Analyzing the Yankees Recent Moves

The 2011-2012 off season sure has been a strange one.  Let’s quickly recap it.

Ryan Madson went from being on the cusp from signing a four year $44M contract to remain with the Phillies, only get to get spurned at the last second.  The Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon instead, and Madson toiled around the market before finally settling on a one year $8.5M deal with the Reds.

After the Cardinals won their 11th World Series this past October, Albert Pujols decided that he wanted to go to Disneyland.  While it isn’t uncommon for an athlete to visit the iconic theme park after winning a championship, I doubt anyone expected he’d agree to stay there for the next ten years.

The Marlins have been among the most frugal (if not the most) teams in baseball for the past fifteen years.  With their new ballpark slated to finally open in April, we knew they’d be looking to expand their budget.  We didn’t know they’d end up being tied to practically every major free agent on the market, and would try burn through money like Tony Montana burned through cocaine in Scarface.  They didn’t land the big fish they were hoping for (Pujols), but they did land lefty starter Mark Buehrle and ace closer Heath Bell.  That won’t put them over the hump, but they’re great additions to a core that includes Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Mike Stanton, and Logan Morrison.  At the very least, they’ll be an interesting ball club; especially with Ozzie Guillen at the helm.

It’s January 16th, and Prince Fielder still doesn’t have a home.  I expected Scott Boras to let Pujols set the market, but I didn’t expect it be so tough for a 27 year old power hitting first baseman to land his big contract.  If Fielder and Boras reduce their demands fro 7-8 years to five years, they might open up a few more doors.  Texas is my front runner at this point.

The Yankees and Red Sox have been eerily quiet and fiscally responsible.  Oh yeah, about that…

On Friday, the slumbering Yankees awoke from their winter long hibernation to make two very impressive moves.  In their first move, they traded super catching prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for 21 year old starting pitcher Michael Pineda.  While it might seem odd that the Yankees would trade a major league ready highly touted prospect, the move actually makes a lot of sense and fills a critical need.  To be honest, Brian Cashman and the Yankees haven’t been terribly enthralled with Montero for the past year or so.  They certainly recognized his impressive talents, but his inability to develop behind the plate made him less valuable to the club.  They could have moved him to another position, but where?  Mark Teixeira is signed through 2016, and Nick Swisher is a much better solution in RF.  Some suggested he could be their every day DH, but that sees like a role better suited for Alex Rodriguez in the coming years.  Without a clear position, the only move was to trade Montero.

In Pineda, the Yankees get a young pitcher with an ace ceiling.  Luckily (for them, not us), they don’t need him to be an ace any time soon with C.C. Sabathia fronting their rotation through 2016.  Still, it’s nice to have an ace in waiting, and he should slot nicely into the number two spot in the rotation either in 2012 or 2013.  Pineda has a five-pitch repertoire that includes a four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, slider, and change-up.  Like most young pitchers with plus velocity (94.9 MPH average velocity), he relied on his four-seamer quite a bit last season; throwing it 51.2% of the time.  He doesn’t generate a lot of whiffs (9.5%) with the pitch, but he throws it consistently for strikes (68.2%).  His slider is a true plus pitch, and easily the most effective in his repertoire.  He gets good horizontal movement that breaks away from right-handed hitters, and induced whiffs 18.6% of the time last year.  He throws the pitch to both righties and lefties, but like most pitchers that throw sliders; it’s most effective against like handed batters.  His two-seamer, cutter, and change-up are mostly show pitches, with each being thrown less than 5% of the time.  If he hopes to be successful in the AL East, he’ll need to develop a reliable third pitch.  The change-up seems to be an obvious option as it would give him an alternate pitch to neutralize lefties.  The cutter is also a possibility as he’ll have the opportunity to learn from the master, Mariano Rivera.

Last season, Pineda induced strikeouts 24.9% of the time, a rate of more than one per inning.  He has good command as evidenced by his 7.9% walk rate and 3.15 K/BB ratio; both excellent ratios for a 21 year old.  In terms of his batted ball profile, I’m a little concerned about his fly ball tendencies.  When he was pitching at the homerphobic Safeco Field, this wouldn’t have been a problem.  Now that he’ll be pitching half of his games in the homer friendly Yankee Stadium, it could become an issue.  While it’s tough to call him an extreme fly ball pitcher with a 0.81 GB/FB ratio, it does make him more likely to suffer from homer prone tendencies.  Still, with his otherwise great peripherals, he’s talented enough to avoid the pitfalls that plague lesser pitchers.  A 3.75 FIP with 170-180 innings should a reasonable projection for 2012.

The second move the Yankees made on Friday was acquiring former Dodger right-handed starting pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda, via free agency.  Those of you who know me can tell you that this move really hurt me.  I’ve long been a fan of Kuroda, and thought he would have been a great addition to the back of the Red Sox rotation.  Instead, he’ll step into the middle of the Yankee rotation, presumably as either their number two or three starter.

Kuroda, 36, doesn’t do anything spectacularly, but he does a lot of things very well.  He generates a lot of ground balls (48.6% career) via his sinker, and induces a great deal of whiffs using his slider (15.5%) and splitter (18.5%).  He also throws a four-seamer and a curve, but the curve is mostly a “show” pitch.  Moving to the AL East from the NL West should pose a few additional challenges for the veteran starter.  Still, for a pitcher with a career 3.55 FIP, he should be able to make the transition pretty easily.  At the very least, the Yankees should expect around 200 innings of 3.75-4.00 FIP pitching, which should be good for about 2.5-3.0 fWAR.

The moves the Yankees made last Friday were very strong, and clearly put them in the driver’s seat in the AL East for 2012.  There’s still plenty of time remaining this offseason for both the Red Sox and Rays to make game changing moves.  With few impact players remaining (Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson among them) and little money available, both teams will need make smart, incremental moves to fill their remaining roster needs.  The good news is that teams don’t win championships on paper in January–as we painfully learned last season.  A lot can happen between now and October, but for now, the Yankees are looking pretty good.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Hiroki Kuroda Jesus Montero Michael Pineda New York Yankees

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

15 Responses to “Analyzing the Yankees Recent Moves” Subscribe

  1. @CurseOfBenitez January 16, 2012 at 8:36 AM #

    This post was written with about negative 50% of the angst and pout your tweets have connoted over the past few days.

    • ChipBuck January 16, 2012 at 9:11 AM #

      I wrote it from an analytical perspective. I've loved both moves for the Yankees from the start. I was just bummed that they pulled them both off–especially Kuroda. Plus, I've had some time to get over myself a bit, so that always helps!

  2. marcos January 16, 2012 at 9:59 AM #

    The FO doesn't seem to take into account the great collapse this team had. Instead choose to focus on the great 4 months this team had. Next year's FA class is going to be a strong one so i guess they are saving up for that. Even though Hamilton and Greinke have issues they would greatly improve this team. This is seems to be another of those bridge year.

    • ChipBuck January 16, 2012 at 10:13 AM #

      Aren't four months more telling than one month?

      • marcos January 16, 2012 at 5:53 PM #

        Actually 2 months because the 1st month of the season was nothing to write home about. For 1/3 of season they stunk. That's a huge chunk of the season. The bottom line was "failure" there's no ifs, ands or buts. and as much as the luxury tax implications make sense, the main goal should be the improvement of this team because the Red Sox brand is such a huge cash cow. They team makes so much money, luxury tax should not be such a humongous factor. I'm not saying that their decision making should be swayed by 2 months of the season but being this frugal doesn't help at all either.

        • ChipBuck January 16, 2012 at 6:07 PM #

          That's really shortsighted. Without paying attention to future luxury tax implications, the Red Sox won't be in good position to improve or even compete in the future. You need to be thinking 3-5 years out, not just next year.

          • marcos January 16, 2012 at 7:07 PM #

            so you seem to be agreeing with my original premise.

            "Next year's FA class is going to be a strong one so i guess they are saving up for that. Even though Hamilton and Greinke have issues they would greatly improve this team."

          • ChipBuck January 16, 2012 at 8:33 PM #

            Not really. I think the Sox need to find a way to stay under the luxury tax in 2014.

  3. eduff56 January 16, 2012 at 8:47 PM #

    I think the Yankee moves certainly helped them improve on paper, and I was looking for the Sox to add Kuroda, so it's kind of a double bang but I am happy that Montero is gone as I think he is going to be a beast offensively. A year ago this time many said Lavarnway would never be a catcher defensively in the bigs but he has improved a lot and Montero may do the same or just play first base or even become the next Edgar.
    Pineda's second half would scare me a bit as well as the old "can he pitch in NY".
    I'm not sure the Sox shouldn't just start out with what they have right now (starting pitching) and make a deal if necessary during the season, unless the price on Oswalt really comes down.

  4. TroyPatterson January 16, 2012 at 9:37 PM #

    The interesting part is this only moderately improves the 2012 team over the 2011 team. Bartolo Colon was worth 2.9 WAR and Pineda was slightly better at 3.4 depending on who the team unloads Kuroda is likely a 2-2.5 WAR pitcher in the AL. If they move anyone but Burnett they are breaking even.

    They still had to make these moves to stay at the same elite level, but they are not far and away better than 2011, just better name recognition.

    • TroyPatterson January 16, 2012 at 9:38 PM #

      A good analogy is when the Sox added Adrian. He was not likely to top the production of Beltre in 2010, but he would make sure we reached the same level (or very close)

    • ChipBuck January 17, 2012 at 8:34 AM #

      That's an interesting point, but don't you think Pineda has a chance to improve on his 3.4 fWAR mark from last year? Obviously, there's no guarantee he does, but it is possible he adds as much as an additional win in the aggregate.

      I don't think the Yankees are far and away better than the Sox or Rays, but they're certainly in better position. The Yankees were the division winners last season, and I don't see a ton of regression on their part. This race is far from over, but then again it was last winter as well when the Red Sox made their big moves too.

      • TroyPatterson January 17, 2012 at 10:06 AM #

        Yes he does have a chance to improve on his numbers, but moving to the AL East likely mutes a bit of that. His Ks should stay about the same and his walks could drop, but not likely.

        He does have elbow injuries in his past and throws 30% sliders, which to me is a big red flag. I would mark him down for a 4 fWAR if healthy and able to toal 200 innings in 2012.

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