Saturday, November 30, 2013

Yankees Look Ahead - Starting Pitching

When 2012 opened, starting pitching appeared to be the Yankees strength.  With a starting rotation of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova, GM Brian Cashman had set the team up well for success.  Further, with Michael Pineda expected to come back during the course of the season any holes that opened up seemed to have a ready solution.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way.  Sabathia, coming off an injury plagued 2012 and off-season surgery, was awful. It was the worst season of his career and barely, ever so barely, above replacement player level.  11-13 record notwithstanding, Kuroda was the ace of the staff.  At least until mid August, when fatigue got the better of him and he slumped badly.  Andy Pettitte was solid, if not flashy.  Hughes stunk, not to put too fine a point on it.  He had flashes of brilliance, but a right handed flyball pitcher is never going to play well in Yankee Stadium (he was solid on the road.)  Nova was up and down. He sucked in April, was sent down to AAA for over a month, but was nearly lights out on his return.

Also, making starting appearances for New York was David Phelps, Adam Warren, David Huff and Vidal Nuno.  Phelpsie was better during the season than his stats would imply. He had one horrendous start (9 earned runs in 2 1/3 innings.)  Without that game his ERA drops from 4.98 to 4.16.  Warren and Nuno also looked good in the small handful of times they got the ball to start a game.

So, what does 2014 look like.  Well, let's start off by acknowledging the retirement of Andy Pettitte and that Phil Hughes will not be back.  Further, Hiroki Kuroda is a free agent and it isn't entirely clear what his plans are.

That said, here is what I would do.  The elephant in the room, so to speak, is CC Sabathia.  He is under contract for three more years and we will need him to return to form. Whether his 2013 turd was due to his inability to prepare as normal during the off-season or is more indicative of wear and tear after his years eating innings (also so to speak) remains to be seen.  At the very least, I think pitching coach Larry Rothschild needs to recognize that CC may not be a power hurler any more and begin transitioning him to a more finesse pitcher (like Andy Pettitte.)  It may be worth it to enter the season not expecting Sabathia to pitch 220 to 230 innings.

I think the Yankees should try to bring Kuroda back for a third year.  As mentioned above, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball throughout most of 2013.  Bring him back, but limit his innings in order to get a full season from him.  200 innings is too many for a 39 year old pitcher.

Ivan Nova is a given as the number 2 or 3 starter.  He struggled through 2012 and in April of 2013.  From my personal observation, it was during this time he tried to become a strikeout pitcher. He has a vicious curveball and I think he does much better when he tries to be a groundball pitcher.

So, that is three (with only 2 under contract.)  What else? Well, I think it is time to bring Michael Pineda into the mix.  Maybe stretch him out a bit in AAA through April, but I think it is time to see what he can do up top.  David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno have also earned the opportunity to compete for a starting job in Spring Training. Phelps would be my odds on favorite, with Warren as the dark horse.  While I liked what little I saw of Nuno, he just hasn't ever had a serious workload thus far in his career. He probably would better fit in as the long man.

Lastly, the word on the street is that the Yankees are interested in JPPL pitching phenom Masahiro Tanaka.  Without a revised posting system in place, this may never come to fruition.  But, his numbers in Japan are mindboggling.  Check it out.  I think New York should go all out in their pursuit of Tanaka. His Japanese stats are nearly as good as Yu Darvish's.

So, here it is, my 2014 starting rotation:

1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. CC Sabathia
3. Hiroki Kuroda
4. Ivan Nova
5. David Phelps
6. Adam Warren as the swing man.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Joy of a Completed Set - 1974-75 Loblaws Hockey Stickers

Here they are. The last 4 Loblaws hockey stickers I needed to finish my album.

By way of review, I grew up in the suburbs of Rochester, NY and my mother used to do her shopping at Loblaw's, a Canadian grocer that made incursions into the states.  During the 1974-1975 hockey season, Loblaw's gave away hockey stickers with each purchase. They also had an album, although I don't remember if it was free or needed to be purchased.

I did have the album and, while the promotion lasted, tried to complete it.  Of course, I didn't then.  But now I have.

I still have a fair number of duplicate stickers and will keep my eye out for another album to complete. But, for now, I am scratching this one off.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Yankees Look Ahead - Catcher

Catcher has been a position the Yankees have struggled at since Jorge Posada's move to DH and subsequent retirement.   In 2011 and 2012, Russell Martin was the main backstop and did a creditable job behind the plate.  And, while he did put up some decent power numbers, his offensive production dropped off precipitously from his days as a Dodger.

Martin moved to Pittsburgh last off-season and 2013 opened with Francisco Cervelli as the starting shortstop with Chris Stewart filling in as backup. 

Frankie started of the season well enough, but a broken hand on a HBP sent him to the DL before April was out.  A subsequent 50 game suspension due to being caught up in the Biogenesis scandal was enough to put paid to his season.

The Yankees promoted Chris Stewart to the starting catcher with Austin Romine being called up to back him up.  And there ended the offensive production.  That isn't entirely fair as both did have some game winning hits during the season.  But, for the most part, catcher was an offensive desert for the Yankees last year.  Stewart is your quintessential defense first, light hitting player.  He is fine for occasional starts and  perfect as a late inning defensive substitution.  But that is the limit of his abilities.  Romine has been a solid producer offensively and defensively in the low minors, but with a history of injury  and only 35 games at AAA before his call up, he wasn't ready to make a show of it offensively yet.

A late season call up of J.R. Murphy, just behind Romine on the organizational depth chart, didn't show us anything great. He looks to me like a carbon copy of Romine just a bit younger.  Both could use more time in the minors to season.

Waiting even further in the wings, behind Murphy, is Gary Sanchez, who appears to be a solid  defender and wields a more productive bat than anyone ahead of him on the depth chart.

So what is the plan for 2014?  Well, I guess I don't have to opine on that one as the Yankees have already revealed their plan when they signed Brian McCann to a 5 year, $85M contract.  I am torn on the contract.  I am glad to see New York sign a potent left handed bat, what with the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium.  But, I am also concerned some about McCann's durability given that his games caught has dropped off the last few years.  I also am not happy about the length of the contract.  With the anticipated talent down on the farm, I'd rather see McCann signed for 3 to 4 years.  But, I get that they probably needed to give him 5 years to get him to sign.  Further, the speculation is that McCann could move to 1B or DH in the latter years, which would open up the catching position for Murphy or Sanchez.

But, what about the backup?  I don't know what the Yankees will do. They seem high on Chris Stewart (having signed him as a free agent in 2008 and trading for him in 2009 and again in 2012.)  But the lack of offensive punch is hard to overcome.  The better bet, and my preference, is to make Cervelli the backup.  As it stands, Frankie has good offensive splits against left handed pitching. Good enough that I would platoon him with McCann behind the plate. McCann catches against right handed pitchers, which would be good for about 100-110 games. When the Yankees face a left handed starter, move McCann to DH and let Cervelli catch.  It keeps Mac's bat in the line up while limiting the wear and tear he would suffer behind the dish.

I'd release Stewart, or offer him a minor league coaching position, depending on whether he wants to try to continue playing or not. Further, I'd shop Romine and continue to groom JR Murphy and Gary Sanchez to take over catching duties in 3-4 years.

So there you have it, my brilliant plan for catcher for 2014.

Next up:  The starting rotation

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Yankees Look Ahead - Strategy

I had hoped to have this done before the Yankees started their offseason moves, but with work being busy I have delayed too long.Alas, the Bombers decided not to wait for my advice and went ahead and signed Brian McCann (more on that later.)

The Yankees overall strategy is always win this year.  Certainly, it was always like that during the George Steinbrenner era because George wanted to win.  I am not sure what the impetus is since the team was taken over by his heirs, who seem a bit more business oriented.   It may be honoring their fathers strategy and the franchise history, or it may be just that due to the fickleness of the teams fans that they have to contend to fill the seats.  I don't see any macro trends in their attendance history, but would note that home attendance in 2013, when they didn't make the post-season, was 7.5% lower than 2012, when they did.

That being said, the franchise strategy can be summarized thusly: sign premium players to big dollar, long term contracts and fill out roster  mainly with over the hill role players in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle.  It is a strategy that works in the short term (see 2009) but not in the long run (see post 2009.)

I get the notion that you have to sign premium players and those players are going to demand long term, high dollar contracts.  I don't like it, but I at least acknowledge there is a logic to it. The problem is that most of the premium players are hovering around 30 years of age and the contract is only going to pay off for a while at the outset of the term.

Case 1 Mark Teixeira - At the time Tex signed with New York, he sported a .290 BA, .377 OBP, and.541 slugging average.  He achieved about that same level of performance in 2009, but has had a steady decline every year since.

Case 2 Alex Rodriguez - Coming off his 2007 MVP year, the Yankees signed him to a 10 year contract averaging 27.5M a year.  He has neither produced at the same level since nor had an injury free year. While you could argue that his 2008 and 2009 seasons were worthy of the contract, since then his production has declined precipitously and he certainly hasn't been worth the money since 2011.  Yet the Yankees are stuck with him for 4 more seasons.

I also question the idea of taking on formerly star players long term to fill out specific roles on the team.  The idea is to bring some maturity to the team in a pennant race and, hopefully some good production.  There has been some good examples of this (Andruw Jones in 2011 and Ichiro in 2012.)  The problem is that the Yankees tend to bring them back and subsequent production can be minimal (Andruw Jones in 2012 and Ichiro in 2013.)

I think the net result here is an under-developed farm system.  Certainly, there have been key players that have come up through the system. Robinson Cano is the best example today, but you can also add Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, and Ivan Nova to the list. The problem, of course, is for the 2013 team, that is the list.

I would like to see the Yankees spend more time developing young talent. Not only down on the farm, but with the big club.  There was a fair number of rookies that got into games this year, but that was mainly due to the injury situation, and none of them really got to stay in a role of any significance.  The Yankees need to drop the notion that they need a proven major leaguer at every position and bring along some of the talent they have waiting in the wings.

I would also like to see them, if they chose to sign a marquee player to not go beyond 5 of 6 years, and maybe less in some circumstances.  And for goodness sake, please stop trawling the scrap heap for reclamation projects.  Sure you get a mature player for cheap, but you only get marginal production in return.  If you are going to get mediocre performance from a role player, why not use the role to develop a young player rather than giving some over-the-hill warhorse a last season (or, God help us, two) in the sun?

Coming up:  The Backstop

What I am listening to:  Antiphon by Midlake

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Fleer Autograph Project - Part 26

It is 10:30 PM and I just got home from a business dinner. Since I am not a certain Night Owl, and it is way past my bedtime, this will be a quick post. 

Waiting for me at home is the 26th card in my quest to get as many of my 1963 Fleer cards autographed.

This is one I have been waiting on a while.  I had just missed a Yaz signing when I decided to undertake this quest a year ago. I have dutifully watched for another such signing and one finally came around again this past weekend.  I've identified one more organized signing for this project and several TTM opportunities.  Hopefully, next year I will hit the 50% level (33 cards of the 66 card set).

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Best Mail Day Ever!

My 21st wedding anniversary was at the end of September.  I asked my wife for Anthony Causi's iconic photograph "Mariano Entering the Game" as a gift.  Not surprisingly, as Mo was winding down his final season, it was back ordered.

Well, it arrived today.

I love this photograph as I think, as a (very) amateur photographer, that it stands on it's own merits as art.

But, the story gets better.  My wife asked for, and I got her, tickets for the Pearl Jam concert when they played OKC.  And, in quite the coincidence, that concert is tonight.

What I am listening to: Better Man by Pearl Jam

Friday, November 15, 2013


I haven't been too active lately and it has been a while since I made any progress on any of the modern sets I am working.  I've been sitting at 5 cards to complete 2011 Tristar Obak for just about a year.  By chance last week, I made a few searches on Ebay for cards I needed and was happy to find a 5 card lot of 2010 and 2011 Obak Cal Ripken cards, including this one:

This is the last short print I needed towards completing 2011 and I got it for about $6 delivered.  This was quite the steal because I had never seen it on EBay other than as a Buy it Now, or on any of the retail websites like COMC, for less than $12.  With only 4 base cards to go to finish that set, I am going to try and knock it off before the end of the year.

What I am listening to: Nightbook by Ludovico Einaudi

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Redemption.....of a sort

After the complete washout at last week's OKC show, I decided to head up to the monthly mini-show at Al's Sports Cards in Edmond.  Al had mentioned in one of his email notifications that there was a new vintage vendor, so I decided to check it out.  There was indeed a new vendor and he did indeed have vintage.  But only stars and minor stars. No commons.  Another regular seller had a really nice 1973 Mike Schmidt rookie card, but he wanted $125 and I wouldn't go over $75 for that card.  That guy doesn't bargain much, so I didn't even bother making an offer I knew he wouldn't accept.

So, I ended up talking a bit with Bill from Wichita and (believe it or not) Roger from Sports Memories of Oklahoma.  Roger is the fellow I was hoping was going to be at the show last weekend but, as it turns out, he was doing a show up in St. Louis. He wasn't selling today. Rather, he was buying and I watched him close a deal with Bill for a lot of around 100 1954 Bowman cards (including the Mantle) for somewhat over $600.  It was a pretty sweet deal that Bill had offered me last weekend, but I passed on since I don't have that kind of scratch laying around.

Bill did cut me a pretty sweet deal, though. I got 55 1955 Topps and 30 1956 Topps cards for around $100.

That was money I was planning on using towards the 1973 Schmidt rookie, but the opportunity to get a stack of cards from two sets I really like was too good to pass up.  Of the 30 1956's, only 3 were duplicates for me.  This puts me at 76 cards, out of 340 total, from that set.  

There were 48 unique cards in the 1955s I bought and only 1 duplicate against the 9 I already had.  That brings me to a total of 56 cards out of the 206 card set.

So, this will likely push completion of 1973 into 2014, but I think that is worth it.  To get so many cards from these two awesome sets for a little more than a dollar each was awesome!