IMPORTANT BLOG ANNOUNCEMENT

PLEASE CHANGE YOUR BOOKMARKS AND FEEDS TO THE NEW URL, YANKEEANALYSTS.COM. TYU IS IN NO WAY AFFILIATED WITH THE NEW YORK YANKEES OR YANKEES UNIVERSE.

Moshe Mandel

Within the next few hours, theyankeeu.com will begin redirecting to www.yankeeanalysts.com. I strongly encourage all of our loyal readers to update their bookmarks and RSS feeds to reflect the URL change. I look forward to seeing all of you at the new site!

Within the next 24-48 hours, theyankeeu.com will begin redirecting to www.yankeeanalysts.com. I strongly encourage all of our loyal readers to update their bookmarks and RSS feeds to reflect the URL change. I look forward to seeing all of you at the new site!

As some of you may have already heard, The Yankee U is shutting its doors after two years of existence. While it is often difficult to say goodbye to something that you have put a lot of time and effort into, this is far from a sad occasion. TYU is just getting bigger and better, as we are merging with Larry Koestler’s excellent Yankeeist blog and moving to a new URL at YankeeAnalysts.com. Every ending is just a new beginning, and we hope that this new beginning leads to an even greater blogging experience for our loyal readers. So update your feeds and bookmarks to the URL of the new site at YankeeAnalysts.com, and join us in establishing TYA as one of the premier Yankees blogs on the web.

This is a guest post from John W., who won our Super Bowl Sunday Trivia contest.

One of the best baseball books I have recently been reading is Rob Neyer’s The Big Book of Baseball Blunders. It discusses the stories behind some of baseball’s most famous blunders, real (Washington leaving Walter Johnson in to lose the 1925 World Series) and imagined (Pete Gray costing St. Louis the 1945 pennant, which did not happen). In the book, a blunder is not simply a decision that turned out badly; it also has to have been very questionable from the moment it happened.

The Yankees losing Game 4 of the 2003 World Series on an Alex Gonzalez walkoff home run was not a blunder by itself. The blunder was Joe Torre refusing to use Mariano because it wasn’t a save situation, instead pitching Jeff Weaver. The Nolan Ryan and Jay Buhner trades were not blunders, while the Amos Otis and Fred McGriff deals were.

The aforementioned 2003 blunder is the last one covered in the book, which was published in 2006. The major omission at the time was Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, which was noted in a few chats. I can’t find the exact quote Neyer used in response, which kills me, but he noted that the trade would only be a major blunder if the Mets lost a division title by a game or two. How eerily prescient.

Let’s flash back to July 30, 2004. The Mets are currently 49-53, 7 games behind Atlanta in the NL East, and 7.5 games back of San Diego in the wild card standings. This is not a buying team by any means. While the team’s ERA+ is a respectable 105, their OPS+ is 87. Yet interim GM Jim Duquette makes two trades for Kris Benson and Zambrano.

(On an historical note, the Mets gave up Jose Bautista in the Benson deal. But Bautista was on his 5th team that season, and had just been acquired that day from Kansas City for Justin Huber. And Pittsburgh had actually lost him to Baltimore in the Rule 5 deal. It took 5 more seasons for him to break out. Not a blunder.

The Benson deal was essentially a wash for both teams; while Benson and Jeff Keppinger only posted a 0.1 WAR combined for the Mets, Bautista and Ty Wigginton managed -1.7 WAR combined for Pittsburgh. The third player the Mets traded, Matt Peterson, is still active in the Florida organization, but has yet to make the majors.

Two other pitchers were also involved in the Zambrano deal. But the other pitcher the Mets received, Bartolome Fortunato, would only pitch 21.2 innings for the team, and Jose Diaz, the other Met pitcher traded, would surface in the ML with Kansas City in 2006. Both are now pitching in the Mexican leagues.)

There was no reason for the Mets to make the Zambrano deal. Yes, to the traditionalists Zambrano wasn’t a bad pitcher; it was thought that he was the ace of a bad team that would thrive with a contender. (Pitching coach Rick Peterson claimed that he could fix everything wrong with Zambrano in 10 minutes, and that Kazmir was at least 3 years away from being major league ready.) His ERA of 4.47, while not great, could be explained as pitching in the toughest division in the AL, and his SO/9 of 7.0 was above average.

But using better stats would disprove this. His walk rate per 9 was 5.4, over 2 higher than league average. Only Nolan Ryan could get away with walking so many batters, and he’s laughably overrated anyway. Zambrano didn’t strike out nearly enough guys to compensate, as exhibited by his 1.29 SO/BB rate. His WHIP was 1.49, also below average. And even using traditional stats, in 2004 he led the AL in walks, hit batsmen, and wild pitches. And remember that he only played 4 out of 6 months in the AL.

Bottom line – not a pitcher worth a highly-touted prospect. Even given TINSTAPP. Another question asked of Neyer was why he did not include Detroit’s 1987 trade of John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander. By every conceivable stat, the Tigers lost that deal. But without Alexander, the team would not have made the playoffs in 1987. Fans forget how good Alexander was, even at age 36; in the five prior seasons he posted a 118 ERA+ and a 1.22 WHIP. And Smoltz, while only 20 and in AA, had a 1.63 WHIP and walked close to 6 batters a game. It was only the next year in AAA that he broke out.

A good GM, at the time, would make that deal in a heartbeat. But Zambrano wasn’t nearly as good as Alexander, and Kazmir wasn’t nearly as bad as Smoltz in the minors. Kazmir was also 20 and in AA, and in 4 starts had a sub-1 WHIP. Even discounting the small sample size, in A+ he had a 1.42 WHIP. While not great, he was striking out over 9 batters per 9, and his SO/BB was above 2 the whole season.

The trade would immediately backfire in a matter of weeks, as Kazmir would debut for Tampa Bay on August 23. (He pitched 5 scoreless innings and picked up the W.)  Zambrano would only start 3 games for the Mets that season as the team quickly folded to finish 71-91, 25 games behind Atlanta. Duquette was fired at season’s end, to be replaced by Omar Minaya.

In 2005 the Mets finished 6 games out of the wild card. Kazmir posted a 3.7 WAR to Zambrano’s 0.6. 3 games alone wouldn’t have made up the difference between them and Houston. But having Jose Reyes lead off nearly every game with a .300 OBP, playing Miguel Cairo (-0.3 WAR) more than Kaz Matsui (0.5), and giving Kaz Ishii 16 starts to the tune of a -0.9 WAR (Jae Seo had a 2.4 in fewer innings pitched) didn’t help either.

Where this gets serious is in 2006. Kazmir made the All-Star team and, in the AL East, had a 4.4 WAR. Zambrano tore a tendon in his elbow, but in 21.1 innings had a -0.4 WAR. The Mets made the NLCS, but lost to St. Louis in 7. A playoff series is a crapshoot, but if Kazmir were a Met they would have had a much better shot of winning.

Every Met fan will remember 2007’s Collapse and 2008’s Collapse II. Neither would have happened with Kazmir. (Zambrano would pitch for Toronto and Baltimore in 2007, and has not appeared in an ML game since.)

2007: Mike Pelfrey and Jorge Sosa make 28 starts and combine for a -0.3 WAR. Kazmir has his best season ever to the tune of a 5.8. Six extra wins, and the Mets clinch early in September instead of blowing a 7 game lead.

2008: Pedro Martinez only produces a 0.5 WAR in 20 starts, and spot starter Nelson Figueroa subtracts 0.1. Kazmir has a weaker season than the previous 3, but still gets a 3.5. Three more wins avert the second collapse.

Yes, right now Kazmir sucks hard. Over the last 2 seasons he has posted a combined -0.1 WAR for Tampa Bay and Anaheim. And he’s no longer cheap. Last year he made around $8 million, and he was worth $-3 million.

But for the four years he was both cheap and a (Devil) Ray, he was worth $59.5 million. And the Mets would have made a hell of a lot more real money in the playoffs with him. Their window of opportunity was only open for a few seasons, and with the current situation it’s unlikely the Mets will be contenders in the near future. When Rob Neyer updates his book, the first addition should be Kazmir-for-Zambrano.

Feb 102011

With the troubles that the Yankees have at the back of their rotation, A.J. Burnett has become a key figure in the Yankees’ pitching plans. He is currently slated to be the #3 starter, meaning that another season like the one he had in 2010 (186.2 IP, 5.26 ERA, 4.83 FIP) would make it difficult for the Yankees to mount a playoff charge. It is important to note that 2010 was his worst season, and that all of the projection systems currently available have him bouncing back to some degree in 2010:

CAIRO: 187 IP, 4.77 ERA, 4.50 FIP
Bill James: 191 IP, 4.01 ERA, 4.05 FIP
Marcel: 174 IP, 4.53 ERA, 4.30 FIP
Fans: 181 IP, 4.46 ERA, 4.33 FIP
PECOTA: 186.2 IP, 4.56 ERA

These projections take age and natural decline into account, and the rebound that you see in these statistics blend the fact that 2010 was an anomaly for Burnett with the fact that he is aging and cannot be expected to return entirely to pre-2010 levels. The projections range from 174 to 191 innings pitched, and from an ERA of 4.01 to 4.77. Regarding the ERA, Bill James tends to be optimistic, and I think the generally accepted projection would fit somewhere in the 4.50 range.

These statistics would be a nice improvement over 2010, but I am certain that the Yankees are hoping for more from their #3 starter. The question is whether this hope is reasonable. Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi, and Burnett himself have all insinuated that he had some issues last season that were effecting his mindset, and have suggested that he is once again mentally prepared to pitch effectively. I am uncertain about what to do with this information due to its vague nature, and I leave it up to you to decide whether you are willing to put any stock in it. I do not think it would be realistic to expect much more than the projected numbers listed above, which would certainly be an improvement but may not be enough to convince Brian Cashman that he does not need to acquire another top/middle of the rotation starter.

Feb 092011

As many of you know, I am a fan of the Green Bay Packers. In recent years, the General Manager of the Packers, Ted Thompson, has turned into a wildly controversial figure in the Packers fan community. There is a large segment of the fanbase that hates Thompson, with much of that sentiment stemming from the Brett Favre situation. Even putting the Favre situation aside, many feel that he is too conservative in his decision-making, as he generally eschews free agency and focuses on building through the draft. The last major free agent the Packers signed was Charles Woodson, who inked a 7 year deal in April of 2006. I really cannot stress enough how much this has annoyed some Packers fans over the last few seasons, who felt that the team was a free agent or two away from contending in a number of those seasons.

I have a friend who, like me, is a fan of the Packers and Yankees, but he differed from me in his opinion of Ted Thompson. I think Thompson is a solid GM with a good eye for talent, while my buddy was in the “fire Ted Thompson” camp. This morning, I received the following text from him:

Starting to really like Ted Thompson. The Blackhawks gave away their whole future just to get Hossa who is now breaking down. Draft and develop, and sign earlier rather than later for cheaper is the way to go for any franchise not named the Yankees.

Packers fans across the country have echoed this sentiment, issuing mea culpas in the aftermath of the Packers Super Bowl victory. It is a shocking turnaround considering the fact that 7 weeks ago, after a loss to the Lions, most of these people called for Thompson to be fired. Perception changes rapidly in sports, and one spurt of success can erase 5 years of bad blood.

Similarly, Brian Cashman is getting battered from all sides by fans and media alike for what is perceived to be a terrible offseason. He has been unwilling to trade his top prospects for a quick fix, and this strategy has left him with a large hole at the back of his rotation. It seems fairly certain that the Yankees will be seen as one of the losers of the offseason, and that Cashman will be glossing over these last few months on his resume.

Yet, if in 3 seasons, the Yankees win the World Series with Manny Banuelos and Phil Hughes in the rotation, Joba Chamberlain and Dellin Betances in the bullpen, and Jesus Montero mashing in the middle of the order, we might look back on this offseason in an entirely different light. Much like the failed pursuit of Johan Santana was bemoaned at the time but has subsequently come to be viewed as an unqualified positive for the organization, Cashman’s unwillingness to trade the farm for anything but elite talent may undergo a similar reevaluation in the future. Instead of looking upon this offseason as the one in which Cliff Lee got away, we might remember it as the year Cashman held on to the next wave of Yankee stars. It may strike you as unlikely, but if Packers fans can embrace Ted Thompson, anything can happen.

John Manuel of Baseball America recently did an interview
with NoMaas, and made a number of interesting statements over the course of his remarks. The one I found most compelling was his opinion on Jesus Montero’s defense:

The consensus is (and frankly has been for the last two years) that Montero has improved, but will never be an average defender.
He’s got plus raw arm strength, but a slow, inconsistent release. He’s become more flexible and agile behind the plate, but is who he is — a behemoth for a catcher. He’s just big, in a better way now, but still big. I believe he can catch in the majors, but it would always be “adequate,” and he would be an asset for his offense, not his defense.
Comparing him to Mike Piazza, he has a better arm but is a lesser receiver. He’s never been held up as a guy who is great at handling pitchers, either.

Check out the remainder of the interview, as Manuel is very candid in his assessments and NoMaas asks some strong questions. As for Jesus, I recently suggested that the Yankees might be better off just sticking Montero at DH and forgetting about him for the next 10 seasons, but that contention was based upon the premise that Montero will be an awful defender. If he can be adequate or even moderately below average behind the plate, it is almost certain that he would provide more value to the club in both the short-term and long-term as a catcher. It seems like the Yankees believe that he can meet that standard, and I expect them to give him a chance to be the starting catcher on Opening Day 2012, and possibly sooner if Russell Martin does not work out.

With the focus of the sports world on the NFL and the Yankees seemingly done tinkering with their roster until pitchers and catchers report, The Yankee U is running a Yankees trivia contest as a diversion.

The rules are simple. The first question is below. The answer to that question should be put into your web browser’s url area, where you should follow it with .blogspot.com. This will lead you to a page with another question, where the same rules apply. On each page, specific instructions are included to make sure you enter the right words, so be careful. For example, the answer may be Derek Jeter, and the instruction would read, add a 1 at the end of the name. This means the web address to the next question is derekjeter1.blogspot.com. There are 42 questions of varying difficulty, in honor of the great Mariano closing another All-Star game victory. The winner must leave a comment on the final page. Included in the comment should be the answers to questions # 6, 9, 17, 23, 29, 36, 42,and a name. The winner should then email me by using the contact us feature in the right toolbar. If you think I made an error in the setup, email me. Some of you may have played this game before, but I hope you’ll give it another try. The winner gets to write a guest post of any length on any topic in the week following the contest. Good luck, and happy hunting.

Question # 1: Let’s start with an easy one. What were the Yankees called immediately before they were the Yankees? Give the city and team name. (ie newjerseycornhuskers.blogspot.com)

Feb 032011

Capping off a tumultuous offseason in which the Yankees seemed to have been denied every player they really wanted, Andy Pettitte has decided to retire. While we can hold out hope that Andy changes his mind at some point and joins the club for the second half ala Roger Clemens, this leaves the Yankees with very little margin for error in their rotation. They need CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and AJ Burnett to pitch well, and have to get decent production from at least one of their young pitchers or reclamation projects. They still project to win about 90 games and to be better than the other wild card contenders, but the gap between them and their closest competitors is very slim, such that one injury to a top 3 starter could really hurt their chances of making the postseason. There is no way to spin this as anything other than a blow to the Yankees championship hopes.

As for Andy, he is a fan favorite here in New York, and rightfully so. For many of us, watching him blossom from a prospect into a rotation stalwart was an important element of the beginning of our Yankee fandom, as Ben Kabak eloquently notes:

I grew up with Andy Pettitte. I was 12 and he was 23 when he came up to pitch in the Majors. I saw him morph from a prospect to a team leader and a stalwart in the rotation. I’ll certainly miss his stare, his familiar leg kick, his pick-off move and the fact that he would pitch every five days and give it his all. We’re all growing up and getting older, and it just won’t be the same in the Bronx without him.

There will be a lot of eulogizing done over the next few days, both for Andy’s career and for the Yankees 2011 season. Discussions of Andy’s Hall of Fame worthiness are likely to dominate the former, while gratuitous shots at Brian Cashman and the Yankee front office are likely to characterize the latter. We will address these issues over the next few days. For now, let’s just tip our caps to a great Yankee. Andy Pettitte will be missed.

From Joel Sherman:

So who knows what happens when their two best pitching prospects, Manuel Banuelos and Dellin Betances, begin throwing in spring, particularly in light of the Yanks’ hunger for quality starting pitching.

However, for now, GM Brian Cashman is firm that Banuelos and Betances are not part of major league plans for 2011 either out of spring training or during the season.

“They shouldn’t be caught up in our major league problems,” Cashman told me. Translation: No matter how short the rotation might be, it is not up to two inexperienced pitchers to solve the mess caused by Cliff Lee’s rejection and Andy Pettitte continued defection. Banuelos and Betances have each made three career starts at Double-A, which is the highest level they have attained. Both had injuries last year that severely restricted their workload. So you can expect that the Yanks will institute an innings cap not much above 130 – if that high. With that the case, it would be hard to begin or end the year with either Banuelos or Betances in the rotation. In addition, Cashman stressed that Banuelos is just 19 (he turns 20 next month).

Neither pitcher is entirely ready for the majors, although Keith Law believes that Banuelos is very close. That said, I can already see how spring training will play out if either guy performs well. People will see the hotshot prospect throwing heaters next to Freddy Garcia’s soft-tossing and Bartolo Colon’s waistline and will suggest that the Yankees go with the young arm in the rotation. While that would be the more exciting and interesting decision, Cashman is right to be opposed to any such move.

Handing a major league job to a pitcher who has yet to see significant time in AA is a recipe for disaster. The Yankees would likely see marginal gain at best from starting the prospect over the veteran, and there is a distinct possibility that the prospect would be awful and actually cost the team more than Freddy Garcia might. Additionally, there is a nonzero chance that rushing the prospect into the rotation would stunt his development and cost the Yankees a valuable asset.

Showing patience with prospects is incredibly difficult, particularly when the alternatives are guys who were last effective 3 or 4 seasons ago. But building a farm system requires a deft hand, as pushing players too quickly or moving them along too slowly could upset the delicate balance of talent and health that goes into building a professional baseball player. When it comes to Banuelos and Betances, having them start the season in the majors would be a poor decision built upon desperation, and could very well hurt the franchise in the long run. Hopefully Brian Cashman remains steadfast in his opposition to rushing these pitchers, and they develop into excellent pitchers at their own pace.

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