Tag Archives: Yankees

Justin Verlander and the power of narrative

By Travis Reitsma

I want to start off by saying congratulations to Justin Verlander on a well-deserved Cy Young Award.  Had I been voting, I would have selected him to win.  He posted a ridiculous season leading the AL in ERA at 2.40, tERA at 3.09 and SIERA at 2.99.  He also led the league in wins with 24, and when someone wins that many games in a season, you can probably assume it was a very good season.

There’s little question that Verlander is a deserving Cy Young Award winner and the Baseball Writers Association of America apparently thought so too, naming him just the ninth unanimous winner of the award since its inception in 1956 joining Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana (all twice), Denny McLain, and Ron Guidry.

Verlander’s naming was so much a slam dunk that there was zero drama ahead of the award announcement this afternoon.  That has been the narrative really since he no-hit the Blue Jays back in May.  From about mid-August onward, no one questioned his winning the award; the narrative was set in place.  The only question was how much consideration should he get for the MVP award?  The problem isn’t that Verlander doesn’t deserve the Cy, it’s that the narrative set in place months ago clearly dictated just how convincingly he won.  It should have been much, much closer than it was and for once, it was a Yankee who lost out because of narrative.

C.C. Sabathia had an outstanding season in 2011.  He actually led the American League in pitcher fWAR at 7.1 compared to Verlander’s 7.0, although Verlander did have a sizable advantage in rWAR at 8.6 to 6.9.  Sabathia also finished ahead of Verlander in FIP, xFIP and finished only slightly behind him in SIERA.  Despite this, Sabathia didn’t even finish second to Verlander…or third!  Sabathia was a far superior pitcher in 2011 to both Jered Weaver and James Shields, yet he finished behind them as well.

(click to embiggen)

Of course, none of this takes into account the divisions in which Verlander and Sabathia play.  Sabathia pitches many of his games against the offensively gifted AL East, while Verlander pitches most against such “daunting” lineups as the Indians, Royals and Twins.  Verlander also plays in a much more pitcher-friendly park than Sabathia.  Despite this, Sabathia put up at least comparable numbers across the board and actually had a significantly lower home run rate.

Here’s a quick rundown comparing the numbers of Verlander and Sabathia against the AL East and Central divisions.

(click to embiggen)

As you can see, the numbers are fairly similar between the two.  Verlander has a sizable advantage against both divisions in hits, but Sabathia has a strong advantage in home runs allowed.  Would Verlander have been such a slam dunk, no doubt, unanimous winner if he were on the Yankees?  Would Sabathia have at least finished second in voting had he pitched his 2011 season on the Tigers?

I’ll reiterate, I do think Verlander should have won this award, but the narrative crafted by the media throughout the season made Verlander not just a Cy Young Award winner, but painted him as having one of the finest pitching seasons of all time and has also made him a serious contender for the MVP.

Although fWAR puts Verlander behind not only Sabathia but also behind five other AL position players, he did lead all of baseball in rWAR (for pitchers and position players) lending at least some credence to him being considered for the AL MVP; not that WAR stats should be the end all and be all in MVP voting.

The 2011 Justin Verlander season is a perfect example of how media-crafted narratives have a significant influence on award voting and how we think of a given player’s season.

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Power Rankings, May 9th — The Phils stay on top, while the Red Sox fall out of the top five.

Evan Longoria's return to the lineup this past week will further the Rays' surge back toward the top of the rankings after a slow start.

Welcome to the fortnightly instalment of Baseball Canadiana’s Power Rankings.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of power rankings, you must know that it has very little to do with the standings.  Even though the Indians currently hold baseball’s best record, it’s difficult to say that they are better than Philadelphia, the Yankees, or even Boston.  Power rankings are meant to look past the standings and are therefore not reactionary to hot and cold streaks, as they take into account the unreliability of small sample sizes. 

I made a decision with the Power Rankings here at Baseball Canadiana; I’m making them bi-monthly.  Why you ask?  Because at this time of year, teams start to show who they really are and very little changes from week-to-week.  I feel like there is more to talk about when it’s done every two weeks.  This instalment is no different; here are the rankings:

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2011 New York Yankees: Is this the year the Bombers take a step back?

2010 Record: 95-67, 2nd AL East, AL Wildcard
2010 Prediction: 95-67, 2nd AL East, AL Wildcard
Diff: 0
2011 Prediction: 3rd AL East

Impact Player: 2B Robinson Cano
Impact Pitcher: LHP C.C. Sabathia
Best Reliever: RHP Mariano Rivera
Top Prospect: C/DH Jesus Montero

General Manager: Brian Cashman
Manager: Joe Girardi (287-199, .591)

Significant Acquisitions:
RHP Rafael Soriano, C Russell Martin, OF Justin Maxwell, RHP Freddy Garcia

Significant Departures:
DH/OF Marcus Thames, DH/1B Lance Berkman, OF Austin Kearns, DH Nick Johnson, RHP Javier Vazquez, LHP Andy Pettitte, RHP Chad Gaudin, RHP Dustin Moseley, RHP Kerry Wood, RHP Alfredo Aceves, RHP Jonathan Albaladejo

I don’t want brag or anything, but I predicted the Yankees dead on last season; record, division placement and playoff seed.  I’m pretty much Jesus is all I’m saying.

Modesty aside, the Yankees were about as good as expected in the regular season last year winning 95-games and marching into the playoffs as the wildcard seed in the American League.  Once they got into the playoffs, things stopped going as planned.  The lack of depth in the rotation was exposed by the Rangers who bounced them in the ALCS and then came the offseason.  The Yankees lost out on Cliff Lee who signed with the Phillies and then failed to land Zack Greinke who was traded to Milwaukee.  Their consolation prize, Carl Crawford signed with their hated rivals who also traded for Adrian Gonzalez and became the early on-paper favourites in the AL.

By all accounts, it was not a good offseason for the Yankees.  To try and make up for it, ownership decided it would override general manager Brian Cashman and sign last year’s best closer Rafael Soriano to be Mariano Rivera’s new setup man.  Soriano’s contract is for three-years and $35-million, and is one of the more player-friendly contracts in baseball with out-clauses after each season.  That puts the Yankees in a no-win situation even if it does give them the best bullpen in baseball on paper for 2011.

Last week Andy Pettitte announced his retirement giving the Yankees a rather pedestrian starting rotation that failed to land anyone of consequence in the offseason; unless you think Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia or Mark Prior all in on minor-league deals, are game changers.  Sadly, this is not 2002.

Some in New York have been questioning whether or not Cashman is on his way out, especially considering his odd behaviour this offseason.  Only on the Yankees can any GM be on the hot-seat after a 95-win playoff season and less than a year and a half removed from winning the World Series.

Their offense will still be plenty good enough to win a lot of games, but compared to their chief rivals, the Red Sox and Rays, they just don’t have the starting pitchers to keep up.


Starting Rotation

C.C. Sabathia is one of the game’s pure aces.  He finished 3rd in AL Cy Young Award voting in 2010 after posting a 21-7 record with a 3.18 ERA.  He finished second in the AL in innings pitched with 237.2 and was top ten in the AL in FIP at 3.54.  He can opt out of his current contract at season’s end, but even if he did, the Yankees would still have to be considered the front-runners to sign him considering the money he’d command.

People (Yankees fans, if they can be called people) seem to think that Phil Hughes is kind of a stiff who may be overrated.  I don’t see this at all.  His second-half last year was somewhere between mediocre and bad, but it was the first time he’d pitched as a starter for the whole season.  This invariably happens to young starters and just because it feels like Hughes has been around a long time, doesn’t mean he should be expected to totally outperform most other 24-year-olds in this regard.  He posted solid peripherals in 2010 and if he can keep his HR/9 rate down, the sky’s the limit.  He is a more than capable number two starter on any team.

After those two, things get scary.  A.J. Burnett was an unmitigated disaster last year posting a 4.83 FIP and his worst K/BB ratio since 2001.  He lost 15 games and had a career-worst 5.26 ERA.  At 34, he could be in full decline which is not something you want from an already average and under-performing pitcher supposedly in the #3 spot on a contending team.  At the time, I think most smart Jays’ fans thought it was a good thing when A.J. opted out of his contract to sign in the Bronx; now they know it.

After Burnett is expected to be Ivan Nova whose rookie season was decent and who could actually supplant Burnett as the team’s third best starter this year.  Nova had a 2.86 ERA and 3.54 FIP in 23 AAA starts last season.

The fifth spot will be a spring battle between Sergio Mitre and the three non-roster veterans Colon, Garcia and Prior, who could also get a look in the bullpen.  Look for the Yankees to be active mid-season on the trade market to improve their rotation; especially considering Nova likely won’t pitch a full year.

Bullpen
To compensate for the lack of starting depth, the Yankees tried to make sure their bullpen would be more than capable of taking a lead from the sixth inning on.  For this season, they should be fine, barring injuries of course.

Rivera is back on another two-year deal after posting a 1.80 ERA and 2.81 FIP in 2010.  Even though his age now matches his jersey number (42), he is still the best reliever in the game.  With 2010 under his belt, he has posted 10 seasons with an ERA at 2.00-or less, including three straight and seven of the last eight.

Soriano may not be worth $35-million with two player options (not to mention the first-round pick the Yankees give up to their division-rival Rays by signing him), but he should be an elite eighth-inning man.  His FIP was identical to Rivera’s last year and his K/BB ratio was remarkably similar as well.  People who say that Soriano doesn’t have a track-record are nuts.  Since he came into the league and moved to the bullpen full-time in 2003 with the Mariners, Soriano has posted the 10th-best FIP among relievers with at least 300 IP at 3.01.  The names in front of him are some of the most elite closers in the game…and B.J. Ryan.

Beyond the two richest members of the bullpen, the Yankees are very solid.  David Robertson gives up a few walks, but is otherwise very dependable and Joba Chamberlain receives a lot of hate, despite posting solid peripherals in 2010.  Chamberlain posted a 3.50 K/BB ratio and a 0.75 HR/9 rate last season while keeping the ball on the ground (45.6 GB%), which is important in Yankee Stadium.  His FIP was a solid 2.98, only barely behind both Rivera and Soriano.  It’s time to stop hating on Joba; he was a tad unlucky in 2010 and is still a good pitcher.  If the Yankees were really smart, they’d let him start again.

Three lefties will likely round out the ‘pen in Boone Logan, free agent signing Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte, who is recovering from an injury-plagued 2010.  If the 36-year-old Marte appears done, Romulo Sanchez, Brian Schlitter, Rule 5 pick Daniel Turpen or any one of a handful of non-roster invites could also crack the team.

Catchers
Most people are unsure if uber-prospect Jesus Montero has any real future at catcher, but he certainly does have a future somewhere in the lineup; and he might make that jump this season.  With 39-year-old Jorge Posada now being slotted in at DH full-time after 13 seasons as the starting catcher, the Yankees decided to sign Canadian Russell Martin who has not looked right for a couple years now.  If his hip injury holds him back, the Yankees may be forced to bring up Montero earlier than they would like and possibly in a position he’s not suited for.  Francisco Cervelli is a more than capable backup who had a 1.1 WAR last season.

Infielders
Despite some probably unnecessary drama surrounding Yankee-great Derek Jeter’s contract talks, the two sides were able to come to an agreement and Jeter will be back at short this season.  His gold gloves are an obvious joke considering he’s no longer a good shortstop, but he’ll probably play there for a couple more seasons.  He had his worst year as a pro in 2010, but was still a well-above-average offensive shortstop and is only one year removed from serious MVP contention.

Robinson Cano is the best hitter on this team right now and perhaps the best second-baseman in the game.  Another outstanding year has put him in the realm of truly elite hitters.

Third Baseman Alex Rodriguez posted his 13th consecutive (and 14th total) 30/100 season and a full-year removed from his 2009 hip surgery seemed to improve his defence as well, although he is still below-average in that regard.  He’s also set up to pass Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth on the all-time homers list this season.  Of note, last season A-Rod posted his lowest walk-rate since 1999.

First baseman Mark Teixeira had one of his worst seasons in 2010 seeing his numbers drop across the board but should rebound this year.  He also lost a step defensively posting the worst fielding rating (-2.9 UZR) of his entire career.  Not a lot went right for him in 2010, but he was still a 3.5 WAR player and hit 33 homeruns.

The reserves are thin for New York with Ramiro Pena and his 2010 OPS of .505 being the most likely fill-in, but he is a fine fielder.  Kevin Russo can also play some third base if he makes the team.

Outfielders
Getting out of the way that Cano led all Yankee position players with a 6.4 WAR in 2010, who do you think was second-best?  A-Rod?  Jeter?  Teixeira?  Nick Swisher?  Nope.  It was Brett Gardner with a 5.4 WAR.  Gardner may be the most underrated player in baseball and if the Yankees are smart they’ll realize what they have.  The leftfielder posted a 21.9 UZR which led all major-league outfielders and he also had a .383 OBP.  When you add his 47 stolen bases to his OPS, it raises it from a solid .762 to a very good .861.

In centerfield, Curtis Granderson was solid but will need to be better against lefties in 2011, while Swisher is back in rightfield after a career year.  Most doubt that Swisher can sustain the .288 average he put up last year, but his OBP and wOBA were both close to his career average; there shouldn’t be too much of a drop-off in 2011.

At the moment, the Yankees’ outfield depth is scarily thin, as it is in the infield.  Justin Maxwell was just acquired in a trade with Washington and may be the best option for fourth outfielder.  Outside of him are Russo, Colin Curtis and Greg Golson.

For a statistical journey through chart, where you’ll find all the lineup info you need, click here.

Overview
The Yankees will have one of the best offensive teams in baseball again in 2011, which will gleam them more than a few wins, but their serious lack of rotation depth, if not remedied, will be a problem.  Another area of concern is position-player depth.  If any one of the Yankees’ regulars goes down for an extended time, I’m not confident Russo, Maxwell or Pena can step in and be truly effective.  They are one or two big injuries away from being an afterthought in 2011.
Final Prediction: 90-72, 3rd AL East

Are our eyes wrong again? Was Andy Pettitte any better in the post-season than in the regular season?

In a similar way to the way we always thought Roberto Alomar was an elite fielding second baseman, I think most of us have the perception that Andy Pettitte was a particularly good post-season performer.

However, this, like the Alomar thing, is a case where our eyes aren’t telling us the whole story.

During his retirement press conference today, Andy told those gathered that he was no better in the post-season throughout his career than he was in the regular season.

This does seem hard to believe, I mean, Pettitte was a major part of all those World Series wins for the Yankees and always seemed to be pitching in the big games.

In my own memory, that’s the thing that stands out most about his career.  The dude was nails in the post-season.

Don’t get me wrong, saying that he wasn’t any better in the post-season doesn’t mean he was shit.  He is, after all, a very good pitcher and has been since I first heard his name in 1996.  That year he was in an epic battle for the AL Cy Young award with Blue Jays’ ace Pat Hentgen.  Hentgen, of course, ended up winning the award that year.

Obviously I didn’t like Pettitte at the time, but I came to begrudgingly respect him as time went on; part of the reason for that was his post-season reputation.

So when Pettitte said these words today, I did what many of us baseball nerds probably did, I dashed over to FanGraphs to see if Pettitte was just being modest or if, once again, our eyes were tricking us.

Sure enough, Mr. Pettitte is right.

Regular Season: 3.88 ERA, 6.63 K/9, 2.83 BB/9, 3.75 FIP
Post-Season        3.83 ERA, 5.92 k/9, 2.46 BB/9, 4.17 FIP

No better, that’s for sure.

Traditionalists will point to his 19-10 career post-season record without mentioning, of course, that most of those wins were because of opportunity having played for the Yankees for so many years and the fact that the Yankees are always one of the best offensive teams in the league.

Just like the perception that post-season games are somehow totally different from regular season games in that you have to “manufacture” more runs (whatever the hell that means) the perception that Andy Pettitte was a great post-season pitcher is wrong.

Pettitte was a very good post-season pitcher, just like he was a very good pitcher in the regular season, but he was no better.

And just to get it out of the way: No, I don’t think he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

In that regard, however, he has one thing going for him and one going against him when it comes to the “completely unbiased” BBWAA.

For him: He spent most of his years in a Yankee uniform

Against him: He admitted to using HGH while recovering from an injury.

Either way, I don’t think he belongs there, but his vote count in five years will be very interesting none the less.

Will Albert Pujols ever be a Jay?

So who’s up for some aimless speculation?  I figure it’s a good time since there is very little tangible news these days in baseball.

Over at Getting Blanked, Mr. Parkes got to writing an article that was eerily similar to one I had been thinking about writing for a couple weeks.  It involved the best player in baseball and his impending contract situation.

Albert Pujols is entering the final year of a 7yr/$100-million deal that he signed prior to the 2005 season with St. Louis.  The Cardinals are now faced with the tough task of resigning him to an extension which could very well be the most lucrative in Major League history.

If he does not sign an extension before the end of the season, Pujols will undoubtedly become the most anticipated free agent to hit the market since Alex Rodriguez in the fall of 2000.

Parkes does a great job proving the opposite point I had.  I was going to say how the Cardinals might have an advantage in negotiations because the three biggest spenders in baseball, the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, are set at first base for many seasons to come with Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Howard respectively.

It should be qualified that Gonzalez has not yet signed an extension with Boston and as of now is still set to become a free agent at the end of this season, but it is well understood that the Red Sox and Gonzalez will sign an extension soon.

Since there are very few teams who can afford the contract Pujols would command, the Cardinals might have some leverage.

But Parkes makes a great point:

“As good as Teixeira and Gonzalez are, Pujols is much better.  And the Yankees and Red Sox go into every offseason with the sole purpose of getting better.

Assuming that the Yankees or Red Sox aren’t interested also overlooks the fact that New York will be using 39 year old Jorge Posada as their DH this coming season, while the Boston Red Sox go with the rapidly aging beyond his 35 years, David Ortiz.

You’re kidding yourself if you think that the two Evil Empires won’t be involved in bidding for his services if Pujols gets to free agency.”

Now I’m very glad I didn’t write my piece, because I agree.  And who’s to say a team like Philadelphia doesn’t consider trading someone Ryan Howard, who given his defensive woes (-12.6 UZR) is likely better suited to be a DH, to the Yankees or Red Sox; making room for the surprise Pujols signing?

That last scenario certainly isn’t likely, or even seemingly possible, but it isn’t impossible.

Speaking of nearly impossible scenarios, a conversation came up in the comment section of Parkes’ piece.  In said conversation, some commenters were suggesting the Blue Jays should be a big player in the potential Pujols sweepstakes.

Now, I understand that the likelihood of Pujols even becoming a free agent is 50/50 at best, but because we’re all bored and looking for something to talk about, let’s consider it for a moment.

Is there any chance at all that Pujols and the Jays are a match?

The Jays do have a hole at first base with the band-aid solution of placing Adam Lind there and possibly platoooning him with defensively horrid third baseman Edwin Encarnacion in 2011.

There are also very few up-and-coming options with the best hope probably being David Cooper who has yet to show he’ll be a solid major-leaguer.  K.C. Hobson is at least a couple years away and is still a huge question mark to most scouts and analysts.

Rogers Communications is also one of the wealthier ownership groups in baseball and assumedly has enough money to cover a potentially record-breaking contract, so why not?

Why wouldn’t the Jays be considered a player in the Pujols lottery, providing he hits free agency at all?

Well, I am of the opinion that there is a 0.00000000000000000000001% chance that Pujols ever signs in Toronto.

Here why:

Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball right now; it isn’t even up for debate.  I won’t go into his credentials here, but just look at his FanGraphs page and his Baseball-Reference page.  In fact, with his current trajectory, there’s a good chance Pujols ends up being considered one of the two or three best players ever to play the game.  He’s in a league with Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Barry Bonds.

Alex Rodriguez opted out of his previous record-breaking contract after the 2007 season and signed a brand new record-breaking contract with the Yankees for 10 years and an astronomical $275-million.  That’s $27.5-million per season on average.

At the time, Rodriguez was still considered one of the best players in baseball, but by that time, at 32, he had mostly slipped behind Pujols in that category.

Pujols is younger than A-Rod was and is better than he was at the time; couple that with the fact that he has made no qualms about getting as much money as he can and you have the recipe for a deal that could reach 10 years and $280-$300-million.

I’m not even sure the Cardinals would be willing to/could go that high; hence my consternation toward the attitude that a Pujols extension with St. Louis is an inevitability

As a Jays’ fan, I would of course love to see Pujols playing first base in a white jersey at the Rogers Center, but I have absolutely no grand pipe dreams of this happening.

Yes, Rogers Communications is one of the wealthiest ownership groups in the Majors, but when in their (albeit short) history of owning the Blue Jays have they shown a willingness to drop anywhere near the amount of money that Pujols will command on the open market on their baseball asset?

If the Jays were already a sure-fire contender and if they were selling out every game and if revenue was flying in like it was in the early 90’s then maybe I could see a deal for Pujols coming to fruition, but they’re not, they’re not and it’s not.

A deal for Pujols also seems to fly in the face of what Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos has been preaching since he became the head of Baseball Operations.  He has made it clear that they will build within, take advantage of controllable years for cheaper and younger players, and use Rogers’ seeming willingness to drop some cash to resign core players when the time comes.

Signing any player to an expensive long-term deal from outside the organization doesn’t seem to fit the organization’s plan, let alone the most expensive player.

All of this is not even mentioning the likelihood that Pujols would choose to come to Toronto over places like New York, Boston, St. Louis or even Los Angeles; and don’t give me that “he might have grown up a Jays’ fan like Manny” bullhonkey because I don’t see Manny signing on any dotted line as of yet and that kind of stuff honestly means very little to professional athletes.

It. Isn’t. Going. To. Happen.