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Archive for the ‘Roster Analysis’ Category

Last year, the Yankees took a low-risk gamble on Freddy Garcia that paid off handsomely, so this year, they’ve decided to roll the dice again.

Freddy Garcia will be returning to the Yankees’ rotation, but whom will he be joining?

Before the 2011 season, Garcia wasn’t a lock to make the team, much less the rotation, but the veteran right hander wound becoming a key cog, going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in nearly 150 innings. On any team, that kind of production from a fifth starter would be exemplary, so it’s not hard to see why the Yankees would want to bring Garcia back on a one-year deal worth a reported $5 million. The only problem is Garcia currently ranks much higher on the Yankees’ rotation totem pole.

You could make the case Garcia was the Yankees’ second best starter in 2011, so, it’s not too farfetched to think he might be the same in 2012. C.C. Sabathia remains the rotation ace, but after the big lefty, not much else is certain. A.J. Burnett has been so bad for two straight seasons that any positive projection has to be considered blind optimism. Also, although the Yankees may be quietly confident about Phil Hughes having a bounce back year, his struggles over the last season and a half are hard to ignore. Finally, Ivan Nova’s breakout 2011 campaign seems to bode well for the future, but the 2010 performance of Hughes is a reminder about how inconsistent young pitchers with little big league experience can be. In other words, the 2012 Yankees’ rotation is full of question marks, and the return of Garcia doesn’t really provide any definitive answers.

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As the baseball Hot Stove slowly builds from early embers, the Captain’s Blog will be busy identifying the top pitching targets that the Yankees should consider pursuing in a trade. In part one, a game plan to acquire Felix Hernandez was devised. Admittedly, such an acquisition probably falls under the heading of wishful thinking, so just in case that advice proves unsuccessful, one of two backup plans is now suggested (for a link to the other, click here).

Assuming the Mariners refuse to trade Felix Hernandez at any price, and the cost proves too prohibitive for the likes of Gio Gonzalez and John Danks, there are still several attractive options to consider. In particular, a trio of talented young right handers could all be made available by their respective teams, and Brian Cashman should be first line to kick the tires on each one.

Top-10 Right Handed Starters, Ranked by WAR: 2009-2011

Player WAR W L IP ERA ERA+
Roy Halladay 21.2 57 26 723.1 2.53 163
Justin Verlander 18.3 61 23 715.1 3.06 140
Felix Hernandez 16.7 46 31 722 2.73 147
Jered Weaver 16.7 47 28 671 3.03 134
Tim Lincecum 14.3 44 31 654.2 2.87 138
Josh Johnson 14.1 29 12 453 2.64 159
Ubaldo Jimenez 13.7 44 33 628 3.63 126
Dan Haren 13.2 42 32 702.2 3.41 122
Matt Cain 13.1 39 30 662.2 2.97 134
Zack Greinke 12.9 42 28 621 3.33 126

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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As the baseball Hot Stove slowly builds from early embers, the Captain’s Blog will be busy identifying the top pitching targets the Yankees should consider pursuing in a trade. In part one, a game plan to acquire Felix Hernandez was devised. Admittedly, such an acquisition probably falls more under the heading of wishful thinking than a wish list, so just in case that advice proves unsuccessful, one of two backup plans is now presented.

Because of the short porch at Yankee Stadium, left handed pitching has always been a coveted commodity in the Bronx. That’s why last year’s blueprint revolved around the acquisition of Cliff Lee and return of Andy Pettitte. However, when both lefties decided against pitching in pinstripes, it left the Yankees with CC Sabathia as the team’s lone southpaw. As a result, the Yankees ended the 2011 season with only 33 starts by a left hander, one of the lowest totals in franchise history.

Games Started by Yankees’ Left Handers, Since 1919

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Three of the most prominent free agent pitchers (C.J. Wilson, Yu Darvish, and Mark Buehrle) are left handed, so if the Yankees decide to enter the market, they should be able to find a complement for Sabathia. In addition, several lefties may also be available on the trade market. Two of the more attractive options are presented below.

Top Left Handed Starters, Ranked by WAR: 2010-2011

Player WAR W L IP ERA ERA+
CC Sabathia 11.9 40 15 475 3.09 141
Clayton Kershaw 11.4 34 15 437.2 2.57 147
Cliff Lee 11.1 29 17 445 2.77 144
Cole Hamels 10.2 26 20 424.2 2.92 135
Jon Lester 9.8 34 18 399.2 3.36 128
C.J. Wilson 9.4 31 15 427.1 3.14 140
Gio Gonzalez 9.2 31 21 402.2 3.17 129
Ricky Romero 9.1 29 20 435 3.31 127
David Price 9 31 19 433 3.12 123
Mark Buehrle 7.2 26 22 415.2 3.94 109
John Danks 6.9 23 23 383.1 3.99 108
Ted Lilly 5.5 22 26 386.1 3.8 104

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Now that CC Sabathia has opted against opting out, the starting pitchers available in the 2011 free agent class pale in comparison to the offensive players testing the market. However, there are viable options to consider, including C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, and the soon to be posted Japanese standout Yu Darvish.

Should the Yankees be pumped up about a potential free agent like Yu Darvish, or focus on the trade market instead?

Although Brian Cashman will undoubtedly give careful thought to every prominent free agent starter, more and more, it seems as if the Yankees’ primary focus will be acquiring one in a trade. This strategy makes sense for several reasons. For starters (pun intended), there are heightened risks associated with many of the more attractive free agents (age for Buerhle and Oswalt; lack of a track record for Wilson and Darvish). Because these free agents would likely require a lucrative long-term contract (or in Darvish’s case, a hefty posting fee), a cost-risk analysis might not justify the pitcher’s expected contribution. Besides, in free agency, a team is often forced to pay more for past performance than future value, which especially seems likely among this group.

Another reason why it makes sense for Brian Cashman to explore a trade is because the Yankees have depth in their minor league system, particularly at pitcher and catcher. To some, that might be all the more reason to not make a move, but the recent release of Andrew Brackman is a cautionary tale. Less than eight months ago, Brackman was being touted as one of the Yankees’ three “killer-B’s”, but now he is looking for a job. Part of the reason for that decision was the Yankees’ prospect depth made Brackman’s 40-man roster spot a valuable commodity, but the tall right hander’s rapid fall from grace says more about the unpredictability of pitching prospects.  Although the organization should not be adverse to allowing its own prospects to develop, each and every one should be on the table in the right deal.

With the rationale out of the way, the next step is to determine potential trade targets. Brian Cashman and his Yankees’ brain trust have likely already begun assembling such a list, but just in case they need some help, the Captain’s Blog will be spending the next week highlighting the top pitching trade targets whose acquisition would be worthy of a concerted effort. So, where to start?

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CC Sabathia surprised all of baseball by doing exactly what everyone suspected he would: sign an extension to remain with the New York Yankees.

Sabathia will be roaring in pinstripes for at least five more years. (Photo: Getty Images)

Although there was little doubt Sabathia would remain in pinstripes, conventional wisdom suggested the big left hander would first opt out of his current deal before returning to the Bronx. Instead of allowing it to get that far, however, GM Brian Cashman set about hammering out a contract extension that could add as many as two more years to the four remaining on Sabathia’s existing deal.

In some ways, the Yankees’ preemptive strike is both a validation and repudiation of arguments advanced on both sides of the Sabathia opt out debate. While some will portray the left hander’s decision as proof of his often-stated desire to end his career in pinstripes, others will likely treat the extension as a de facto opt out. When you really think about it, both interpretations have merit. Because Sabathia decided to eschew free agency, it seems as if his preference was for pitching in New York. However, his loyalty did come at a price, which isn’t to suggest dishonesty of any sort. Rather, Sabathia leveraged both his contractual rights and superior performance over the last three years into a well deserved extension.

Would Sabathia have opted out without an extension? And, if so, what kind of offers would he have received on the open market? It would have been interesting to find out the answers to those questions, but both he and the Yankees did well to leave them unaddressed.

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In 2011, the Yankees’ starting rotation posted the fifth lowest ERA (4.03) in the American League. However, most of the season still had the feel of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Despite featuring a mix of inexperienced youngsters and veteran retreads, the Yankees’ staff was able to survive the year intact, but the offseason is almost sure to bring about change.

Is the pursuit of Mark Buehrle in the Yankees' plans?

It’s entirely possible that the 2012 Yankees could have a completely different starting rotation than last season. Although Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia provided an unexpected shot in the arm during 2011, the chances are high that neither will return next year, particularly because they both seemed to run out of gas in September. In his post-ALDS summation, Joe Girardi stated that while Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova would be given a chance to compete for a spot in the 2012 rotation, nothing would be set in stone. Following an impressive rookie season in which he won 16 games, Nova seems like a sure bet to be one of next year’s starting five, but Hughes still has a lot to prove. At this point, getting rid of A.J. Burnett is probably more of a pipe dream than a realistic option, but after two futile seasons, the Yankees could decide to swallow hard and eat most of his remaining contract in order to facilitate a trade. Finally, CC Sabathia wearing something other than pinstripes in 2012 might be inconceivable, but until his opt out situation is settled, that unpleasant thought remains a possibility.

Even if Sabathia returns and Nova holds on to his slot, the Yankees will still need to bolster their rotation, especially because internal options like Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos are probably at least a half-season away. Over at The Yankee Analysts, Larry Koestler set about to answer what free agent pitchers the Yankees should pursue and narrowed it down to two choices: Yu Darvish and CJ Wilson. Larry makes an interesting case for both pitchers, but perhaps the decision doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition?     

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Before the Yankees’ adopted a six-man rotation at the end of July, the team’s starters had posted one of the lowest combined ERAs in the league. Since then, however, the Yankees’ rotation has ranked 9th in the league with a 4.85 ERA. Coincidence or correlation?

When Joe Girardi first decided to expand the rotation to six, it was presented as a temporary solution to the Yankees’ glut of starters. In reality, however, it was really a structure designed to keep the struggling A.J. Burnett in a starting role. Six weeks later, not only has Burnett continued to weigh on the team, but now it seems as if the efforts made to accommodate the erratic righty have brought the rest of the staff down with him.

Yankees’ Starters ERA vs. American League, by Defined Period (click to enlarge)


Note: Yankees began using six-man on July 30; August 1 used for comparison to league because of ease of calculation.
Source: fangraphs.com

Luckily, the Yankees’ offense produced at season-high levels during August and early September. As a result, the team’s winning percentage has actually been higher since the Yankees’ adopted the six-man rotation (.614 vs. .600). However, the end doesn’t justify the means. Not only could the Yankees have won even more games during this period, but the team now finds itself with a rotation in flux only two weeks before the start of the post season. The six-man rotation may have been designed to accomplish something, but it’s hard to figure out exactly what.

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