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Detroit Re-Signs Jhonny Peralta

The Tigers already re-signed third baseman Brandon Inge earlier this offseason and it appears they have completed the left side of the infield by re-signing Jhonny Peralta. The league leader in typos, Peralta will play shortstop in 2011 and presumably 2012 at the cost of roughly $11 million.

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When The 40-Man Roster Is Short

After a flurry of roster moves, the Mariners are playing the role of a clearinghouse. Larry Stone noted that the Mariners now only have 29 players on their 40-man roster. Not all teams carry a full 40-man roster, but having nearly a dozen open spots is certainly a rarity and an extreme. The Mariners are going to fill up their roster before springtime, but if they did not, could they benefit from leaving a few slots open throughout the season?

There are various reasons why a team places a player on their 40-man roster. The most obvious (and common) case is major league contributors. At least 25 men on the roster figure to play with the club daily and that number becomes ambiguous on a team-by-team basis depending on health, contracts, and talent. Not every player on the 40-man roster, of course, is classified as a major league ready contributor. Some are prospects who the team wants to protect from Rule 5 eligibility or view as near-ready contributors and the rest are usually organizational soldiers rewarded with a raise in pay and prestige.

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Padres Decline Chris Young’s Option

Jim Jones released an album in 2006 named Product of My Environment. The most popular song off POME goes by the name “We Fly High”. The album and song name fit Chris Young’s career well. The Princeton attendee always stuck out in the Padres’ rotation – not because his ears sit just below the heavens either – but because he is the archetypal PETCO-made man; with most of his batted balls taking flight, he takes advantage of physics and the spacious yard preventing home runs.

If Young is truly a PETCO production then the Padres declining his 2011 option is going to become the first paragraph in his career’s final chapter. That is if injuries don’t take him out of the league first. Injuries did a great job taking Young out of the 2008-2010 seasons. Assuming Young does stay moderately healthy, what does he offer to a team?

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The Giants’ Next Foe? The Giants.

Congratulations are in order to the San Francisco Giants and their fan base. The reduced period between the postseason conclusion and hot stove introduction will not temper the enthusiasm or vigor of celebrations, but does have serious implications for the Giants’ 2011 roster. As it stands, the Giants will see Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Edgar Renteria, and Juan Uribe hit the open market come Sunday. Renteria will be by team choice; otherwise, the Giants would have to exercise his option worth more than eight figures, thus he’s sort of invisible in the re-signing discussions.

Now the Giants’ challenge is to avoid the post-championship re-signings fueled by the rush of emotion and clinginess. By doing so, that does not mean closing the doors to re-signing any (or all) of the aforementioned players. What it does mean is to approach these negotiations as rational agents. That does not mean they have to take up the most dynamic analytical approaches either, just that placing some logic on their checkbooks should prevent buyer’s remorse. If the Giants’ management absolutely positively must keep this group together, then overpaying the players with some of the added revenue is a better tradeoff than giving them lengthier deals.

Here’s what they’re dealing with:

Uribe is the youngest of the aforementioned trio at 31. He’s hit .261/.312/.443 over the last three years while playing good defense. He hit .248/.310/.440 this season and continued to play good defense. In other words, he is what he played like. The biggest concern in a lengthy deal might not be Uribe’s age – although one would certainly hope the Giants do not hand him a five-year deal or anything near that – but rather his work ethic. There is a reason he landed with the Giants on a minor league deal and the reason was not that he was a prisoner of an ignorant front office.

Burrell turned 34 a matter of weeks ago. His bat played like it came from the 2008 season upon joining the Giants – his World Series struggles notwithstanding. Burrell’s career flat lined the last time he won a World Series and then entered free agency and much of the same concerns that existed then still reign true. Namely, that Burrell’s three true outcomes skill set rarely ages well and his poor defensive efforts limit his overall value. Those concerns sunk his desirability through the market, and that was before he put up a .218/.311/.361 line in 572 plate appearances with the Rays.

Burrell seems unlikely to return given the Giants’ contract and outfield situations for 2011. Ignoring their farm system, one has to account for Aaron Rowand, Andres Torres, Cody Ross, and Nate Schierholtz. There’s the returning Mark DeRosa too, who figures to play the outfield instead of the infield, depending on what happens with Uribe and Pablo Sandoval. With so many moving parts, it’s just hard to see Burrell fitting in.

Finally, there’s Huff. He turns 34 years old near the end of the year and had the best season of the three. Huff does not offer the defensive ability or flexibility of Uribe, but is willing to play the corner outfield or first base. That versatility along with essentially equal offensive abilities and no gimp costumes in Huff’s closet make him the one to re-sign if the Giants have to choose.

Simply re-signing these players will not be a crime. Giving them inflated deals to celebrate the title is. The championship prizes are rings and trophies, not silly extensions.


Neftali Feliz’s Future

Courtesy of Jeff Caplan on ESPN Dallas:

“Probably the two questions were: Can [Neftali Feliz] close, and can he start?” [Jon Daniels] said. “You knew that somewhere that arm is going to play. I think we’ve definitively answered one of them. There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind he can close. We don’t know whether he can start and I don’t know if we’re going to find out. We’ve talked about it at some point that we might. We’re not going to close that door, but we’re also not going to speculate on it any more than is necessary. He’s our closer. I would expect he’ll be our closer.”

Knowing well how quickly a development like this can change makes commenting too forcefully a risky proposition. Regardless, the expected initial response here is something like, “How wasteful.” It’s not an indefensible position either. Giving a 22-year-old righty with a fastball that moves like a livid missile a life sentence to the bullpen is not entirely wise. At the same time: what else is Daniels going to say about Feliz while the season is still going on. Announcing that his best reliever with a 2.82 FIP through 100 career relief innings is moving to the rotation right now is just as foolhardy. How about the more nuanced response?

The Rangers have encountered moving pitchers to and from the bullpen before. Look at C.J. Wilson, Joaquin Benoit, and Scott Feldman for examples. Texas is experience rich in these situations and while they are fallible, that wisdom does lend credence to the folks who will defer to their expertise. Besides, their 2011 rotation as it stands today is likely to include the aforementioned Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, and perhaps one (or more) of Feldman, Tommy Hunter, and Cliff Lee.

Therefore, there is no lacuna of rotational talent or options available to the Rangers for at least next season. The same cannot be said of their bullpen. That does not mean Feliz remaining in relief is the only option. If somehow the Rangers were afforded the opportunity to swap Chris Davis for Tim Lincecum, they surely would not decline the offer because of their abundance. Answering whether Feliz as starter is worthy of a rotation spot is a difficult task and ultimately guess work.
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The Mets Hire Sandy Alderson

Hope is a cheap harlot to employ whenever a mediocre team changes general managers, meaning few should be surprised to see the Mets fan base embrace Sandy Alderson. Reassuring for those fanatics is how Alderson’s history suggests the admiration will be more than a fling or temporary affair. What Alderson means to the position depends on perspective. Call him the perfect compromise to the old and new school. A well-connected quantitatively conscious forward thinker, Alderson is not without his question marks, making him an embodiment of the roster he inherits.

Pick the most skeptical question asked of Alderson’s candidacy and one can find a match on the Mets. How long will you be here? Easily could be asking David Wright the same. How is your health? Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay. Can you recapture that success from way back when that made you special? Jose Reyes. How will you deal with change? Okay, that question is best asked to opposing forces by Johan Santana. Clearly, the metaphor has run its course.

The point to take away is that while Alderson and his roster have question marks, they also have the star power to intrigue. The supporting cast for those stars needs work and that’s fine. That’s why Alderson is there. His ability to find talent for marginal costs should separate him from previous Mets’ general managers. This will make the snarky parts of the Mets’ fan base cringe a bit, but Alderson’s job does not deviate greatly from the one Jack Zduriencik walked into. The difference being that Alderson’s starting roster is in better shape.

Who knows what the Mets’ roster is going to look like in three months or six, but there are enough options to create some moist spitballing sessions. Alderson’s comment about not writing players off without considering everything raises the possibility of a Luis Castillo platoon alongside someone like Joaquin Arias. Unsexy off the bat, Castillo will make $6 million next season whether the Mets release or play him. Playing him against righties isn’t the worst idea in the world, as he’s reached base against them roughly 38% of the time since 2008.

An outfield with Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran, and Angel Pagan is not hard to imagine. Pagan’s inability to hit left-handed pitching means someone like Nick Evans will likely get a share of at-bats, too. Would the Mets tamper with the thought of sliding Beltran to right field on the days Pagan plays, or do they err to keeping the number of moving parts to a minimal, thus leaving Beltran in center regardless of Pagan’s presence.

Josh Thole figures to catch most days and Ike Davis will play first base. That’s about it for the starting nine, with whoever the day’s starting pitcher is filling in the blank. Don’t forget about the farm system and encroaching talents like Fernando Martinez, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Lucas Duda, Reese Havens, and Jenrry Mejia. Not elite talents (minus Mejia) but enough to potentially land the Mets a starting pitcher if need be – and need most certainly be with Santana out for at least a little while.

The ability to focus on the pitching and bench side of the roster is one of the more incredible aspects of this situation: how often does a general manager take over with the ability to make minimal changes to his starting lineup without settling for below average play? The Mets are unlikely to challenge the Phillies or Braves legitimately next season. Some meaningful baseball late, though? That is not out of the question.

Keep in mind: this team won 79 games despite 20-year-old Ruben Tejada tallying as many plate appearances as Beltran, and despite Rod Barajas, Jeff Francoeur, Alex Cora, Jesus Feliciano, Gary Matthews Jr., Mike Jacobs, and Frank Catalanotto combining for 1,139 plate appearances (more than Bay and Wright’s sum) and a .276 on-base percentage. Additionally, the Mets had a dozen different pitchers getting a start, including Raul Valdez and Fernando Nieve, and Elmer Dessens (4.72 FIP, 5.56 xFIP) made more high leverage appearances than Hisanori Takahashi (3.65 FIP, 4.01 xFIP). Offensively, Wright had a career worst season in high leverage spots, while Beltran having his worst batting average (on balls in play as well) since 2000.

There’s talent in these here waters. Alderson just has to clear up the algae around the edges.


The Girardi Extension

Along the way, a person hatched the idea that being the New York Yankees’ manager was the most difficult job in the land. The validity of this statement was at its peak back when George Steinbrenner was at his feistiest. Nowadays the job experience seems different in the Bronx. There is such a thing as job security, even after a “down” season. One couldn’t tell by the reaction to Joe Girardi’s three-year extension.

Girardi is not the game’s best tactician. He makes mistakes like every other manager in the world. He also makes his share of good decisions while receiving more blame on various non-decisions than he should – not pinch hitting for Lance Berkman with Austin Kearns comes to mind. Evaluating just how good Girardi is presents itself as a nearly impossible feat for an outsider. Even if he is only average tactically, there are other aspects of a manager’s job that need to be taken into account. The two flaws that Girardi’s detractors seem to be railing upon right now are: 1) he uses a binder during games to make decisions; 2) he failed to replicate Joe Torre’s early success.

Pretend for a moment that Girardi’s binder contains information about platoon splits and the basic rundown of data that a manager should be equipped with for in-game decisions. Whether this is the case or not is unbeknown to outsiders, but just pretend. Is there any downside to a manager having the information on hand with which to consult? Perhaps if the information itself is trivial or useless (i.e. how batters fared versus lefties over the last week or on Sundays), then Girardi is hurting the club, otherwise it’s hard to think of a downside.

Assuming that is not the case, the mocking of Girardi’s binder highlights the weird juxtaposition of the media’s treatment toward baseball managers who use information and prep work and their football counterparts who absorb film and schemes. Using numbers does not make Girardi a great manager, but it also does not make him a nincompoop. If he acknowledges that his gut and experience in the game does not hold all of the game’s answers, then he might be more self-aware and conscious than quite a few of his managing counterparts.

The ghost chasing aspect involved in the Girardi hate is equally weird. Torre’s first three seasons as Yankees’ manager included two World Series titles and regular season win totals of 92, 96, and 114. Girardi’s Bombers have only won a lone World Series and 89, 103, and 95 games. Torre is a better manager by that analysis, right? Well, no, because there are so many other variables in play that a direct comparison requires a lot more context.

But if the above analysis is believed to be true, then Jim Tracy deserves a ton of credit. Tracy’s first three seasons as Dodgers’ manager were also his first three as a manager at the Major League level, meaning he was a total novice. Yet those three seasons actually resulted in more wins than Torre’s first three seasons with the Dodgers. Not a soul out there claiming Girardi is inferior to Torre would be as bold in proclamation that Tracy is superior to Torre – and why should they? Rosters change, other teams change, luck changes, and even managers themselves change.

Evaluating managers is difficult, and whether Girardi is worth the money is probably beyond our analytical means. That he looks at a binder and is not his predecessor should not factor into the equation.


Letting Jason Kubel Walk

Timing is everything in comedy and baseball options. The Twins inked Jason Kubel to a two-year extension (value: $7.2M) in January 2009. Kubel responded with a career best season. He hit 28 home runs, notched 35 doubles, and boasted career bests in each of the slash line statistics. On the surface, it appeared the 27-year-old was tapping into his offensive potential reservoir, but an uncharacteristically high batting average on balls in play appeared to the underlying key to his offensive downpour.

A full season later and Kubel’s $5.25M option for the 2011 season no longer appears to be a bargain. Not after the worst season of his career. Kubel spent more time in the outfield because of Jim Thome’s presence and his ability to play defense is about what one would expect from a career designated hitter. The power receded to previous career norms and Kubel’s strikeout rate ticked upwards. Oh, and to make matters even worse, Kubel’s BABIP slipped to .280 (his career average now is .299).

The past two seasons place the Twins in an awkward position. Before the extension, Kubel was a cheap above average hitter who worked as a DH on a small market team. The Twins are no longer that small market team and Kubel isn’t the best DH on the roster anymore. He’s not even the best left-handed hitting DH on the roster, as he struggles mightily against lefties (.322, .286, .297 the past three seasons) and requires a platoon mate. The man can hit righties, but cannot play defense or do much of anything else.

That makes him a fungible asset. Age is no longer on his side and one has to wonder how much a catastrophic knee injury zapped his minor league potential. The Twins’ payroll flexibility is better than it used to be, but not in the neighborhood of the Gotham teams, so while it’s only $5 million, one has to think the Twins would be better off using that money to re-sign the ageless Jim Thome and chip the rest in towards re-signing their favorite bullpen arm with an expiring contract.


Pending Options Spotlight: Coco Crisp

A brief timeline of Coco Crisp the Athletic:

12/23/2009: Signed
5/21/2010: Played in his first regular season game
5/22/2010: Played in his second regular season game
6/22/2010: Played in his third regular season game

Health is a tool and one that Crisp forgot to pack. He did finish with 328 plate appearances on the season and played well when he took the field, easily earning his four million and change on a Wins Above Replacement to dollars conversion. He even earned the option part of the deal, which means the Athletics are playing with house money when they make the decision to either exercise or decline the option.

What should they do? Hard to say. Crisp’s fragility is a legitimate concern, albeit one lessened by the length of the commitment. He has not racked up more than 500 plate appearances in a season since 2007. This particular tidbit will not come into play in 2011, but Crisp has not received 500-plus plate appearances in consecutive seasons since 2004-2005 – back then he wore Cleveland garb. If he can manage 500 plate appearances, then he is probably good for at least two wins, as he’s probably good for a plus defensive performance and a line resembling his 2008-2010 tally of .270/.342/.412.

On the other hand, the Athletics already have Travis Buck, Rajai Davis, Ryan Sweeney, Chris Carter, Conor Jackson, and perhaps Michael Taylor around for next season. Even if you place Carter and Taylor in the minors, dismiss Gabe Gross and Jackson, and throw Buck on the disabled list – it’s bound to happen – that leaves the outfield packed with three defensive-heavy, offensive-light centerfielders. Whether the law of diminishing returns comes into play or not is overblown, but you wonder if the Athletics could benefit a little by diversifying their assets.

The Athletics could always exercise Crisp’s option then look to trade him (or one of the others) which might be the most reasonable route. The free agent center field market is putrid at best and the younger names out there will certainly demand a better return. That makes Crisp something like the most feasible center fielder available, regardless of what the A’s decide.


Pending Options: Third Basemen (Part One)

Adrian Beltre, Boston
Option: $10M (player) Buyout: $1M

Beltre’s contract called for a player option worth $5M in 2011 unless he reached the 640 plate appearance plateau in 2010. He finished with 641, earning him a potential $5M raise. A majestic season with a .321/.365/.553 line and his choice of agent suggests free agency is his destination. Beltre remains one of the best defensive third basemen in the league and putting the offensive disaster that took place in 2009 behind him can only help his stock. Look for him to secure a much lengthier deal than the “prove it” variety he settled for last offseason.

Nick Punto, Minnesota
Option: $5M Buyout $0.5M

Punto remains a slick fielder and a generally good baserunner. His ability to fill in at multiple positions and pinch run are the only things marketable about him, though, as outside of some walks his bat is putrid. Punto is worth $5M on a WAR-to-dollars basis and the Twins could probably bring him back without much fuss, especially with the pending departures inside the rest of the infield. The decisive question is whether the $4.5M gained through declining his option is more useful to the Twins on the open market than Punto.


Pending Options: Second Basemen

Mark Ellis, Oakland
Option: $6M Buyout: $0.5M

After a disappointing 2009, Ellis bounced back in a big way; increasing his WAR by two while only racking up an additional 82 plate appearances. When Ellis originally signed the extension, he became the point o dissension amongst the community for not testing the market. The deal appeared to be of the sweetheart variety. It still is, as even Ellis’ down season racked up a value of $5.4 million. If Ellis were to replicate that value (in dollars) in 2011, he would essentially pay for himself, as the buyout guarantees he’ll receive half a million whether he’s in Oakland (likely) or elsewhere.

Jose Lopez, Seattle
Option: $4.5M Buyout: $0.25M

One could categorize Lopez as a third baseman, since that is where he played last season, but for now let’s call him a second baseman. Lopez will be a quarter of a million richer as he hits the free agent market unless Jack Zduriencik somehow creates a sucker rally. The 2010 season may represent a disaster in Lopez’s career, but he’s probably headed for a utility role given his history of relative success. Lopez will only be 27 and getting away from Safeco should help his raw numbers immediately. He’s never going to take a lot of walks but his ability to hit for pop and adequately play two premium defensive positions shouldn’t be overlooked.

Omar Infante, Atlanta
Option: $2.5M Buyout: $0.25M

Infante was more than worth the money over the last two seasons alone, but this season cemented his return. Presumably Infante will return to his super sub role, although some of that is dependent on what occurs with Chipper Jones and what steps – if necessary – the Braves take to replace the legend.


Pending Options: Catchers

Gregg Zaun, Milwaukee
Option: $2.25M Buyout: $0.25M

The most stylish catcher in the game, Zaun’s flair may as well come custom from Louis Vuitton. A torn labrum bagged his season, leaving it best known for an embarrassing case of the yips. The closest thing to game action Zaun has seen since is doing postseason television work in Canada. Still, he’s established his desire to play, and assuming Milwaukee chooses to decline his option, Zaun could latch onto a team in need of a good hitting reserve catcher (wRC+ over 90 in each of the past seven seasons) with the groove gene.

Miguel Olivo, Colorado
Option: $2.5M Buyout: $0.5M

Olivo’s contract stipulated that his option would convert into one of mutual standing based on his games played tally. He saw action in 112, which seemed unlikely at the date of inking, what with Chris Iannetta in tow, but there is a decent chance the option is now mutual. Olivo played well enough to have Colorado exercise their part of the deal (regardless of Iannetta) and could find himself as a free agent through his own merit.

Yorvit Torrealba, San Diego
Option: $3.5M (mutual) Buyout: $0.5M

To catch is to don the tools of ignorance. Part of Torrealba’s job description in 2010 included enlightening Nick Hundley until he got his C legs under him. Torrealba defied the odds by having one of his finest offensive seasons (107 wRC+, matching a career high) in perhaps the most arctic of offensive conditions. Padres’ bench coach, the legendary Ted Simmons, holds the philosophy that it takes 500 games (or 1,500 at-bats) to know what you have in a catcher. Assuming Simmons: 1) has some say, and 2) knows what he’s talking about, it wouldn’t be a shock if Torrealba returns.


Dodgers Re-Up Ted Lilly

Ted Lilly made a nice impression in his 12 starts for the Dodgers: Seventy-six innings, a 3.98 FIP, and a 3.52 earned run average, which are nice enough numbers that the Dodgers have re-signed the southpaw to a three-year deal worth $33 million. The deal serves as a nice follow-up to Lilly’s last free agent contract, which held a worth of $10 million annually. A value deal this is not.

Over the last three seasons, Lilly has posted Wins Above Replacement totals of 2.8, 3.8, and 2.3. Taking an average is not the best method for projection purposes. But if Lilly is a three-win pitcher then that gives him a market value of something around$12 million. Given Lilly’s age and decreased velocity – he averaged nearly 90 miles per hour on his fastball the last time he inked a contract, he’s down to 87 miles per hour now – it’s not unreasonable to say he could be in for some decline.

Let’s say he starts at three wins (and keep in mind, this does not account for any regression towards the mean) and declines at a straight-line rate of 0.3 wins per season. That’s not too aggressive, mind you, and gives us the picture of a best-case scenario. That gives us totals of 3, 2.7, and 2.4. Optimistically let’s say the market begins to perk up over these seasons, with win totals costing $4 million for next year, then increasing by 10% annually, which paints the following picture:

The margin for error is thin. What this analysis has yet to account for is the Dodgers’ placement on the win curve and the opportunity cost incurred by re-signing Lilly. The Dodgers finished fourth in the division, but the National League West seems perpetually open, meaning contention is not out of the question. Lilly is one of the better starting pitchers on the open market and the Dodgers needed to secure either Hiroki Kuroda or him, lest they head into the free agency period needing two starters with a budget saddled by divorce papers.

This deal is completely reasonable in the minds of those who think Lilly can continue to replicate his results year in and year out, but the inherent injury and attrition rate held by starting pitchers makes it a risky proposition. Once the ownership issues vanish, the salary becomes irrelevant – $11 instead of $9 is not going to get anyone fired. The length, though, is the most questionable aspect and will continue to be so.


Braves Release Melky Cabrera

Melky Cabrera debuted in 2005 with a cherub face and as a dosage of imagination. At the time, the 20-year-old represented a better alternative to Tony Womack (although, with an on-base percentage of .276 and slugging percentage of .280, who didn’t?) and while Cabrera failed to capitalize in his six-game stint his return to the majors was all but ensured. Players who reach the majors at such youth usually reserve special futures. The aggressive manner with which the Yankees promoted him suggested they believed he could adjust quickly too.

Sure enough, the Yankees threw him into the everyday lineup starting in 2006 and he hit at a league average rate. All the signs pointed towards Cabrera becoming a regular – and he did – but rumors persisted that he became even more of a regular to the grandiose New York nightlife. Those rumors flare up about players throughout the league and only become worthwhile when the player begins to struggle. Unfortunately for Cabrera, his struggles began in 2007 and lasted until the 2009 season, when he once again hit league average.

The Yankees took advantage of the uptick by flipping him to the Braves in the Javier Vazquez deal over the winter and Cabrera’s slide took another hit today – fewer than 12 months later – as the Braves have officially released him. Poor conditioning reportedly set in this season and Cabrera showed little progress in any aspect of the game. He mostly remained static across the board, but his ISO slipped and his defense became reliant upon his arm strength and little else.

Concerns about Cabrera likely exceed his shoddy performances given Atlanta’s notorious behavior to cut bait on players they feel are not holding up their part of the bargain. He’ll be 26 when the 2011 season opens for play and some team is going to give him a job based on the promise and hope that he flips the switch. If changing teams for the third time in 15 months doesn’t do it, maybe the promise was misplaced to begin with.


Colby Lewis’ Date with New York

Two surefire ways to get Carson Cistulli’s blood pumping: 1) Insult the bear sweater; 2) Suggest Colby Lewis might have a bad start. Neither is unexpected, mind you, since the fleece is fantastic and Cistulli has spat more bars about Lewis over the last seven months than a reverse alcoholic. Nevertheless, Lewis will get the call against the Yankees on Saturday, and it might not go over too well in Cistulli’s heart.

To start with the obvious: the Yankees score runs. Pinstripes never fade and the Yankees rarely make outs, as they led the league in team on-base percentage and runs per game. Those numbers are not adjusted for park or completion and neither is the following factoid, which is that the Yankees had the best OPS against flyball pitchers in the league by more than .020 points.

Robinson Cano is ferocious against pitchers who get most of their outs through the skies, with a seasonal .213/.387/.571 line, marking the second consecutive season he’s posted an OPS over .900 against the flyballing family. Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Marcus Thames (who does not figure to be in the lineup versus Lewis), Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher all posted OPS over. 850 versus flyball pitchers this season too. Even Derek Jeter got into the act of making baseballs chase airplanes, which isn’t too surprising given his status as a supreme groundball hitter.

This is all bad news for Lewis because he’s sort of a flyball pitcher. Not for his career (1.01 GB/FB and 38.7% FB) but over his last 230 or so innings pitched his flyball rate has sat around 44-46%. Lewis is probably a bit better than the typical flyball pitcher the Yankees have faced. Besides, anything can happen in a single game or short series. In more direct terms: a Yankee-thumping is not guaranteed.

One thing Lewis could benefit from is not seeing the Yankees this season. Of course, it’s not like the Yankees are in the dark about what Lewis throws or where he throws it, they just don’t hold the password to Lewis’ home alarm system like a certain Mr. Cistulli.


ALDS Game Five Review: Tampa Bay

Cliff Lee was masterful once again, making it the fourth time (of five matchups) that he struck out double digit Rays. He’s going to be the story of this game (hell, this series) and rightfully so. It’s hard to think Lee isn’t the best pitcher in the American League right now – and that’s not just because only two teams remain.

The other big plays involved baserunning. Let’s give them each a quick look:

1) Elvis Andrus scoring from second on a groundball to first base

Carlos Pena picked up the ball and flipped it to David Price. By the time Price heard Evan Longoria screaming to throw it home, Andrus was successfully across the plate. Rangers up 1-to-0 after three batters. The gain here is .041 despite an out being made on the play. Pretty nifty, considering Andrus also added .035 WPA on his single and .015 on a stolen base.

2) Nelson Cruz scoring from second on an error by Kelly Shoppach

Cruz took the weirdest route of the three. After driving a ball to the deepest portion of the park (and admiring it so), Cruz had to hustle to get into second base after the ball hit off the wall. He then took off for third base on a steal attempt and got up to run home after Shoppach’s throw sailed into left field. Just like that, the Rangers regained the lead. Add .027 WPA on the double and .099 on the steal and further advance.

3) Vladimir Guerrero scoring from second base on a grounder to first base

Price received the ball at first again, but this time argued with the umpire on the safe call before turning and firing home. Guerrero slid in before Shoppach could apply the tag and the most unlikely of events put the Rangers up by two in the sixth. Add .057 on this play.

That’s .206 WPA off baserunning and .477 for Lee, or about 70% of the win.

Congrats to the Rangers, who now advance to the ALCS.


ALDS Game Five Preview: Tampa Bay

This is the fifth meeting within seven days for these two teams. They know each other pretty well by now, meaning few secrets remain. Perhaps the only secret is which player Joe Maddon will start at designated hitter. The two options are Dan Johnson and Willy Aybar.

The switch-hitting Aybar would be the intuitive choice with lefty-tossing Cliff Lee on the mound. Lee doesn’t have much of a platoon split himself, though, and lefties have actually fared better against him this season than righties. Besides, Aybar had a miserable season all around and posted a .304 wOBA versus lefties. The previous two seasons with the Rays included wOBA of .347 and .381 against abnormal humans, so you can see how this is a new experience for Aybar, who displayed less power and less motivation for free passes.

Johnson bats lefty but has a career .330 wOBA against same-handed pitchers in nearly 400 plate appearances. His skill set is an interesting one given Lee’s dominance in the strike zone. Johnson nary swings at pitches outside of the strike zone and only swings at pitches in the zone a little more often. He’s a take hitter which seemingly makes him a poor matchup against Lee – after all, two takes and it could be 0-2 already.

History suggests Maddon will roll with Aybar, as he did in two of the three regular season affairs, but it is worth noting that the Rays left Aybar off the postseason roster entirely in favor of Rocco Baldelli. That’s relevant because if one didn’t know better, Baldelli’s entire purpose on the roster was to play in game one before ducking out due to fatigue. Whoever Maddon decides to play, it’s not expected to matter much, but who knows what will happen in one last game.

The game of musical DH chairs will end tomorrow night and so will one of these teams’ seasons.


ALDS Game Four Review: Tampa Bay

The Rays got on the scoreboard first in a game. Notable because in the previous three games, they had trailed before scoring their first run (or in game two’s case: when they thought about scoring a run).

Carlos Pena took a lot of heat for his awful performance in game one. Joe Maddon did not start him in game two against C.J. Wilson. Without much in the way of alternatives, Maddon had to throw Pena back in there against the righties in this series and hope the trust and larger sample size would prevail. Sure enough, Pena hit a triple in his first plate appearance today and a double in his second. Giving him a hit of each base variety over his last four plate appearances and giving the Rays a 1-0 lead after Matt Joyce’s blooper dropped in (credited as an error to Ian Kinsler).

Pena would spark another run in the fourth, hitting the second of back-to-back doubles alongside Evan Longoria. B.J. Upton would double two batters later, giving the Rays a 3-0 lead. Longoria would hit a two-run homer in the fifth and the Rays would have five runs on the day and 11 in the last two games —not bad for a team that managed a run in its first 18 innings this postseason.

Wade Davis had a strong start himself by going five, allowing seven hits, a homer, walking three, and striking out seven Rangers. Davis flashed heat and solid breaking stuff throughout along with some conviction. That’s often an overstated part of pitching and one heavily based upon outcomes, but he showed little fear or self-doubt while challenging Josh Hamilton (with a base open) or Vladimir Guerrero (with the bases loaded). A spotless start it was not, however not a bad way to begin a postseason career, and not a bad way to potentially wrap his first full season in the bigs.

The two teams will take a travel day tomorrow and meet one last time in St. Petersburg on Tuesday night. That’s right, it’ll be a night game for the first time in the series. The probable matchup is David Price and Cliff Lee for the third time this season, with the two teams splitting the first two affairs.


ALDS Game Four Preview: Tampa Bay

Must-win game number two for Tampa Bay will feature Wade Davis as starting pitcher. Monday will be an off-day whether the series continues or not, meaning just about everyone on Tampa Bay’s staff shy of David Price (if he’s saved for a potential game five) and Matt Garza (who started Saturday’s game) would be available in relief work if Davis happens to stumble.

Davis’ likelihood to slip and slide may or may not be more unpredictable than other pitches, but it sure feels like it. From June until August, Davis’ xFIP finished in the 4.8s, yet his peripherals danced across the floor to a foreign pattern. One month, Davis would look like a pitcher with a flair for the three true outcomes. The next he would be a contact aficionado. Based on his six five, 220 pound frame and low-to-mid 90s heater (his adoration for which is no secret) one would think Davis is closer to the pitcher who will strike some out and walk some more, but in a perfect world he falls into his September numbers; where he compiled a 7.49 K/9 and 2.94 BB/9.

The only thing with more rate changes than his numbers is his favorability amongst the locals that stems from an improved ERA and win-loss record. In fact, since returning from the disabled list on August 5, Davis went 3-1 with a 3.76 ERA. A good chunk of that improvement can be attributed to only giving up five home runs in 50-plus innings. Consider that at one point, Davis gave up five home runs in an 11 innings span and `18 over his first 94 innings.

Has Davis improved in anything but luck? One would like to think so (and the numbers spell this out to some degree as well) but expect Joe Maddon to have his pen ready at a whim. After all, he pulled James Shields and Matt Garza well before either hit the 100-pitches mark, and neither were in games that could force a decisive game five.

As for the Rays’ lineup, the J-Walkers (John Jaso, Matt Joyce, and Dan Johnson) will be present along with one of yesterday’s stars, Carlos Pena. Tommy Hunter will be the opposition.


ALDS Game Three Review: Tampa Bay

For the first five innings, this game felt like a direct-to-DVD sequel to the previous two in the series. The Rays stranded baseruners and allowed a run on usual circumstances. In the sixth, everything we came to expect was turned upside down.

Joe Maddon allowed his lefty bats to stay in against lefty Derek Holland. Matt Joyce reached on a fielder’s choice and Dan Johnson followed with a single. Normally this would mean two on with one out and Carlos Pena coming to the dish. Instead, Joyce rounded second aggressively, allowing Nelson Cruz to gun a perfect throw to second base for the tag on the retreating Joyce. Pena walked and Ron Washington quickly yanked Holland in exchange for the flamethrowing Alexi Ogando. B.J. Upton’s rough series (0-10 to this point) witnessed a reprieve as he sent a ball into left field, tying the game and taking his throne as the Fresh Prince of Bay Air.

Matt Garza escaped a potential explosive situation a half inning later, retiring Nelson Cruz with two on and two out with an assist to a diving Jason Bartlett. Right place, right time for Bartlett, who seemingly tagged a sliding Elvis Andrus on a stolen base attempt earlier in the inning; Andrus was called safe, but replays later showed that he was indeed off the base at the time of the tag.

Ian Kinsler led off the bottom of the seventh with a homer and the reality of elimination became distinct once again. Then Dan Johnson came once more. The Great Pumpkin sent a Darren Oliver ball deep into right field. Free agent to be Carlos Pena connected with a single to right and again the equalizer scored. With two outs and Bartlett due up, Ron Washington went to his bullpen for closer Neftali Feliz. After walking Bartlett, John Jaso hit a ball to center that scored Pena. Jaso advanced to second and slid so hard that he uprooted the base.

Consecutive plays untethered the binding ropes of fear from the hands of Rays’ fans throughout the land. Carl Crawford’s going away party would not happen tonight and would not happen on a silent note. After robbing draft classmate Josh Hamilton on a difficult to field ball in left field, Crawford led off the ninth with a home run. Widening the Rays’ lead and chasing Feliz. Shortly thereafter, Pena made his presence felt once more and blasted a ball deep into the Texas’ night.

Rafael Soriano would enter and close the door. The Rays survive to play at least one more game. Game four’s probable matchup remains Wade Davis and Tommy Hunter.