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Now that the summer trading frenzy has gotten underway, Yankees’ fans will start beating the drum for a blockbuster of their own. The only problem is there aren’t many obvious candidates available on the market. Otherwise, history tells us that Brian Cashman would probably have pulled the trigger already.

The names most commonly tied to the Yankees in trade rumors are the Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda and the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez. According to Buster Olney, the Yankees currently prefer the much older Kuroda because of his greater consistency. On the surface, that statement seems absurd when you consider the career bWAR of the Dodgers’ right hander is just barely higher than the number compiled by Jimenez in 2010 alone. Sure, Kuroda has been more consistent, but Jimenez has been better.

Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Hiroki Kuroda, 2008 to 2011

  Ubaldo Jimenez    Hiroki Kuroda
Year fWAR bWAR AvgWAR   fWAR bWAR AvgWAR
2008 4.3 3.1 3.7   3.6 2.2 2.9
2009 5.7 5.1 5.4   2.2 0.2 1.2
2010 6.3 7.2 6.8   4.2 2.5 3.4
2011 2.5 1.9 2.2   1.7 2.5 2.1
Total 18.8 17.3 18.1   11.7 7.4 9.6

Note: AvgWAR = bWAR + fWAR/2
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

In sports, consistency is often viewed both pejoratively and euphemistically. To some, the term is used to cover up for a lack of elite production (akin to the “professional hitter” moniker), while others employ it in a demeaning manner (kind of like saying a woman has a nice personality). However, consistency has very direct meaning, and players who exhibit it have real value…provided the level of that consistent production is accurately tied to their cost.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

Jose Reyes entered last night’s action as one of the hottest hitters in baseball, so naturally, the Atlanta Braves’ game plan centered on slowing the speedster down. Apparently, however, the team took that mandate just a bit too literally as even the grounds crew wound up getting in on the act.

The Braves were unsuccessful in their attempt to slow Jose Reyes down (Photo: AP).

There was nothing unusual about Jose Reyes’ infield single that led off yesterday’s game at Turner Field. It was not only the shortstop’s major league leading 95th hit, but also the 23rd time he started the first inning with a safety. In fact, Reyes’ early trip on the base paths was so far within the realm of reasonable expectations, the Braves had a surprise for the speedster lying in wait.

After reaching first base, Reyes barely avoided being nabbed on successive pickoff attempts by starter Jair Jurrjens. On both occasions, the Mets’ speedster spun out with his first step back to the bag, making it seem as if he was stuck in the mud. As things turned out, that’s exactly what happened.

Entering yesterday’s game, the Mets were second in the National League with 60 stolen bases, while the Braves were dead last with 19. Faced with such a significant speed gap, the Braves took a page out of gamesmanship 101 and instructed their groundskeeper to spend some extra time making sure the first base area was well lubricated for that evening’s game. Unfortunately for the Braves, however, first base umpire Bill Miller was not playing along.

After Reyes slipped for the second time, Miller halted the game and ordered that a drying agent be used to soak up some of the mud conveniently located just about where a base stealer would take his lead. After play resumed, Reyes promptly stole second base, providing justification for the Braves’ pre-game preparations. By the end of the night, the Mets had swiped four bags, including a second steal by Reyes.

I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t care. If it’s wet, I’m going to try and steal anyway. They can do whatever they want to.” – Jose Reyes, quoted in the New York Post, June 15, 2011

Although perhaps guilty of overzealousness, the Atlanta Braves aren’t the first team to accentuate strengths and minimize weaknesses by altering their home field. Throughout baseball’s colorful history, tailored mounds, slanted baselines, thick infield grass, roving fences and various other tactics have been frequently used to gain an edge. In fact, one of the most famous, and infamous, examples of creative field maintenance involved the very same approach used by the Braves against the Mets. What’s more, some people contend that the tactic helped decide the 1962 pennant. (more…)

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Andre Ethier’s fifth inning infield single off the glove of Starlin Castro may not have gone very far, but it did get him halfway to the legendary streak of Joe DiMaggio.

After tying Wee Willie Keller's mark, DiMaggio takes some time to enjoy the moment.

By extending his hitting streak to 28 games, Ethier became only the 46th player to reach that point since DiMaggio established the record at 56 games. Since 1919, only 69 players have had hitting streaks of at least 28 games, so even if the Dodgers’ right fielder comes up empty tonight, he’ll still have placed himself in select company.

Despite being at the halfway point, Ethier is still miles away from approaching DiMaggio’s record. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other significant milestones well within his reach. The first one on the horizon is the Dodgers’ franchise record of 31, which was set by Willie Davis in 1969. Then, there’s George Sisler’s modern day record* of 41 straight games with a hit by a left handed batter. Finally, once that hurdle has been cleared, Ethier can set his sites on Pete Rose’s modern day National League record* of 44 games, which is the closest anyone has come to reaching DiMaggio’s lofty plateau.

* Wee Willie Keeler established the National League (as well as the left handed) record by “hitting ‘em where they ain’t” in 44 straight games for the Baltimore Orioles (no relation to the modern day American League team, nor the one that moved to New York to become the Yankees) to start the 1897 season. Keeler also had a hit in the last game of the 1896 season, giving him a career mark of 45 straight games with a hit.

Keeler still holds the NL record for most consecutive games with a hit.

Now that Ethier has reached a symbolic point on his journey, the outfielder’s at bats will come under increased scrutiny, and, as a result, so too will the official scorers presiding over his games.  In last night’s contest, for example, Ethier’s lone hit was aided by Castro’s inability to backhand a groundball in the shortstop hole. Had the strong armed defender fielded the ball cleanly, he might have had a chance to record the out, but the difficulty of the play made the official scorer’s decision well within reason.

If Ethier is going to make a serious run at DiMaggio, he’ll likely need a few more instances in which good fortune accompanies good hitting. After all, even Joltin’ Joe needed a break or two along the way, especially when you consider he recorded one hit in 34 of the 56 games in his streak.

Not every one-hit game was the result of luck, but during a series against the White Sox in June, good fortune smiled upon DiMaggio not once, but twice. The Yankee Clipper entered the series riding a 29-game hitting streak, but was held hitless up until what looked like his last at bat in the seventh inning.  So, when DiMaggio rolled what the New York Times called “a ground ball that was labeled an easy out” to Luke Appling, it looked like the streak was over…at least until the ball took a bad hop and bounced off the shortstop’s shoulder.

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Duke Snider’s Hall of Fame baseball career is ably defined by the statistics he compiled. However, it is his position as an ironic focal point in literature and song that have made his legacy even more enduring.

The book, of course, is Roger Kahn’s “The Boys of Summer”, which is more a story about the individuals on the early-1950s Dodgers than the team itself. In many ways, Kahn’s book, with its focus on the 1952 and 1953 seasons (the years he covered the team for the New York Herald Tribune) and often melancholy tone, permanently stamped those great Brooklyn teams as a hard luck lot whose failures are trumpeted ahead of their successes.

Now my old friend, The Bachelor; Well, he swore he was the Oklahoma Kid; And Cookie played hooky; To go and see the Duke; And me, I always loved Willie Mays; Those were the days!” – Lyrics from Terry Cashman’s “Talkin’ Baseball”

In 1981, songwriter Terry Cashman (known as Dennis Minogue when he was a pitcher in the Tigers’ farm system) wrote a baseball anthem that was called “Talkin’ Baseball”, but became better known by the thematic line that gave resonance to the song: “Willie, Mickey and the Duke”. Although Snider’s inclusion with the two immortals might seem like a nice tribute, the constant comparison was probably more of a curse. As great as Snider was during his career, the shadow cast by the two brighter stars in New York’s centerfield trinity was immense. As a result, Snider, like many of the teams for which he played, was often relegated to being an “also ran” just because he had the misfortune of playing the same position at the same time and in the same city as two of the game’s greatest players. Undoubtedly, that constant unfavorable comparison contributed to Snider having to wait 11 years before finally being inducted in the Hall of Fame.

Even though his career didn’t quite measure up to Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, Snider still has a whole host of accomplishments that make him worthy of being mentioned along side those greats. His performance in the 1955 World Series is a shining example. In that series, Snider belted four homeruns, knocked in seven and had an OPS of 1.210, helping the Dodgers finally overcome the Yankees, the perpetual hurdle that prevented the franchise from winning the World Series in five prior attempts. It should also be pointed out that Snider’s 1955 series performance may not have even been his best. In the 1952 World Series, he also had four homers with one more RBI and a higher OPS of 1.215, but the Dodgers lost a tough game seven to the Yankees.

If the good burghers of Brooklyn are pinching themselves with unaccustomed violence this morning, they need do so no longer. It wasn’t a dream folks. Implausible though it may seem, the Dodgers won the world championship for the first time in their history yesterday. Honest, injun. It really did happen.” – Arthur Daley, New York Times, October 5, 1955

As my tribute to the Duke, his postseason numbers are presented alongside Mays and Mantle (including a head-to-head comparison with the latter). At least in this one respect, Snider didn’t take a backseat to his more acclaimed centerfield counterpart.

Willie and Mickey versus the Duke, Relative Postseason Performance

Player G PA R HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
Willie 25 99 12 1 10 0.247 0.323 0.337 0.660
Mickey 65 273 42 18 40 0.257 0.374 0.535 0.908
The Duke 36 149 21 11 26 0.286 0.351 0.594 0.945

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Snider versus Mantle, Head-to-Head

Year Player G PA R HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1952 Mantle 7 32 5 2 3 0.345 0.406 0.655 1.061
1952 Snider 7 31 5 4 8 0.345 0.387 0.828 1.215
                     
1953 Mantle 6 27 3 2 7 0.208 0.296 0.458 0.755
1953 Snider 6 27 3 1 5 0.320 0.370 0.560 0.930
                     
1955 Mantle 3 10 1 1 1 0.200 0.200 0.500 0.700
1955 Snider 7 28 5 4 7 0.320 0.370 0.840 1.210
                     
1956 Mantle 7 30 6 3 4 0.250 0.400 0.667 1.067
1956 Snider 7 30 5 1 4 0.304 0.433 0.478 0.912

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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As the Yankees continue to lay in waiting for the services of Cliff Lee, the Captain’s Blog continues the exercise of crafting a blueprint for the 2011 roster. In part one, I advocated a deal of A.J. Burnett for Carlos Zambrano, so now it’s time to turn to the offense.

Trade Option 1: Joba Chamberlain and Brett Gardner for Colby Rasmus

Brett Gardner’s hustle has made him a fan favorite, but it may be time for the Yankees to sell high (Photo: NY Post).

One of the nicest surprises for the Yankees in 2010 was the play of Brett Gardner. According to fangraphs.com, Gardner was worth a whopping 5.4 wins above replacement. Regardless of how much credibility you place in WAR, Gardner was an above average offensive performer playing an all-world left field in 2010.

Looking behind the numbers, however, one can see the beginning of a disturbing trend. In the second half of the season, Gardner posted a line of .232/.364/.330,which wasn’t much better than his performance in the second half of 2009 (albeit in many fewer at bats). Although some have defended Gardner’s second half swoons by citing the hand injuries he suffered in both seasons, that actually speaks to the concern. Gardner’s game is built upon speed and hustle, and that no-holds barred style has a tendency to wear a player down late in the season. Without any noticeable power, Gardner’s productivity rests solely on staying healthy and getting on base, something he hasn’t been able to do over the course of a full season.

It’s been a while since the Yankees have seen the “fist pumping Joba”, so perhaps a change of scenery is in order?

What more can be said about Joba? In the span of three seasons, he has gone from a potential top of the rotation starter to Mariano Rivera’s heir apparent to an afterthought in middle relief. Despite being only 24, it sure seems as if the ship has sailed on Joba’s days in pinstripes.

Once again, however, we need to take a closer look. In 2010, Chamberlain’s nine-inning hit and strikeout rates of 8.9 and 9.7, respectively, were both impressive. Again according to fangraphs.com, his FIP of 2.98 suggests that the right hander was more unlucky than erratic. What’s more, Chamberlain also rediscovered some of his lost velocity in relief, increasing the speed on his fastball from 92.5 mph to 94.6 mph. The talent is still clearly there, but where are the results?

Colby Rasmus was drafted by the Cardinals with the 28th selection in the 2005 amateur draft (a pick awarded to the Cardinals as compensation for the Red Sox’ signing of Edgar Renteria). After being selected, he quickly shot up through the ranks of highly touted prospects before making his major league debut at 22 in 2009. Despite struggling in his rookie season, Rasmus was given the chance to start in 2010, and he rewarded the Cardinals with a line of .276/.361/.498 in 534 plate appearances. However, for some reason, the young outfielder’s relationship with manager Tony LaRussa went bad. As a result, it was reported that Rasmus demanded a trade. Although he later denied doing so, it was no secret that the tension between player and manager was real.

Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Yankees

Colby Rasmus’ left handed swing would fit right into the Yankees’ lineup for years to come.

Although they would be selling low on a talented arm like Chamberlain, he may simply need a change of scenery. On the other hand, Gardner’s value may never be higher, so unless the Yankees believe he still has room for improvement at the plate, it might be time to cash in on his 2010 season.

As the core of the Yankees’ offense ages, a commodity like Rasmus would be exactly what the Yankees need to replenish their lineup. Adding a left-handed centerfielder with power to a second baseman like Cano and catching prospect like Jesus Montero could give the Yankees an up-the-middle foundation similar to what they had in Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada at the start of the recent dynasty. Even if Gardner proves his 2010 was just the beginning of an ascent, and Joba rediscovers his earlier promise, adding such a component would still be well worthwhile.

Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Cardinals

Once again, a big part of the rationale behind this trade stems from the rift that may or may not still exist between LaRussa and Rasmus. If it does, the Cardinals may have no choice but to put their talented young centerfielder on the market. Although there would be plenty of competition for Rasmus, acquiring two major league ready players like Gardner and Chamberlain (who combined had a much higher WAR than Rasmus in 2010) would probably be of interest to an older Cardinals team that will be seeking to resign Albert Pujols in the offseason. In particular, one area of desperate need for the Cardinals’ offense is at leadoff hitter (.306 OBP in 2010), and Gardner would certainly fit that bill. Meanwhile, with Dave Duncan as pitching coach, St. Louis could either mold Chamberlain as a starter or turn him into their closer, replacing the 37-year old Ryan Franklin.

Because of the potential clamor for Rasmus, the Yankees might have to add a solid prospect to the deal, which shouldn’t be off the table, assuming it isn’t someone like Montero or Manny Banuelos. If that still isn’t enough to pry Rasmus away, Cashman would probably be better off turning to our second option.

Going to WAR

Player WAR
Brett Gardner 5.4
Joba Chamberlain 1.4
Colby Rasmus 3.7

Source: fangraphs.com

Trade Option 2: Gardner and Chamberlain for Matt Kemp

Before the start of the previous two seasons, one popular rumor was a potential trade of Robinson Cano for Matt Kemp. However, after the latter’s disappointing 2010 campaign, it’s hard to imagine both players in the same class.

Not only did Kemp regress in just about every meaningful offensive category, but by most metrics, he also performed extremely poorly in the field. Adding further insult, Dodger’s GM Ned Colletti repeatedly criticized Kemp’s play, even insinuating that his commitment may have lessened after signing a new deal. In other words, the Dodgers, whose finances have been ravaged by a divorce dispute, may be very eager to part with Kemp, whose 2011 salary escalates to $7 million before heading to arbitration in 2012.

Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Yankees

Matt Kemp’s development took a step back in 2010. Could a rebound in pinstripes be in the offing?

Like Rasmus, Kemp is still a young and talented centerfielder who could be a centerpiece on the Yankees for years to come. Unlike Rasmus, however, Kemp would be a buy low candidate, meaning the Yankees would face less competition from other potential suitors. Furthermore, Kemp’s higher salary would also make his acquisition more prohibitive to other teams. As a result, the Yankees would be the team demanding that a prospect be included in the deal. Of course, considering the dysfunctional state of the Dodgers, it might even be possible for the Yankees to steal Kemp without including both Chamberlain and Gardner in the trade, but for now, we’ll assume some level of sanity in LA remains.

Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Dodgers

Even if the Dodgers were confident that Kemp would rebound from his disappointing 2010 season, the chance to acquire two cheaper players would still be compelling. Also, keep in mind that Don Mattingly was sitting in the dugout when Joba Chamberlain was dominating opposing batters in 2007. Therefore, the new Dodgers’ skipper may be more willing than most to take a chance on Chamberlain’s dominance returning.

Matt Kemp’s 2010 Season of Discontent

Year PA SB% BA OBP SLG OPS+ UZR* WAR*
2009 667 81% 0.297 0.352 0.490 124 3 5.0
2010 668 56% 0.249 0.310 0.450 107 -24 0.4

Source: Baseball-reference.com and (*) fangraphs.com

Money Matter$

Option 1

Brett Gardner and Colby Rasmus each have one more season of cost control left, while Chamberlain can go before an arbitrator for the first time this off season. Considering his near minimum salary and less than stellar performance in 2010, Chamberlain probably wouldn’t be in line for much of a raise.

Option 2

Matt Kemp is the only player with a price tag included in the two potential deals. In 2011, he will make $6.95 million, after which he has one more year of arbitration eligibility before heading to free agency. In other words, even with only a solid season, Kemp could be looking at a 2012 salary of around $10 million.

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