has been even worse doesn't help Giambi in any way, although I might agree in the short term to pinch hit Giambi instead of Sierra. Point is, both are taking up roster slots that could go to a player that actually PRODUCES RUNS.

-Giambi looks done. This isn't based on just the first two and a half months of this season, but all the way back to the latter half of 2003. In fact, if you look at his numbers last year, when he had some health problems as a seemingly credible excuse, they are almost identical to his performance this year. And that's just his hitting.

-This is the new Jason Giambi. At 34, he seems more likely to continue at his current level of play than return to the level he was at in his late twenties and early thirties.

-I just hope no one thinks that this is a turnaround for Giambi.

-As concerning Giambi. . .you are crazy. I'm glad he helped to win the game last night, but he will never hit close to 30 homers in a season again.

-I like how coming into the season alot of baseball people said Giambi would be proof of how Steroids didn't help players that much because he would rebound to hit .270+ with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI's (Steve Philips on ESPN). Now that he has been exposed as a fraud nobody will admit that he made his career off of steroids.

-giambi is a roid using bastard. dump him.

Various Posters to this site, April, May, and June 2005

Some of you may recognize your words up there.

There was plenty of reason to be concerned about Jason Giambi through the point that most of those posts were made, as you can see in the splits below:

It certainly appeared that Giambi's power had vanished until his resurgence in July of 2005. Last year Giambi followed up with another solid season, although he suffered through some nagging injuries and was very streaky. The nagging injuries shouldn't have been a surprise, not when you consider that he was 35 last season. The streakiness is likely just a manifestation of the injuries as well as the randomness of a player's stat line over small samples.

Last season and 2005 have helped push Giambi's projections for 2007 back to respectability, even accounting for age, as 2004 will have less weight when predicting him going forward.

I can't see any way Giambi doesn't slug .500 next season if he's healthy enough to play. CHONE and PECOTA see him slugging in the .515-.520 area, which is probably more realistic. While I'd love to see him hit even the .272 he hit in 2005, the shift seems to make that hard for him.

Although it appears that Giambi will not need his first baseman's glove very often this year, I'll still post his defensive numbers and projections below.

No wonder they want to make him a full-time DH.

A large part of the desire to DH Giambi is to keep him healthier, but the issue with making Giambi a full-time DH is the persistent split he's exhibited when playing first base vs. playing DH. A large part of that is probably influenced by the fact that he's more likely to have DH'ed when he was hurting, so the numbers are at least partly explained by that. Here are those splits as a Yankee.

That is a real and persistent split, and there is enough of a sample size that it should be a reason for concern. Couple that with research that shows that players tend to have worse numbers when DHing, and it's going to be at least a slight issue. However, when trying to determine a player's talent, you can't just ignore half of their numbers. It's the reason that using just home/road stats or just platoon stats will give you an incomplete picture of a player's talent. So I wouldn't expect Giambi to hit .231/.384/.460 next year, solely because he's DHing.

I'm trying to use play by play data in at least some of these previews to get a look at some numbers that aren't typically analyzed, which can hopefully be pie-charted. In Giambi's case, one of the most fascinating aspects of his game is his batting eye.

I broke down the pitch by pitch results for all of baseball in 2006, and here they are.

What this chart says is that 37.2% of pitches were taken for a ball in 2006. 17.2% were taken for a called strike, 16.9% were hit foul, 8.3% were swung on and missed, .6% were foul tipped, and 19.9% were hit into play.

Let's look at the same numbers for Giambi.

Giambi takes non-strikes at a rate 20% higher than the MLB average. What I found more interesting in this data was that he actually swung and missed less frequently than the MLB average.

Here's are the two sets of data compared graphically.

There are two guaranteed years left on Giambi's deal. What was a tremendously risky contract at the time may end up giving the Yankees a decent return on their investment. How Giambi does this season will probably be the determining factor in how much value they end up receiving over the life of the deal.

I'm happy to see Giambi recover from 2004, and from his ill-advised use of steroids. He seems to be genuinely well-liked around the game, and if he is in fact clean now, it's evidence that you don't necessarily need steroids to produce at a high level if you have the natural ability. He did cheat, and he'll always be labelled a cheater, and that's fair, he's got no one to blame but himself for that. That doesn't make him an evil or bad person in my book. It makes him a guy who tried to take unfair advantage of the system in place, got busted for it, and who appears to have worked his way back from it.

February 16, 2007

Newsday: SPRING TRAINING: Moose to Carl: Show us
by SG

Carl Pavano brushed aside questions about any work he needs to do in the clubhouse, saying his bad reputation among teammates is overhyped by the media.

"I think it's just something you guys have had fun with," Pavano said yesterday, referring to a group of reporters standing before him.

But Mike Mussina has a problem with that, and he had no problem voicing his brutally honest opinion about Pavano's brutally disappointing first two seasons with the Yankees.

Two days after Joe Torre said Pavano has a "sizable" amount of work to do in the clubhouse, Mussina said Pavano does not deserve his benefit of the doubt because of his questionable past.

Mussina, speaking about an hour after Pavano did, said, "I'm just looking at it from the way each thing happened and the timing of each. You form your own evaluation. It didn't look good from a players' and teammates' standpoint. It didn't look good. Was everything just coincidence? Over and over again? I don't know."

The press just loves their spring training controversies, don't they? If Pavano can stay healthy and pitch, this stuff will blow over.

February 15, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007 - Doug Mientkiewicz
by SG

In a nightmare for spelling-challenged Yankee bloggers everywhere, the Yankees inked Doug Mientkiewicz to play first base in 2007. Mientkiewicz brings a reputation as a good glove with a decent batting eye, but very little power, especially for a traditional power spot.

I wasn't wild about the Mientkiewicz signing, but frankly when I compared the options, I didn't see much in the way of better options, at least on the free agent market.

Mientkiewicz's offensive projections aren't pretty.

He projects to be below average for a first baseman, even with a passable OBP. The thing is, he's not replacing a very good first base situation from 2006. Here's how the Yankees fared at first base in 2006.

The chart should be self-explanatory. The first line is all Yankee 1B in 2006. The second line is just Jason Giambi's line at first base, and the last line is the first basemen sans Giambi (mainly Andy Phillips). That's who Mientkiewicz is replacing.

A lot of Mientkiewicz's reputation comes from his glove, and zone rating agrees that he's pretty good there.

This is purely chances converted into outs. Mientkiewicz also has a good reputation for saving bad throws from his infielders, which has been measured to be statistically valid in the Fielding Bible, which should help a certain third baseman who gets a lot of flack,

Add it all up, you have a slightly below average player at first base. He projects to be about five runs below average over a full season. If he meets those projections, he'd be worth about a half win to a win above what the Yankees got out of first base last season without Giambi. The Yankees can also try to use his glove to better advantage by leveraging it in games where they lead the late innings if they end up keeping Josh Phelps and starting him against lefties.

Mientkiewicz is coming off back surgery, which could be a good thing if it helps him outplay his projection.

So yeah, Mientkiewicz isn't great, but he isn't really horrible either.

February 14, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Johnny Damon
by SG

I pray this is not true. My happiness about the Dotel signing will be turned to furious anger if this turns out to be more than just idle speculation.

-Me, after hearing that the Yankees had signed Johnny Damon

Sometimes, it feels good to be so completely wrong about something.

Damon of course came from the arch-rival Red Sox last season, in a move that was difficult to accept emotionally for many of us. Baseball-wise, it was a sound move, at least in the near-term, as the Yankees upgraded a trouble spot significantly. We'll see how well the signing holds up for the next three years, but for 2006 it was a pretty clear win for Brian Cashman.

How much did Damon help in 2006?

Here's a comparison of every AB and defensive inning played by the Yankees' CF in 2005 and 2006.

Here's what all that means in terms of runs. BR in the chart below is batting runs using linear weights, and DR are the defensive runs saved above below average using Zone Rating converted to runs.

So Damon's signing made the 2006 Yankees fifty runs better in CF on offense and defense, about a five win upgrade.

Here are Damon's 2007 projections on offense.

The projection systems generally agree that Damon should still be above average in 2007, although down a fair amount from 2006. Damon's projections heading into 2006 were similarly pessmistic, so I am a bit more skeptical about these. Also, faster players tend to decline more gradually than slower players, which should be an advantage for Damon.

And here is his defense over the last five seasons and his 2007 projection.

So he projects about average as far as catching fly balls.

Damon does have a very weak arm, which impacts his defensive value somewhat. To look at how much, I looked at the MLB averages from 2000-2006 for two specific situations.

Extra bases taken by a runner on first on a single.
Extra bases taken by a runner on first on a double.

For scenario 1, the average runner advanced 1.27 bases on a single. For scenario two, they advanced 2.05 bases on a double. Against Damon, they advanced 1.3 and 2.05 respectively. So Damon allowed 8 bases more than average in these situations. The average value of an extra base is about .25 runs, so Damon's arm in these situations cost the Yankees about two runs in 2006. There are probably other situations that I can add in here, but I don't think they'll make a ton of difference. Maybe another run or two.

And here's something completely random. Derek Jeter had 139 plate appearances with Damon on first base. In those PA, he hit .385/.482/.521.

Over the season, I grew to respect Damon and his game. He seems like a good guy in the clubhouse and he gives it his all on the field. It made me feel a little hypocritical, but we root for laundry in the end.

In an unrelated roster move, the Yankees have re-signed Ron Villone to a minor league deal. He gets $2.5 million if he makes the team. If I were a betting man, which I used to be, but no longer am, I'd guess he makes the team along with Mike Myers. I can't see a scenario where the Yankees don't take two lefties in the pen, especially with 19 games against Boston. It's probably bad news for one of Chris Britton or Brian Bruney.

February 13, 2007

NY Daily News: Rivera ready for hardball
by SG

Mariano Rivera has long been the image of icy calm on the mound during pressure-packed October moments, so it's difficult to imagine the Yankee closer exhibiting frustration.

But Rivera's answers to questions about a possible contract extension in an interview yesterday may have revealed his true feelings about the stagnant talks, despite public professions that he is not upset.

Rivera, who is entering the final year of his contract, brought up for the first time the possibility he might look elsewhere, though he has often talked about pitching in the new Yankee Stadium and going into the Hall of Fame in pinstripes.

"I definitely want to finish my career here, but if they don't give me the respect I deserve, I have to move on," Rivera said. Asked if he felt he wasn't being given that respect, Rivera responded, "The Yankees always give me the respect. When it comes to these times (contracts ending), I don't like to talk about it. It's a business.

Pay him.

February 11, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Robinson Cano
by SG

I guess I should have nominated Cano in the most overrated prospect thread the other day. That he still gets talked up as some kind of top prospect (not pointing at John here, by the way) amazes me.

I've seen Cano play a lot, and I'm not even sure he'd be a productive Triple-A player. Let's start with his defense; it's brutal. He has terrible footwork and simply lacks any kind of instincts around the bag. There's no way you want him playing up the middle. He might have the raw speed to not be awful in left field, but that's about as kind as I can be regarding his glovework. Offensively, he's a fastball hitter. He sits dead red on every pitch and waits for a mistake. Any good breaking ball or offspeed pitch will have him out in front. He's mostly a gap hitter, lacking the power to drive the ball consistently over the wall. To add insult to injury, he's also a terrible baserunner.

In his prime, I think he could hit .280/.320/.400 while playing awful defense. Yipee.

-David Cameron, February 20, 2005

Reading that scouting report never gets old. To be fair to Cameron, prospecting is a very difficult thing to do, and it's very probable that the Cano he saw play is not the Cano the plays for the Yankees now. Players can develop, and their skills can change. And Cameron was far from the only person who didn't think Cano was any kind of a prospect.

After replacing the unsurprisingly horrific Tony Womack in early 2005, Robinson Cano followed up a solid debut season with an outstanding sophomore season. Cano led AL 2B in many value metrics, from Win Shares (tied with Tad Iguchi) to VORP, Cano was rated the most valuable second baseman in the AL. Throw in defense that rated from average (Zone Rating) to above average(UZR), and the Yankees had a gem in their 24 year old 2B. Cano's a slashing type hitter. He does not work the count and rarely walks, but he's very adept at hitting the ball the other way with some power, and used that to great advantage in 2006.

One concern when projecting Cano going forward is that so much of his value in 2006 was dependent on his .342 batting average.

Here's the list of players who've had a season where they hit for an average of .330 or higher at an age of 25 or younger in a full season (400+ AB) since WWII.

Richie Ashburn
George Brett
Miguel Cabrera
Robinson Cano
Rod Carew
Tommy Davis
Billy Goodman
Vlad Guerrero
Tony Gwynn
Al Kaline
Fred Lynn
Bill Madlock
Don Mattingly
Joe Mauer
Willie Mays
Brian McCann
Vada Pinson
Albert Pujols
Alex Rodriguez
Gary Sheffield
Rusty Staub

There's not a bad player in that bunch, is there? What this tells me is that any player good enough to hit as well as Cano did in 2006 at a young age is not likely to be a fluke. He may not be a true talent .340 hitter, but he's clearly talented enough to produce at an All Star level. He may never walk that much, but if he can play average to above average defense at 2B, he's going to be one of the better players in baseball at the position.

So let's look at Cano's projections for 2007. (to enlarge any images below just click on them)

Not surprisingly, he's not projected to hit .340 again. It appears that the projection systems all agree that he should be solidly above .300, projecting to be about two wins above the average 2B offensively.

Defensively, Cano has been graded as about average by Zone Rating so far in his career. The Fielding Bible hated him in 2005, and I'm not sure how they rated him in 2006. UZR felt he was about average in 2006, but rated him as a +10 in 2006. Since I'm using Zone Rating, I project him to be about average again in 2007.

So offense plus defense, Cano looks like he should be worth about 2.5 wins above the average 2B in 2007. If you want to put that in terms of replacement level, a replacement level player is typically about two wins worse than average if you use a reasonable estimate that doesn't assume replacement level on both offense and defense, which is unrealistic. So add two more wins, that makes Cano about 4.5 wins better than replacement level 2B.

With the projections out of the way, I wanted to take a deeper look at Cano's underlying stats, since his main skill is volatile (batting average). Remembering an interesting article over at The Hardball Times, where Dave Studeman broke down some batted ball data, I used my play by play database to look at the different batted ball types and how often they become hits, and what kind of hits.

Retrosheet classifies batted balls as one of four types. Groundballs, fly balls, popups, and line drives. Here's the summary of the different types of batted ball types for all of MLB in 2006, and how they broke down as far as outs and hits/types of hits.

For example in 2006, there were 62782 ground balls hit. 45831 of them were converted into outs, or 73%. 21.7% were singles, 1.9% were doubles, and .1% were triples.

Theoretically, we can look at the similar breakdown for Cano and see if he has been getting "extra" hits that he may be getting lucky on. I'm looking at 2005 and 2006 combined for Cano, just to give us more data to work with.

So when Cano has hit a ground ball, it's been a hit 28.5% of the time, compared to the league average of 27%. Over the 453 ground balls he's hit, that's seven extra hits, which would make his career average .312, not .319. So I feel pretty comfortable that he's not been particularly lucky as far as ground balls becoming hits, and that any regression in this area shouldn't impact his value too much.

Looking at fly balls, Cano's turn into hits 30.4% of the time, league average last year was 28.3%. That's another four hits over two seasons which he conceivably may have gotten lucky on. Add those four to the prior seven hits, and you're down to a .308 career average.

Moving on to pop ups, we now see that Cano's gotten two more hits than you'd expect based on the league average conversion rate for popups. If we assume league average luck on the batted balls so far we remove 13 hits from his line, which puts his career average at .306.

Last are the line drives. Line drives are the best type of hit for a hitter, because they are the least likely to be converted into outs. Cano was actually a touch unlucky here, getting one fewer hit than you'd expect based on his line drive percentages.

If you adjust his line and replace his actual results with the league averages for the different types of batted balls, you still end up with a batting average of .307. So even if you factor in that Cano may have been lucky to this point to have a career line of .319/.342/.490, a correction using batted ball data still puts him at somewhere around .308/.331/.476. That would still be a higher OPS than any full-time AL 2B had last year. Add in the expected improvement of a 23 year old who just turned 24, and odds are very good that Cano will be one of the top two or three 2B in the league next year, even if his value is batting average dependent.

One thing that I should note is that not all batted ball types are created equal. All these balls can be tracked as one of four types, but there's still plenty of variability in the types of line drives, fly balls, and grounders that these numbers will not capture. So this is imprecise and should be taken as such.

Let's see how Cano's batted ball types break down as percentages compared to MLB.

Here's a graphical representation of those numbers.

Cano hits a higher percentage of ground balls and line drives, and hits fewer popups and fly balls. Since ground balls and line drives are hits a higher percentage of the time, this is another positive indicator that he has a skill set conducive to hitting for average. If Cano starts to hit more fly balls, it will likely come at the expense of his batting average. However, the increased power that would probably result could make up for that.

One other thing I wanted to look at with Cano was the disparity between his performance at home and on the road. So far in his career, he's hit .349/.371/.529 on the road, and .283/.307/.443 at home.

Without looking at any data, I've assumed that it was Cano either pressing to impress the hometown fans or a change in his approach with the short porch in RF, or some combination of the two. Let's see if the data has enough information to quantify either of those.

Tackling approach first, here's one set of numbers.

Cano strikes out more frequently at home. This could mean he's aiming for the fences more frequently. He hits HRs at a slightly better rate at home, but loses a lot of doubles.

Now, let's look at the pitches Cano's seen at home vs. on the road. I've also added the results of the first pitches of his AB (either 1-0, or 0-1). If he is overanxious at home, I'd expect him to start down 0-1 in the count more frequently there.

So at home, Cano sees 3.35 pitches per plate appearance. On the road, it's 3.21. So he seems to be more patient at home. He does fall behind in the count more often at home, although that seems to be because he is more willing to take a first pitch strike.

Lastly, let's see if his batted ball distribution is different at home.

And the numbers above graphed:

Cano hits a higher percentage of fly balls at home. I wonder if this means he's trying to hit HRs? It does at least partially explain the lower average. I'd have to imagine that this will correct itself at some point. Hopefully in 2007.

I really enjoy watching Cano play. He just seems like such a natural hitter. His only weakness right now is his seeming unwillingness to walk, but if he can hit .320 or so and his power develops along a typical career path, he's going to be an asset for years, even if the walks never come. And as with any young player, there's always the possibility for more. Cano's already defied a lot of doubters and made a couple of quantum leaps in his development over the last few seasons. Who's to say he's done improving?

How good is Cano? Ask yourself what 2b you'd trade him for right now. Ignoring contracts, the only one I'd probably even consider is Chase Utley.

February 9, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: The Backup Catcher Candidates
by SG

I'm having a rough week at work, which you may have noticed from my meager posting, but I wanted to at least get my 2007 player previews started. So, I figured I could squeeze in a quick look at the exciting trio of backup catchers the Yankees are bringing to spring training with an eye on the backup role to Jorge Posada. The three candidates whom it seems will be fighting out are Raul Chavez, Wil Nieves, and Todd Pratt.

Like last year, I'm going to run throught the various projection systems for each of these guys. In this case, we'll be looking at their CHONE projections , their Marcel projections, their ZiPS projections, and their PECOTA projections.

First up, there's Raul Chavez. Chavez will 34 in 2007, and brings a career line of .212/.253/.284 to the battle. How does he project in 2007? I'm sure it's not very good, but we'll take a look anyway.

Next up is Wil Nieves, the bounty for Bret Prinz a couple of years ago. Nieves isn't particularly young at 29, and is pretty much a singles hitter with very little plate discipline.

Next up is non-roster invite Todd Pratt. At one time, Pratt was a really good backup catcher. He's now 40. Would you believe he's older than John Flaherty?

I calculated the projected batting runs using linear weights compared to average, and position-adjusted for catchers. I removed PECOTA from the charts so I don't get sued.

Remember Kelly Stinnett and how much he sucked? Raul Chavez is worse.

Based on projected playing time, Pratt's about a half-win better than Nieves and a full win better than Chavez. Of course, this ignores defense. Here's how their defense rates over the last five seasons.

Joe Torre is likely to take Pratt due to his experience. The numbers say it would end up being the smart move. Of course, Tessio thought he was making the smart move too.

February 8, 2007

Hartford Courant: Igawa Off To Early Start
by SG

Kei Igawa has already started his first spring training with the Yankees.

Igawa, who agreed to a five-year, $20 million contract in December, has been throwing on flat ground at the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa, Fla.

"He looks like he is going to be a real good pitcher," Yankees vice president Billy Connors said Wednesday after Igawa's second workout. "He throws a heavy ball. He should be very good."

Spring training is coming...

February 6, 2007

MSG: Posada focused on season, not extension
by SG

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Jorge Posada is focused on the season as he heads into the final year of his contract with the New York Yankees.

Posada will make $12 million in 2007, the final season of a deal paying him $59 million over six years. The 35-year-old catcher says he's leaving his contract situation up to his agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

"Obviously I have one more year left, and a lot can happen," Posada said Monday after a pre-spring training workout. "We'll see. It's up to them. That will take care of itself. I'm concentrating on what I have to do."

I'm going to look at Posada in more depth when I start my 2007 player previews. He's been a big part of the Yankees' success over the last decade, and he will not be easy to replace. At this point, I think I'd extend him for a year or two if I were the Yankees, as there's very little available in free agency and any catching prospects on the farm are a few years away. He's at a scary age for a catcher, but he rebounded nicely from a down 2005 to have a solid 2006. I'd like to think the wear and tear he avoided in his early 20s will let him last a little longer, but who knows?

February 5, 2007

Welcome to sports hell
by Larry Mahnken

With the Super Bowl over, sports in America are pretty much dead for a month. Pitchers and catcher report in a couple of weeks, but that's not really exciting. There's the NBA and NCAA Basketball, but the games in February are meaningless for all but a few teams, for whom they are borderline meaningless. If Tiger plays in a PGA event, that's interesting -- until he fails to win -- but then, golf is still a niche sport.

Bleh. Until exhibition games start, and "March Madness" starts in the NCAAs, sports is gonna suck for a little while.

Last night's Super Bowl outcome did make me think of something: Alex Rodriguez. The media has played up the "A-Rod is a choker" angle so much for the past three seasons that it's become somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. He was a fine clutch and postseason performer before he came to NY, he was fine in the postseason in 2004, very good in the clutch in 2005, and then... well, he had struggles. But the storyline is that he's ALWAYS struggled, when it's just not true.

So it has been for Peyton Manning. He's been the best quarterback in the NFL for years, but writers love to worship at the altar of Brady, because he had the rings, and the Patriots beat up on the Colts. Manning is A-Rod, Brady is Jeter. Though to be fair, Brady is a lot closer in ability to Manning than Jeter is to A-Rod, but in both cases, the media has considered the wrong one to be "more valuable".

You've heard for years that Manning "can't" win the big game, that he didn't have what it takes, etc., etc. You've heard that about Rodriguez, too. Well, in the AFC Championship game, after a tough start, Manning was brilliant when the team needed him the most, and carried them to the Super Bowl. Again last night, he was awful on the first possession, then spectacular the rest of the game, bringing the team back from an 8 point deficit to win the title.

Manning didn't suddenly become clutch sometime in the second quarter of the AFC Championship. He didn't suddenly become capable of doing all these things that people said he couldn't do for years. He was capable of doing these things all along. He just didn't do them until 2006.

What you'll hear now is how Manning has proven himself to be a big-game quarterback. What you won't hear ANYONE say is that they were wrong all along. Because they were.

You'll see analysts -- professional and amateur -- use results to support the opinions they had before the fact, a confirmation that they were right on the mark. But you won't see them use results like last night as a confirmation that they were wrong to begin with. Which is, I guess, human nature. But it's still stupid, and wrong.

Last night's title and MVP for Peyton Manning didn't prove he's a clutch performer. The 2005 and 2006 ALDS's didn't prove A-Rod is an unclutch performer. They're just samples of data, surrounded by noise. Manning's ring does, however, prove one thing: he's capable of coming through in the biggest situations, he does have what it takes. And everyone who said he didn't was wrong.

It's reasonable to think that eventually A-Rod will get his ring, though he might not. It's probable that, given how many more opportunities he's likely to get with the Yankees, that he'll have a HUGE postseason series that will be impossible to dismiss, even if it doesn't ultimately end up with a championship. But neither of those things will change who A-Rod is and what he's capable of. A man can't win a championship by himself.

Be fair to A-Rod. It's fine to say what he has and hasn't done, but if you're going to make pronouncements about what he's capable of, be man enough to admit you were wrong all along when he proves it.

February 1, 2007

by Fabian

Phil Hughes, 20, RHP
Previously Ranked: 1st prior to 2006, 9th prior to 2005
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 1st, Baseball America 1st, John Sickels 1st (A)

Physical Ability: Phil Hughes has the ideal pitcher’s build. He stands 6’5’’ and weighs in at about 220 pounds. A lot of that weight is in his lower body, allowing him to get good drive on his pitches. Hughes currently works off of 4 pitches: 2 seam fastball, 4 seam fastball, curveball, and change-up. While the slider was his best pitch as an amateur, he has all but abandoned it in the professional ranks, though he will toss one in from time to time. While Hughes’ curveball isn’t the 12-to-6 most commonly associated with big time pitching prospects, he has good movement on it as it goes 11-to-5. What sets the curveball apart is his impeccable control and command of the pitch. His control and command helps all of his pitches to be graded higher. Hughes utilizes the curveball for strikeouts. He also uses his 92-95 MPH 4 seam fastball for that purpose. When he wants to get a quick out or induce a groundball, Hughes will toss in a 2-seam fastball, which typically gets clocked at 89-93MPH. Finally, Hughes’ changeup is used to keep batters honest, but in time may become a strikeout pitch as well. Outside of his repertoire, Hughes also does a good job of controlling the running game and fielding his position. In the past he has been placed on the disabled list with soreness, but that has been attributed more to Yankee organizational methodology than actual worrisome physical trouble. Still, as a pitching prospect, this should be noted.

What Happened in ’06: Hughes began the year in Tampa, and as was expected, made quick work of the league. Advancing to Trenton, he struggled at first, but once he made the adjustment he dominated the league with ease. He dominated left and right-handed batters. He dominated at home and on the road. He dominated every regularly updated “Hot Prospect” chart. He dominated the eventual champion Portland Sea Dogs in his lone playoff start. What happened in 2006 was that Phil Hughes simply ravaged his opponents.

What Lies Ahead: Hughes is somewhat of a boring prospect to write about. I said this last year and I will say it again: statistically, he has no flaws. There is nothing about his performance record that you can point to and say “You know, if Phil is going to be a good major league pitcher, or even pitch well next year, he really needs to work on X”. The only thing you can wonder about is how well he is going to hold up to a major league workload. The Yankees had an innings cap of 150 for Hughes last year (he pitched 152, playoffs included) and have the set the cap for this year at 180. This is interesting to me because it has been speculated in the past that amount of innings pitched in a year should not be as closely watched as changes in workload from year to year. If that is the case, Hughes’ jump from 86.1 innings to 152 innings between 2005 and 2006, may be reason for caution. However, given that the Yankees seem to have Phil’s future (Phil...phiiiiiiiiiiiiiil of the future) as organizational priority number 1, I’m going to grant the benefit of the doubt on that issue. I expect him to begin 2007 pitching extremely short outings for Scranton as the first 2-3 months of the season are used as an extremely long spring training for him. Then, when the summer heats up, the Messiah will arrive and post an ERA of 3.89 in 100 innings with 97 hits allowed, 32 walks, 7 home runs allowed, and 99 strikeouts. In the postseason He will be named the LCS and World Series MVP as He pitches 35 scoreless innings with 57 strikeouts and the Yankees win their 27th championship.

Grade: Grade-wise, the only things holding Phil back are the whispers of workload concern in the back of my head as well as my wariness about any prospect being an A+ (i.e. no chance of missing). A

Jose Tabata #2

Newsday - Mussina: Put-up time for Pavano
by SG

"I think he has to be there," Mussina said of Pavano, when asked what the perennially injured righthander had to do to win back his teammates. "I think he has to pitch. I think he has to do his job. Just kind of be the new guy again, is the best way to put it.

"He's been away a long time. He's come and gone for periods of time, and he's been real close, and everyone thought he was coming back and he didn't. So he's got to earn some trust from some players again, from a coaching staff and a manager and an organization.

"But if he can do it, we know he can pitch, and we know he can get people out. If he gets over those other hurdles, he'll be an asset."

Until I see Carl Pavano pitching in a regular season game for the Yankees, I have to assume he's a non-factor. He's been a bust so far, which isn't exactly news, but you have to assume that a "healthy" Pavano will be better than a combination of Darrell Rasner and Jeff Karstens as the fifth starter this year? How much better? Let's see if we can figure that out.

Using ZiPS projections, Pavano projects to a 4.64 ERA in 2007. Karstens projects to 5.25 and Rasner to 5.12. Over 100 innings, that's 52 runs allowed for Pavano, 58 runs for Karstens, and 57 runs for Rasner. So for every 100 innings Pavano can pitch, it's a projected 5-6 run upgrade. If Pavano can pitch 200 innings as a fifth starter, the Yankees are about a win better.

I'll believe it when I see it. If Pavano shows he's healthy and reasonably effective, the Yankees could also ship him mid-season for a similar upgrade at a position of need, be it backup catcher, or first base, or whatever.