The Yankees signed 10 pre-arbitration players to deals today (including Cody Ransom and Ian Kennedy).
(props to MLBTR)
Pete Abe just posted a very interesting and very exciting item about Phil Hughes and a major adjustment he’s instituted regarding the execution of his plus curveball.
Hughes, known primarily for his exceptional fastball/curve combo due to the quality and command he possesses with both pitches, has been facing a new experience since breaking into the big leagues – adversity.
His curveball, which until recently had been a big breaker from the eyes to the thighs, ate up minor league hitters at each and every level. However, upon entering the majors Hughes’ curve did not dominate as it had because the pitch had too much of a “hump” and he may have been slowing down his delivery, thereby tipping the pitch.
For a long time many Yankees fans and baseball analysts [your humble narrator included] clamored for Hughes to throw a harder curve which, while creating less movement, would then be thrown on the same plane as his fastball and with a higher velocity.
Then came this:
If you watched the game today, you may have noticed that Phil Hughes had a nice, tight curveball. It looked different than the curve he used to throw and I asked him about it.
Hughes explained that he’s throwing his curve with the same arm speed as his fastball. So instead of a big loop (picture Mike Mussina’s curve), it goes to the plate on a straighter plane but still has some action as it gets there. It’s how A.J. Burnett throws his curve.
Hughes devoted a lot of time in the Arizona Fall League to working on that particular pitch. “It’s hard to change because you get used to throwing a pitch a certain way,” he said. “In games, you tend to go back to what is comfortable. But they’ve been staying on me to throw the power curve more. I have to trust it and I do.”
Should Hughes be able to develop this pitch by throwing it harder (mid-to-high 70s mph) while maintaining his arm speed and keeping his curve on the same plane as his fastball, he could obliterate AAA hitters this year.
Along with the development of his cutter and changeup, the curveball adjustment may also arm the 22 year-old with the arsenal he needs to stay at the major league level.
According to Jack Curry (NY Times), it has been discovered that Alex Rodriguez has a hip injury that may keep him out of the WBC. Apparently, Alex had an MRI before leaving to join the DR team and the Yankees’ medical staff found a cyst. He will fly to Colorado tomorrow in order to seek counsel from a specialist.
A cyst isn’t serious, but as Curry notes, it’ll give the Yankees a preventative reason to keep A-Rod out of the WBC.
UPDATE – Here’s the press release from the Yankees:
New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez will fly to Vail, Colo., on Wednesday, and will be examined and evaluated by Dr. Marc Phillipon, a hip specialist at Steadman-Hawkins Clinic.After experiencing right hip tightness and stiffness this spring, Rodriguez was examined by Dr. Chris Ahmad, the New York Yankees team physician on Saturday in Tampa, Fla. An MRI examination-also administered on Saturday-revealed the formation of a cyst in the right hip. Dr. Ahmad determined that a follow-up examination with a hip specialist should be scheduled.
The Yankees contacted Dr. Phillipon on Saturday to schedule an appointment, and Wednesday (tomorrow) was the first day he could be seen in his office.
After consultations between the Yankees’ medical staff and Dr. Phillipon, and because there has been no functional pain, Rodriguez was cleared to continue baseball activities until Dr. Phillipon could examine him.
“We felt it was in everyone’s best interest-for the team and the player-to send Alex to Dr. Phillipon, who is regarded as the leading expert in his field,” said Brian Cashman, New York Yankees Senior Vice President and General Manager. “Alex has proven his durability throughout his career, and we will take every precaution and step necessary to ensure his health as we near the start of the 2009 regular season and beyond.”
Any future determinations or comments regarding Rodriguez will take place only after his appointment with Dr. Phillipon, and the exchange of information between the doctor, the team and Rodriguez is complete.
Brett Gardner went 3 for 3 with double, a run scored and a steal today in the Yankees 6-5 loss to the U.S. team starring some guy named Jerek Deter or something.
It’s very, very early yet, but Gardner is now 8 for 13 with 3 steals and two ding-dongs in the young pre-season.
BG has traditionally started slow at every new level, only to make necessary adjustments and catch fire later in that stint. This could be the pattern emerging here, as he had a very respectable end-of-season callup and has continued his fine play into the Spring.
Too early, I know, but if BG can hold his own and Jorge can catch, the Bombers could have a formidable offense, indeed. All I know is that if Gardner calls his shot at some point this season, I’m totally going to plotz. I’m not sure what that means or if it’s even spelled correctly, but that’s what I’m going to do.
The Hardball Times is ranking the farm systems based on the value of their top prospects. The Yankees come in at a disappointing 20:
20. New York Yankees, NPV: $56.56 million
Top 100 Prospects: Austin Jackson (38), Jesus Montero (44)
The Yankees roster construction provides an interesting case with opportunity costs and roster spots. With the number of long-term contracts they’ve signed, there isn’t much flexibility with roster spots. This might be something to look at in the future when dealing with long-term contracts, as I briefly explored in the past. While Montero is blocked at first base for the near future, the DH spot should be cleared up by the time he is ready. This would provide an interesting dilemma for the Yankees if Montero were closer to the majors.
This does not bother me at all. The strength of the Yankees system is the depth of their pitching, something that would not show up in a ranking such as this one. However, they are a bit low on high probability stars, which explains their low position on this list.
The expectations for Robinson Cano going into 2008 were quite high. Most fans were expecting him to take a step forward, and develop into the middle of the order hitter that he flashed signs of in his first few seasons. Instead, his performance took a major nosedive. His numbers were down across the board, with both his rate stats and counting stats seeing sizable reductions. His defense also suffered, as he followed up a great 2007 in the field with a below average 2008. At the end of the season, Kevin Long and Robbie began tinkering with his swing:
The promise is of a completely revamped player in advance of Spring Training. Long outlined pieces of his blueprint for Cano by eliminating excess action, while putting him in a better position to hit, squaring up more with the pitcher. Addressing Cano’s strike-zone discipline is also high on the to-do list.
“You’re going to see a huge difference visually,” Long said. “You’ll see less movement, an explosive, compact swing, and you’ll probably see more home runs. I think his average will go way up and I think his walks will go way up.”
Long sounds a bit optimistic, but I think most Yankees fans have fairly high hopes for Cano, in that they expect some sort of return to form rather than a continuation of 2008. It is important to understand why he declined to predict whether he can bounce back.
Why It Happened From A Scouting Point Of View
Any reasonably educated baseball fan could identify that Cano’s mechanics were stilted and faulty for much of 2008. The most obvious issue was his unwillingness to take balls on the outer half the other way. Cano constantly lunged at pitches away and topped or popped them towards second base. The fact that he never waited to see a pitch better suited for pulling exacerbated this issue, as pitchers began throwing tons of fastballs on the outer half and out of the zone, knowing that Robbie was not going to wait for something better. Another obvious problem with Robbie’s swing was the motion of his head combined with his front shoulder flying open. Players are supposed to keep the head looking at the pitcher, and then the ball, at all times, while the front shoulder remains square to the pitcher. Robbie consistently pulled his head early while allowing his front shoulder to fly open, which contributed greatly to his unbalanced swing and resulted in plenty of softly pulled balls on pitches that Robbie would typically drive.
In regard to defense, Cano started the year strongly in the field. I distinctly remember the YES crew touting him for a Gold Glove at some point in May. However, as the season continued to go poorly at the plate, Robbie seemed to take his issues onto the field with him, and his defense suffered greatly. A boost in confidence at the plate should help solve Cano’s glove work problems.
Why It Happened From A Statistical Point Of View
Many people have run the numbers for Cano’s 2008 and decided that Robbie was killed by poor luck. They point to his K’s and BB’s being perfectly in line with his career averages, as well as a BABIP significantly lower than his career average (.286 to .323). However, a closer look at the numbers confirms some of the approach flaws mentioned above.
Cano’s isolated power took a huge fall, going from a career rate of .165 to .139. Robbie’s loss of power can be explained by looking at his batted ball data. Generally, people look at the BABIP in conjunction with line drive rate to discover whether the player actually suffered from bad luck. Cano’s 2008 LD% was similar to his career rate, which suggests that luck did harm him. However, as Rich Lederer points out, this is not the complete story:
According to THT, the MLB average groundball out rate was 74 percent in 2007 and 2008. By comparison, the MLB average flyball out rate was 83 percent in 2007 and 84 percent in 2008. Another way of looking at those percentages is to say that batters hit about .260 on groundballs and .160-.170 on outfield flyballs (excluding home runs).
The line drive out rate was 29 percent in 2008, meaning batters hit roughly .710 on these batted balls. The hit rate on infield flies is nearly non-existent as pop-ups are converted into outs 99 percent of the time.
When it comes to batting average, line drives are king, followed by groundballs, outfield flyballs, and infield flies. Put it all together and National and American League teams hit .298 and .302, respectively, on balls in play in 2008. NL and AL clubs had BABIP of .301 and .305 in 2007.
However, when it comes to production, flyballs are more valuable than groundballs. To wit, including home runs, line drives produced .40 runs in 2007 and .39 in 2008, while the average outfield flyball yielded .18 runs in 2007 and 2008. Meanwhile, the average groundball generated .05 runs per event in 2007 and .04 in 2008.
Basically, a grounder is less likely to produce an out than a flyball, but outfield flyballs yield more runs. I would argue that Cano’s decline can be found in this point. Cano hit significantly fewer ground balls and more flyballs than he did in years past. Most Yankees fans know that when Cano has everything working, he is hitting line drives and ground balls right back through the middle. The decrease in ground balls definitely hurt him. Furthermore, Cano saw a sharp decrease in HR’s per flyball, suggesting that the flyballs that he was hitting were less dangerous than in years past. Essentially, Cano hit fewer grounders and more flyballs without gaining the run production that increased flyballs would give a hitter whose swing is not faulty. One other point to notice is that Cano’s O-Contact% and FB% saw a significant increase, affirming the point that pitchers were throwing Robbie fastballs out of the zone, and he was more than willing to just put them in play rather than fouling them off or laying off of them.
This all essentially confirms the mechanical issues discussed above. Cano was flying open and jerking his head, leading to a multitude of soft popups. Rather than take those pitches up the middle or the other way, Robbie played into the pitchers hands by attempting to pull everything. Bad mechanics, rather than bad luck, were what killed Robinson Cano’s 2008.
Update: I just found this piece from Josh Kalk, written in May 2008, that seems to confirm my suspicions using Pitch f/x data:
In 2007, Cano feasted on fastballs, especially fastballs that were away from him (remember, Cano bats left-handed so balls that have a negative x are on the outside part of the plate). This is very unusual for left-handed batters, who tend to hit better on balls that are middle in; most seem to prefer the ball down in the zone. Cano had great success going the other way with these balls away from him even if they ended up being only singles. Also, while Cano did swing at a lot of balls up in the zone, he tended to foul most of these off or swing and miss.
In 2008, Cano is not doing much with the balls on the outer half of the plate. He has very few hits to the opposite field, which seems to indicate that he is pressing and trying to pull this pitch instead of going the other way with it. Notice how few balls he has had to hit on the inner part of the plate this year. This makes sense because if he is trying to pull everything, pitchers should be working him away. As for the balls up in the zone, Cano is actually making more contact this year than last year but many of those have gone for the weak pop-ups we noted before. If he continues to pop this pitch up, the only remedy is for him to stop swinging at those pitches.
What About 2009
Cano’s numbers after April were solid, and he actually hit .307 with an .815 OPS after the All Star break. It seems that Kevin Long has recognized that Robbie has to fix his swing, and that may help fix many of the issues that plagued him in 2008. I would expect Cano to bounce back to his 2007 numbers at the plate, although most predictions are moot until we see exactly how well his new swing responds to MLB pitching. This is a vital year in Robbie’s career, and another poor year may signal that the 2005-2007 Robinson Cano is gone for good.
Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors put together a list of the 45 worst current contracts in baseball, and 3 Yankees make the dishonorable grade:
Jorge Posada, Yankees. Four years, $52MM ($13MM per year). Signed November of 2007.
Hideki Matsui, Yankees. Four years, $52MM ($13MM per year). Signed November of 2005.
Kei Igawa, Yankees. Five years, $46MM ($9.2MM per year). Signed in December of ’06, this was a clear and poorly thought-out response to Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka signing.
It is hard to argue with Igawa being on the list, although the posting fee was not part of his actual deal. Matsui is also deserving of mention, as injuries rather than ineffectiveness have made his contract an albatross. In regard to Jorge, it is too soon to judge the terms of his agreement. If he puts up three solid years going forward, that may turn into a very reasonable deal.
What do you think? Do any other Yankee contacts belong?
I do not often find myself agreeing with Joe Sheehan, but he is the first salaried writer to take a long look at the Yankees bullpen and discover that it is filled with unheralded yet solid performers:
Other than re-signing 2008 trade acquisition Damaso Marte to a three-year, $12 million deal, the Yankees made the statement, however implicit, that they are committed to their homegrown relievers in 2009. One of the bright spots in the team’s first October-free season since 1994 was the emergence of hurlers such as Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras, who combined to strike out 126 men in 113 innings with a 3.74 ERA. By the end of the season, Phil Coke and David Robertson were making contributions in low-leverage situations. Add in free-talent pickups like Brian Bruney and Alfredo Aceves, and the Yankees have more than enough effective relievers to go around, whether you’ve heard of them or not.
Staying out of the reliever market is a good idea for the Yankees, who have spent most of the decade trying and failing to recapture the magic that was Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson in the seventh and eighth innings. The set-up tandem from 1997 through 2000 contributed to three division titles, four playoff appearances, and three World Championships. Joe Torre’s ability to run a bullpen was in no small part predicated on having those two pitchers around; since ’01, Torre has never seemed quite as comfortable with his relief staff….
Other than the signing of Gordon, the Yankees’ excursions into the relief end of the pitching pool available on the market have been a waste of time and money, costing the team cash from its coffers and wins on the field. Now, however, they’re swearing off outside help for the first time in years, and attempting to win using the players on hand. It’s the best plan they’ve had; Ramirez and Marte should be the closest thing to Nelson and Stanton that Yankee fans have seen in a while. Jose Veras can get both righties and lefties out in the seventh inning, and when he’s unavailable, Alfredo Aceves can get ground balls. Phil Coke should make a good second lefty as more of a specialist than Marte is, and that still leaves Robertson for long relief, as well as free-talent pickups Brian Bruney and Dan Giese.
Could not have said it better myself. I think Sheehan underplays Bruney’s role while overplaying Edwar’s, but the point stands. The Yankees have plenty of talent in the bullpen, as well as more than enough depth to cover for ineffectiveness or injury. I wish some other media members would figure that out, so that we could end the Joba debate and stop hearing about how the pen is the Yankees missing link.