Thursday, January 26, 2012

4 Yankee Prospects In Top 100 Prospects List

If you weren't aware that released its first Top 100 Prospects list yesterday, then I feel bad for you.  I don't feel bad for the Yankees, though, as they managed to put 4 players on the list, and solidly on the list I might add, as all 4 were inside the top 75.  Here's what had to say about the 4 Yankee selections and my quick take on their takes.

- Manny Banuelos: 13th- "Once he throws more strikes, he has the chance to be an electric starter who can be a No. 2 or 3 starter."

My Take: Banuelos didn't take a huge knock for his command issues last season thanks to his track record and the fact that he's a LEFT-handed starter with nasty stuff.  It's certainly possible, but I think pegging ManBan as a potential 3rd starter at the Major League level is selling him short a bit, especially when the word "electric" was used to describe him previously in the same sentence.

- Dellin Betances: 41st- "His command took a step backward in 2011, and he’ll need to harness his stuff a bit better to have long-term success."

My Take: It's a simple statement, but it's true and it rings truer to Betances than any other Yankee pitching prospect.  Command has always been the name of the game with Betances.  Another year without it and he could tumble down a lot of people's prospects lists, including this one.

- Gary Sanchez: 53rd- "As long as the defense improves, he can be a bat-first big league backstop, catching every day and hitting in the middle of a lineup."

My Take: For as long as Jesus was in the Yankee system working on his defense, he graduated from Triple-A still having his ability to catch every day questioned.  For Sanchez to already have scouts saying he can do it every day with some improvement when his defensive game is so raw and he's still in A-ball is a very good thing.

- Mason Williams: 73rd- "A left-handed hitter who can hit for average and should mature into more power, he has a better idea in terms of an approach than many hitters his age."

My Take: Advanced speed and natural athleticism is one thing.  But to also possess an advanced skill so important to being a great hitter at a young age is even better, and Williams seems to have that with his approach.  The more that matures and evolves as he advances through the system, the higher his ceiling will become.

Well Here's One Good Rotation Decision

This almost slipped off my radar yesterday, but after the nonsense that was the 6-man rotation down the stretch last year, I had to make sure I snagged it.  At the Jorge press conference, Joe had this to say about the rotation for 2012:

“I can tell you it won’t be a seven or six-man rotation.  It’ll be five."

"Right now we’ve got seven starters, and we’re going to have to make some decisions.”

There was some more coachtalk fluff added in for the sake of not tipping his hand, which I get.  But cutting through that, I think we can all agree that CC, Pineda, Nova, and Kuroda are going to be the first 4 in the rotation in some order and they should be.  These guys' numbers clearly show that they are the 4 best starting pitchers on the staff and they should be treated as such.  Hughes, Freddy, and A.J. are going to have to fight it out for the last spot, assuming they are all still around in Spring Training to compete, and that's the way it should be.  This ain't the Little League World Series and not everybody needs to be allowed to pitch, and these comments are a good sign that Cash and Joe have learned that lesson from last year.

Not sacrificing approximately 35 starts from your 4 best pitchers to keep everybody happy?

(Quotes via LoHud)

How To Keep The Russell Martin Revival Tour Going

2011 was an important year for Russell Martin.  After two All Star-caliber seasons for the Dodgers in 2007 and 2008, he was basically cast aside like an old mitt after experiencing serious decline, much of it likely injury-related, in 2009 and 2010.  The Yankees were happy to pick him up off the scrap heap for $4 million and install him as their bridge between the Jorge Posada and Jesus Montero Eras behind the plate in 2011.  A funny thing happened on the way to that plan, though, as Martin bounced back this past season, regaining some of his All Star form and making his way back onto the All Star team.  The Yankees rewarded Martin for his 2011 with a 1-year/$7.5 million deal on Tuesday, in the process implying that they may still not be 100% sold on Martin as a long-term fixture behind the plate, even with Jorge and Jesus out of the picture.  In looking at Martin's 2011 numbers, there are a few things that he could do in 2012 that could keep his upward momentum going and instill some more confidence in the organization to extend him beyond this season.

Martin's final line of .237/.324/.408 with a .325 wOBA in 2011 was a step in the right direction from where he had been trending the previous two years, but still not up to the standard he set in '07-'08.  After a torrid start in the season's opening month (.293/.376/.587, .420 wOBA) Martin cooled off considerably and was up and down at best for the remainder.  The first two numbers that stand out to me when trying to explain Martin's 2011 are his BB and K rates.  Martin has shown from Day 1 in the Majors that he has a very good eye at the plate.  Even in 2009 and 2010, his BB rates didn't decline with the rest of his production, but in 2011 he posted a 10.5% BB rate, the lowest value of his career since the 9.6% he put up in his rookie season of 2006.  Martin coupled this lower BB rate with a career high 17.0% K rate, certainly not something that qualifies him as a hacker, but nonetheless greater than what he's traditionally shown.

A contributing factor to those changes could certainly be Martin's career high Swing Rate in 2011, 43.5% according to PITCHf/x, as could his career high 8.3% Swinging Strike rate.  But deeper than that, the numbers that concerned me the most were the number of pitches Martin was seeing in his plate appearances.  In 2011 Martin averaged 3.74 pitches per plate appearance, below what was his 3.89 career average and even further below the P/PA values in the high 3.90s that he had in his career years.  Paired with the increased swing rates, these numbers suggest that Martin was being a bit too aggressive in his approach at the plate and putting himself in too many unfavorable counts.  When in those type of counts, a hitter will tend to take more defensive swings, generate less contact and less good contact, and in Martin's case, fail to capitalize on his strength of his great batting eye at the plate.  This would certainly explain the low batting average and increased K rate.

Also concerning were Martin's contact rate splits to left, center, and right field in 2011.  Martin's track record in these categories shows that he tends to hit a lot of his ground balls to the left side and back up the middle, and starts to elevate the ball more as he goes to right.  But in 2011 these splits became even more extreme:

- LF: 18.0% LD, 61.3% GB, 20.7% FB
- CF: 18.3% LD, 49.5% GB, 32.1% FB
- RF: 22.8% LD, 17.7% GB, 59.5% FB (*29.8% IFFB)

Combined with Martin's wOBA splits of .457 to left, .239 to center, and .261 to right, these values above suggest that there are differences in Martin's swing depending on where he tries to hit the ball, and not helpful ones.  It would be one thing if he had these contact splits and was productive across the board when hitting to all fields.  But the low wOBA values to center and right tell me that he's not making a lot of quality contact on those swings, and the majority of his ground balls up the middle and fly balls to right are turning into outs.  Interestingly enough, while Martin had his lowest LD and FB rates to left field, he did hit 14 of his 18 home runs in 2011 to left. So he certainly made the most of the solid fly ball contact he did make to left field.