Saturday, March 03, 2007

Back in the Saddle

My parents were in Japan for 10 days to meet their new grandson. He's their first, and we made sure to spend a lot of quality time together. My posting took a bit of a hit, with the exception of my bizarre take on the Carl Pavano storyline, and I managed to miss a few ST games while otherwise occupied. Just a few hours ago, I put the parents back on the Shinkansen and I'm at the laptop ready to rock and roll for 2007. This post probably marks the beginning of a ridiculously busy season of writing ahead.

It was a year ago that I started this blog, give or take a week or two. At that time, March was the domain of the World Baseball Classic and my writing was heavily geared towards coverage of that event. It spawned the beginning of both Matsuzaka Watch and Uehara Watch, both of which merit their own blogs these days. Choosing to cover various topics related to Japanese baseball has led me in an interesting direction with my writing. I have met a lot of interesting and influential people for having begun work in this niche, and 2007 brings even more important opportunities. I'll have more on those in the very near future.

This season, there will be very little related to Japanese baseball here at COH. I have built other outlets for that part of my work. The Yankees take front and center with Spring Training in full swing, and plenty to talk about with regard to the roster and the surrounding competition in the AL East. It's easy to get whipped up over the roster spots being decided in these pivotal days of early March, but what may escape Yankee fans is the relative stability that exists on our team this year. Let's look briefly at what I mean.

CF Johnny Damon
SS Derek Jeter
RF Bobby Abreu
3B Alex Rodriguez
DH Jason Giambi
C Jorge Posada
LF Hideki Matsui
2B Robinson Cano
1B Doug Mientkiewicz

Only Mientkiewicz is new to the lineup. While Abreu slides in for Sheffield, that was the case for enough of last season that it's hardly a big shift to start this year. He's also such a good fit with the team that it's almost impossible to remember that he only joined at the deadline in July. Let's look at the bench:

OF Melky Cabrera
1B Josh Phelps/Andy Phillips
IF Miguel Cairo
BUC Todd Pratt

Unless Torre and Cashman decide to take an additional outfielder, there probably won't be much deviation from this group. Phelps replaces Bernie for all intents and purposes, but the quadruple 1B platoon that is potentially set up with this is problematic. I would rather drop Andy Phillips and bring along Brett Gardner as a base stealer. Cairo is that guy now, and generally does a fine job, but Gardner is better and could be the difference in an important game a la Dave Roberts. All of that is nitpicking though. The bench is a weak point, but with the roster of juggernauts that we throw out there it shouldn't matter. In the case of injury to a key player in the infield, we'll have problems, but nothing that a creative GM with tons of cash can't fix. The changes from last season are largely superficial, with the lone exception being the huge gaping hole in Bernie's locker. That hole is only large because of the legend that is Bernie Baseball. The level of play should either be a push or improve in the end.

The starting rotation looks different, but there are some reasons to feel familiar with what's there.

Mike Mussina
Andy Pettitte
Chien Min Wang
Kei Igawa
Carl Pavano

It's important to consider a bunch of minor leaguers in this mix as well. Karstens, Rasner, Hughes, Sanchez, Ohlendorf, and Clippard are all names that could appear for the Yankees under the right circumstances. Pettitte and Igawa are in red letters above, but only Igawa is really new to the team. No one can look at Andy Pettitte and think that he's somehow new to the team. It's almost as though he was on an extended leave of absence. Pavano looks new because he's been invisible for the most part since joining the team, but we know him and look forward to at least a league average performance while he's afforded a spot in the rotation. Even adding Clemens to the team won't feel all that new. It almost seems like we have a HOF rotation with great fallback options when we consider adding Clemens and Hughes sometime down the road.

The bullpen is the area of most uncertainty, but let's think about what we are likely to see come Opening Day:

Chris Britton/Brian Bruney
Mike Myers
Ron Villone
Kyle Farnsworth
Scott Proctor
Jose Vizcaino
Mariano Rivera

In the end, what you see is a big change involving a starting 1Bman, one bench position, a back up catcher, a new guy in the rotation, a new set up man, and potentially one long reliever. One new pitcher is actually an old one. All the core players are the same. The rotation is more or less the same dynamic. The pen is hardly altered. The club won 97 games last year, and should at least hold even in 2007. If injuries can be avoided to any of the key roster guys, and we can add either Clemens or Hughes later (if not both) we should improve on that total. 100+ wins looks like a reasonable outcome if the chips fall right. Considering that we had the best record in the sport last season, 100+ wins this year should merit the same prediction. I'll get into that more later in Spring Training when I do my AL East preview, but I think this post may illustrate just how stable and defined our team is already.

The things to discuss for the remainder of the Spring are such fine tuning that it's hardly earth shattering news one way or the other. The only things that exist to throw the season into turmoil for the Yankees are injuries (God forbid), more A-Rod crap, more Pavano drama, any Clemens news, any word from Bernie, or UFOs landing in Tampa. Barring any of those things, it should be dull as a butter knife until Opening Day. Just the way I like it as a fan, no matter how it affects the quality of my blogging. Stay tuned for more Yankees related posts on an almost daily basis from here on out, and some very exciting business related to my work with Japanese baseball in a week or so. See you tomorrow. Go Yanks.


Erick Alexander said...

What doyou think of the following bullpen?

Chris Britton
Brian Bruney
Ron Villone
Kyle Farnsworth
Scott Proctor
Jose Vizcaino
Mariano Rivera

Both VizcaĆ­no and Villone fare well against lefty´s and dropping Myers of takes a lot of innings from the other players. having him around to face one player every four days seems useless to me.

Mike Plugh said...

I like Myers much more than Villone Erick. Villone has a career ERA+ of 95 and a .709 OPS against lefties. Myers is 112 and .623, so there's not much conversation where those two pitchers is concerned.

I'd rather see either Bruney or Britton more than Villone.

rogmick61 said...

What about Kevin Thompson instead of Gardner? Both are speedy, but Gardner is strictly a Brett Butler type singles hitter with very little power while Thompson has more power to go along with his speed than Gardner. I've seen Thompson at AA Trenton, and think he can be a help as a backup OF.

Mike Plugh said...

Thompson is a good player. Not much better or worse than Gardner. The thing is he hasn't shown much power either and his SB rate is worse than Gardner. I'll take my chances with the little guy from the bench.

Nathan said...

Jose Viscaino? His name is Luis.

Wouldn't taking Gardner up to the majors be limiting his progress at the plate? Gardner needs to continue to hit and at least get a little bit of power. Gardner has not had enough ABs at AAA yet to be considered as a player who is ML-ready.

On the other hand, you do have AAAA OF Kevin Thompson, and like rogmick61 said, Thompson is speedy. Thompson also has nothing left to prove at AAA, so his bat skills really don't need much more fine tuning. He is also pretty good at the plate against LHPs, so that's another plus.

Mike Plugh said...

Yeah, I have no idea where I got Jose Vizcaino from....

Thompson would also be a fine player off the bench. The main reason I prefer Gardner is that I don't feel he'll ever be a regular player in the Major Leagues, but that he could be a professional base runner quite easily. His size and lack of power force him to play the speedy leadoff role, but I don't think that's something the Yankees need. We do need a guy who can pinch run for Giambi in the bottom of the 8th or 9th and turn the corner on a double.

Thompson could be that guy, but he should probably play everyday at AAA to stay ready for more fill in duty should we have a problem with injuries. That's all just nit-picking though. Either guy is fine by me.

Justin D said...

Considering the Yankees need for roster flexibility and their consistent bullpen issues (which includes Joe Torre's bullpen management), is Mike Myers a pitcher that the Yankees A) need to carry and/or B.) have the luxury to carry?

Last year Myers held lefties to a .257 avg and a .740 ops. Over the last 3 years his lefty splits are .213/.593.

Villone last year held them to a .179 avg and a .609 ops. His three year splits are .202 / .596.

Luis Vizcaino, who will also make the team, held lefties to a .163 avg and a .569 ops in 104 at bats. His three year lefty splits are .214/.667/

Both Villone and Vizcaino were significantly more effective at getting lefties out last year. Over the last three years, Villone has been better and Myers was only slightly better than Vizcaino.

So what is his role on this team? He is the loogy. Meant to be able to get out lefties in a crucial spot. Yet the stats bear out that he is not the most effective at doing so on this team.

Ok ok. The others aren't true "loogys" meaning they aren't confined to only one batter a game. Oh wait...that's a good thing. Myers inability to provide innings on this team is to the detriment of the REST of the bullpen and the total roster. Because he is basically a 1 batter pitcher, the Yankees are forced to use their other bullpen pieces more often, which only exacerbates the problem this team already has which is Torre's abuse of middle relievers.

The next problem he presents, and possibly the biggest, is that he occupies a roster spot. He and Villone are both likely to be on the team to start the season. I've already demonstrated why Villone is a better option than Myers for both the loogy role, and just for the general purpose of being a pitcher. But because both men make the team, a talented pitcher such as Chris Britton or Brian Bruney cannot make the team due to the lack of a roster spot available. Either one provides more value to the Yankees than Mike Myers as both pitchers can pitch to more than one batter. Both also have power arms.

So in summation, Myers takes up a valuable roster spot to do a job that others on the team do better. At the same time, he limits the ability of our bullpen to provide innings both by being a limited pitcher, and by blocking other pitchers such as Chris Britton and Brian Bruney from making this team.

The solution? If Ron Villone proves to be healthy and is set to make the club, the Yankees should see what kind of market there is to trade Mike Myers. I highly doubt you can get anything of any real value, but you may get lucky with some project minor league kid. At the very least you can clear a roster spot for a better pitcher, and cut a few hundred thousand off the payroll.

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