Sep 212010

Melky Mesa, Center Fielder

Ranked 21st best Yankee prospect

2006 19 Yankees Rk 40 159 145 20 30 7 2 3 22 3 3 11 45 .207 .266 .345 .611
2007 20 Yankees Rk 49 169 153 27 36 10 2 3 13 5 3 9 55 .235 .293 .386 .679
2008 21 Staten Island A- 46 128 122 19 27 5 2 7 23 4 1 4 38 .221 .252 .467 .719
2009 22 Charleston A 133 564 497 76 112 24 7 20 74 18 6 51 168 .225 .309 .423 .731
2010 23 Tampa A+ 121 507 446 81 116 21 9 19 74 31 9 44 129 .260 .338 .475 .813
5 Seasons 389 1527 1363 223 321 67 22 52 206 61 22 119 435 .236 .307 .431 .739
Rk (2 seasons) 89 328 298 47 66 17 4 6 35 8 6 20 100 .221 .280 .366 .646
A (1 season) 133 564 497 76 112 24 7 20 74 18 6 51 168 .225 .309 .423 .731
A- (1 season) 46 128 122 19 27 5 2 7 23 4 1 4 38 .221 .252 .467 .719
A+ (1 season) 121 507 446 81 116 21 9 19 74 31 9 44 129 .260 .338 .475 .813
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/21/2010.

Melky Mesa has been around the Yankee system for a long time, but has mostly remained an afterthought. Scouts can’t get over how great his athletic tools are – he’s fast, can throw a bullet from the outfield, and hits moonshots in batting practice. But he’s never really been able to put it all together. At least not until 2010. He strikes out, a lot. He plays a gold glove center field. And he’s getting old.

So why rate him #21? To me, its all about Melky’s ceiling. Melky is a super-athletic guy who took a long time to figure out how to play baseball. He finally brought his batting average up to respectable levels, continued to hit for power, and most importantly dramatically improved his K rate. He did it in a pitcher’s league.

I think that Melky Mesa could continue to improve. He’s shown no signs of plateauing his K rate improvements. His LD% depressed to 13% last year, which leaves room for improvement. His .320 BABIP wasn’t particularly inflated. He hits for power, takes a decent number of walks, and strikes out a lot. For a center fielder, those are relatively elite skills.

Think about Curtis Granderson’s performance this year. He’s hit a relatively pedestrian .249/.326/.467 while fielding an UZR/150 of 13.1. While disappointing and a bit overpaid, Granderson has been the 3rd most valuable center fielder in the AL. Mesa is capable of being a poor man’s Curtis Granderson – potentially with even better defense; better than Granderson. The real lesson is that great defenders at a premium position can have a lot of flaws on the hitting side and still be good major league players.

Now, I’m not 100% sold on Mesa. This year could easily have been a fluke. He’s a bit old. But to quote Mark Newman, “He doesn’t have any equals when it comes to [speed and power]” He’s got some really nice athletic tools. Even if he doesn’t continue to progress, he could become a 4th outfielder. Or he could flame out and strike out 200 times next season in Trenton. We’ll see. He’s a dice roll, but with nice rewards if we get a bit lucky.

Apologies for the reference, but this seems like an appropriate title on this September 21st.  If I had any photoshopping skill whatsoever, you would probably be looking at a photoshop of Curtis Granderson as a member of Earth Wind and Fire.  We can all be thankful that we are not.

We can also be thankful for Curtis Granderson’s September performance, as he has been one of the bright spots in an otherwise frustrating month full of tough losses, interesting bullpen usage, and an irritating inability to hit with runners on base.  When healthy, Granderson has been fairly consistent but not spectacular at the plate, posting OPS’s around .750 in June, July, and August.  While not a horrible performance, we expected better from Granderson, as did the Yankees, when they included now-Rookie of the Year candidate Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy in a deal to acquire the 29 year-old centerfielder.

In September, Granderson has posted a .290/.397/.645 line with 6 homers, good for a 1.042 OPS and a .449 wOBA.  A closer look at the numbers could give us a better idea of whether there has been genuine improvement in Granderson this month, or if we could expect a regression (I recognize that an 18-game September sample is not incredibly significant, but bear with me anyway).  Going to the cliched evaluation of luck, BABIP, we can see that Granderson’s September BABIP of .279 is not particularly high, especially considering he had a .310 BABIP in the month of August, and a .270 in June.  Granderson’s batted ball data (from Fangraphs) also does not appear to show a major change, and his line drive percentage is actually lower in September than it was in July or August.  His HR/FB percentage of 25% in September looks a little fluky, so some regression in power could be in order.

Probably the biggest stride that Granderson has made in September is in the arena of plate discipline.  Through 18 games in September, Granderson has walked 11 times, impressive considering his highest monthly total prior to September was 10 in August.  The increased walk rate has also been accompanied by a decrease in strikeout rate, and his 11:13 bb:k ratio is very strong.  However, Grandy’s pitches/plate appearance ratio appears similar to to previous months (around 4 pitches/PA), so he does not appear to be taking more pitches.  What does this mean?  Perhaps he is making better decisions on which pitches to take and which ones to swing at.

What do these data mean for Granderson?  I recognize the small sample, and it is possible that maybe he’s simply facing weaker pitching in September (though considering the Yankees’ September opponents, I am skeptical).  If you’re a believer in the magic of Kevin Long, one could attribute the improvement to the work that Long did with Granderson recently.  It does appear that Granderson has been making better quality contact and has been swinging at better pitches.  It is possible that this is just a hot streak in a short sample, so we will have to continue following Granderson’s performance to see if he is able to sustain his improvements.  If Granderson is able to continue his hot streak going into the postseason, it will be interesting to see if this has any effect on his lineup placement in playoff games.  I imagine he will still hit 8th against lefties, but maybe against righties Girardi will try him higher in the order.  Regardless, if Granderson can keep this up, the Yankee lineup going into the postseason will be that much longer and more dangerous.

Sep 212010

(Originally published here, Moshe asked me to repost here. You may completely hate me for this post, but I think the topic is worth consideration)

Photo via friend of the blog Amanda Rykoff

How would you remember George Steinbrenner?

The question has been asked and answered, and for many, the monument that now graces Monument Park behind center field in Yankee Stadium, would seem fitting and appropriate as a tribute to a man who was, in many ways, larger than life.

Ask a similar, but very different question:

How would George remember George Steinbrenner?

The answer becomes not quite so clear.

Steinbrenner, we know, was a man who spared no expense when it came to the Yankees, willing to do anything to bring a winning baseball team to New York City–and seven Word Series titles later, he most certainly did– seemingly regardless of the consequences it may have wrought.

Yet Steinbrenner was also a man whose community involvement is something we can only wish to emulate, and this Hal Steinbrenner quote about his father, from the article linked above, says volumes:

“He always told us that America is supposed to be the land of milk and honey, and there are too many people left behind,” Hal Steinbrenner says. “And he taught us if two or more people know you are doing it, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.”

Does that come across as a man who’d want a giant, bombastic monument that overshadows those of Ruth, Huggins, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio and the victims of 9/11 (among others)?

Of course, only George himself knew what he would have wanted, so perhaps it’s wrong to say that the monument is too big or a noble effort but misguided.

@emmaspan tweeted that “it would be kind of inappropriate if Steinbrenner had a tasteful, understated, modest remembrance,” and my co-writer at You Can’t Predict Baseball @jordan_smed told me, “I think George wouldn’t have wanted a giant monument, but it was still the right thing to do…because the guy he was demanded it.”

There is certainly some truth to these notions, but I’m still left wondering if Steinbrenner was about the monuments and the tributes so much as he was the cause, be it the Yankees or helping out the underprivileged wherever he could.

Don’t mistake this for hagiography–Steinbrenner wasn’t a saint, and I doubt he’d enjoy classification as such, but that’s kind of the point.

Our society still bears traces of those that came before, of the idea that bigger is better (a sociologist or anthropologist would probably love to examine the root causes of this notion), that the more gold, the heavier trophy, the bigger monument you get, the more important you were.

In the postgame, Derek Jeter was asked about it and commented, ““It was big,” Jeter said. “Probably just how The Boss wanted it. The biggest one out there.”

Jeter, unlike me, would be in a position to know, and yet it’s hard to reconcile his comment with the notion of the man who thought the highest form of charity was that done anonymously.

It’s hard to argue that any one person was more important to the Yankees than the Boss in his prime, since he held the purse strings and thus the keys, but does that make Steinbrenner more important than the Yankee name, brand, legacy or ethos?

More importantly, did Steinbrenner see himself as such?

The monument is there, and by all rights and purposes one should be there, but when it was unveiled the great reaction–via IM, Twitter, correspondence from those at the game–was one agog at how big the monument was, more than anything else.

I never knew Mr. Steinbrenner, so I can’t answer the question with any certainty, but I wonder…

In yesterday’s post about the Game 3 starter, Moshe argued that Phil Hughes’ drastic home-away splits should be considered when deciding whether to use him in the ALDS.  Moshe put it well:

If the Yankees win the division, Game 3 would be on the road, while it would be their first home game if they end the season as the wild card team. Burnett has actually been a bit better at home, with a lower ERA and more strikeouts per nine than he has on the road. Conversely, Hughes has been stellar on the road while struggling at home. However, it is important to note that despite Phil’s struggles at home, his numbers at Yankee Stadium are still as good, if not better, than Burnett’s. I’d say that Hughes should be the favorite for a road Game 3, while this factor is not determinative if the game is at home.

It’s true that Hughes has been a better pitcher on the road than at home in 2010.  At home this season he’s made 16 starts and thrown 94 innings, an average of 5.87 innings per start.  In those starts, he has a 4.88 ERA and a 7.0 K/9.  His strikeout to walk ratio is 2.43, and he’s surrendered an astounding 19 home runs in the New Yankee Stadium.  On the road it’s a different story.  Hughes has made 12 road starts and thrown 69 innings, averaging 5.75 innings per start.  On the road his ERA is 3.52, his strikeout rate is 8.0 and his strikeout to walk ratio is an impressive 3.21 K/BB.  Notably, Hughes has only given up 5 home runs on the road.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, we can look at the flight path of almost every single home run Hughes has given up at home.  I say almost because Hit Tracker Online only has the data on 18 of 19 of Hughes’ home home runs.  By looking at each one of them, we might learn a bit about why Hughes has given up so many at home this year.  Were they a bunch of fluky, just-cleared-the-fence homers?  Or something else?  Let’s dive in after the jump.
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Sep 212010

Watching the Steinbrenner memorial ceremonies last night, it was hard to tell who got the bigger ovation from the crowd, Torre or Mattingly. Both were fan favorites, and the music was so loud that it was difficult to parse out one ovation over the other. Suffice to say both were welcomed back warmly by the Yankee faithful, as was to be expected.

I wasn’t at last night’s game, but if I was I would have sat on my hands when Torre waved to the crowd. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was very unhappy with the way Joe chose to leave the Yanks. I think it’s inarguable that the Yanks made Torre, not the other way around. Especially when you look at his history as manager prior to joining the Yanks. The reasoning for turning down the Yankee offer he offered up at his press conference struck me as embattled, clear signs the relationship was deteriorating for years. Overall, to me he came across as entitled and ungrateful. Especially the accounts of him attempting to justify his outsized salary in that fateful final meeting with the Yankee brass and his bemusement at being offered a YES job by Hal on his way out. It was clearly a gesture by Hal to try to smooth out his exit and keep him in the fold, but Torre took it as an insult, something beneath a man of his status in Baseball. Reading ‘The Yankee Years’ there were sections that were clearly designed to settle scores. He can call it “giving his side of the story” all he wants, but we got his side for 12 years from the local beat reporters and pundits. That book was the work of a bitter man who felt he deserved better. I thought 12 years was more than enough, especially considering how much the game had changed with advanced statistical analysis (something Torre had zero interest in) and how nothing lasts forever in professional sports. Especially on a team with a perpetual win-now focus like the Yankees, which holds itself to standards higher than that of any other franchise in Baseball and maybe in all of sports.

But last night, steps were made to put all of that behind us. Marc Carig has the details:

After giving Mattingly a big man-hug, Cashman found Torre. The two embraced, shared a few words and then headed into the clubhouse. It was there — during a one-on-one meeting — where Torre and Cashman put the past behind them. The acrimony on Torre’s part from feeling pushed out as Yankees manager following the 2007 season. The anger on Cashman’s part from Torre airing dirty pinstripe laundry in his 2009 book, “The Yankee Years.”

“In the last three years as manager here, I was stressed,” Torre admitted. “I said, ‘This bothers me,’ and ‘That bothers me,’ and (his wife, Ali) would say ‘You’re overly sensitive.’ And that day when I said goodbye, two days before — I was hurt. And yet when you try to be rational about it, I think you had two parties not knowing how to say goodbye. That’s what it turned out to be.’’

Cashman didn’t want to get into specifics of what was said during their conversation.

“It was good for us to talk, there’s no doubt about it,” Cashman said. “We sat down and we had to talk about a lot of stuff. We had an honest dialogue.”

This is the key element of putting his acrimonious exit behind us for me. If the principals involved are no longer mad at him, it would be silly of me to still be upset on their behalf. It’s good to see that Torre has some perspective on the matter as well. As I’ve detailed in my ‘Bad Breakups’ post, there often is no good way to do this. Egos get in the way, and the more success someone has the more likely it is that the breakup will be difficult. Carig continues:

But all that was far from his mind last night. Once he hit the field for the procession to

Steinbrenner’s monument in center field, Torre received a warm ovation from the sold-out crowd.

Walking with his wife along the field’s perimeter, he waved and blew kisses.

But perhaps the biggest show of gratitude for the former Yankee was the hug with Cashman. And the healing that could finally begin.

“When I left, that was a very dark time for me,” Torre said. “It’s going to mean a lot for me tonight, just to be back and to walk on that field. I know I didn’t work on that field, but it’s Yankee Stadium. It’s the pinstripes.’’

Welcome back, Joe.

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