Phil Hughes’ Velocity Returns in First Spring Outing

There isn’t a lot to gather from stats in early preseason.  Command for pitchers and timing for hitters are things that develop differently over the spring for each individual.  But one relevent statistic to watch closely is the MPH on Phil Hughes’ fastball.

His first outing of the year yesterday was encouraging.  The NY Daily News reports that his fastball consistently hit 93mph.  This is a vast improvement over last spring when, according to Hughes as quoted in the article, he probably didn’t hit 90, a problem he carried into the regular season.

It’s still very early and I certainly wouldn’t declare him recovered just yet.  And I’d be very cautious about accepting the explanation that the difference is simply a matter of the hard work he did this offseason compared with the scant conditioning he put in prior to 2011.  He should still be monitored closely and regarded as fragile until he proves otherwise, which is something that will require a much greater sample than the first 38 pitches thrown in early March.

But it’s a good start.

All that said, it will be interesting to see how Hughes’ performance in early 2012 impacts his future in New York.  obviously a failure to achieve his expected effectiveness would presumably doom his chances of returning to the rotation.  But the question of the Yankees’ best course of action remains even if he pitches well in 2012.  Hughes becomes a free agent after 2013 (contrary to a previous post in which I wrote that 2012 was his walk year – I really have to find a better source for player contract info).  This makes him a highly valuable trade asset in 2012 if he starts strong.   And with six accomplished starting pitchers already in camp and Adam Warren and David Phelps banging on the door already (and with the heralded Banuelos and Betences presumably right behind them) Phil Hughes seems expendable if he can attract the right prospect in return.

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Updated: A look at Who is in Camp

It’s been three weeks since I took a look at who was expected in camp.  A few changes have been made since then, most notably the AJ Burnett trade.  Here is the updated spring roster:

40 Man   Roster            
             
Pitchers B/T DOB   Catchers B/T DOB
David Aardsma* R-R 27-Dec-81 Francisco Cervelli R-R 6-Mar-86
Dellin   Betances R-R 23-Mar-88 Russell Martin R-R 15-Feb-83
Cesar   Cabral L-L 11-Feb-89 Austin Romine R-R 22-Nov-88
Joba   Chamberlain R-R 23-Sep-85  
Pedro   Feliciano* L-L 25-Aug-76 Infielders B/T DOB
Freddy   Garcia R-R 6-Oct-76 David Adams R-R 15-May-87
Phil   Hughes R-R 24-Jun-86 Robinson Cano L-R 22-Oct-82
George   Kontos R-R 12-Jun-85 Eric Chavez L-R 7-Dec-77
Hiroki   Kuroda R-R 10-Feb-75 Derek Jeter R-R 26-Jun-74
Boone   Logan R-L 13-Aug-84 Corban Joseph L-R 28-Oct-88
Brad   Meyers R-R 13-Sep-85 Brandon Laird R-R 11-Sep-87
D.J.   Mitchell R-R 13-May-87 Eduardo Nunez R-R 15-Jun-87
Ivan   Nova R-R 12-Jan-87 Ramiro Pena S-R 18-Jul-85
David   Phelps R-R 9-Oct-86 Alex Rodriguez R-R 27-Jul-75
Michael   Pineda R-R 18-Jan-89 Mark Teixeira S-R 11-Apr-80
Mariano   Rivera R-R 29-Nov-69  
David   Robertson R-R 9-Apr-85 Outfielders B/T DOB
CC   Sabathia L-L 21-Jul-80 Zoilo Almonte S-R 10-Jun-89
Rafael   Soriano R-R 19-Dec-79 Brett Gardner L-L 24-Aug-83
Cory   Wade R-R 28-May-83 Curtis Granderson L-R 16-Mar-81
  Raul Ibanez L-R 2-Jun-72
Andruw Jones R-R 23-Apr-77
Justin Maxwell R-R 6-Nov-83
Melky Mesa R-R 31-Jan-87
Nick Swisher S-L 25-Nov-80
Non-Roster   Invitees          
             
Pitchers B/T DOB   Catchers B/T DOB
Manny   Banuelos L-L 13-Mar-91 Jose Gil R-R 4-Sep-86
Dan   Burawa R-R 30-Dec-88 Kyle Higashioka R-R 20-Apr-90
Juan   Cedeno L-L 19-Aug-83 Gustavo Molina R-R 24-Feb-82
Matt   Daley R-R 23-Jun-82 JR Murphy R-R 13-May-91
Manny   Delcarmen R-R 16-Feb-82 Gary Sanchez R-R 2-Dec-92
Brett   Marshall R-R 22-Mar-90  
Adam   Miller R-R 26-Nov-84 Infielders B/T DOB
Michael   O’Connor L-L 17-Aug-80 Doug Bernier R-R 24-Jun-80
Ryan   Pope R-R 21-May-86 Russell Branyan L-R 19-Dec-75
Clay   Rapada R-L 9-Mar-81 Bill Hall R-R 28-Dec-79
Graham   Stoneburner R-R 29-Sep-87 Jayson Nix R-R 26-Aug-82
Adam   Warren R-R 25-Aug-87 Jorge Vazquez R-R 15-Mar-82
Kevin   Whelan R-R 8-Jan-84  
Chase   Whitley R-R 14-Jun-89 Outfielders B/T DOB
  Colin Curtis L-L 1-Feb-85
Chris Dickerson L-L 10-Apr-82
Cole Garner R-R 15-Dec-84
Dewayne Wise L-L 24-Feb-78

*Aardsma and Feliciano are on the 60-Day Disabled List.

 

Here are the changes since the last listing:

RHP AJ Burnett was traded for RHP Diego Moreno and OF Exicardo Cayones, neither of whom were invited to camp.

LHP Hideki Okajima failed his physical, voiding his minor league contract.

LHP Clay Rapada was signed to a minor league contract.

DH/OF Raul Ibanez was signed to a 1-year contract.

3B Eric Chavez was signed to a 1-year contract.

RHP David Aardsma was signed to a 1-year contract.

OF Chris Dickerson was outrighted to AAA to make room on the 40-man roster for Eric Chavez.  Dickerson is in camp as a non-roster invitee.

 

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More on Russell Martin: Yadier Molina’s Reported Extension

Joel Sherman reports today, citing Ken Rosenthal:

Cardinals are on the brink of signing Yadier Molina to a five-year contract  worth some place between $70 million and $75 million.

I was surprised to see this news, as I wasn’t aware that 2012 was a contract year for Molina.  In my previous post, I failed to mention Yadier Molina as I discussed potential free agent options.

The reason for the error was that I relied on the Potential Free Agents for 2013 page at Cot’s.  Molina’s contract status was accurately noted at Cot’s St. Louis Cardinals page, indicating the Free Agents page is updated by hand.  I’ll have to find a more reliable source for free agent tracking, and maybe for contract info in general.

Regardless of the reason, the omission is embarrassing.  Molina is widely regarded as one of, if not the bast defensive catcher in baseball.  While his defensive stats (aside from caught stealing) don’t appear anything special, he has won Gold Gloves in the last four years.  And he does seem to get a lot out of a pitching staff that appears very solid but not necessarily loaded.

Anyway, he receives this payday after posting an OPS over .400 (.465) for the first time in his career in 2011, following a 2010 season in which he posted the best defensive stats of his career.  As Sherman notes, Martin wouldn’t likely get a deal of the same value, but the precident it sets for him as a solid next-tier option (especially if he puts together a good offensive season) puts him in line fo a nice salary bump from the $7.5mil he’ll earn in 2011.

I do like Martin but probably not quite enough to see the Yankees sacrifice $11 – $12mil/per of their budget under the luxury tax threshold to retain him, if that’s what Molina’s extension means it will take.

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What Does Russell Martin Bring?

There’s clearly mutual interest between the Yankees and Russell Martin in keeping the catcher in New York beyond 2012.  But ESPN Yankees blogger Andrew Marchand reported Friday that the sides are currently too far apart to negotiate during spring and that the issue will have to wait until after the season.  Understandable, as contract negotiations distract from work on the field and Martin should be busy this spring with some two dozen unfamiliar pitchers and six young catchers in camp to take under his wing.

But whether the Yankees should want Martin back and what to look for over 2011 as we consider the future are questions worth exploring.  I don’t have to look up any statistics to remember how streaky he was at the plate in 2011.  Some people have attributed this to a lack of regular rest during the season and his nursing hip and knee injuries in the previous offseason, inhibiting his conditioning entering 2011.  That said, I think three more years of the significant but uneven production of his 2012 level would be satisfactory for most Yankees fans.

Further, after a healthy winter and opportunity to properly condition entering 2012, Martin feels ready to improve on his offensive production.  If that means returning to something like the numbers of his early seasons in Los Angeles, he’ll be a relative bargain for the Yankees at $7.5mil in 2012 and surely in line for a handsome payday in his next contract.  Indeed, much has been made of the exceptional shape he arrived at camp in.

I’m not a fan of defensive statistics but that’s what we have in lieu of the hours of video it would take to watch for a better measure.  In 2011, Martin threw out 29.6 percent of base-stealers (40 out of 135 attempts) good for 6th out of 14 qualifying MLB catchers and significantly better than backup Francisco Cervelli, who only caught 4 out of 28, for a poor 14.3 percent.  Of the 14, he ranked 5th in range factor, 12th in fielding percentage (8 errors) and allowed the 4th fewest passed balls.  Statistically, his defense seems above average, if not exceptional and it did not appear to be impacted by the hip injury that limited him in 2010.

Another question is how well he handles a pitching staff.  Martin has been receiving high praise for this since he arrived in New York but it’s an attribute loaded with intangibles and therefore very hard to measure.  A comparison of how pitchers have performed during their Yankee careers throwing to the four most recent starting and backup catchers should offer some limited insight into the quality of a catcher as a receiver.

Limited because of the numerous other factors involved, some more measurable than others (home vs away, opposition strength, defensive support, nagging injuries, offensive support, umpire’s strike zone, how well the pitcher is throwing that day, etc.).  Anyway, here’s what I felt was the useful data:

CC Sabathia 2009-2011          
Catcher IP BB K ERA OPS   Against
Francisco Cervelli 272 76 251 2.98 0.622
Jorge Posada 228.1 81 182 3.55 0.697
Russell Martin 133.2 33 115 3.03 0.683
Jose Molina 71 12 76 3.04 0.622
AJ Burnett 2009-2011          
Catcher IP BB K ERA OPS   Against
Russell Martin 176.2 78 162 5.15 0.813
Francisco Cervelli 156.2 68 131 4.42 0.737
Jorge Posada 136.1 62 106 5.61 0.851
Jose Molina 68.2 29 77 3.28 0.658
David Robertson 2008-2011          
Catcher IP BB K ERA OPS   Against
Jorge Posada 63.1 41 91 4.12 0.724
Russell Martin 54 30 83 1.17 0.502
Francisco Cervelli 48 24 52 2.4 0.639
Jose Molina 21 8 29 3.86 0.69
Ivan   Nova 2010-2011          
Catcher IP BB K ERA OPS Against
Russell Martin 118.2 39 73 3.41 0.662
Francisco Cervelli 68.1 31 44 4.74 0.784
Bartolo Colon 2011          
Catcher IP BB K ERA OPS Against
Russell Martin 104 29 89 4.24 0.809
Francisco Cervelli 53.1 9 42 2.02 0.551
Freddy Garcia 2011          
Catcher IP BB K ERA OPS Against
Russell Martin 121.2 38 80 3.7 0.767
Francisco Cervelli 14 3 12 2.57 0.658

.                                                                                                                                                   .

Some notes first: I didn’t include Hughes or Chamberlain because of numerous inconsistencies that have impacted their performance and statistics from year to year.  I didn’t include Mariano Rivera because his numbers don’t appear to be affected by his catcher at all.  This makes sense for a pitcher who has been throwing two pitches for 16 years.  Interestingly, Rivera was the only pitcher I looked at who didn’t have his worst numbers when throwing to Jorge Posada.  Obviously that pair had a very long time to build a strong rapport.

All that established, the numbers suggest that while Martin appears to be a significant upgrade from Jorge Posada, he doesn’t necessarily handle the pitchers better than Cervelli or Molina.  Ivan Nova was the only pitcher who had significantly more success throwing to Martin than he did throwing to Cervelli.

Robertson’s numbers with Martin behind the plate also stand out.  But recall that Robertson had his breakout season in 2011, which is the only year in which Martin was his catcher.  Most of the innings that Posada, Cervelli and Molina caught from Robertson were in the two seasons before he put it together in 2011.  That might invite the argument that it could have been Russell Martin who shepherded Robertson’s break-out year.  However, as good as Robertson was when he pitched to Martin, he was better overall in 2011.  He put up a sterling 1.08 ERA for the season, most of the difference coming in the 11 innings he pitched to Cervelli last year, in which Robertson allowed one run, for an ERA 0.82.

Anyway, since I’m not inclined to assume from these samples that Molina and especially Cervelli are particularly exceptional game-callers (and since I don’t endeavor to immerse myself in the properly extensive research to arrive at something closer to actual conclusions) I’ll just leave the question open with a fair suspicion that Yankee fans and the New York media might be overrating Martin’s handling of a pitching staff.

Another factor to consider is the length and timing of his next contract with the development timetable of current Yankee catching prospects.  When Jesus Montero was the catcher of the future in the Bronx, keeping Martin around through 2014 would have seemed perfect, allowing Montero ample time to seize the starting role from Martin as Posada did from Girardi.

With Montero gone and Gary Sanchez and JR Murphy next in line as potential cornerstones behind the plate (unless Austin Romine surprises everyone before then) it might make sense to look beyond 2014 to maintain stability at the position while the future generation develops.  From what the fans see, Martin does seem ideally suited for that role.  Joe Girardi was 31 when he joined the Yankees, the same year as Posada’s first Major League at bat.  Martin might be the same age or younger when Sanchez and Murphy sip their first cups of coffee.

And last, what other options are there?  Well, as it turns out there is something of a bumper crop of catchers hitting the free agent market after the 2012 season.

One is Mike Napoli, who simply raked in 2011 against both right and left-handed pitching, hitting .320 and 30 home runs in just 432 at bats.  But I don’t believe he’s ever been regarded as a strong defensive catcher and a supporting indicator might be that he’s spent less time behind the plate and more at DH and first base in the past three seasons.

There’s Miguel Montero, who threw out a stellar 40% of would-be base-stealers in 2011, hits left-handed and had a fine offseason as well, one that might look something like Martin’s goals for an improved 2012.

Another is Brian McCann.  Also the same age as Martin, his salary ballooned from $6.5mil in 2011 to $8.5mil in 2012 to $12mil in 2013 with a club buyout option for $500k in that last year.  That seems like a big pay raise for the Braves to swallow but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they did whatever they had to in order to keep McCann on long term.  Statistically, he’s almost complete package.  He’s a very good hitting catcher and was arguably the most valuable bat in the Braves’ lineup in 2011, leading the team in on-base percentage and second in home runs and slugging percentage.  He’s also near the top of most defensive categories – except for caught-stealing, gunning down only 22% of base stealers in 2011.  Aside from the healthy 30%figure he put up in 2010, it’s never been McCann’s strong suit.  Regardless, if the Braves decide to cut ties with McCann after 2012 the Yankees should take notice.

Other catchers possibly hitting the market next offseason are Miguel Olivo, 32, Carlos Ruiz, 33 and A.J. Pierzynski, 35.  I should note that none of these players, including McCann, is necessarily better than, much less head and shoulders above Russell Martin.  And of course with each of these other catchers, I have nothing like the familiarity of watching a player every day so the intangibles are a mystery.

But there will be other possibilities after 2012, so it made sense for the Yankees to step back from an early committment based on a single season of work from a good (but not elite) catcher with a recent history of injury trouble.  It might cost the Yankees a few extra millions per year if Martin finishes 2012 looking more essential than he currently does but holding their line in the negotiations and ultimately keeping their options open until the next offseason was clearly the safer bet.

Overall, it’s clear enough that the Yankees have a fine catcher in Russel Martin, competent or better at every attribute expected from a veteran at the position and a player who Yankee fans like watching; one who, like when Tino Martinez replaced Don Mattingly at first base in 1996, eased the loss of the beloved Jorge Posada from his everyday role of the previous 13 years.  We don’t overlook filling shoes like that.

*

Update: 12/28/2012

At the time this post was published, I was unaware that 2012 was also a contract year for Yadier Molina was.  A regrettable omission, since he would also figure prominantly in a discussion about free agent alternatives to re-sigining Russell Martin after 2012.  Molina was not included in the list of free agents heading into 2013 at Cot’s, the resource I most frequently use for player contract information.

I learned of Molina’s contract status at this Joel Sherman column, along with the information that he appears ready to sign an extension with the Cardinals.  Thoughts on the impact of his reported extension on the Yankees’ prospects of signing Russell Martin after the 2012 season here.

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Gary Carter 1954 – 2012

There will be a memorial service for Mets legend Gary Carter tonight in his hometown, Palm Beach Gardens, FL.  Many of his former Mets teammates are expected to attend.

I was 13 years-old during the 1986 baseball season, a time when New York’s baseball dynamic was much different from today. Continue reading

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Sweet Lou in the Booth!

Former Yankee player, manager and general manager Lou Pinella will join the YES Network as a “special contributor”.  From the press release:

He will provide Yankees game and studio analysis on YES, will be involved in the network’s Spring Training and potential post-season coverage, and will contribute to YES special event programming. Piniella will also contribute to YESNetwork.com. Piniella will also be a guest on an upcoming YES CenterStage show hosted by Michael Kay.

 

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Yankees Bring in David Aardsma

The career right-handed reliever gets a one year major league contract for the 2012 season, at least half of which will be spent rehabbing the Tommy John surgery he had last July.

Presumably the hope is that he will be an option to contribute down the stretch for the Yankees.  Though he might also be valuable in a trade to a team looking for a pitcher with closing experience near the deadline.

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