Daily Archives: December 19, 2012

The New Wave of Relief

Are relief pitchers the new market efficiency? As new minds and fresh ideas invade traditional, or better put, current baseball sensibility, old customs are tossed aside in favor of statistic driven approaches that are these days less and less taboo. Once oft used batting average has fallen to the wayside in favor of stats that encompass more aspects of offensive production than just “hits”, fielding percentage has been all but forgotten and catchers have been scrutinized recently for their ability (or failure) to create strikes on the fringe of the zone.

This brings us to today’s look at relievers, and a possible trend that could have teams digging through the farm teams, rule 5 draft and even the scrap heap for viable late inning arms. Tampa Bay, who is considered one of the top teams in evaluating and developing pitchers is a great example of executing a low cost revolving door of relievers. We all know Kyle Farnsworth, who fell out of favor in NY only to land down south and give the Rays some quality innings. One of the very best relievers of 2012, 35 year old Fernando Rodney, was by some accounts found in a dumpster somewhere in southern California looking for a job when the Rays pulled him from the abyss and resurrected, nay, created a career for him as a closer. The reigning champion San Francisco Giants lost their 9th inning man to Tommy John surgery, but instead of hitting the panic button they reached from within and rode Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo’s arms all the way to a title.

On to the Yankees, who by every evaluation has had the benefit of having the absolute best closer of all time shutting the door for the last decade and a half. That has, however come at a cost, topping out at 15M per season the last several years. Now I’m not going to make the case that Mariano hasn’t been worth his weight in gold… no one has ever put up the kind of numbers he has over such a period of time, and none of us are likely to see it again. Paying for past performance is not uncommon in MLB, and for quite some time Mo was locking down games for a penance, so coughing up the cash these last few years for both present and past accomplishments is not by any stretch a raw deal. Mo will make at least one last run at a title after taking a small pay cut but still a sizeable amount. Moving forward however, and with a budget minded front office at the helm the team will need to look within to help hit that self imposed mark. Gone will be the days of having 25 million or more tied up in a pair of relievers; when Mo retires, so shall shelling out starter money for one inning thrills. Don’t get me wrong…I’d pay to have another Mariano, but that isn’t going to happen lest Mo Jr. can channel his old man’s greatness. Relievers are the most volatile in the business, and you have to ride the hot hand and know when to fold. With the future of the bullpen in mind let’s take a quick look at who could be sewing up the latter innings over the next few years.

Chase Whitley is probably the closest to landing a job in the Bronx bullpen, as he’s got some significant innings at SWB in 2012 and some solid numbers to go along with it. He started off in Trenton but only hung around for a handful of innings, and then moved on to the traveling circus that was our AAA team. He ended the season with a 3.09 ERA, striking out 66 on the year while walking 25. He held batters to a .207 average as a solid piece to their pen all year. He’s not the flashiest guy in the pen but he’s consistent and can chew up a fair amount of innings. A fairly fast riser, Branden Pinder, skipped Charleston and went right to Tampa in 2012, finishing the year throwing a few innings for Trenton. He threw 69 innings with a 67/29 K/BB, a 2.74 ERA and a .260 average against. Pinder combined with Jose Ramirez for a no hitter earlier this year, and will be looking to push his way to AAA in 2013. He’s another guy that could soak up some middle relief innings if he stays on pace and could be a part of the 2014 bullpen that will no doubt be on a tight budget. Another right handed pitcher that finished his year in Trenton is Tommy Kahnle, who has been reported to light the radar up to triple digits and can rack up the K’s about as well as anyone in the system. He had a bit of a rough go in 2011; while he struck out 112 batters, he walked 49 and got touched up to the tune of a 4.22 ERA. He harnessed a bit more control in 2012 pitching to a 2,37 ERA over 57 innings, walking 24 hitters while striking out 74 and holding them to a .162 average against. Kahnle will be in his age 23 season in 2013 and could well get himself a callup in September and a shot at the ML pen in ’14.

With Boone Logan in his last year of arbitration, now might be the time to sell on him. With a career high in appearances and innings in 2012 and a mix of lefties to choose from for 2013 I’d be looking to include him in any packages that might come up in the coming weeks. Cesar Cabral, impressed in ST earlier this year but ended up on the DL. If he can return to his spring form he might get himself a look. Another option is Juan Cedeno, who has played all over baseball for a number of parent clubs the last ten years put in 64 innings of work and pitched to a 2.81 ERA with a 57/21 K/BB, and a .273 BAA. He got touched up a little during fall/winter leagues dropping to a 3.49 ERA, but to his credit he pitched a lot of innings during the stretch of the year. Last but certainly not least is right hander Mark Montgomery, who has drawn numerous comps to David Robertson. Not only are their K rates both in 14/9 range, but his release point is similar to D-Robs in that his stride brings him closer to the mound, making his low 90’s FB play up a bit in the eyes of the batters. He features a slider that he can change the grip on slightly depending on the handedness of the batter, making it dive away from right handers and sink more like a curveball against lefties. He’s been a fast mover and I know a lot of people are really looking forward to seeing him as soon as possible, but I think he’ll stay stashed away for at least part of 2013. I have Whitley as one of the early callups in case of injury or ineffectiveness, but Montgomery could be soon to follow. This is just a handful of the arms that look to be part of the future NY Yankees bullpen; some will fade and other stars will rise, but the horizon looks pretty good for having the late innings protected, and at a fraction of what we are used to paying.

Michael Bourn vs. Brett Gardner: Who’s the better option?

For a baseball fan, this MLB offseason has been far from dull. Players have been picked up faster than you can say “2013 World Series”, teams are beginning to look good (on paper) and some of the biggest trades have stunned the baseball nation. However, there are still players that are on the market looking for a team to play for in 2013. A name that has been popping up a lot? No, not Nick Swisher. Michael Bourn. Since Josh Hamilton signed with the LA Angels last week, Michael Bourn has quickly become the top free agent, which means many teams are pining for him according to MLB Trade Rumors. I mean, why wouldn’t a team want Michael Bourn? He is a great defensive outfielder; he has a good bat, an outstanding glove, fast blazing speed. Wait a minute, it sounds like I am describing a player the Yankees already have and he is under team control until 2015: the young, talented and underrated Brett Gardner.

The Yankees may have “quiet” interest in Bourn but Gardner practically is almost similar to the free agent outfielder–even the numbers speak for themselves. Let us compare the free agent to the Yankees LF (who could be the CF on Opening Day since the Yankees reportedly plan to switch him and Curtis Granderson) and see who is the better option for the Yankees.

Is Brett  Gardner the better option for the Yankees...

Is Brett Gardner the better option for the Yankees…

Brett Gardner

Let us start with Gardner since he is already on the team. Now, Gardner had a disappointing 2012 season and it was not because he played horrible (because he did not). He was injured almost the whole season after landing awkwardly on his elbow during the Yankees/Twins game on April 18, 2012. Overall, his career numbers are decent: .266 BA/.355 OBP/.368 SLG. In 5 years, Gardner also swiped 137 bases, which is very impressive considering he wasn’t a full time player until the 2010 season. Now, let us look at my favorite defensive stat: WAR (Wins above Replacement). According to Baseball-Reference, throughout Gardner’s 5 years in service to baseball, his dWAR is 7.4. Not bad for a speedy left fielder with a great glove (who has yet to win a Gold Glove award, which I’m still mad about).  Gardner’s numbers are what the Yankees are looking for (even though he doesn’t hit home runs), but let’s go to Michael Bourn and see what his numbers are.

Michael Bourn

Now before we continue, let us keep in mind that Michael Bourn played two more years than Gardner did and played double the games than Gardener did. All right, with that being said, here are Bourn’s career numbers: .272 BA/.339 OBP/.365 SLG.  According to Baseball-Reference, throughout his 7 years in the Major Leagues, Bourn swiped 276 bases, which is also impressive. Looking at Bourn’s defensive stats now, throughout his 7 years in service to baseball, his dWAR is 8.6. Yep, Bourn’s speed helps him become one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball.

...or Michael  Bourn

…or Michael Bourn

So Who’s the Better Option

Looking at both Gardner and Bourn’s numbers, the offense is almost a carbon copy to one another. If not for the 2012 season, Gardner could have had approximately 20 steals shy to 200 SB and could have improved his dWAR significantly. However, although Bourn has better numbers in different departments, I would have to go with Gardner as the better option for the Yankees. I know you are asking, ‘Why Gardner? His numbers are a bit lower than Bourn’s. What’s the reason?’ The answer is simple: Gardner is cheap. Bourn is not. Gardner fits into the Yankees 2014 budget plans in which his contract could be about $3+ Million. Bourn made $6.8 Million last season and he probably won’t take a pay cut just to play for the Yankees. So the bottom line is, the Yankees have all they need in Brett Gardner without having to go out there and spending extra money on Michael Bourn. In Yankee Land these days, the less money you make, the better option you are (especially if you are trying to avoid a luxury tax in 2014).