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Entries in New York Yankees (126)

Monday
Dec092013

Mets Bet $60 Million on Granderson's Bat Speed 

The New York Mets received precious little production from their outfielders in 2013, as the likes of Eric Young Jr., Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares combined for a .685 On-Base-Plus-Slugging Percentage (28th among major league clubs) and 50 home runs (24th). To add some thump to a mostly anonymous, anemic group of fly catchers, GM Sandy Alderson just added a guy who nearly hit that many homers by himself in recent years -- Curtis Granderson.

Granderson, inked to a four-year, $60 million deal to change buroughs in New York, went deep 40-plus times in both 2011 and 2012. But the soon-to-be-33-year-old's park-and-league adjusted OPS has dropped three years running, from a career-best 42 percent above average in 2011 to 15 percent above average in 2012 and three percent below average last year, when he missed a big chunk of the season after getting hit by pitches that broke his right wrist and left pinkie. His strikeout rate has climbed steadily over that time frame, from 24.5 percent of his plate appearances in '11 to 28.2 percent in '13.

For the Mets' latest free agent gamble to pay off, Granderson will need to prove that his uptick in whiffs and decline in power are more the product of aching hands than a slowing bat. His contact and slugging woes been especially glaring against fastballs.

Granderson's contact rate vs. fastballs, 2011

 

Granderson's contact rate vs. fastballs, 2012

 

Granderson's contact rate vs. fastballs, 2013

Granderson missed just 15.3 percent of the fastballs that he swung at in 2011, comfortably below the 16-17 percent average for MLB hitters. That whiff rate reached 23 percent in 2012, and spiked to 33.3 percent during his injury-shortened 2013 campaign -- highest among all batters seeing at least 400 fastballs.

Even when Granderson has managed to connect, he's rarely ripping fastballs down the right field line. He pulled 54.2 percent of fastballs put in play in 2011, by far the highest rate among left-handed hitters (Ryan Howard was second, at 40.6 percent). But Granderson's pull percentage dipped to 38.3 percent in 2012, and 34.7 percent in 2013. Hitting weaker shots to center and the opposite field, Granderson's slugging percentage against heaters has plummeted from .704 in 2011 (a mark bested only by Matt Kemp) to .456 last year.

Granderson's most comparable players on Baseball Reference through age 32 don't bode especially well for his chances of raking as he reaches his mid-30s. A group of outfielders including Ron Gant, J.D. Drew, Jose Cruz and (gulp) Jason Bay posted a collective OPS that was eight percent above average during their age 33-36 seasons (Bay, 35, is mulling retirement).

If you're optimistic about Granderson, you could say that 2011 was a career year, 2012 was more along the lines of what we should expect from him moving forward, and last year was an injury-riddled mulligan. If you're a pessimist -- there may be a few Mets fans in this category, I'm told -- then Granderson can't turn on fastballs anymore and his contract could turn into another Bay-esque money pit. Alderson and the Amazin's have staked $60 million on Grandy crushing fastballs in Queens.

Friday
Nov292013

McCann Bounces Back at Plate, But Can He Stay Behind It? 

During his twenties, Brian McCann raked like few other catchers ever have. McCann has clubbed the eighth-most home runs (176) among regular catchers through age 29, and his park-and-league-adjusted OPS (117 OPS+) ranks 13th, just behind Gary Carter and Thurman Munson. Those credentials -- at a position where sluggers are practically nonexistent -- earned McCann a five-year, $85 million free agent deal from the Yankees, with a vesting option that could bring the contract's total value to $100 million.

Did the Bombers invest wisely in a down-ballot MVP candidate, ending the procession of punch-and-judy backstops who produced a collective .298 slugging percentage last year, or did they potentially waste six figures on another aging star? The answer to that question depends upon how long McCann remains a threat at the plate -- and how long he can keep squatting behind it. Let's be honest: the prospect of paying top dollar to a guy whose occupational hazards include crouching for three hours a day while getting pummeled by foul tips, backswings and base runners is terrifying. But if his resurgent 2013 season and the history of other sweet-swinging catchers are any indication, McCann might just prove to be worth every penny.

Low stuff no longer a problem

The former Brave endured the worst season of his career in 2012, posting an 87 OPS+ as he tried to play through a right shoulder injury that required off-season surgery. He missed the first month of 2013 rehabbing, but he rebounded at the plate to the tune of a 115 OPS+. The big difference was McCann's performance against pitches thrown at the knees:

McCann's slugging percentage vs. low pitches, 2012

 

McCann's slugging percentage vs. low pitches, 2013

McCann slugged a paltry .310 versus pitches thrown to the lower third of the strike zone in 2012 -- ten points below the major league average. This past year, he slugged .437 against low stuff. He wasn't able to loft those low pitches in '12, hitting a grounder about 54% of the time that he put the ball in play, but he took to air in '13 (42% ground ball rate).

Will McCann hold up behind home plate?

Few doubt that McCann will be a massive upgrade for the Yankees in 2014, but what about in the following years? Will he continue to be an offensive stalwart at catcher, or will he be an ultra-expensive DH? Believe it or not, catchers who rake in their twenties like McCann hold up pretty well in their thirties.

Eleven other catchers have posted an OPS+ above 110 in their twenties while logging at least 1,000 games. Using Baseball-Reference's Play Index Tool, I found how these guys performed from age 30 to 35 (the years covered by McCann's contract if his option vests). Joe Mauer was excluded, as we have yet to see how the now former catcher's career unfolds. Thurman Munson, whose life came to a tragic end at 32, was also excluded. That left nine McCann comps: Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Ted Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, Gary Carter, Bill Freehan, Darrell Porter, Lance Parrish, and Ivan Rodriguez.

From age 30 to 35, these players continued to hit and mostly stick behind the plate. Collectively, they:

  • Posted an OPS+ of 113
  • Averaged about 113 games per season, with 81 percent of those games coming behind the dish
  • Averaged 15.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

The results aren't really skewed by a few great performers, either: All nine remained average or above-average hitters from age 30-35, and all had at least 11 Wins Above Replacement during that time frame. Nobody busted, and several remained All-Star caliber players.

While this mini-study doesn't prove that McCann will deliver on his mega-contract, it does suggest that he's not necessarily a ticking time bomb destined for the DH spot in a year or two. If he provides the Yankees with 15-16 wins over the course of his contract, it will be $100 million well spent for a team with exceptionally deep coffers and a gaping hole at the position. Many catchers struggle to hold up both offensively and defensively as they age. But, as McCann's career comps show, he's not like most catchers.

Thursday
Sep122013

A-Rod Raking vs. Inside Pitches

Slightly over a month ago, Alex Rodriguez was hitting .214 while wrapping up a sideshow minor league rehab stint, quarreling with GM Brian Cashman and preparing to appeal his 211-game suspension for PED use. Now, the Biogenesis-tainted 38-year-old with surgically-repaired hips is perhaps the most important hitter in the Yankees' lineup save for Robinson Cano. A-Rod has launched six homers and batted .299/.383/.513 in 133 plate appearances for the Bombers, who rank second in the majors in runs scored since their third baseman returned on August 5.

A-Rod's resurgence, as Baltimore's Scott Feldman found out the hard way last night, is due to his performance against inside pitches. Opponents have long tried to bust Rodriguez in on the hands, as Matt Holliday is the only batter to see a higher rate of inside pitches (42.9%) over the past two seasons than A-Rod (39.8%). Pitchers won those inside battles in 2012, but baseball's ultimate heel is getting even in 2013.

Rodriguez's slugging percentage vs. inside pitches in 2012

 

Rodriguez's slugging percentage vs. inside pitches in 2013

Rodriguez slugged a paltry .353 versus inside stuff last season, a far cry from the .415 major league average. This year, though? He's slugging .542 when pitchers challenge him inside. The big difference is that he's hitting far fewer ground balls on inside pitches in 2013 (27%) than in 2012 (47%). A-Rod isn't beating out grounders at this stage of his career, so his lofting pitches more often is a happy development.

A-Rod gets greeted about as warmly as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV when he's on the road, but he's turning initial disdain into grudging acceptance at Yankee Stadium. He might be a pariah, but he's their pariah. Much could be forgiven, if not exactly forgotten, should Rodriguez lead New York back to the postseason.