Nov 302010

Two interesting articles regarding the two most important Yankee relievers were published today. The first (from RLYW) is about Mariano Rivera, and bodes well for 2011:

It’s a good bet he will need to be used less and less frequency because a 40-41 year old body just doesn’t recover like one that’s 30. That’s a legitimate point in discussing Rivera’s value, because value is not just about rate of performance. You’re not very valuable if you aren’t pitching.

Just because he’s now turned 40, there’s very little reason in his statistical record to think that he’s about to fall off a cliff. He certainly could, and he’s got the same risk any pitcher does of hurting his arm and becoming worthless….

Rivera’s CAIRO projection is still top tier for all relief pitchers, and it does include both aging and some component regression to the mean for his FIP and xFIP. For CAIRO, his projection for runs allowed is based on 35% RA, 30% ERA, 15% FIP, 10% xFIP, and 15% component ERA. So 40% of his projection includes data that is most likely to regress, and he STILL projects about as well as anyone.

He will eventually reach the point where he’s not an asset. But all the evidence we have says that’s not going to happen in 2011.

I think observation confirms the statistics in this case, as Mo looked as effective this season as he has been since he entered the league. He continues to exhibit excellent command and control, and rarely allows hard contact. The post makes some interesting comparisons and discusses Mariano’s ability to induce weak contact, and I recommend that you go to RLYW and read the full post.

The second article comes from Beyond the Boxscore, and confirms a troubling observation that some have made regarding Joba Chamberlain. Over the last two seasons, many have noticed that Joba’s slider seems to be flatter, tumbling rather than diving out of the strike zone. Considering that he has largely ditched his curveball and changeup, diminished effectiveness from the slider is a major problem for Chamberlain. Lucas Apostoleris used Pitch f/x to examine whether this observation is accurate, and his results are a bit unsettling:

The slider has both lost break and gained velocity, and the change has been particularly noticeable since September 2009. There was a higher percentage of hanging sliders in 2009 and 2010 than there was in 2008. The difference may appear slight, but as the saying goes, baseball is a game of inches. All in all, while the slider may not be filthy as it was in the old days, it’s still pretty great.

Joba’s slider is resulting in fewer swinging strikes, likely because it has gotten worse in many different ways. The pitch is being located higher in the zone, it has less vertical “drop” to it, and it has increased in speed (meaning there is less of a gap between the slider and fastball). While it remains a very good pitch, Joba likely needs it to be dominant now that he only has 2 pitches and the fastball has diminished in velocity. If he is truly to be the heir to Mariano, he needs to figure out how to harness his slider.

Nov 302010

To me, the most interesting new name on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot (which has no shortage of debatable, interesting candidates) is John Franco. His career numbers:

21 Seasons 90 87 2.89 1119 774 424 1245.2 1166 466 400 81 495 975 138 1.333 1.97
162 Game Avg. 5 5 2.89 68 47 26 76 71 28 24 5 30 59 138 1.333 1.97
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/30/2010.

As far as closers go, Franco was one of the best of his time. He pitched a ton of innings deep into his 40s, posted a 138 ERA+, and is 4th all time in saves. He will no double garner a few Hall of Fame votes this year based on the saves alone. But does he really deserve to be there?

It has been my long-held belief that relief pitchers for the most part should not be in the Hall of Fame. Relief pitchers have the playing time, relative to starters, of a backup first baseman. If you ask yourself, “How good would my backup first baseball have to hit for me to recommend him for the Hall?”, the answer would probably be, “Pretty damn Bonds-like.”

Now, relief pitchers, unlike bench hitters, generally pitch lower ERAs than their starting peers. They are often used in higher leverage situations where the fate of the game hangs on every pitch. But that doesn’t mean that their contributions are all that much more worthwhile than starters. If Sabathia holds the game to 1-0 through 8 innings, Mariano Rivera may feel pressure, but he’s only doing for one inning what Sabathia did for 8. And also unlike bench players, relievers don’t simple graduate into the rotation after they’ve proven that they can play well.

But imagine if you had that Barry Bonds bench player? You’re in the National League, and this guy is just physically incapable of playing the field for more than 1-2 innings a game. But damn, he can hit lefties late in the game really well. He hits an OPS+ of 180+ over his career, 250+ during his best years, but never exceeds 100-150 at bats. Is he a Hall of Famer?

By my count, current HOF relievers include Goose Gossage, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and Hoyt Willhelm. John Franco is about as good or better than Gossage, Eckersley and Sutter, and pitched in a significantly different-enough era to fail to compare to Fingers and Wilhelm, who pitched much more. And at the same time, was arguably better than Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman’s statistics to date:

18 Seasons 2.87 1035 *856* *601* 1089.1 846 378 347 100 307 1133 4388 141 1.058 3.69
162 Game Avg. 2.87 68 56 39 72 56 25 23 7 20 74 288 141 1.058 3.69
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/30/2010.

Franco has pitched more to a basically equal ERA+ compared with Hoffman. Hoffman has the saves statistic, but I don’t think that in this day and age we need to debate its merit.

Besides Fingers and Wilhelm – old-school relief pitchers who played a lot more than their modern peers and were much better when they pitched than Gossasge and Eckersley – I strong believe that there is only one relief pitcher in all of baseball who deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame – Mariano Rivera. His statistics:

16 Seasons 2.23 978 829 559 1150.0 887 309 285 62 267 34 1051 *205* 1.003 3.94
162 Game Avg. 2.23 67 57 38 79 61 21 20 4 18 2 72 205 1.003 3.94
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/30/2010.

Those are some Bonds-like numbers. While Hoffman, Franco, et al pitched like Gary Sheffield hit – at a solid,  arguably HOF-caliber level for a starter – Rivera has blown his competition out of the water. He’s the backup first baseman who is so good that he forces his way into the Hall of Fame. But the other guys? Overrated.

We’ve already had something similar to this here at TYU. You can still see it over on the sidebar: If the Yankees could only afford one of the two, which one would you want them to select: Cliff Lee or Derek Jeter?

Today, I come with a similar question. Let’s throw out all the contract demands. Let’s throw out all the talk we’ve heard since the season ended about both players and where they’ll be in 2011 (for now at least)

Let’s also make some assumptions:

1. Each player wants just a one year contract.
2. Each player wants the same amount of money; for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call it $X.
3. The Yankees have a budget and have only $X to spend.

The argument for Jeter:
1. He’s in the lineup every day.
2. It’s harder to hide an everyday player, like a replacement level SS, than it is to hide a fourth or fifth starter.
3. He’s less likely to succumb to injury than Pettitte.
4. He could be due for a rebound at the plate.
5. Pettitte could be do for a regression on the mound.

The argument for Pettitte:
1. The old mantra: pitching, pitching, pitching.
2. It’s easier to acquire something close to a quality shortstop than it is to find a quality pitcher.
3. Pettitte could be healthy again after getting some shelf time in 2010.

There are other mitigating factors this argument can hinge on, the most important of which is Cliff Lee. If the Yankees sign Cliff Lee, signing Andy Pettitte becomes a lot less necessary. If they don’t sign Cliff Lee, the pitching staff may be short handed.

Obviously, we think the Yankees can and will land both of these guys. I definitely expect both of them to be wearing pinstripes in 2011, and I think you do, too. But, for argument’s sake–and who doesn’t love a good argument?–let’s assume the Yankees can only sign one of these guys. Which one would you take?

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).

The Yankee family has lost yet another member in 2010 with the passing of Gil McDougald at the age of 82.  McDougald, whose 10-year Yankee career included five world championships and eight pennants, was best know for his versatility, a quality that made him a favorite of Casey Stengel, who once called him “the best second baseman, the best third baseman, and best shortstop in the American League”.  

McDougald’s unorthodox batting stance didn’t make a good first impression with manager Casey Stengel.

McDougald broke into the majors alongside two other notable New York rookies: Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Although that centerfield duo would reach legendary status, in 1951, the Yankees’ understated swing man was the toast of the town. Not only did he have a better season than both Mantle and Mays, but he also won the American League Rookie of the Year award and became the first freshman to belt a grand slam in the World Series.

The irony of McDougald’s immediate superiority over his Hall of Fame counterparts was just as evident in 1951 as it is now. While Mantle and Mays both inspired predictions of greatness, the only thing McDougald elicited was laughter…literally. His unique batting style, which now would be called an open stance, was often referred to as a “school girl swing”, leading Stengel and several Yankee coaches to doubt his ability to hit major league pitching, After hitting .306 with 14 home runs, however, it was McDougald who had the last laugh. In fact, after hitting the grand slam against the Giants in game five of the World Series, Stengel proudly told AP, “He’s the lousiest looking ball player in the world, but he’s splendid”.

Everything he does looks wrong but it comes out right. He bats funny, but he hits like heck. He’s got a peculiar way of throwing but his arm is strong and accurate. He runs like a pacer but he is fast and knows how to run the bases. He’s only a rookie but he’s done as much for me as any of the veterans”. – Yankees manager Casey Stengel, quoted by Joe Reichler of AP, October 10, 1951

Unfortunately, McDougald’s career was also notable for two infamous beanings. On August 3, 1955, he was hit in the left hear by a batting practice line drive off the bat of Bob Cerv. Although the ball caused significant swelling and a severe laceration, the early diagnosis from team doctors was that the injuries weren’t serious. So, after a visit to the hospital for x-rays, McDougald was back on the field only three days later. Eventually, however, the injuries he sustained would lead to a gradual loss of hearing in not only his left ear, but the right as well. By the mid-1970s, McDougald, who was then a coach for the Fordham University baseball team, was almost completely deaf, and remained so until receiving a cochlear implant in 1994. After having his hearing restored, McDougald once again proved his versatility by becoming a tireless advocate for both the hearing-impaired and the cochlear technology capable of helping them.

In the second incident, which took place on May 7, 1957, Indians’ pitcher Herb Score was the victim of a screaming line drive off the bat of McDougald. Only 12 pitches into the game, the Yankees’ short stop sent a rope back to the mound that ricocheted off Score’s right eye toward third base for a 1-5-3 groundout. The young left hander immediately began to bleed profusely from his eye and was eventually carried off the field on a stretcher. McDougald, who along with teammates Yogi Berra and Hank Bauer went to Lakeside Hospital in Cleveland immediately after the game to check on Score’s condition, was so shaken by the incident that he told reporters that he would quit baseball if the pitcher went blind. Although Score’s vision was completely restored, he didn’t pitch again until the following season and was never effective again. After the 1962 season, Score retired at the age 29.

It’s amazing how many things can go through your mind when a thing like that happens. Before I hit the ground, I thought about being blinded for life, that my teeth were knocked out, that my nose was broken and that something had happened to my tongue”. – Indians left hander Herb Score after being hit in the eye by a line drive, quoted by AP, May 8, 1957

Spending more time with his family was a driving force behind McDougald’s early retirement (Photo: Life).

McDougald’s career also came to a premature end after the 1960 season. His early retirement at age 32 was partly due to his gradual hearing loss, but mostly borne of the desire to spend more time with his family and manage his building maintenance business in New Jersey. After ruminating on the decision since the end of the 1960 World Series, McDougald finally made his announcement upon learning that he would be left unprotected in the upcoming expansion draft. According to the Yankees’ infielder, he didn’t want one of the new teams to waste a selection on him in case he decided to hang it up. It was a typical display of class from a man who had become well known for exhibiting that quality.

McDougald brought more than physical skills to the Yankees. He brought them an extra touch of class, honesty, decency and integrity. He announced his retirement when he did because ‘it was the honorable thing to do’. It was typical of him”. – New York Times columnist Arthur Dailey, December 16, 1960

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