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May 6, 2007

YES - some defensive analysis, please...
by TVerik

I haven't posted in awhile... *shakes off rust*

But I was thinking about this today - YES does a very good job of bringing us the Yankee games from a technical perspective, and the broadcast team is generally very good (I've discussed the reasons I think Michael Kay is underrated in the past - I'm too lazy to dig up the link right now, but most of my reasons are technical in nature; his opinions are not for me). But the analysts are generally either players whose focus was on either hitting or pitching - Girardi and Flaherty talk more about pitching than hitting, and the rest of them are very good at discussing today's players practicing the craft that they once did.

I'd like to see some defensive balance to the team - I'm not advocating for even more people in the booth; three is plenty for me. But I'd like to see them either hire a new analyst or "unleash" an existing one in talking about the redheaded stepchild of baseball - defense.

They'd have to set it up in advance, and devote some technical resources to covering this aspect of the game. But point a camera at Derek Jeter in isolation of the rest of the play, for example. Where is he set up? What does his first step look like? What is the reaction time after a ball is hit (this can be compared in a side-by-side with the opposing shortstop that day making a similar movement). They talk about his footwork being great; why is that? What makes good footwork and bad footwork?

We all know that Giambi is a horrible first baseman while Dougie is very good. Why is that? Show us a side-by-side of the way they throw to second on a double play, or how they scoop balls in the dirt, and break it down.

Have one of their catchers talk about Posada blocking the plate; again, they do this on scoring plays only. Show me Jorge's method and then show me someone else's method, and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each player's fundamentals.

YES paid zillions of dollars to get the rights for these games, and they are charging cable companies an obscene amount in order to carry it. If they enact my suggestions, it would be a low-cost way to bring the game into people's living rooms the way that few other broadcasters do.

April 2, 2007

Replacement Level Yankees Weblog v2.0
by Larry Mahnken

Come on over and check out our new home! We hope you love it.

Our new URL is

We'll be keeping open permanently because all of the old comment threads are here, but this is the last post. So long, blogspot. It's been a blast.

March 31, 2007

Farewell, Old Friend
by Larry Mahnken

OK, sometimes things don't go as planned, so don't get on my case if things turn out slightly differently than I say here.

This is, or at least should be, the next to last post made on On Monday, SG, Fabian and I will be launching the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog on a new server, with a new address, and a new design. We're still working out the kinks, but I'm confident we'll be ready to go on Opening Day. Hopefully this post will act as a bit of motivation. ;-)

Anyway, we're all sure you'll like the new version of the RLYW. See you Monday!

March 29, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: The Yankee Bullpen
by SG

Opening Day is less than just around the corner, so it's time to wrap up my 2007 Yankees previews with a look at the Yankee bullpen. Last year, Yankee relievers pitched a total of 510 innings, and ended up being about 3 runs above average collectively as a group. The bulk of that was the performance of the incomparable Mariano Rivera and Scott Proctor finally getting results that matched his talent.

This year's collection of bullpen arms has quite a bit of promise, but just like it has since 1996, it starts with The Sandman.

Mariano Rivera had another outstanding season in a career full of outstanding seasons. Over the last four seasons, Rivera's ERA has not topped 2. In 303 innings, he has an ERA of 1.69. There were two minor issues in 2006 that might be of some concern going forward. The first was a drop in his K rate. Rivera's K rate dropped from 80 in 78.3 innings in 2005 to 55 in 75 innings. Rivera's K rate has fluctuated throughout his career, so I don't think is a huge issue. The other issue was some elbow soreness that he had at the tail end of the season. Rivera eventually recovered after some time off and pitched well at the end of the season, and so far this spring he's been outstanding, so this is also a minor concern.

Rivera is difficult to project accurately. Projection systems are designed to work with the aggregrate population of baseball players, but Rivera is unique. He's consistently outperformed the league with regards to his batting average against on balls in play. He controls the HR better than most pitchers when you compare his ratio of HRs/flyball to other pitchers.

Rivera's projections for 2007 are still solid.

Rivera's 2006 was worth 23 runs above average. Most of the projection systems predict a falloff(except ZiPS), but as I stated above that's at least partly because of how hard it is to predict someone like Rivera. That being said, Mo is 37, and at some pont he's going to start slowing down.

This spring, camp started with noise about Rivera testing free agency. Part of that was surely the emotional response to seeing Bernie Williams not being brought back. With his new changeup, and playing for his next and perhaps final contract, I think Rivera is primed for yet another excellent season. If that happens, the Yankees will pay him what he is worth, and hopefully we'll get to see Rivera closing games in the new Yankee Stadium.

In 2006, Kyle Farnsworth showed why he drove Cubs fans nuts for years. When Farnsworth is on his game, you wonder how anyone ever hits him. Unfortunately, too often he was either not on his game, or fighting a balky back and unable to pitch. Farnsworth still delivered one of the most enjoyable moments of the season, when he worked out of a bases loaded jam (induced by his own crappy control) to catch David Ortiz looking at a full count slider with two outs and the bases loaded and the Yankees up by two in Fenway.

Farnsworth's not a lights-out reliever like Tom Gordon was. He'll have his moments, good and bad, and may not be the primary setup man in 2007 depending on how the people behind end up performing. Here are Farnsworth's projections for 2007.

Last year, Farnsworth's 4.64 RA was exactly average for a reliever, so he was average overall. Farnsworth projects to be a bit better than that this year. He has the talent to be even better than that, and the inconsistency to be worse. Like most Yankee fans, I'll be holding my breath whenever he comes in.

One of the biggest stories of 2006 had to be the emergence of Scott Proctor. Acquired in the Robin Ventura trade of 2003, Proctor has always had a good fastball, but bad command and mediocre secondary pitches had led to him being tatooed in the Yankee pen in 2004 and 2005. Proctor wasn't expected to make the team out of spring training until injuries got him on the roster. After a rough debut, losing a game in Oakland, Proctor became one of the most valuable Yankee relievers. He pitched often, and pitched well. Like many, I felt he was being overused, and I also felt he was pitching over his head. However, he actually improved as the season went on.

Last year was way out of line from everything in Proctor's prior performance history, which is reflected in his 2007 projections.

Projecting pitchers is often an exercise in futility. In the case of someone like Proctor, it's tough to know how much of last year was a fluke, and how much of it was a genuine change in his talent/ability. We won't know that until we see more. Proctor's looked outstanding this spring, and I'm starting to think he's at least somewhat for real. Even if he falls back towards his projections, he should be a useful part of the pen in 2007.

Luis Vizcaino seems like a decent middle reliever, but I doubt he'll be much more than that. Historically, he's exhibited a reverse platoon split.

vs LH: .229/.310/.400
vs RH: .249/.321/.427

He projects to be around average, which is fine.

I can't shake this feeling that Vizcaino = Felix Rodriguez, but hopefully it turns out better than that.

Mike Myers was supposed to be the Yankees' answer to David Ortiz. Not only did that not work out, but Myers was actually better against righties last year. There's a lot of noise in a single year's splits, so I'd expect Myers to revert to form this year.

When projecting Myers, you have to remember that he's a tactical option, and shouldn't really be assessed in terms of his overall production towards preventing runs.

Myers is in the last year of a two year deal, and I'd imagine that if he doesn't do the one thing he was brought in to do early on, he may get buried in the back of the pen or even released.

Brian Bruney throws gas. Unfortunately, it doesn't often go where he wants it to go. Bruney's still pretty young, and has been pretty nasty this spring, fanning 14 in seven innings, with just two walks to go with it. His control keeps him from projecting very well.

Bruney's the wild card in the pen to me. He could end up being the second best reliever in the pen if it clicks for him. Even if it doesn't, there's nothing wrong with having inconsistent guys who can strike people out around in the pen. If I had to pick one guy who could blow his projections away on the pitching staff this year, it'd be Bruney.

Ron Villone may or may not be a Yankee this year. Most of you know the deal with Villone. Great first half, horrible second half. Whether it was overuse or regressing back towards his mean, the real Villone is probably somewhere in the middle. I don't think Villone has any upside, but you could do worse with a long reliever/mop up guy.

Villone's looked lousy this spring. He may not have anything left.

If Villone doesn't make the Yankees, it'll likely be because Sean Henn does. Henn's been in the Yankee organization for what seems like decades, and has been fighting his way back from a pretty severe arm injury and surgery a few years ago. Henn used to deal in the high 90s, but now he's more of a lows 90s guy. He hasn't impressed in his brief major league stints, but a move to the pen may end up helping him find his niche.

Henn doesn't project as well as Villone for 2007, but sometimes you have to balance the needs of the present with planning for the future. Is the .5 difference in projected ERA really worth not finding out what you have in Henn for future? Henn will be 26 in April, it's probably time to give him a shot or let him go. With the news that he has a fourth option year, he also gives the Yankees roster flexibility, something that has often been an issue for the team.

The Yankees used the theory of sunk cost to acquire Chris Britton from the Orioles after picking up the option on Jaret Wright's 2007 contract. Britton had a decent season with Baltimore last year, but I have this nagging concern that Orioles fans didn't seem to care that he got traded. He's not a particularly hard-thrower, but works in the low 90s, and looks like he'll start the year in the minors after a shaky spring. He should get some innings this year and projects pretty well if he does.

Britton's struggled this spring, which has helped make the decision to farm him out easier.

Although he may start his season in the rotation, I'm listing Jeff Karstens in the bullpen since if all goes well, he'll be a long relief candidate. That's not a slight on Karstens, but if the Yankees plans go well, he's just not as likely to be good as any of the projected starting five.

Karstens looked much better than the guy who finished 2006 this spring until his last two starts. He had better velocity (91-92 on his fastball, compared to high 80s last year), seemed to have a sharper hook, and he was getting more grounders. While I think making judgements based on spring training stats is not smart, visual observations of players (especially pitchers) can be pretty useful. I like Karstens a lot more this year than I did last year, and it's primarily because his stuff now looks like it's major league quality.

The elbow issue he's having now complicates any assessment of him. It's tough to know if the Karstens we saw most of the spring just reverted to form recently, or if the stiff elbow was to blame. His projections seem harsh, but Karstens did have a 4.28 ERA in AAA last year, although he was outstanding after a rough start. I think Karstens will be useful reliever/spot starter this year, and am cautiously optimistic that he will exceed his projections.

Last on the list, Darrell Rasner. See Jeff Karstens. As far as I'm concerned, they're basically interchangeable, and will probably get moved up and down as needed all year.

Rasner projects a bit better than Karstens, but Karstens seems to have the organization's attention more than Rasner.

So what do all the numbers and projections mean? Here's a comparison of last year's pitching staff to this year's projections. I adjusted the innings totals of some of the pitchers to try and make them line up with last year.

Despite pessimistic projections for Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina relative to last season, improved depth replacing some really bad contributions by Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon, and others should put the team in a position to end up with a better overall pitching staff. The rotation isn't spectacular, but it should be solid enough to get through the regular season. Whether they'll be pitching well when October starts is the $190 million question.

Link to all projections.

So, with all the previewing out of the way, let's see where the Yankees end up. When I looked at the Yankee bench I summed up the projections for the position players on offense and defense. They came out to 142 runs above average on offense, and 32 runs below average on defense. Add in the pitching staff's projected 44 runs above average, and the team ends up at 156 runs above average. So they project to be about 16 wins above an average team, or a 97 win team overall. You can knock off a couple of wins if you want to add in some more replacement level pitching, but this is still a damn good team. If Phil Hughes and/or Roger Clemens replace some of the worse innings in the projections above, they could be even better than that.

Should be a fun season, and it's only three days away.

Cheap Plug Alert: I wrote an article for the Hardball Times previewing five questions that will tell the tale of the Yankees in 2007.

Breaking News: Abraham - Yankees Set Roster From Peter Abraham's great Yankee blog:

LHP Sean Henn, C Wil Nieves and 1B Josh Phelps are on the team.

No word on yet on the No. 5 starter other than that RHP Jeff Karstens is headed to the DL. - Yankees: Phelps' chance has come, but Villone may go
by SG

TAMPA, Fla. -- Josh Phelps has apparently won a spot on the Yankees roster.

Andy Phillips, who had been competing with Phelps to platoon at first base with Doug Mientkiewicz, yesterday was placed on outright waivers. The move (which was revealed by a major-league official who asked not to be identified because waivers are confidential) means that by tomorrow Phillips will be claimed by another team or sent to the minors by the Yankees.

Meanwhile, lefty reliever Ron Villone might have clinched his fate last night by failing to retire any of the three men he faced in a 12-2 loss to the Houston Astros.

The roster is tightening up. While I'm happy to see Phelps make the team, I do feel for Andy Phillips. I hope Phillips does get claimed and gets a chance to play in the majors somewhere. I still think he may have a chance at being a productive player, but I don't the Yankees are in the position to wait for it to happen.

Ron Villone looks shot. It would seem that Sean Henn's going to get the spot that was supposed to go to Villone, and I think that's a good move as well.

I'll wrap up the looking ahead pieces with the bullpen tomorrow.

March 27, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Andy Pettitte & Kei Igawa
by SG

With the regular season approaching faster than I realized, it's time to start doubling up my preview posts. So I'll take a look at Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa together.

Yankee fans already know a lot about Pettitte, as one of the faces of the Yankee run from 1996-2001. I always considered Pettitte to be a little overrated, but he's a good pitcher, whose peripherals improved after 2000.

In the chart above, HR+ is league HR / league batters faced divided by HR/Batters Faced. It's a way to compare a pitcher's HR rate to the league, where a number higher than 100 is better than average, less than 100 is worse than average. BB+ is calculated the same way for BB, and K+ is calculated by dividing the pitcher's K rate by the league K rate, so it scales the same way. Pettitte's K+ spiked after 2000, and has remained above league average since. He's always been fairly good at controlling HRs until 2006, and his control has been pretty good for most of his career.

Pettitte picked up some velocity when the Yankees got Roger Clemens, which was credited to him working out with his idol. That led to improvement across the board. I actually felt Pettitte went from being overrated to underrated from 2001-2003. However, when his contract was up at the end of 2003, Pettitte left as a free agent. Whether it was the Yankees not giving him the 'respect' he felt he deserved or the rumors of family-related reasons, the Yankees watched Pettitte go to Houston, where he pitched pretty well for the most part, with an injury-shortened first season and a lousy first half in 2006 marring his record.

04/04/2006 - 6/28/2006
IP: 108
H: 136
R: 74
ER: 67
HR: 18
BB: 38
K: 81
ERA: 5.58

07/04/2006 - 9/30/2006
IP: 106.3
H: 102
R: 40
ER: 33
HR: 9
BB: 32
K: 97
ERA: 2.79

I have no idea why Pettitte was so bad in the first half, but the second half numbers are a good sign that he's got something left in the tank.

When Pettitte left, the Yankees got a compensation first round draft pick from the Astros. They used that pick to take Phil Hughes.

I've seen a little of Pettitte in spring training, and he's looked pretty good. He's not throwing as hard as he did during his peak, but he's a different pitcher now, using a curve and changeup more frequently.

Pettitte won't be asked to repeat his 1997 greatness, but he should be above average this year.

The other lefty in the Yankee rotation is Kei Igawa, the consolation prize when the Yankees failed to land the more coveted Daisuke Matsuzaka. Fairly or not, he'll be compared to Matsuzaka all year, but let's ignore that and just look at what he brings to the table on his own merits.

I took a look at Igawa a few months ago, so I won't rehash the scouting report stuff here. Now that I've seen Igawa pitch a couple of times, I'm more comfortable with his signing than I was at the time. He has good stuff for a lefty. His fastball sits at 89-90, and I've seen him hit 92 once in a while. His breaking ball isn't as sharp as I'd like to see, but it's passable. His changeup is pretty good, probably his best pitch. He has struck out 19 in 17 spring innings. He's also kept the ball in the park, allowing just one HR. Unfortunately, he's also walked 12 in those 17 innings. Even ignoring the walk total, his command has been pretty shaky, as he seems to miss the catcher's target a lot. If that's just nerves or getting used to the difference between the MLB ball and the Japanese League ball, it will hopefully get worked out.

The HR has been the biggest issue with Japanese League pitchers coming over to the majors. Here are my latest Japanese League to MLB translations. I refined these from the previous Igawa post by matching the innings totals for both samples so that the numbers wouldn't be skewed.

H: 1.10
R: 1.14
ER: 1.16
HR: 1.84
BB: 0.78
SO: 0.87

What these numbers mean is that a pitcher from the Japanese leagues coming over to the majors will give up hits at a 10% higher rate, runs at a 14% higher rate, etc. Their walk rate actually decreases in the majors, as does their strikeout rate. The number that really stands out is the spike in HR rate.

In 2004, Igawa gave up 29 HRs in 200 IP. In 2005, he gave up 23 in 172 IP. In 2006 he gave up 17 HRs in 209 IP. Controlling the HR will be the key in Igawa being successful. He supposedly changed his approach last year, knowing that his old style wouldn't work in MLB. If you translate just his 2006 using the numbers above, you get an ERA in the mid 3s, which would be great. However, we can't ignore 2004 and 2005 when projecting him.

So, speaking of projecting Igawa (and Pettitte), here you go...

Full spreadsheets available at this link

I'd take a combined 380 innings of above average pitching. If you slot Pettitte and Igawa to replace Randy Johnson and Jaret Wright, you go from 340 innings of -10 RSAA(runs saved above average) to 380 innings with an RSAA of 8. So an 18 run or so upgrade, roughly two wins.

March 26, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Carl Pavano
by SG

Pavano's an easy person to write up, because there's no performance record to analyze for 2006. With Chien-Ming Wang's hamstring injury, Andy Pettitte's back spasms, Mike Mussina's creature-of-habitness, and Kei Igawa's nerves all in issue, Pavano is looking like the likely opening day starter for the Yankees this season. Here's a look back at Yankee opening day starters of recent vintage.

2006: Randy Johnson (W)
2005: Randy Johnson (W)
2004: Mike Mussina (L)
2003: Roger Clemens (W)
2002: Roger Clemens (L)
2001: Roger Clemens (W)
2000: El Duque (W)
1999: Roger Clemens (L)
1998: Andy Pettitte (L)
1997: David Cone (L)
1996: David Cone (W)
1995: Jimmy Key (W)
1994: Jimmy Key (W)
1993: Jimmy Key (W)
1992: Scott Sanderson (W)
1991: Tim Leary (L)
1990: Dave Lapoint (W)

I had to go back to 1991 to find a worse opening day starter for the Yankees. Great.

Pavano's not a bad pitcher. He's not a good one either. He's a decent pitcher, who projects to be league average when he can pitch.

Link to Pavano's projections

If Pavano can exceed that innings pitched total and match his projections, he'll be an asset for the Yankees as a league average pitcher backed up by what's looking to be the best offense in the majors.

I haven't been impressed by what I've seen in spring training so far, but I also know that I haven't seen enough to make any definitive assessments about Pavano. It's also not my place to question the validity of his injuries the last few years. As far as I'm concerned, whatever Pavano gives the team this season will be a bonus, and I wouldn't be surprised if Brian Cashman will be looking to deal him if he gets a solid half season out of him.

March 25, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Chien-Ming Wang
by SG

"For a baseball fan to fail to see that strikeout rates are closely tied to career length, I would argue, is very much like a basketball fan failing to notice that basketball players tend to be tall."
Bill James from The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract

No one can deny that Chien-Ming Wang's career to this point has been successful. However, his K rate has been historically low, which is typically a poor indicator for career longevity. However, Wang has one thing that the majority of low K pitchers did not have, and that's top-shelf stuff.

Wang's projections for 2007 aren't particularly good, mainly because he's such a statistical anomaly.

Wang was great last year, saving 28 runs above the average pitcher. The projection systems think he's going to lose 20 runs of value, although at least part of that is based on a projected shortfall of 40 innings. I do have concerns about Wang's health, because he went from a career-high 150 innings in 2005 to 218 last season and because of the rotator cuff scare in 2005, but he was strong all year so it may not be that much of a concern. With the recent news of his hamstring injury, I guess I should have been concerned. It sounds like Wang shouldn't miss more than 2-3 starts thankfully.

To me, Wang fits a profile similar to Mariano Rivera. There are players who operate in an area where projection systems designed for the collective major league baseball population just won't work. I think the Marcel projection is probably the fairest one because of that.

Wang has succeeded despite his low K rate because he does two other things well. He has good control, and he keeps the ball in the park. Opponents have slugged just .373 against Wang so far in his career. If he can continue to do that, he should be ok. Here's how Wang's ERA and FIP tracked over 2006.

Wang outperformed his FIP this season, but not to a level that would show he was extremely lucky in 2006. Wang's FIP of 3.96 ranked 15th among ERA-qualified AL starters last season.

One thing Wang's struggled with in his career to this point is pitching on the road. Here are Wang's career Home/Road splits, including batted-ball types.

For whatever reason, Wang gets a lower percentage of grounders on the road. He gives up more fly balls and line drives as a result.

Wang's lefty-right splits are not as extreme as I thought they might be.

Lastly, these splits are pretty interesting to me. Here's how Wang has done based on the # of outs.

Here's the link to the tables above for those who can't see them on the blog.

For whatever reason, with two outs, Wang's K rate spikes up considerably. This tells me he may have the skill to strike out batters more frequently than he has to this point, but is comfortable with his current approach since it's working. It's worth mentioning that even if you apply that 12.2% K/BF to all his innings, it's still just a K rate of about 4.5 per 9 innings.

I know what the numbers say, but I also know what I see when I watch Wang pitch. Wang should be able to continue to succeed in the majors, although he may have to make some adjustments along the way if his current style stops working. I think he's talented enough to do that, and I think he'll be fine, perhaps with some growing pains as he makes those adjustments.

On a different note, Boston moved Jon Papelbon to closer after I ran the Diamond Mind Projection blowout, so I re-ran 250 with each of the four projection systems to see what it changed. I had to adjust Papelbon's projections using Dan Szymborski's tool for converting starters to relievers. I replaced Paplebon in the rotation with Julian Tavarez and Jon Lester pitching 50% each.

Here's a comparison of the two runs.

Basically, there was no difference in the regular season. The improvement at the end of the game is mitigated by the weakening of the rotation. It does make Boston a better short-series team though.

March 24, 2007

Fox Wang to start season on DL
by SG

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Yankees right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, a 19-game winner last season, will start the season on the disabled list with a right hamstring pull.

Wang, who had been under consideration to start opening day April 2 against Tampa Bay, is expected to be sidelined at least a month.

Well, that stinks.

March 23, 2007

Good News, Bad News
by Larry Mahnken

The RLYW is one of the four blogs selected by SI for their poll on "Best Yankees Blog". That's awesome.

The bad news? We're getting DESTROYED. 2%. Not behind by 2% -- we HAVE 2% of the vote.

To be fair, Bronx Banter has only 6%, so that tells you how accurate this poll is. Pavano still shaky
by SG

Pavano wasn't overly impressive in going 4.1 innings, giving up three runs (all earned) on eight hits with two walks and two strikeouts, but both he and New York manager Joe Torre seemed pleased with the progress the pitcher made since his last appearance March 17 in Clearwater against Philadelphia (in 3 innings or relief, Pavano allowed two earned runs on four hits with four walks).

"It was definitely an improvement from my last start," Pavano said. "At times I was a little wild; at times I was pretty consistent. I'm looking to improve on it and keep moving forward."

Pavano's healthy, but so far he hasn't looked good.

More camp notes from Rotoworld
Andy Pettitte (back spasms) won't make his scheduled start on Friday, but says he's feeling much better. "I feel a lot better, but I forgot how little of a say you have sometimes," Pettitte said. "I'm feeling better and that's really it. Every time I tell them what I want to do, they tell me how it's going to be." The left-hander seems a little frustrated with not being allowed to make his start, but the club is being understandably cautious. Pettitte will likely make only one more spring start before facing the Devil Rays in the Yankees' opening series.

Pettitte's looked pretty good when he's pitched so far. Hopefully this isn't a long-term issue.

Bobby Abreu returned to right field on Thursday and hit a three-run homer in the Yankees' win over the Reds. Abreu was a DH Tuesday in his first game back from a strained oblique.

Yay Bobby.

Josh Phelps hit his second homer of the spring Thursday off the Reds' Dustin Hermanson. It's going to be pretty hard for the Yankees to justify carrying Andy Phillips over Phelps. Phelps is 11-for-25 with three walks, while Phillips is 3-for-13 to date.

I still say if the Yankees don't want to make a decision on Phelps/Phillips yet, they should carry 11 pitchers instead of 12.

I'll try to resume the Looking Ahead stuff next week for those who care.

March 22, 2007

Newsday: Got Melky? Yanks glad they do
by SG

TAMPA, Fla. -- Melky Cabrera probably wouldn't get a lot of votes from fans as the player most critical to the Yankees' season. Those affiliated with the team give a different account. They know approximately what to expect from players such as Mike Mussina, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera. The 22-year-old Cabrera, though, is a wild card who some think could be on the verge of stardom.

Take Johnny Damon. When asked what is the biggest key for the Yankees this year, Damon listed health first, then said, "Finding a way to get Melky out there to play and get 400 at-bats. He just has an energy that makes it fun. He's a phenomenal prospect. He can be as good as he wants to be."

Getting Melky somewhat regular playing time this season should be a goal of the Yankees. He's a better bat than Doug Mientkiewicz, so if Jason Giambi can man first a few times a week, they can use Melky to rest the starting outfield while upgrading the offense. The defensive hit of putting Giambi at first should be mitigated by upgrading the OF defense if Melky's in left and Matsui's at DH. It will also be important for Melky's development, and for the team's plans as far as setting up their outfield of the future.

March 20, 2007

The 2007 Diamond Mind Projection Blowout
by SG

It's that time of the year again, where I run some different projection systems through a multitude of Diamond Mind Baseball simulations to see how the MLB 2007 season projects.

I've done this the last few years, and here are the past seasons, and it's been hit and miss.


This year, I've added a new projection system to the mix. In addition to Dan Szymborski's ZiPS, Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA, and Diamond Mind's own projections, I'm also adding Sean Smith's new system CHONE. So I ran 1000 iterations of Diamond Mind simulations for each of the four projection systems listed above.

Before we get to the results, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

1)Projection systems are inherently limited in their accuracy, particularly for pitchers. We can get a rough idea of how most players perform by looking at their past histories and how similar players have performed, and factoring in aging and regression, but abilities/talent can change in ways that can't be forecasted.

2) Playing time distribution in these simulations will not match the actual playing time of the players involved. I used the rosters and depth charts available at Baseball Prospectus as my guide to set these up as realistically as possible, but it's a possible source of error. Rosters were set up to have 31-35 or so active players per team, and to get a reasonable amount of playing time from the bench and extra pitchers, to more closely model reality.

3) We cannot predict injuries and/or roster changes. These simulations do include projected playing time based on past health issues, and also random injuries which leads to some of the outlying results you see, but there's no way to account for all the fluctuations that will happen with rosters in 2007.

4) These are the averages of 1000 seasons, so the results will tend to regress towards the mean. The final standings will not look like this, because they only play the season once.

5) These are NOT my predictions. These are projections based on running a computer simulation thousands of times with projection data that is inherently limited. If your favorite team doesn't project well, don't blame me, blame the computers and spreadsheets that projected them. You can take heart in the 2005 White Sox projecting to win 79 games, or the 2006 Tigers projecting to win 80.

6) Since this is all automated, I don't break ties. I simply award all ties a share of either the division title or wild card when it happens.

So with all those caveats out of the way, here are the results.

First up, 1000 iterations of CHONE.

Next up, 1000 iterations of Diamond Mind's projection disk.

Third up, PECOTA.

Lastly, ZiPS.

And here's how it looks if you roll up the results of all four into one giant dataset.

Here's what the column headings mean:

One other new thing I've included based on requests from some readers is the average record vs opponents. This is too big to display in full on the blog, so use the scroll bars or read a little further for the link to the full spreadsheet with all the data.

To read this, look at a team on the very left column, and read across. The first number under a team on the top row is the average number of wins the team on the left column had against that team, the second number is the average number of losses. So if you read across from Baltimore, you see they averaged 7.5 wins, and 10.5 losses vs. Boston across the 4000 sets of runs.

You can look at a full Google spreadsheet with all the results here.

Here's how the divisional races shape up graphically (click on the images to enlarge them).

Here are my quick thoughts by team.

American League
Yankees Made playoffs 80.8% of the time. 95 wins seems about right to me, although I have more faith in the offense scoring 900+ runs than the pitching/defense being the best in the AL East.

Red Sox Made playoffs 50.5% of the time.The Red Sox seem lower than I'd have thought, although a lot of that has to do with some pretty bad bullpen projections. They probably have more upside in their rotation than any team in baseball, as far as the projections for Josh Beckett and Jon Papelbon and what they may end up actually doing.

Blue Jays Made playoffs 20.6% of the time.Diamond Mind really likes the Blue Jays, predicting them to finish second in the East. The other systems are less bullish.

Orioles Made playoffs 2.4% of the time.I'm not sure why, but I think they'll be better than that. Not a ton better, but better. Bedard, Cabrera, and Loewen could all exceed their projections.

Devil Rays Made playoffs 1.1% of the time. It still sucks to be them, although they're getting better.

Twins Made playoffs 50.3% of the time. Everyone thought it was nuts that the Twins were picked to win last year too, but look what happened. That being said, I'd be surprised if their pitching performs that well.

Indians Made playoffs 44.6% of the time. They're looking pretty strong, but they looked strong last year too.

Tigers Made playoffs 40.2% of the time. A lot depends on how Gary Sheffield fights off age and his injury last season. His projections are fairly conservative. They should definitely be in the mix again this year though.

White Sox Made playoffs 3.0% of the time. This one is a real head-scratcher to me. I think they're going to have a tough time with the division they're in, but not this tough. I'd expect Don Cooper to harness some of the talented arms they have into a better pitching performance. They should pick up a few wins there, at the expense of the teams projected ahead of them.

Royals Made playoffs 0.0% of the time. At least they've got Alex Gordon, right? The Royals are the only team who failed to make the postseason at least once.

Angels Made playoffs 52.3% of the time. Their projections seem about right to me, they will be one of the better teams in the league as far as preventing runs.

Athletics Made playoffs 34.1% of the time. Oakland's going to miss the Big Hurt. That being said, if Rich Harden can make more than his 22 projected starts, they should be in the AL West mix.

Rangers Made playoffs 13.2% of the time. Maybe they'll get the 60 HR version of Sosa...

Mariners Made playoffs 7.3% of the time. Felix Hernandez may have to single-handedly carry them to the playoffs if it's going to happen.

National League
Phillies Made playoffs 50.4% of the time. Their projection surprised me too. They've got some of the best front-line talent in the league in Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but they've got some fairly significant holes in the lineup and bullpen. Luckily for them, their division isn't particularly strong.

Mets Made playoffs 42.8% of the time. I thought the Mets would project better, but given the uncertainty of their rotation maybe I shouldn't have. A lot depends on improvement by Oliver Perez, and Jose Reyes maintaining or exceeding his performance from last year. Both are certainly reasonable possibilities. The sooner they swap out Shawn Green for Lastings Milledge, the better. I suppose Mets fans can keep deluding themselves that their team is as good as the Yankees for now though.

Braves Made playoffs 37.5% of the time. It's all about a full season of Bob Wickman apparently. More seriously, it looks like the rebuilt bullpen and a solid middle of the lineup has them back in the mix after struggling last season.

Marlins Made playoffs 4.5% of the time. Losing Josh Johnson hurts, as does the lack of a real CF. There's enough young talent here to do better than this though.

Nationals Made playoffs 2.0% of the time. I'd be shocked if they won 71 games. This projection assumed a half season of Nick Johnson, which may be overly optimistic.

Cardinals Made playoffs 41.6% of the time. Last year's champs are still projecting as the class of the NL Central overall, although the different systems vary in this. ZiPS loves them, PECOTA doesn't.

Cubs Made playoffs 38.7% of the time. All that spending has improved them by a projected 19 wins, which is a lot. I'd probably give them a slight edge over St. Louis right now.

Brewers Made playoffs 22.2% of the time. They were a trendy pick last year, and it looks like they may be one again this year.

Astros Made playoffs 19.3% of the time. Their projection doesn't include any time for Roger Clemens. If he pitches half a season for them and replaces someone like Wandy Rodriguez, it's probably a 3 win upgrade.

Reds Made playoffs 3.5% of the time. I ran these before they announced Griffey moving to RF. Whether that makes a ton of difference remains to be seen.

Pirates Made playoffs 2.9% of the time. Will this be the year Littlefield gets fired?

Padres Made playoffs 49.3% of the time. They were my gut pick to win the division this year, so I was pleasantly surprised to see them win the simulated NL West.

Diamondbacks Made playoffs 32.2% of the time. They're another trendy pick to win their division, but a lot of it depends on how soon the Big Useless can come back, and if he's no longer useless when he does.

Dodgers Made playoffs 29.1% of the time. I thought Juan Pierre was a ten win upgrade. Apparently not.

Rockies Made playoffs 12.4% of the time. For some reason I thought they were worse than an 80 win team.

Giants Made playoffs 12.0% of the time. When I ran an initial set of 100 simulations in late December, they projected to win the division. However, based on the revised rosters and depth charts, which cut Barry Bonds's playing time severely, they're now bringing up the rear. If Bonds can play in more than the 50% of the games he's predicted to, expect them to win more frequently than this.

Update: Added a divisional placings break-down based on a suggestion by gotowarmissagnes. Click on the picture to enlarge it. If you want to see any other divisions let me know.

And there you have it. The 2007 Diamond Mind projection blowout. Results are not guaranteed.

North Yanks' Mientkiewicz back in the swing of things
by SG

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- In the ninth inning of a lopsided exhibition game, Doug Mientkiewicz pulled into second base with a double -- an event that less than half of Monday's crowd of 5,510 actually witnessed at Knology Park.

Prior to smacking that drive up against the right center field fence, Mientkiewicz had merely one hit in his first 25 Grapefruit League at-bats.

Mientkiewicz's bad start this spring has a lot of people who hated his signing up in arms. However, it's spring training and small sample size caveats apply. Also, I don't see any way he's not breaking camp as a Yankee. The bigger question is who is he going to be sharing time with. If the Yankees can't decide between Phelps and Phillips, then they should probably carry 11 pitchers, not 12, and keep both. Besides, when's the last time Joe Torre made any meaningful use of the last two or three men in his bullpen anyway?

March 18, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Mike Mussina
by SG

Mike Mussina put up two of the worst seasons of his career in 2004 and 2005. Entering the final guaranteed year of his contract at age 37, a rebound seemed to be less likely than a continued descent. However, a spring training discovery by Jorge Posada that Mussina's grip was tipping his changeup was credited with Mussina rebounding last season. I think improved health was also a factor.

The table below shows the pitch results for all of major league baseball in 2006, as well as Mussina's 2004-2005 seasons, and 2006, expressed as a percentage of all pitches thrown.

The only real change between 2004-2005 and 2006 was that Mussina threw fewer pitches that were called for balls, and more called strikes. Hitters put the same percentage of balls in play, and swung and missed at the same percentage of pitches. If the changeup was more deceptive, it wasn't causing hitters to swing and miss any more often. This tells me Moose's health was probably the main factor in his 2006 resurgence.

Mussina's ERA went up as the season progressed. From the start of the season through May 31, Mussina had an ERA of 2.42. From June 1 on, it was 4.28. However, his FIP (fielding independent pitching) was fairly consistent throughout the season. FIP is a quick and east way to remove the factors that are at least partially outside of a pitcher's control when assessing their performance, by focusing on the components that they have direct control over, namely HRs, BB + HBP, and Ks. It's calculated using the following formula:

(13 x HR + 3 x (HBP + BB) - 2 x K ) / IP + 3.2

The final result is a # that should scale fairly closely to ERA. If a pitcher's ERA doesn't line up with their FIP, you should expect them to move closer together the more they pitch. This is illustrated very clearly if you look at Mussina's 2006.

So, he was probably a little bit fortunate in the first half of the season, and a little unfortunate in the second half, but he basically pitched fairly consistently well all season. In 2006 among ERA qualifiers, Mussina's FIP was fifth in the league, behind Santana, Bonderman, Sabathia, and Lackey. He was also able to go a little deeper into games this season compared to last year, but he's still not much more than a six inning pitcher most of the time. Here's how Mussina's performance in 2006 breaks down by inning.

Calculating ERA from the play by play data is a little tricky due to inherited runners and partial innings, so instead I'm using CERA here (component ERA). This is calculated using the formula 31 x OBP x SLG. As you can see, the sixth inning is by far Mussina's worst (with a significant sample size), yet for some reason Joe Torre is often asleep at the switch when the implosion comes. It would behoove the Yankees to have someone at least loosening in the pen when the sixth inning starts in a Mussina game. With a fifty man bullpen that shouldn't be an issue.

Mussina projects to be worse in 2007, which is understandable given his 2004 and 2005 seasons.

RSAA is runs saved above average.

Anyone who can't see the charts above should be able to view them via this link.

He's still projected to be around a win above average, or three wins above a replacement pitcher. If he is healthy, I'd expect him to better those projections, but health is a legitimate concern, and he hasn't looked particularly good in spring training so far, although he pitched pretty well today.

This season will be a pivotal one for Mussina's fading Hall of Fame chances. He lacks a lot of the baubles that a typical HOFer has, but if he can get a World Series title and/or a 20 win season, it'll help his chances a lot.

March 16, 2007 - Notes: Igawa still making adjustments
by SG

Eight of Kei Igawa's first nine pitches missed the strike zone Thursday, and with two Atlanta Braves on base and none out, Ron Guidry made an unexpectedly early trot to the mound.

Communication has been just one hurdle for the Japanese left-hander this spring, but whatever Guidry said in his Louisiana twang, it seemed to help.

Igawa struck out the side to end the inning and, even as he battled spotty control, finished off three scoreless frames to complete his third Grapefruit League start.

I got to watch Igawa for the first time last night. His fastball was better than I expected, pretty consistent at 90-91, but his command was horrible. Even on his strikes, he was missing Jorge Posada's target on pretty much every pitch. Like Philco said in the comments of the last post, the strikeouts are a good sign that his stuff can get big league hitters out, but if he doesn't get his command that's not going to fly.

With the Yankees not needing a fifth starter for at least a few weeks, I think the Yankees should probably start Igawa in AAA. Putting him in the major league bullpen as the long reliever won't give him the work he needs to get his mechanics in order. I'm still not expecting great things from Igawa, but from what little I saw last night he's got the potential to be a decent fourth or fifth starter.

March 14, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: The Bench
by SG

I'll wrap up my Looking Ahead pieces for the position players with the Yankee bench. I already looked at the backup catcher candidates here, as well as Melky Cabrera here, so let's finish it off with a look at Miguel Cairo, Andy Phillips, and Josh Phelps.

Here are their offensive projections. Anyone who can't see the embedded Google spreadsheets below can use this link instead.

And here are their defensive projections.

I know Cairo is a horrible hitter, but I still like him. He makes up for an awful bat with decent defense all around the infield. The Yankees didn't have a lot of options in the utility infielder market this offseason, so I was fine with bringing him back. Now we just have to hope he doesn't play a lot.

The last spot on the bench is going come down to one of Andy Phillips or Rule 5 pick Josh Phelps. Phillips brings a good glove at first and some good AAA numbers to the battle, whereas Phelps brings his former top prospect billing and lead glove. Phelps has a better major league track record than Phillips, and projects to be a better hitter. He also gives the heavily left-handed Yankee lineup an option to rest one of their lefties, as he's hit .293/.357/.500 vs. lefties in his career, compared to .257/.325/.460.

Phillips's glove is superfluous with Doug Mientkiewicz around. I championed Phillips getting a chance last season, and he got it. He disappointed, and unless the Yankees are willing to carry 11 pitches, either he or Phelps has to go. The smart move is keeping Phelps, who is younger, projects to hit better, and who has shown more talent at the major league level. I think Brian Cashman knows this, or they wouldn't have taken Phelps in the Rule 5 draft.

That wraps up the position players. What does it all add up to? This.

I used some rough playing time projections, then filled in the gaps with replacement level play on both offense and defense. The Yankees project to score 142 runs above average using linear weights. The average AL team scored 804 last year, so adding 142 to that, I get a team that projects to score around 950 runs. We should probably knock that down a bit since Yankee Stadium tends to play as a slight pitchers' park, but 940 or so seems eminently reachable, and with some health and performances that exceed projections, 1000 has an outside chance.

The defense is ugly, but no worse than it's been in the recent past.

I'm pretty happy to see the position players projecting so well. Now they just have to say healthy and meet or exceed their expectations. Next up, the pitchers...

March 13, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Alex Rodriguez
by SG

After winning the MVP in 2005, Alex Rodriguez had what was a down year for him in 2006. It's a testament to Rodriguez's ability and talent that a 35 HR, .290/.392/.523 season would be considered disappointing, but that's the price of being the highest paid player in the game on a team that did not achieve its stated goal in 2006.

I've already run through the numbers about whether or not Rodriguez has been clutch, so I'm not going to rehash that stuff here. It's a fact that he has been horrible in the postseason as a Yankee recently, but he's not the only player on the team who has been. Hopefully he gets a chance to redeem himself this year.

Unsurprisingly, Rodriguez projects to be the best 3B in the AL in 2007.

Those projections make Rodriguez worth about four wins above the average 3B, and six wins above a replacement level 3B. To put that in perspective, here are the other 3B who project better for 2007.

Miguel Cabrera
David Wright

I'm not worried about Rodriguez's offense. I am worried about his defense, which has been lousy after an outstanding 2004.

Here's a graph showing how Rodriguez's Zone Rating compared with the AL average over the course of the year. As you can see, he fell off pretty significantly from mid-June on for whatever reason.

Rodriguez lost about 15 pounds this offseason in an attempt to regain some of his agility. Hopefully it can help his defense.

For those who can't see the embedded tables above, you can use this link instead.

Since I looked at Rodriguez's play by play batting splits fairly extensively in the post I linked near the top, I'm going to do a little something different and look at how many errors he made behind each pitcher on the Yankees in 2006.

That couldn't have sat well with Mike Mussina.

Lastly, here's how Rodriguez's errors as a Yankee break down vs opponents.

I won't get into the soap opera that surrounds Rodriguez, because honestly I feel it's boring. We're going to be hearing and reading about his opt-out option all year. The same people that are going to be bringing it up constantly are the ones trying to run him out of town, at which point they can criticize him for leaving, instead of criticizing him for staying and wanting to get rid of him. I'd ask the people who want to dump Rodriguez one simple question. Who do you replace him with? You're not getting Miguel Cabrera or David Wright to fill that hole.

All I care about is if Rodriguez helps the Yankees win games. That's all any fans should really care about. My one concession is the A-Rod cover counter on the left, where we'll be keeping track of his back page appearances all season. Let's hope it's mainly for game-winning hits.

I feel like I should write more to defend Rodriguez, but instead, I'm going to quote from an article on ESPN. I basically avoid ESPN like I avoid 2004 ALCS "highlights", but I saw a very fair piece on Rodriguez linked at High and Tight from Yankee-basher Jim Caple.

I mean, what has he ever done that is so bad? Despite his best efforts at living a clean, responsible life, he has a worse reputation than Terrell Owens. I know I've mocked him as much as anyone, but now I mostly feel sorry for him. He's one of the best players in the game, and people act as if he's Bubba Crosby. Enough is enough. Forget the soap operas that stem from his silly insecurities -- any day now I expect him to shave his head -- I'm going to root for A-Rod this season. No more cheap shots, no more easy punch lines … from now on, I'm his No. 1 fan. Not quite like Kathy Bates in "Misery," but I'm pulling for him all the way.

And here's why you should root for him as well.

Root for A-Rod because years from now, you'll be bragging to your children and grandchildren that you saw one of the greatest players who ever took the field. You'll be able to say, "I saw Rodriguez hit .358 with 36 home runs and 123 RBIs in his first full season. I saw him hit 409 home runs by the time he was 30. I saw him win an MVP at shortstop for a last-place team one year and then win an MVP at third base for a first-place team two years later. I saw him hit .315 with four home runs in three American League Championship Series. I saw him play in 10 All-Star games his first 11 seasons."

It may not sound as sweet as telling your kids, "I saw A-Rod hit a World Series-winning home run in the bottom of the 10th inning," but it certainly sounds much better than telling them, "I threw fake dollar bills and garbage at A-Rod because he signed a contract that I would have killed to get."

Root for A-Rod because if you don't like Barry Bonds challenging Hank Aaron's home run record, just wait -- Rodriguez might wind up passing Bonds in a decade. A-Rod hasn't testified before a grand jury that he "unknowingly" took steroids, but he has hit 464 home runs, which is a total Aaron didn't reach until he was two years older than Rodriguez is now and a total Bonds didn't reach until he was almost four years older. Trust me, if A-Rod does set the home run record, you'll not only be rooting for him then, the commissioner will show up to see it.

Root for A-Rod because despite all you hear about him choking in the playoffs (and yes, he has stunk the past two Octobers) he still has nearly as high a career postseason OPS as Jeter (.847 to .863). A-Rod also hit for a higher average and produced more runs in the 2004 postseason than Jeter did. In fact, Jeter has played in 24 postseason series and hit .233 or less in nearly one-third of them. That's not to knock Jeter, but only to point out that if you play enough postseason series, you're going to shine in some and stink in others. Give A-Rod another chance this fall, and he will rise to the occasion. Especially if he feels as if fans would rather see him succeed than bitch about his failures.

Root for A-Rod because, other than saying stupid things, he never does anything to embarrass his team or the game. He never gives less than his best. He never approaches the game with anything less than complete professionalism. So what if he can't help himself from making ridiculous statements in an attempt to please everyone at all times? There are far worse crimes for an athlete -- and we complain about them all the time.

But mostly, root for A-Rod because if he has another MVP season and shines in October, all those obnoxious Yankees fans will have to shut up and quit blaming him for everything that ever goes wrong with a team that has needed better pitching ever since it let Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte go.

I agree with Caple completely.