Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Training 3/28/12

The Yankees faced off against the Atlanta Braves today down at Champions Field in Lake Buena Vista Florida. Hiroki Kuroda made the start for the Yankees and faced off against Braves right hander Brian Beachy and the game ended up ending in a 5-5 tie.

Freddy Freeman hit his 5th home run in his last eight at bats today off of Hiroki Kuroda to bring the Braves within one run and Jayson Heyward hit a game tying two run home run in the bottom of the ninth off of George Kontos to make up most of the offense for the Braves. The Yankees offensive standout was Eric Chavez who knocked in three runs with a pair of rbi singles off of Brian Beachy and an rbi double later in the game.  Eduardo Nunez also added an rbi double as well for the Yankees offensive game today.

Kuroda allowed two runs on six hits in 7 IP and he looked stellar while doing it. He had allowed now one run or fewer in his last three Spring Training starts before this game. Kuroda looks great and should fill in the Yankees #2 spot in the rotation well, no matter how pessimistic I was about it yesterday.

Up next for the Yankees is DJ Mitchell facing off against the Baltimore Orioles at 7:05 pm ET on Thursday on MLBTV.  Ivan Nova was scheduled to pitch but will instead pitch a minor league game while still competing for one of the remaining rotation spots.

Yankees Make A Couple Of Minor Deals

The Yankees today made a pair of minor league deals that look to be insurance and depth moves only. Both Jack Cust and Craig Tatum signed with the Yanks to minor league deals.

Craig Tatum, a catcher from the Arizona Diamondbacks system, is out of options and will need to first pass through waivers before he can be outrighted to AAA Empire State. Tatum is 29 years old and described as a "no hit, defense first" kind of catcher and is hopefully going to be insurance for a now injured Austin Romine.

Jack Cust is 33 years old and was just recently released by the Houston Astros yesterday. Cust seems to be another insurance move just in case Ibanez shows the world that last year was not a fluke and that he is indeed 40 years old. Not to mention that Russell Branyan's back does not seem like it is getting any better either.

Austin Romine Suffers A Set Back

News came down the pipe today that Yankees catching prospect Austin Romine suffered a set back with his back injury and will not be ready for opening day for the AAA Empire State Yankees. Austin Romine has already missed every single spring training game due to back inflammation and now he seems set to miss some time when the games count now too. This is never a good sign and I hope for the best for Romine. 

The Most Important Player... Health-wise

I was looking at the projected 25-man roster for the Yankees, and I noticed one area that has gotten little to no attention this offseason... the catching situation.

Raul Ibanez and Andrew Jones are the backup outfielders, and both men will get a good chunk of playing time platooning as the team's designated hitters. So although there are legit concerns about whether Ibanez has anything left in the tank, or if Jones could hit better than .172 against RHP (that's what he hit against them in 76 plate appearances last season), Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman are okay with them to a point, so I don't feel like I should be that concerned.

The middle infield seems to be okay if something happens, since Eduardo Nunez has shown some competency with the bat. I don't mean to say that him batting .265/.313/385 would be ideal for an extended period of time, but at only 24 years old he's shown reason to be somewhat optimistic about doing better. Heck, the Braves have reportedly shown interest in Eduardo. So if something were to happen to Jeter or (gasp!) Cano, then the backup plan wouldn't destroy the team.

It certainly wouldn't be a great thing if Alex Rodriguez were to get injured (again *sigh*), since Eric Chavez is no prize. But Chavez was hitting really well before his strange foot fracture last season, so there's some reason to feel optimistic should he need to play more often (not that Eric is the healthiest of players in MLB either). My main concern if this were to happen would be the lack of "pop" in Chavez's bat, since he hasn't had a slugging percentage over .393 since 2007. But the team could just slide Teixeira into the cleanup spot, moving Swisher to 5th and Ibanez/Jones to 6th. So it wouldn't be a total loss at all.

The same can be said if Teixeira were to miss time, seeing as how Eric Chavez looks to be the primary backup due to getting the 3rd most innings at 1B this spring (Javier Vazquez got the 2nd most, but he's been optioned to AAA). Besides, some people... for good reason... have doubts about Mark anyway.

Here's where I have the most concern regarding the Yankees bench... the backup catcher. It's not so much about the offensive difference between Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli. In fact, after looking at the numbers each man put up in 2011, fans may not see any difference in their bats at all. Martin had an OPS of .732 to go along with a batter average of .237, while Cervelli's OPS was .719 with a batting average of .266. Seeing as how the Yankees only really issue on the offensive side of things had to do with their batting average (they were 2nd in MLB in OBP, 3rd in MLB in SLG, and 7th in MLB in BA), there's a chance Cervelli's bat could be an improvement.

But it's the catching defense that concerns me. After all, even if I conceded that the offense would improve with Cervelli, we're talking about the 8th batter in the lineup. The Yankees aren't exactly leaning on the catching spot to produce runs. So let's take a look at some defensive catching statistics...

Russell Martin's fielding percentage behind the plate last year was .990, while Francisco Cervelli's was .980. On the surface that doesn't seem like a huge difference, but keep in mind that while Martin had 10 errors in 1044.1 innings, Cervelli had 6 errors in only 316.1 innings.

In 316.1 innings Francisco had 3 passed balls, whereas in 1044.1 innings Russell had 4. I don't think I need to calculate a percentage there to show you that it's a huge difference.

It doesn't get any better for Mr. Cervelli when we look at the stolen base situation. There were 135 stolen base attempts on Russell Martin last year, and Martin threw out 40 (30%). Due to Francisco Cervelli having much fewer stolen base attempts while he was catching last year, I looked at his entire career. There have been 116 instances where somebody tried to steal on Cervelli, and Francisco has thrown out 23 of them (20%). That's 30% vs. 20%. I'd call that a definitive victory again for Mr. Martin.

So even though neither Ibanez or Jones could live up to the defense played by anybody currently starting in the outfield, Nunez isn't as good with the glove as Cano or Jeter, Chavez is decent at 3B although ARod was really good there last year, and Chavez doesn't hold a candle to Teixeira in defense at 1B (how many players do?), my main concern is what would happen behind the dish if Russell Martin were to miss a large amount of time and Francisco Cervelli were to step in.

Projecting the Yankees in 2012

Russel Martin- .243/18 HR/ 64 RBI/ 12 SB 
Mark Texeira- .268/36 HR/102 RBI 2 SB 
Robinson Cano- .314/31 HR/ 117 RBI/ 9 SB 
Derek Jeter- .289/ 6 HR/ 59 RBI/ 11 SB 
Alex Rodriguez- .285/ 28 HR/ 102 RBI/ 7 SB 
Brett Gardner- .302/ 4 HR/ 71 RBI/ 51 SB 
Curtis Granderson- .271/ 35 HR/ 109 RBI/ 17 SB 
Nick Swisher- .265/ 26 HR/ 81 RBI/ 6 SB 
Raul Ibanez- .237/ 14 HR/ 53 RBI
Eric Chavez - .219/ 3 HR/ 38 RBI
Andruw Jones- .241/11 HR/ 37 RBI 
Eduardo Nunez- .243/ 3 HR/ 28 RBI/ 22 SB

CC Sabathia- 20-7/ 3.13 ERA/ 216 K's 
Ivan Nova- 12-11/ 4.14 ERA/ 108 K's 
Hiroki Kuroda- 14-11/ 4.04 ERA/ 112 K's
Michael Pineda- 13-8/ 4.22 ERA/ 141 K's
Phil Hughes- 10-7/ 4.15 ERA/ 100 K's
Freddy Garcia- 5-3/ 4.69 ERA/ 49 K's
Rafael Soriano- 48 IP/ 3-4/ 2.97 ERA/ 53 K's 
David Robertson- 71 IP/ 3-1/ 2.48 ERA/ 70 K's 
Mariano Rivera- 51 IP/ 3-2/ 2.19 ERA/ 68 K's/ 39/44 SV