New York Yankees Very Complimentary to Dallas Braden On His Perfect Game

May 10, 2010

On Mothers Day 2010, Oakland A’s Dallas Braden threw the 19th perfect game in MLB history.

Congratulations to Dallas.

As you can see on his page on Baseball-Reference, I sponsor his page, and have sponsored it since early last season.

You probably know his story.  I heard it early last season, and that is why I sponsored his page at BR.

He was raised by his grandmother in high school after his mother died of cancer. He was a troubled kid, and was going to join the marines so as not to be a burden to his grandmother. Braden would sleep in his truck, had nowhere to go until he enrolled at American River College, where he played baseball.

Braden always said the baseball saved his life. But his contrived dispute with Alex Rodriguez made him a national figure.

His rift with Alex is so overblown. But Alex was wrong to run across the mound, and Braden was also wrong by calling Alex out publicly on it.

Just plunk him next time he faces the Yankee third baseman.

Alex was very complimentary towards Braden, as were the rest of the Yankees, who were late getting on the field for batting practice as they were watching the final two innings of the perfecto.

“I’ve learned in my career that it’s always better to be remembered for some of the good things you do on the field — and good for him,” Rodriguez told reporters before playing the Red Sox. “He threw a perfect game. And, even better, he beat the Rays.”
Yankee manager Joe Girardi was equally praising.
Throwing a perfect game is an amazing achievement, with the one key factor is impeccable control by the pitcher. That eliminates walks obviously, but great control allows a pitcher to hit all his spots to both sides of the plate. That gets more outs on the balls put into play since the hitter is not getting good wood on the ball.
Guys like Catfish Hunter, Tom Browning, Mark Buerhle, David Wells, Jim Bunning, Kenny Rogers and Dennis Martinez had great control their entire careers.
Pitchers like David Cone and Len Barker are the exception rather than the rule.
Dallas Braden has great control with an amazing change-up that seems to stop in mid-air.
Those two qualities helped him reach perfection.

A New Big Money Pitcher Has Early Struggles For The New York Yankees

April 16, 2010

Due to financial reasons, a highly paid pitcher moves from a solid team, and comes to the Bronx with high expectations.

People spoke on how he comes from a weaker divison, and wonder how this right hander, who is a control specialist but strikes out his share of batters, will fare in the mighty American League East, a division which had four of the top five hitting teams in the AL.

This starter is a workhorse, rarely missing a start and throwing 200+ innings with relative ease.

But this right handed stud pitcher was bombed in his first two starts against two of the top hitting teams in the majors.

Javier Vazquez?

Nope. Jim “Catfish” Hunter of the 1975 New York Yankees.

Catfish became a free agent after the 1974 season, and, became the first big money free agent, signing a HUGE $3.75 million, five-year contract on New Year’s Eve 1974, which at that time it was THE landmark contract. 

After his first four starts, Hunter was 0-3 with a 7.36 ERA, while the Yanks were 0-4 in his four starts, including two losses to the rival Boston Red Sox. George Steinbrenner was none too thrilled, and neither were Yankee fans. Similar to Vazquez, Hunter was booed early and often at the Stadium.

In a positive trend for current Yankee fans, Hunter went on to pitch into the eighth inning over his next 32 starts, including 27 complete games. Catfish ended that season at 23-14 with a 2.58 ERA, throwing 328 innings.

And as with Catfish, Javier Vazquez is a good pitcher, who will have good starts, great starts…and some bad starts.

It just so happens that his two bad starts were his first two of the season, and coming off the heels of his 2004 Game 7 relief appearance against the Boston Red Sox.

Just let the guy pitch and stop trying to dissect every little nuance of his starts.

I have read that his velocity is down from his usual 91-92 to 88. I have also read that Vazquez is not comfotable pitching in New York, and I have even heard (many times) the argument that Vazquez is a National League pitcher who can not pitch in the hitting established American League, specifically the AL East.  

First, Vazquez has shown he can pitch effectively in the AL, as his 15-8, 3.74 ERA, 1.140 WHIP indicates. During that season, Vazquez beat a good hitting Cleveland Indians team (96-66, 1st place) two times.

That Cleveland team went to the ALCS and included Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Garko, all who banged out 20+ home runs.

Javy also dominated (3-0, 2.20 ERA in 5 starts) a good hitting Minnesota Twins team which had Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Torii Hunter in the lineup.

Last year Vazquez beat the Philadelphia Phillies twice (he lost once) in five starts, with a 3.00 ERA and 1.030 WHIP. The Phillies were the best hitting team in the NL last season.

Vazquez can beat good hitting teams.

Due to the Designated Hitter, it is widely assumed the American League is the tougher league to pitch in due to the deeper lineups. While it may have been so in all prior seasons, it is not so thus far in 2010.

Going into yesterday’s games, the National League is the superior hitting league, with higher batting averages, OBP and slugging percentages. The NL OPS is a full 18 points higher than the AL, even with the pitcher having to hit!

Three NL teams were slugging over .500 (Phillies, Dodgers, DBacks), while the highest team in the AL, Boston was slugging only .478!

And I went through the various lineups for each team, and categorized each hitter as regular or difficult. I want to point out that while every hitter in the major leagues can hurt a pitcher at any time, there are many hitters who are impactful enough to hurt a team during each at bat.

These guys include hitters like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira (although not in April), Ryan Howard, Hanley Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun, etc. Hitters who put fear into the pitcher nearly every time they come to the plate.  

Going through the NL lineups I came up with 56 such impact hitters, and in the AL there were only 44 such hitters. Both leagues had seven teams with four or more impact hitters, and while there are two more NL teams, the NL does have deeper lineups.

In the NL, Philadelphia, Colorado, Los Angles Dodgers, Arizona, and Atlanta have five deep impact lineups. The AL has Tampa Bay, Los Angeles Angels, Texas, Minnesota and New York with five or more impact hitters.

Boston has Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury (a stretch) and Victor Martinez as the only impact hitters in the lineup. They appear to be an easy team to pitch against. Pedrioa is carrying the offense now, so pitch around him and get out the easy outs like David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and JD Drew (I don’t care how many walks he gets, he stinks) have not been good for at least a year.

It just so happen that Vazquez’ first two starts were against two of the top hitting teams in the AL, the Rays and the Angels. Wait until Vazquez gets to face the Kansas City Royals (surprisingly good so far, but it will not continue), Oakland A’s (not one impact hitter), Toronto (doing it with young pitching), an underperforming Baltimore lineup and an overrated Detroit Tigers top nine hitters.

Many times it not the teams you face, but when you face them.

When good pitchers struggle, it is usually that his pitch location is off and he gives up the big hit, leading to a big inning. A winning pitcher (and team) limits offenses to very few big innings, innings which often change the complexion of an individual game.

This is done by hitting spots with key pitches when men are on base.

When runners are on base this season, Vazquez has been throwing his key pitches over the middle of the plate, allowing the big inning. In his 12 innings of work, Vazquez has had five 3 up/3 down’s, three additional zero run innings, but four innings of two or more runs. He has not given up a single run inning yet.

By making a few more quality pitches, Vazquez would not be getting knocked around – by the hitters, the media or the fans.

The season is long, the games are numerous and Vazquez will have at least 30 more starts to right the ship. He is a quality pitcher, with four working pitches and has shown as recently as last season he can dominate top hitting teams.

Just give him the best opportunity to succeed, which does not include booing every time he gives up a run scoring single.

And then Vazquez will be like Catfish Hunter, a winning Yankee pitcher.

Carl Crawford: Why This Tampa Bay Ray Will Not Be a New York Yankee in 2011

April 4, 2010

Too many articles talked about Joe Mauer heading to free agency after this season and signing with the Yankees. That was never going to happen because of Mauer’s native roots and his homegrown status of being a Twins first-round draft choice and first pick overall.*

* Do you think the Twins feel good that they did not take Mark Prior first overall? Just before the draft, Prior was going all John Elway on Minnesota, saying he did not want to play for the Twins. Good thing for Minnesota they listened to Prior’s rants. However, if the homegrown Mauer was not available, the Twins were ready to take Mark Teixeira. Besides Mauer and No. 5 overall Teixeira, the 2001 draft might have the worst first round in history.

Now Yankee fans are clamoring for next season’s free agent list. I have seen articles preaching that the Yankees are going to go after and sign Cliff Lee (and if Lee is healthy, the Yankees will do just that), Jayson Werth of the Philadelphia Phillies (possible), but especially Carl Crawford of the division rival Tampa Bay Rays.

I have read that certain Web sites claim their sources have told them that the Yankees hierarchy “absolutely love Crawford.” Jon Heyman, a respected national baseball writer, also claims the Yankees love Crawford, and they want him to play left field for the Yankees—probably for the next five seasons.

With Crawford as a free agent after this season, it will take a five-year deal to land him. In addition to the Yankees, the usual cast of characters—like the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets—would be in the running, too.

Most baseball executives and media people believe Crawford will sign with the Yankees. Financial estimates are that it will take a five-year deal for about $15 million per year to get Crawford. That is $75 million for a guy with a career split of .297/.335/.437/.772 with an OPS+ of 103, just above league average .

But he steals lots of bases, plays good defense, and has a little pop with his bat.

Except for the pop, with the same amount of plate appearances, that description could be Brett Gardner—and he will cost a whole lot less. I am not saying that Gardner is as good as Crawford, but he will do a lot of the things Crawford does—except for the power.

The Yankees do not need Crawford for 2011, and they will not sign him after this season.

Why? Because, like Mauer, Crawford will re-sign with the only team he has known—the Tampa Bay Rays. They can afford it.

There is so much talk about how the small-market Rays can’t afford Crawford and their other free-agent-to-be, Carlos Pena—and the Rays will lose both players.

The term “small market” is so overused, it is comical. First, revenue sharing reaps teams such as Tampa—and Pittsburgh and Kansas City—at least $25 million every year right at the start. Each team also receives at least $35 million for MLB through licensing agreements.

Second, at the end of the 2010 season—Bye, Tom Hicks—every owner of every baseball team will be stupid rich. The owners made their money outside of baseball, and they are part of the best restricted club in the entire country.

Tampa owner Stuart Sternberg is worth a ton of money. He made it on Wall Street and got out to buy the Rays just before the stock market fell in value.

The idea of the luxury tax and revenue sharing was developed so teams can put that money back into signing free agents—not other teams’ free-agents-to-be, but their own .

That is why the Florida Marlins ponied up the money for Josh Johnson, the Royals ponied up a couple of years ago for Zach Greinke, and the Rays will pay to keep Crawford. Although the Marlins appeared to be forced to pay Johnson, I still believe the Marlins never would have let him leave through free agency.

By having money from a wealthy owner—and revenue and licensing sharing funds in their coffers—the Rays will re-sign Crawford.

The second reason Tampa will re-sign Crawford is that he has been the face of the franchise for a few years now. Sure, Evan Longoria is the younger, power-hitting third baseman. But he has been with the franchise only two seasons, while Crawford will be entering his 13th season with Tampa—his 10th in the majors.

Crawford, who will be 29 this season, was even quoted in the Heyman piece that “I’ve been here since I was 17. This is all I know .” The Rays and Crawford’s agent, Brian Peters, tried to get a long-term deal done just after the 2009 season. But they were far apart, and talks were tabled until after the season.

That gives the Rays an exclusive negotiating window of about 15 days after the World Series ends to deal with Crawford.

The third—and maybe most important—reason Tampa will re-sign Crawford is that the Rays, excluding arbitration cases, are now only on the hook next season for $13 million in player salaries. Their best player, Longoria, is tied up for through 2016 at very reasonable rates. It is ridiculous that Longoria’s salary is only $2 million this season. It might be the best contract ever for a sports team based upon production received.

Rays who are free agents after this year include Crawford, Pena, Pat Burrell, Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Randy Choate, and Gabe Kapler. There’s no way Burrell re-signs. Soriano is a maybe based upon his 2010 season—but not more than a two-year deal—while Balfour, Choate, and Kapler are replaceable spare parts.

The Rays have arbitration deals with many of their younger players, including BJ Upton, Matt Garza, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, JP Howell, and Dioner Navarro. I believe they get all those guys done for about $25 million—unless they deal Bartlett, who could be a free agent in 2012.

That is about $40 million—I rounded up—really tied up for next season. With a payroll of $70 million this season, Tampa’s obligations are about $30 million under what it is currently paying.

What the Rays do very well is promote their young talent. The have youngsters like Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, Desmond Jennings, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, and Reid Brignac—who will make an impact this year or next. All will be playing at near league- minimum salaries for the next couple of seasons.

Some people are saying Jennings, a natural center fielder, is destined to take over for Crawford, who plays left field. Jennings is more likely to take over for Upton in center field, with the team moving Upton to right field or out of Tampa by trade.

I mentioned the hard-hitting Sean Rodriguez, one of the Rays younger players. He was obtained from the Los Angeles Angels in the Scott Kazmir trade, and he is expected to play a big role this year with his ability to play multiple positions. The Rays traded Kazmir mostly to rid themselves of his contract so they can afford to re-sign Crawford.

While many are saying the Rays could let Crawford go as a free agent and collect the two draft picks, they would not be getting the top draft picks—unless the Mets sign Crawford. The Rays made their current team by drafting near the top of the first round and by making shrewd trades. The pick from the Yankees or Red Sox would not be near the top.

Finally, I cannot see the Rays letting Crawford go as a free agent—knowing he will likely land with the Yankees or Red Sox—and have to play against him for the next five seasons. While Crawford is a player based upon his legs, he is good enough to give a team the same future production in the next five years as he has during the previous six full seasons.

But that production—an OPS+ of 103—is not good enough for a corner outfielder, and not at that asking price.

Not for a team signing another team’s free agent, but it is good to fit into the scheme of the current team.

The Rays can most certainly afford Crawford at $15 million per year.  They could even sign Crawford and Pena and still be at the same salary as last season—but with the versatile Zobrist and Rodriguez providing power, Pena is likely gone.

The Rays will compete this year—at some points this season, they will occupy first place in the AL East and could make the playoffs.

Crawford fits well with the Rays. He is the first homegrown star, the Rays want him back, and he is going to make a lot of money.

And that money is going to come from the Rays.

Would Ian Kennedy Be Better Off With Another Organization?

February 5, 2009

Ian Kennedy was the Yankees first pick in the 2006 draft and was highly recommended to draft guru Damon Oppenheimer by Kennedy’s college coach at University of Southern California, Oppenheimer’s alma mater. That coach was Mike Gillespie, who eventually managed the Yankees short-season squad in Staten Island for a season. Kennedy rose quickly through the minor leagues, getting his first taste of the big leagues in 2007.

Coming out of spring training last season, Kennedy was given the No. 5 starter job in the Yankee rotation. That decision proved dreadful as Kennedy limped out of the Bronx with an 0-4 record and 8.17 ERA in 9 starts.

Meanwhile, entering that same 2008 season, Andy Sonnanstine was in the Tampa Bay Rays starting rotation. He was a Rays 13th round pick in 2004 and, like Kennedy, dominated the minor leagues with a 25-10 record and 2.56 ERA. His WHIP (walk and hits to innings pitched) was a ridiculously low 1.000 in his three plus years in the minors.

Kennedy though is a more polished version of the Rays’ Sonnanstine; same type fastball, better change up and decent curve. Based upon his college pedigree and advanced command and better stuff, Kennedy even has a higher ceiling than Sonnanstine.

Sonnanstine transformed from a 6-10, 5.85 ERA, 77 ERA+ season in 2007 to a much improved 13-9, 4.38 ERA, 102 ERA+ last season. Sonnanstine’s success derives from that he doesn’t walk anybody, just 37 in 193.3 innings last season. He only walked 75 batters in 495 minor league innings.

Why did this improvement happen? Because Sonnanstine was allowed to pitch without worrying about his next start.

Also, the Rays defense improved. Sonnanstine doesn’t “miss many bats” but pitches to his defense. In 2007, the Rays ranked 30th in defensive efficiency, converting a smaller percentage of batted balls into outs than any other team. In 2008, the Rays finished first in team Defensive Efficiency, a remarkable turnaround.

Essentially, his defense made him look better than he actually was, but he is still a quality back-end guy because of his pitching smarts and command. The improvement in his defense helped improve his traditional numbers dramatically, perhaps making him look better than he really was.

Kennedy, as well as Phil Hughes, was pitching in front of a poor defense, which ranked 25th in the majors, 12th in the AL and last in the A.L. East in Defensive Efficiency. Essentially, the Yankees’ defense in 2008 was not good, and was one of the most overlooked parts of New York’s failure to reach the post season.

However, Kennedy basically pitched very poorly, allwoing an unusual (for him) amount of walks, and lots of home runs. His pinpoint control and complete mound presence was often missing.

Plus, the Yankees (and their fans) have little patience for young players, especially young pitchers.

What Kennedy needs is a team (like the Rays did with Sonnanstine) that will give him the ball and let him pitch without the inning by inning scrutiny he receives in New York. The Yankees also need to improve their defense. In the non-steroid era of today’s game (its really funny writing that after today’s admission by Alex Rodriguez), defense, youthfulness and speed have become primary factors in team success. Last season, the Rays showed how important all three are to winning.

Kennedy’s success throughout his career has been when his control is on. He needs to trust his stuff and have a better mound demeanor, which helps improve the image in the minds of umpires, an often overlooked part of pitching success.

Maybe the Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres or Houston Astros have that patience. What the recent free agent signings of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte does is relegate Kennedy to AAA Scranton for the beginning of 2009, a level where he has dominated and need not have to prove anything.

Kennedy is a major league caliber pitcher and needs a major league rotation to prove himself. No more minor leagues, he doesn’t need “more seasoning.” In fact,  Kennedy was ready for the majors right out of college.

If the Yankees were smart, Kennedy and maybe Hughes would have been allowed to again pitch in New York and not Scranton, but unless injuries occur, Hughes and Kennedy together in the Yankee rotation is not going to happen. Kennedy should then be allowed to pitch well this season in Triple A Scranton and then moved for a needed young position player.

The Brewers have several good ones available (3B Mat Gamel, C Angel Salome, but especially SS Alcides Escobar) and the Yankees have a recent history with Doug Melvin in Milwaukee. Not to mention their December discussions regarding Melky Cabrera for Mike Cameron.

The Brewers are light in pitching and the Yankees are light in Derek Jeter replacements for the future. It is a match made in baseball heaven.

When Kennedy gets a chance to pitch every five days without constant scrutiny, he will become that effective pitcher the Yankees drafted in the first round in 2006.