Thursday, February 13, 2014
And Then There Were None
Bernie Williams was the first Yankee that I really watched develop from minor league prospect to Hall of Fame caliber MLB player, even if he didn’t quite reach the bar. When Bernie came up in 1991 he was joining a team that had finished last in the AL East in the previous season and was on its way to going 71-91 that year. He didn’t have a great rookie year, but he showed flashes of what would eventually come and by 1993 he had established himself as the starting CF on a team that was steadily improving. The Yankees probably would have made the postseason in 1994 if not for the lockout, and then they got the wild card in 1995 and lost a heart-breaking series in the ALDS to Seattle.
For a lot of Yankee fans, Derek Jeter is actually the player that Bernie was for me.
I’d love to say I remember Jeter’s debut in 1995, but I really don’t. He got called up towards the end of May and spent a couple of weeks in the majors and didn’t really do anything of note, hitting .234/.280/340 in 50 PA before being sent down until September. I do remember him getting called up and making a couple of appearances in September. While Andy Pettitte established himself in 1995 and Mariano Rivera pitched a fair amount, Jeter and Jorge Posada were really footnotes that year, although the fact that Posada made a pinch-running appearance that year in the ALDS tickles me to no end.
I had no idea what was coming next. I don’t think any of us did. The fact is, the majority of prospects never pan out. While Jeter and Posada and Pettitte and Rivera were all considered decent to great prospects, the odds were against them becoming what they eventually did become. But 1996 saw Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte become key contributors. It took Posada a few more years to join the mix. Jeter won the Rookie of the Year in 1996 and the Yankees won the World Series, something they hadn’t done in 18 years.
And we still didn’t know what was to come. After a disappointing end to the 1997 season, the Yankees demolished MLB in 1998 and Jeter was probably the most valuable player on the team that year, finishing third in the AL in the MVP balloting. He followed that up with a sublime 1999 that had him as probably the most valuable position player in the league. Although he never replicated that season again, he continued to provide the Yankees with offense that few teams were getting out of the shortstop position.
As I became more aware of statistical analysis in baseball, I began to resent the deification of Jeter by the mass media. I’m a bit of a contrarian and the fact that Jeter was so fawned over started to turn me against him. Despite what some people would like to believe, I never actually ‘hated’ Jeter, but I probably underrated him because of that. I would focus on the fact that his defensive metrics didn’t match his reputation and that he wasn’t as good as the talking heads made him out to be. He didn’t occupy the same place in my fandom that Rivera or Bernie did.
The faces changed around the core over the next decade, but Jeter kept on keeping on. There are way too many memories to list, but I often think about his 2004. On May 19 Jeter had 183 PA and was hitting .187/.250/.265 in a season that was heading to disaster. Over his next 538 PA he hit .329/.387/.543 and salvaged a season that looked lost. And of course, he had his famous sprint/dive into the stands in the July 1 game that year, saving a game that felt like a postseason game that the Yankees would eventually win in 12 innings.
When Jeter hit .270/.340/.370 at age 36 in 2010 (an OPS+ of 90) I thought he was done. But he proceeded to hit .308/.359/.411 (OPS+ of 107) over the next two years.
I had a hard time getting into last year’s team. I never thought of myself as a fair-weather fan. I mean hell, I’m a Buffalo Bills fan and I don’t even remember the last time they had a winning record. But last year’s Yankee team wasn’t very good and didn’t hold my interest much. Is it a coincidence that they also didn’t have Jeter for almost the entire year? Their problems were larger than that, but I can’t help but think that not having him around made the team feel different.
I don’t think the 2014 Yankees are a particularly good team. They can contend if a lot of stuff goes right, which could happen. One of those things would be Jeter defying his age, staying healthy and hitting well enough to compensate for his defensive limitations.
Bernie’s 2003 knee injury ended up turning him from a great player to a replacement level player and as much as I was a fan of his, it was tough to watch him at the end. Posada’s concussions cost him his job at catcher and his offense out of DH wasn’t good enough although he did end his career with a strong ALDS in a losing cause.
We were fortunate enough to see Rivera and Pettitte exit baseball while still being valuable players.
I hope we’ll get to see the same from Jeter.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Derek Jeter has announced that he will retire following the 2014 season.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
RLYW’s Own Prospects Under 25 Thing That Is Totally Not Copying Keith Law (It Totally Is): 1B
So reviewing the Yankees’ system and what they’ve done right and wrong was a noble goal for the offseason. But like the Yankees having a farm system regularly churning out replacement players, it didn’t happen. I’d like to think it isn’t because Clay and I are total failures at this, and instead it is because of circumstances not entirely in our control. That review however will take even longer to complete.
Snuggles note: The Yankees have made some changes in the MiL system this off-season and I suspect we will continue to see some personnel changes through the next year or so. This actually gives us a nice endpoint to use as we look back and build a framework for how we can look at development in the near future
So with that said, Clay and I (along with J) decided that right now we should go ahead and start the process of previewing the 2014 season. SG I’m sure will do his normal preview for the major league level. But we want to take it more from a prospect point of view. Keith Law does a “top players 25 and under” every year, so we thought it would be a good idea to do so for the Yankees. This will both add a few players already contributing to the major league team, and also eliminate a few players in the minors who may still prove useful.
We’ll be doing these lists individually, so we may have a few different players; I may consider a few players to have a future that Clay does not, and vice versa. Players will be listed in reverse order of highest level achieved first, down to furthest away from majors. Each of us will have a “favorite” player in each position we’ll go into in depth, and everyone else will got a short blurb. We’ll start at first base because, well, that’s the easiest. First and DH are pretty much interchangeable right now. If a player hits enough that they’ll use him at DH, he’s probably playing a lot of first as well, and has a shot in the majors. So without further ado…
(2014 age in parentheses)
Saxon Butler (24) - Bats R, Throws L: 332 PA across A, A+, and AA, 5HR, 8.4% BB rate, 102 wRC+ in 252 PA at Tampa
Yankees had no one in AAA or majors who was really a first-baseman and under 25, and Roller and Clark will be 26 next year, so Butler is it the closest to the majors. He walks at a decent clip and doesn’t strike out a ton. Didn’t show much power in Tampa (only .119 ISO), but showed decent power in 2013. He’ll probably start 2014 in Trenton, not really anyone blocking him from moving to AAA mid-season. Looks like a AAAA player though, who may good enough to play in majors, but not likely to stick.
Greg Bird (21) - Bats L, Throws R: 573 PA in A ball, 20HR, 18.7% BB Rate(107 walks), .223 ISO, 170 wRC+
Bird of course was converted from C to first base. By some accounts, he’s the best hitter in the Yankees’ system. He obviously walks a ton in the minors. It remains to be seen if it is patience, or passiveness. He’s also got a fair amount of power, though we’d like to see it develop a bit more as a 1B. He led all players (min 400PA) in the South Atlantic league in wRC+. FanGraphs had him adding ~47 RAA. If he’s an average defensive 1B, that’s a 3+ win player.
There are of course concerns about Bird. At age 20, he isn’t young for his league, though he’s age-appropriate. There are some concerns that he may not be aggressive enough at the plate, that his power is merely adequate. He also strikes out a lot, though considering he’s a power-hitting, high walk 1B that shouldn’t be unexpected. And of course he just made the full time switch from C to 1B, so there are concerns about his defense. And finally, concerns about his health as back issues limited him to 122PA the prior two seasons.
All those concerns aside, Bird appears to be a complete hitter. If he were still catching he’d be a top prospect in the game. But he isn’t. So instead his numbers are starting to look a lot like Joey Votto in the minors. We can only hope his career arc goes anything like that. Bird will likely start the year in Tampa, and I think if he hits like he did in Charleston, he’ll find himself in Trenton by this summer. I even wouldn’t be surprised if he spends some time in AAA, depending on where each team is in the playoffs. Bird has a solid shot at being ready in 2015 at some point, if/when Teix gets injured again. I don’t really see any area that he needs to improve on, though a little more power and a few less strikeouts wouldn’t hurt. Keep working on defense at first.
Snuggles: I think it’s important to remember that while Bird was age appropriate, he was playing with very little experience in 2013 due to previous injuries. IMO, 2014 is a pretty big year for Bird, and by extension the Yankees development team. To really explode as a prospect he needs to learn to be aggressive in the zone while maintaining his patience/discipline. This change should theoretically land him in fewer 2 strike counts allowing him to cut down on the Ks he racks up due to his extreme patience/passiveness and even potentially improve the rest of his batting line. That being said, it is a change that is far easier said than done. Ultimately, Bird needs to make sure that he stays on the good side between passive and patient, at this point, that seems like what will make him or break him as a prospect/MLB player. Like Mike has pointed out, he is poised to move very quickly, and the Yankees have shown more willingness to aggressively promote in the last year or two. Bird is a prospect to keep an eye on, and really the only 1B prospect with meaningful potential in the Yankees system right now.
Michael Ford (21) - Bats L, Throws R: 136 PA in A-, 123 wRC+, 14.7% BB rate, .139 ISO
Normally a player at that age and level with those numbers wouldn’t be a “prospect”. But Ford was an undrafted rookie, so first year of pro ball I’ll list him. Especially since the list is so light. I imagine he’ll start the year in ExSI, with a shot at starting the year in Charleston. Good year at Charleston and he’s on the radar.
Others: Matt Snyder (24) - L,R, Reymond Nunez (23) - R,R, Austin Jones (21) - L,R, Christopher Breen (20) - R,R
Snuggles: I had a chance to see Austin Jones play this summer (he goes by Bubba Jones), he looked OK - he didn’t really impress but he was solid. In the games I saw, he did a solid job of putting the bat on the ball but didn’t really connect with that much power, he seemed more like a gap power guy than your prototypical 1B HR threat.
Snuggles: Just to annoy Mike, I’m going to add 2 players to the “other category.” Rob Refsnyder (R,R) spent non-insignificant time at 1B in the low minors in 2013 and hit well, I’d also like to include Peter O’Brien (R,R) who actually didn’t spend any time at 1B in 2013, because I’m crazy like that. Now, I think it’s very unlikely that Refsnyder ends up at 1B, but I think there’s a significant chance that O’Brien does. Refnsyder has played a ton of positions for the Yankees MiL system so far, I think they just want his bat in there as much as possible, but he was drafted as a 2B, which he played in HS, and played OF in college. O’Brien was drafted as a catcher, but is questionable to stick there, the Yankees are also trying him at 3B, but I would not be surprised to see him end up in a 1B/DH role eventually, fortunately he can hit the ball, so that’s not a prospect death sentence.
Thanks to Mike K. for getting us started on this, I’ve been busy/lazy and 1B in the Yankees system is pretty uninspiring (I suppose if you have to have a really boring position prospect wise 1B isn’t a terrible choice). -Snuggles T. Porcupine
It’s hard to think of a high-profile trade that worked out as poorly for both teams as 2012’s Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda swap. Montero hasn’t hit (89 OPS+) and was suspended 50 games for his ties to Biogenesis last year. Hector Noesi, the other guy who went to Seattle, has a 64 ERA+ since the trade. Class A righty Jose Campos missed most of last year with an elbow problem. He was the other guy New York received.
Pineda, meanwhile, has not thrown a single big league pitch since the trade due to a shoulder injury. He suffered a torn labrum during spring training 2012 and has been on the mend since, throwing 40 2/3 minor league innings late last summer as he rehabbed. Pineda reported to the Yankees’ complex early for camp and says he’s finally ready to help the team, two years after the trade.
“I’m feeling 100 percent right now, and my body is in perfect shape,” he said to the Associated Press today. “Everything is in the past. I’m ready to go.”
Pineda is one guy I am excited about in 2014. While the track record for pitchers returning from shoulder surgery is not great, there have been some success stories like Anibal Sanchez and I’m hopeful Pineda can be an important part of the Yankees this year.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Joe Girardi might need a scorecard to figure out who everybody is when the Yankees open spring training later this week.
Gone are Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte among others, while newcomers Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran are expected to assume large roles as the Yankees take aim at a return to the postseason.
Alex Rodriguez will also be missing, after being suspended for the entire 2014 season and dropping his lawsuits against Major League Baseball and the players’ union.
Will the new-look Bombers have what it takes to capture their 28th World Series title? They’ll have to answer these five questions during the next seven weeks before Opening Day on April 1.
When we were kids, my brothers and I were really into Star Wars toys. So any time our parents surprised us with a new action figure or space ship we got excited. Of course, to my parents any robot = Star Wars, so occasionally they would come home with Maxx Steele and expect us to be happy about it. We weren’t.
That’s how I feel about the Yankees spending spree this offseason. Too much Maxx Steele. Not enough Star Wars.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
It’s all part of the work being done on the Yanks’ oft-criticized farm system. Down the hall from Newman’s office sits a “PhD in advanced math and statistics,” says Newman, a statistical analyst devoted to the player development department. The Yankees have added other staff and scouts.
They will have a second team in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League for the second straight year. Having more players might enhance the chances of more prospects emerging. Will it all show up on the field soon? That, of course, is unknowable now. But, Newman says, “We’ve got some bright dudes here. (The system) is going to go back up, odds are.”
Ooh, a PhD.
Friday, February 7, 2014
New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told ESPN radio Friday that newly-acquired Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka has potential to a No. 3 starter.
Tanaka, 25, recently signed a seven-year, $155 million deal with the team, which is the fifth-largest contract ever for a major-league pitcher and the biggest for an international player. He can opt out after four years.
But Cashman downplayed Tanaka’s potential impact.
“We view him to be a really, solid consistent No. 3 starter,” Cashman said. “If we to get more than that, all the better. He’s got a great deal of ability.
This reads as Cashman trying to manage expectations on Tanaka as much as anything, but that’s going to be awfully hard when you give him one of the largest contracts that any pitcher has ever gotten.
But I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that #3 starter is Tanaka’s most likely outcome. And while that would certainly help the team, it’d sure feel like a disappointment to me.
Update: In other news, Alex Rodriguez is dropping his lawsuit and accepting his suspension. He had no chance in hell of winning, so better now than later.
Why are the Yankees going to win 93 games?
The prediction on the Yankees is strongly based in the fact that the past two years that the Yankees have not had superb seasons and have had very good outputs. It is shocking to say that the Yankees have not had a great amount of success considering how much money they spend on their team, but that is the truth. At some point, Joe Girardi may need to be given some credit for managing the egos that the Yankees have and for making sure that they are at the top of their games. Last year’s team had no reason to win 85 games and there is more talent on this team.
Fangraphs, changing the underlying components and assumptions in a bunch of ways that make the Yankees look better.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Ralph Kiner, who slugged his way to the baseball Hall of Fame and then enjoyed a half-century career as a popular broadcaster, died Thursday. He was 91.
The baseball Hall of Fame said Kiner died at his home in Rancho Mirage with his family at his side.
Kiner hit 369 home runs during his 10-year career, mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made his debut in 1946 and his power quickly became the talk of baseball — he won or tied for the National League lead in homers in each of his first seven seasons.
When he retired, Kiner was sixth on the career home run list. Several years later, he joined the broadcast crew of the New York Mets for their expansion season in 1962 and became a permanent fixture — the home TV booth at Shea Stadium was named in his honor.
“Kiner’s Korner” was a delight for players and fans alike, where stars would join Kiner for postgame chats. Known for malaprops — he once even forgot his own name on air — he took the occasional slips in stride.
He wasn’t ever directly involved with the Yankees, but I have fond memories of him butchering the English language on Kiner’s Korner on WWOR in my youth. R.I.P. Mr. Kiner.
Masahiro Tanaka is finally set to come to the US.
The Japanese right-hander, signed to a seven-year, $155 million contract by the Yankees last month, received a work visa Tuesday and is expected to leave for spring training Sunday, according to reports from Japan.
I wonder when the Yankees will formally introduce Tanaka?