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Each season, TYU writers make a number of predictions regarding the upcoming season, and each year I look back and note how awful most of those predictions are (here’s a link to last season’s retrospective). This season is no different, as 2010 confirmed that, ya know Susan, you just can’t predict baseball.

Who will make the playoffs from the American League?

EJ Fagan: Yankees, Twins, Mariners, Red Sox
Chris Harihar: Yankees, White Sox, Angels, Red Sox
Matt Imbrogno: Yankees, Twins, Angels, Red Sox
Moshe Mandel: Yankees, Twins, Rangers, Red Sox
Steve Shaka: Yankees, White Sox, Mariners, Rays

Only one writer got 3 of the 4 playoff teams, and the Rays and Rangers only got one vote each. Meanwhile, the Mariners got two votes and ended up with over 100 losses.

Who will make the playoffs from the National League?

EJ: Phillies, Cardinals, Rockies, Giants
Chris: Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, Reds
Matt: Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, Braves
Moshe: Phillies, Cardinals, Rockies, Dodgers
Steve: Phillies, Cardinals, Rockies, Braves

One vote each for the Reds and Giants and two votes for the Braves makes the TYU gang look a bit better here, but no one getting more than 2 of 4 is fairly awful. Overall, no one guessed more than 4 of the 8 playoff teams correctly. I’ll skip the World Series predictions for now, but let’s just say that my Rockies prediction is not looking so hot at this moment.

Who will win the Cy Young Awards?

EJ: Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum
Chris: Jon Lester, Tim Lincecum
Matt: Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw
Moshe: Jon Lester, Clayton Kershaw
Steve: Felix Hernandez, Roy Halladay

This is likely our best category, as all of the picks finished in the Top 7 in their league in pitcher WAR according to Fangraphs. Steve actually has a good chance of nailing both winners, as Hernandez and Halladay are the favorites at this point.

Who will win the Most Valuable Player awards?

EJ: Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols
Chris: Alex Rodriguez, Matt Holliday
Matt: Alex Rodriguez, Chase Utley
Moshe: Justin Mourneau, Troy Tulowitzki
Steve: Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols

Hmmm. A lot of A-Rod picks. I am pretty happy with my picks here, as Morneau and Tulo would be getting serious consideration if they had remained healthy all year.

Who will win the Rookie of the Year Awards?

EJ: Brian Matusz, Jason Heyward
Chris: Austin Jackson, Jason Heyward
Matt: Brian Matusz, Jason Heyward
Moshe: Neftali Feliz, Jason Heyward
Steve: Brian Matusz, Jason Heyward

I suspect that Buster Posey will make all of us wrong in the NL, but this is a pretty solid list of the top rookies in 2010. Jackson or Feliz will likely win in the AL.

Continue reading »

Opening Night is finally here. Since the end of Game Six, we’ve waited for this moment. Our desire to see real baseball has only grown during the offseason in light of new arrivals. Now, every player will once again look to prove just how good he is and try to carry his team to a championship. Whether or not it’s true, every team gets to think “This is our year!” at some point in the next day or two. While we may know better, it’s nice to be un-jaded for a second and truly believe that each team has a shot to contend this year.

All throughout the year, we’ll be watching our favorite team and our favorite players and looking for them to dazzle us with their talents and efforts. Each player brings something different to the field and contributes in some different way.

Using the 25 man roster, I’m going to write–as I did for the other 29 teams–what to watch from from certain players.

Jorge Posada: Can he keep it up? He’s been one of the best hitting catchers in the league, but he is getting old. In the second to last year of his contract, can Jorge maintain productivity and stay healthy for the entire season?

Francisco Cervelli: Let’s see if he can maintain the backup catcher’s role for a whole season. I see no reason why he won’t be able to. All he has to do is hit and field like he did in ’09 and the job is his.

Mark Teixeira: Another April, another slow start? Tex got off to a slow start in 2009, and has traditionally been a slow starter. Will this continue in 2010? I’m sure it will, just because that’s how Tex seems to be, but maybe the fact that A-Rod is behind him for April 2010 helps him start a little faster.

Robinson Cano: Batting fifth. The Yankees are showing a good deal of faith by putting Cano behind Alex Rodriguez to start the year, and I think it’s going to work out quite well. Cano’s a fantastic hitter and with guys like Nick Johnson, Tex, and Rodriguez on base in front of him, Cano could drive in 100 runs. If the move doesn’t work, someone else–Posada, Swisher, Granderson–would be able to easily slide in to the fifth spot and the team likely wouldn’t miss a beat.

Alex Rodriguez: In a word: milestones. Rodriguez is coming up on 600 homers, 1,800 RBI, 100 WAR, and hopefully, a 14th season of at least 30 homers and 100 RBI. Since he’ll be playing a whole season, I fully expect him to hit all of these marks in 2010.

Derek Jeter: We know the Captain can hit, he rebounded nicely in 2009 after a “meh” 2008, but now it appears he can field. His defense has been getting better each year so we’ll have to see if that trend continues. Just using the “eye test” in 2009, it seemed that Jeets’ movement to his left was much improved but going to his right was still a bit of an issue. Jeter is never satisfied with being “good enough”, though, and I’m sure he expects even more improvement out of himself.

Nick Johnson: Johnson’s return to the Yankees–and the two hole in the lineup–is something I’m quite excited for. His on base ability in front of Tex and A-Rod should lead to tons of RBI for the both of them. Of course, we’ll have to see if Nick can stay healthy. Like Hideki Matsui in 2009, maybe staying off the field is the best thing for him. No matter what, though, I’m glad to have Nick’s patience in the 2010 lineup. His power should return, too, considering his ultra-low HR/FB rate last season and his return to a lefty-friendly ballpark.

Brett Gardner: Gardner can definitely field but I’m not sure if his bat will be able to stick in the lineup for an entire year. As in 2009, Gardner’s getting a starting job out of the gate. Last year, he gave it up to Melky Cabrera rather quickly. Let’s see if he can hold down the fort in 2010. If he can, his plus defense in left could make him 2010′s Nyjer Morgan.

Curtis Granderson: There are two things to look out for with Curtis: how he handles lefties and how he’ll hit in his new home. With the former, even if Granderson improves just a little bit against the southpaws, his value will rise. He’s looked okay in Spring Training when there’s been a lefty on the hill, but let’s see him do it against the real thing first. As for the latter, Granderson should definitely see an improvement once starting to play in YSIII. He could definitely add a few homers that were lost in spacious Comerica Park this season.

Nick Swisher: Like C-Grand (100 Grand, perhaps?), we’ll have to pay attention to how Nick does at home in 2010. The raw numbers there weren’t great–.226/.384/.394/.776–but the peripherals were all there: .158 IsoD, .168 IsoP. Hopefully, the raw numbers catch up to the peripherals for Nick in 2010. If they do, he could hit 30+ homers.

Randy Winn: As the fourth outfield, all I’m looking for Winn to do is adequately replace Melky Cabrera. I’m pretty certain he can do that. What Winn must do is be league average with the bat and play steady defense on the corners while not embarrassing himself in center field. Winn isn’t likely to get much playing time, but a solid fourth outfielder is never a bad thing to have.

Marcus Thames: He made the team on a minor league deal, now let’s see how long he can stay on it. Being 100% honest, I don’t expect Thames to stick with the Yankees for all of 2010. But, if he does his job–hit lefties off of the bench–he could surprise us all. I won’t hold my breath, though.

Ramiro Pena: Like Thames, I don’t expect Pena to stick with the team for all of 2010. There’s no doubting the kid can pick it in the infield, but last year (.699 OPS) was a career year for him at the plate that he’s unlikely to repeat. I’m not saying he’s going to crash and burn, but I think the team will want to look at Kevin Russo at some point.

This is running quite long, so I’m going to do the pitchers in “bulk.”

CC: Just be CC
A.J./Andy: Stay healthy and repeat 2010.
Javy: Show us the real Javy.
Phil: Stay healthy and show us the fruits of your potential.
Mo: Just be Mo.
Joba: Make the best of a bad situation and hope you get a chance to start again.
Robertson: Keep up the k’s, kid. Chicks dig the curveball.
Marte: Stay healthy and be the real Marte.
Aceves: Repeat 2009; it was perfect for you.
Park: Can he adjust to the AL (B)East?
Mitre: Prove me wrong about you.

Right-handed relief prospect, Mark Melancon, previously hailed as Mariano Rivera’s successor because of his live heater and hard curve, tossed 16 1/3 innings last season posting a 3.86 ERA. A closer look at his numbers indicates a much weaker performance than his ERA suggests, however, as Melancon walked 5.51 batters per nine and only struck out an identical 5.51 batters per nine, leading to a 4.44 FIP. Not too impressive, right? This was obviously an extremely small sample though, a mere handful of nervous rookie innings that were atypical of the work Melancon had done while in the minor leagues. With just over 150 innings pitched in the Yankees’ farm system, the confident righty boasts a 2.54 ERA and a 0.906 WHIP, numbers which are understandable given his dominant minor-league peripherals (9.2 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9). Basically, down on the farm, he has been as effective as anyone could have hoped.

And so, I wonder, what will happen to Melancon this season? I definitely expect to see him, at some point, and believe he would be a tremendous asset to the team’s relief corps. Yet, with an already crowded bullpen, it seems the soon-to-be 25-year old will be slated for Scranton for most of the year, although someone could certainly falter or experience an injury that would alter such an outcome. CHONE projects Melancon to post a 4.42 FIP this season and Marcel sees a 4.23 FIP, but, given his legitimate success in the minors, his stuff, and his makeup, I’m inclined to believe FanGraphs’ fan projection, which forecasts the Colorado native as a 3.33 FIP pitcher with stellar peripherals. So far this spring, Melancon has appeared in 2 games, giving up 2 hits and striking out 3 over 2 2/3 innings pitched.

It’s a shame we won’t see Melancon more this season, but, I guess that is a testament to the team’s bullpen depth.

Photo by the AP

About a week ago, using Josh Hermsmeyer’s injury database that lists player injuries from 2002 to 2008, Dan Turkenkopf of Beyond the Box Score examined the way in which wrist injuries might impact power (it seems common sensical to assume that they do, but I appreciate having some form of data to support this theory, even if it is limited). Basically, Turkenkopf looked at players with wrist injuries during the aforementioned timeframe and compared their projected ISOs – the projected ISOs were calculated by Turkenkopf using the Marcel projection system – upon returning from their wrist injuries, to their actual ISOs upon returning. In the end, though the analysis was only the “quick and dirty” starting point to what might one day be a larger, more comprehensive study, Turkenkopf concludes that “there may be something to the idea that wrist injuries take away a player’s power during his recovery,” as the “overall mean difference between the projected ISO and the actual was -0.030, which is pretty substantial.”

Nick Johnson, the Yankees designated hitter (and possible number two hitter), is actually one of the 77 players featured in Turkenkopf’s study, for he spent 27 days on the disabled list with a bruised wrist in 2002 – a relatively minor wrist injury – while also spending 137 days on the disabled list in 2008, missing the rest of the regular season after suffering a torn wrist tendon, which, unlike the bruised wrist, was obviously a much more significant injury. In accordance with injury severity, Johnson surpassed his ISO projection upon returning from the disabled list in 2002, however, last season, after returning from his ’08 tendon tear, Johnson saw a rather large divide between his projected ISO of .208 and his actual ISO of .114 (a difference of .094). As Turkenkopf noted, and via common sense logic, the wrist injury did seem to drain Johnson’s raw power in 2009 – explaining his David Wright-like home run total of eight – after he had posted a .190 ISO in 2005, .230 in 2006, and a .211 mark, prior to his injury, in 2008.

I think it is safe to say that, another year removed from his wrist injury – he will have received two years of recovery time, essentially – should allow Johnson to inch closer towards his career ISO of .174. This is another instance where a player did so poorly in one category that he is bound to improve given his overall track record in that area. Marcel, the system Turkenkopf used for his ISO study, forecasts Johnson’s ISO to be .137 in 2010. As a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium that hits both lefties and righties well, I think that he could certainly surpass that number, although even such a conservative projection shows a reason for optimism and an increase in power after last season’s outage.

With that said, if Johnson’s OBP is .426, like it was in ’09, I doubt anyone will mind if his ISO is around .115 or so.

Note – Turkenkopf later updated his findings with an added methodological change that alters the difference between projected ISO and actual ISO, but there is still a drop.

Photo by the AP

Today in Tampa, Derek Jeter met with the media to discuss the new year and, of course, his looming free agency was the dominant topic of conversation. As was expected, Jeter brushed the issue off as a possible distraction and affirmed his desire to be a Yankee for the duration of his already impressive career. “This is the only organization I’ve ever wanted to play for,” Jeter said. “That’s still true today. I was a Yankees fan growing up, and this is where I want to be. I’ve never envisioned myself playing anywhere else, and hopefully I don’t have to.” He then added, “I’ve never gone into a season focused on the next season. My approach since day one is to do whatever you can to help the team win in that particular year. I’m not thinking about what’s going to happen next season.”

Jeter also stated that his agent, Casey Close, phoned the Yankees over the offseason in order to gauge their interest in providing the future Hall of Famer with a new deal, however, Close was told by the front office that the organization intends on waiting until the end of the season to offer Jeter a proposal. When asked about the team’s contract policy, Jeter responded with, “I don’t have a problem with it. That’s the new policy that they have. They have every right to do that. I signed a long deal, I’m still under contract with that deal, and they have the right to do whatever they want.”

As it stands, Jeter shouldn’t be worried about his situation at all, really. You would be hard-pressed to find another soon-to-be free agent with as much presumed job security as the Yankees’ 35-year old shortstop. The only question is how much money and how many years will the beloved player receive upon re-signing. That, I’m not sure.

Photo by the AP

According to Joel Sherman of the NY Post, in a last-ditch effort to extract some level of value from Japanese southpaw, Kei Igawa, who ultimately cost the team over $46 million (posting fee and a four-year contract) and forced the front office to reevaluate its scouting program, the Yankees have decided to use Igawa strictly as a reliever this spring. Sherman also adds that the 30-year old will continue to work out of the bullpen while with Scranton, as well.

If there is no value to be had from Igawa as a starter, then it makes sense to try him as a reliever and, frankly, I am surprised that the Yankees have not tried this earlier, as it is an idea I have pondered since 2007. Igawa’s minor-league numbers against lefties are strong – 3.25 FIP, 7.09 K/9, 1.49 BB/9 – and would likely improve as a reliever. If the Yankees are not comfortable with Boone Logan, then maybe Igawa could get a shot later this season as the second lefty out of the bullpen. At this point, the biggest issue is whether or not he deserves a spot on the roster.

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Yesterday, A.J. Burnett told reporters that he plans to cut down on his walks in 2010, after issuing 97 of them a season ago. “I would like to not walk as many people, go a little deeper in the games and be a little more efficient like [CC] is,” noted Burnett. “He’s real efficient with his pitches. He’s 12-15 an inning as opposed to 20-25 an inning, and it helps. Being more efficient in strike one, and just not give away free bags. Let them earn their bases.” Not only was Burnett’s 4.22 BB/9 the second highest mark of his career when tossing 100 or more innings in a season, it was also the highest mark he had posted in eight years (he walked 4.31 per nine innings in 2001). Basically, the base-on-balls was a significant problem for the tattooed right-hander in 2009, as nearly 11% of his at-bats resulted in a free pass.

While it is difficult to explain the uptick in Burnett’s walk rate last season – his career rate is 3.78 – there are some factors to consider that might shed a bit of light on the issue. First, in the first year of his contract with New York, Burnett dealt with some mechanical flaws in his delivery, which likely caused many of his command problems. He was also dealing with a series of complex contextual elements, such as working with a new catcher, moving to a new area, joining a new team, playing in a new ballpark, and so on and so forth. For instance, at one point last season, Burnett admitted to trying to throw harder as the fans in Yankee Stadium cheered louder, which consequently hurt his ability to locate pitches effectively. These things, in tandem, likely contributed to Burnett’s particularly wild year.

If the 33-year old hopes to improve upon his 2009 campaign, slowing his walk rate would be a very good start.

Photo by the AP

Not sure if this was reported as a standalone item anywhere, but Erik Boland of Newsday informs us that manager, Joe Girardi, has announced that Jorge Posada will catch A.J. Burnett this season. A serious amount of ink was devoted to the Burnett-Posada duo a season ago, after the two seemed to have “problems” working with one another, which led Girardi to install Jose Molina as Burnett’s everyday catcher (and which Posada did not like very much).

Result-wise, while there may be some substance to the notion that the two did not gel well as a unit – over 16 games with Posada behind the plate, Burnett held hitters to a .270/.353/.421 line and posted a rather poor K/BB of 1.72 (79/46), and with Molina, Burnett held hitters to .221/.307/.352 line over 11 games while posting a much improved 2.66 K/BB (77/29) – in reality, as stated by a number of articles, much of Burnett’s struggles last season were not actually Posada-related, rather, they were brought on by mechanical problems with the now 33-year old’s delivery. Unfortunately for Posada, he became a newspaper causality of these struggles, as it is much more interesting to discuss a pitcher and a catcher’s seemingly ineffectual relationship instead of mechanical flaws in one’s motion.

Anyway, to Burnett’s credit, he is excited to begin working with Posada this season and wants to disprove last season’s media-driven controversy regarding the two as batterymates. “I was looking forward to it from the first day of camp to be able to put that behind us and start working together,” Burnett said today when asked about throwing to Posada this season. “A lot of stuff was blown out of proportion last year and we’ve talked a handful of times already and we’re just real excited to put that behind us and move on, get better and learn from each other.” He also took fault for last year’s woes, saying that he was not right in the head, at times, and was often questioning himself, not Posada.

Photo by Reuters

Dec 102009

Sorry to cite this, but, via Dan Shaughnessy (Boston Gobe):

In an e-mail to the Globe’s Amalie Benjamin last month Henry explained that the Sox might not be as good this year, writing, “Those reali ties are a function of available talent and age-related transitioning once again, as we did prior to 2007.’’

Tuesday at the winter meetings in Indianapolis, Epstein hammered at the same theme with “we’re kind of in a bridge period. We still think that if we push some of the right buttons, we can be competitive at the very highest levels for the next two years. But we don’t want to compromise too much of the future for that competitiveness during the bridge period.’’

If the Red Sox don’t add an offensive piece to left field — for instance, if they choose not to resign Jason Bay or sign Matt Holliday — will they be able to compete with the Yankees for AL East supremacy next season? In my opinion, it seems unlikely (and perhaps the front office knows that). They could add defense-first pieces rather than offense-first pieces, such as Mike Cameron, who is still solid offensively, or, after trading Mike Lowell, Adrian Beltre. This would help them to limit runs scored against Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and the rest of their staff, but it would not help much with regards to scoring runs, something that they seemingly need given the state of David Ortiz’s bat and the lack of offensive production provided by the newly signed Marco Scutaro (then again, if the team’s defense allows fewer runs to score, then their offense won’t need to score as many to win). The Sox don’t seem eager to add Roy Halladay, either, ergo, I wonder if they have the pieces necessary to best the Yankees in the division come 2010.

There’s always the Wild Card, which I’m sure they’ll compete for, but still…

Nov 062009

From Pete Caldera (NJ.com):

“My work’s going to start again tomorrow,” general manager Brian Cashman said outside the home clubhouse early Thursday morning, while players and staff were still celebrating their World Series-clinching victory over Philadelphia in Game 6. “That’s the way it is in the front office.”

Caldera goes on to outline the specific areas that the Yankees will have to address over the winter, such as starting pitching, the Matsui versus Damon issue (essentially, the left field and DH issue), and the bullpen. Sorting out their bench, which was surprisingly strong this season after a series of smart decisions, is also a priority.

Picking up where Caldera left off, Joel Sherman (NY Post) writes that most team officials he has spoken to indicate that the Yankees will likely have a low-key winter, one in which they’ll exercise financial restraint after picking up most of their expensive toys (CC, Teixeira, Burnett) a year ago. Guys like Jason Bay, John Lackey, and Matt Holliday—Sherman says the Yankees like Holliday, but could afford to pass on him (even if Boston is interested)—appear to be out of the Yankees’ price range. The last-minute Teixeira deal might have been a bank buster for Hal Steinbrenner.

To shore up their lineup, Sherman speculates that the team will push to resign Damon to a one-year deal, then possibly pursue Carl Crawford as Damon’s successor once Crawford becomes a free agent after 2010 (unless the Rays sign him to an extension). He also notes that the Yankees could dangle Robinson Cano as trade bait for another pitcher—Felix Hernandez, perhaps—although such a blockbuster seems unlikely (if Matsui signs with another team the Yankees will need to retain their offense).

Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

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