Friday, February 28, 2014

Hiroki Kuroda remains extremely valuable to New York Yankees

When the New York Yankees initially signed Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal in 2012, I’m not sure they felt he would still be on the roster in 2014. Based on his performance in his two seasons in the Bronx, I bet they are happy he is still in pinstripes.

Kuroda instantly became a stabilizing force in the rotation in 2012, picking up the slack when necessary en route to a 16-11 record with a nifty 3.32 ERA. From the beginning of the 2013 season through July he was undeniably the team’s best pitcher. He compiled a 10-6 record with a 2.38 ERA during that time. Unfortunately, Kuroda hit a wall after the calendar hit August, going 1-7 with a 5.40 ERA to finish off the season.

Kuroda kept the Yankees in the mix while he was hot and once he trended downward, it was difficult for the team to keep up in the playoff hunt. As Kuroda enters his age-39 season, there are obvious question marks about his ability to provide 30 or more starts and continue to be a major piece of the rotation.

The Yankees face questions with each of their anticipated starters. CC Sabathia is coming off his worst season, fellow countryman Masahiro Tanaka has never thrown a MLB pitch, Ivan Nova has consistency issues to still overcome and the Yanks do not know who their fifth starter is.

Kuroda’s part is fairly simple. He does not need to be the man he was through July of last season, but he certainly cannot be the pitcher he was over the final two months either.

Some of this can be relieved by giving Kuroda some extra rest this season. The Yankees were not afforded this luxury in 2013 as they continually found themselves looking up in the American League East standings as the season wore on.

Should Sabathia turn things around, Tanaka gets quickly acclimated and Nova remains the pitcher he was down the stretch in 2013, Kuroda will be able to ease off the gas pedal some. If this is the case, it should allow him to be more consistent through the 2014 season.

As far as expectations are concerned, what the Yankees need and what they’ll receive are potentially two different things. In order for the Bombers to have a sniff at the postseason, they’ll need close to 200 strong innings from Kuroda. That, in and of itself, is asking a lot of any 39-year-old pitcher.

In those innings, he’ll need to pitch well enough to be considered the number two starter on the team. I do not think it is fair to assume Tanaka will blossom immediately, and until I see Ivan Nova be successful across a full season, I’m not fully buying. I wrote Thursday that I expect Sabathia to turn things around, but there are no assurances there.

I have little faith that Kuroda can go on a lengthy stretch of dominance like he did last year. I also do not think he will be nearly as bad as his numbers looked at the end of last season. I believe the key is to manage Kuroda’s innings. While this will be no easy task, it is more or less a requirement in my view.

This is not so much about how many starts he makes, but rather how far manager Joe Girardi sticks with Kuroda in games. If the Yankees are to remain in the thick of the playoff picture toward the end of the season, they’ll need a reliable and not tired Kuroda.

If this is allowed to happen -- and they’ll need the rest of the rotation to do their share -- Kuroda can be very valuable to the Yankees. I’d be happy with about 30 starts and somewhere in the neighborhood of 185-200 innings. Put the conservative estimate at 14 wins with a 3.70 ERA or so. He’ll likely go through some peaks and valleys, but I do not suspect they will be as extreme as they were in 2013.

Couple the kind of on-field performance suggested above with the notion that Kuroda will be a mentor of sorts for Tanaka this season and Kuroda’s overall value soars. I expect this will be Kuroda’s last year in pinstripes regardless of how he performs. He’ll either choose to retire and head back to Japan or the Yankees will move on from the steep commitment required to keep Kuroda on the roster.

The indisputable fact is that Kuroda is a major piece of the puzzle for the Yankees in 2014, but he cannot be the main component of the pitching staff. If he is relied on in such a manner, it could be another long season for the Bombers.

Statistics provided by Baseball-Reference.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

New York Yankees need CC Sabathia to be their ace again

Sabathia in 2013. Photo courtesy of
Keith Allison via Flickr.
The New York Yankees recently committed $155 million to Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka to be the future anchor of the rotation, but they need CC Sabathia to be the ace of this team in 2014.

After a very disappointing 2013 season, Sabathia is slimmer and more importantly stronger than he’s been as a Yankee. The 6’7” southpaw dropped some weight last year, but did not work as much on his strength and in his eyes it was an issue.

"I feel good. I feel strong," Sabathia told MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch. "I don't feel any fatigue or anything like that. I'm excited.”

Is it enough?

Sabathia has tons of miles on that left arm and while it is nice that he is in better shape, it is yet to be determined how his shoulder and elbow will respond to another year of aging. In 2013, he went 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 211 innings. It marked the seventh straight season he tossed at least 200 innings.

Sabathia’s 2013 peripheral stats dropped considerably from 2012. According to FanGraphs, his K/9 rate fell from 8.87 to 7.46 and his BB/9 jumped to 2.77 from 1.98. His HR/9 climbed above one per nine innings (1.19) for the first time in his career and his strand rate was the lowest of his career at 67.4 percent. His ERA- mark of 116 (adjusted for park and league where 100 is average) was by far the worst of his career. He can blame some of that on the fielding behind him, but even his FIP- was his worst ever, coming in at 100, which is considered average.

Sabathia’s fastball velocity continued to wane. He averaged 91.3 mph according to PITCHf/x data provided by FanGraphs. That is down from 92.4 in 2012 and 93.9 in 2013. For the second straight season, his PITCHf/x fastball value cost the Bombers runs (-6.2 in 2013 and -5.4 in 2012).

Sabathia’s slider has more and more become his bread and butter pitch with the decreasing effectiveness of his fastball, though it was not as valuable as in 2012 (down to +9.0 versus +19.0). Finally, Sabathia’s sinker and change up both suffered in 2013, registering a -9.3 and a -8.4 value respectively. When three of your top four pitches are failing, there are sure to be significant issues.

None of these peripheral stats paint a rosy picture for a player who is getting up there in years and whose “baseball age” is higher due to the number of innings he’s tossed in his 13-year career. It is difficult to suggest that he can simply flip a switch and turn things around to be an elite pitcher once again.

I do believe it is plausible that Sabathia can show improvement from 2013 to this season. There has never been a knock on Sabathia’s work ethic and he is in the best shape of his Yankee tenure. If he is indeed stronger, it may boost Sabathia’s fastball back up a notch and should he find a groove again with the sinker, slider and change, he can once again be at least an above-average starter.

I mentioned early on that the Yankees need Sabathia to be their ace in 2014. For a team with zero certainties up and down the rotation, this does not necessitate a 20-win, below 3.00 ERA season. Rather, 16 wins and an ERA in the 3.30-3.40 range will likely put him at the top of the rotation and signify that he has something left in the tank for his remaining time in the Bronx.

I believe Sabathia can reach these metrics because I’m of the mindset -- as he is -- that 2013 was a blip on the radar. I look at 2013 as a transitional stage where his diminished secondary pitches couldn’t make up for the lack of velocity in the fastball. I feel if he can gain a bit more speed on the fastball and have better control over his slider, curve and change, then he’ll again be the ace of the Yankees’ rotation. Let's see if he can do it.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MLB: Home-plate collision rule is here to stay

Buster Posey: Photo courtesy of scomedy
via Flickr
Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association jointly announced Monday the approval of a new rule in reference to collision plays at home plate. The rule, which has multiple layers, is in "experimental" mode for 2014 to allow for modifications. After reviewing the rule, I believe it is solidly written and could stand without major tweaks. At the least, the rule is here to stay in some fashion.

The MLB Rules Committee had sent the MLBPA a set of rules which prohibited any contact with catchers at home plate by baserunners (and vice versa really). The MLBPA refused to agree to such stringent terms, and thus eliminated plays in which the catcher has the ball in his possession and is blocking the runner from being able to slide into home plate, or when the catcher is forced into the base path to make a play on the ball.

The rules which players must abide to are set forth here via MLB.com:


OFFICIAL BASEBALL RULE 7.13
Collisions at home plate
A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other baserunners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.
Rule 7.13 comment: The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner's lowering of the shoulder, or the runner's pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 7.13. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner's buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher.
Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.

Teams have been provided materials for training and clubs will be working with their players during spring training to practice playing with the new rules in place.

The intent is to do away with the sometimes vicious attempts to throttle the catcher when he is not in possession of the ball or when there is obvious room for the runner to reach the plate without contacting the catcher.

The rules have been years in the making as catchers have been taking some brutal hits, causing significant career-threatening injuries, along with the increased awareness of concussions and their affects on everyday life after sports. San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey’s injury from a home-plate collision in 2011 (see at left) is considered the beginning of the push for protecting catchers. Many other catchers have suffered injury from collisions at the plate, some of which could have been avoided.

Obviously sentiments are varied between current/former players, catchers/non-catchers and fans. Some are concerned an exciting part of the game is being removed and others who feel that eliminating this aspect has no bearing on game results.

There is no doubt that if I was a catcher, I would want to be protected by the blunt force of a baserunner coming at me full speed. But, I do agree with baserunners who suggest that if the catcher is blocking the entire plate without the ball, he’s not in the right position and fair game.

I also agree with the MLBPA stance that the must-slide/no-block regulation was one which would have gotten sticky. There will be plenty of issues with the new rule as it’s currently constructed, let alone trying to get players to completely change their many years of playing in such a manner. These are bang-bang plays, which the umpire will be able to utilize the new video replay system to pass judgment on any collision plays that do occur.

The plays will not stop all at once, but players can be trained on what is allowed and what is not so that over time collisions at the plate become infrequent. In fact, after this year’s testing phase, I expect both sides will agree to keep the must-slide/no-block rule out of the picture. By simply disallowing baserunners to make forceful contact with the unprotected catcher, removing often malicious intents, and eliminating the habit of blocking the plate without the ball should be enough of a restriction.

What do you think? Does the rule take away an important part of the game, or is the protection of players more vital? Let me know in the comments.

Christopher Carelliis a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Monday, February 24, 2014

New York Yankees: Expect a carousel at DH in 2014

Logo courtesy of SportsLogos.net
The last time the New York Yankees had a player reach 500+ plate appearances as a designated hitter was in 2009 when Hideki Matsui did it 504 times.
It seems that the Yankees have gone about business over the last 15 seasons with the DH slot fluid, and 2014 will be no different. Before that, it happened in 1999 when Chili Davis racked up 540 plate appearances as the DH.
Due to an aging roster, one with players recouping from injuries and a glut of potentially productive outfield bats, the Yankees will certainly feature a number of faces at DH once again this season.

This article was originally published on Yahoo Sports February 20, 2014. Click here to read more.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Connect with Chris on TwitterFacebookGoogle+ and LinkedIn.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

MLB: 30 Spring training questions

Logo courtesy of SportsLogos.net
While the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers reported early, and other teams have plenty of players at their respective camps, the official first day for pitchers and catchers to report is Thursday Feb. 13. Below are questions facing each team as camp begins.




American League East

Baltimore Orioles – Will lack of moves hurt in ultra-competitive division?
Boston Red Sox – What is this year’s gimmick?
New York Yankees – Will Derek Jeter go out on top?
Tampa Bay Rays – Is there any chance they can keep David Price?
Toronto Blue Jays – Can Jose Bautista put in a full season?

American League Central

Chicago White Sox – Is Jose Abreu the real deal?
Cleveland Indians – Will the Tribe build on last season’s success?
Detroit Tigers – How will Brad Ausmus follow-up Jim Leyland?
Kansas City Royals – Will they take a step back or push forward?
Minnesota Twins – Will the “Joe Mauer at 1B” experiment work?

American League West

Houston Astros – Can they eek out 63+ wins?
Los Angeles Angels – Can Albert Pujols & Josh Hamilton prove the critics wrong?
Oakland Athletics – Can they hold off the Rangers?
Seattle Mariners – Can Robinson Cano carry a club?
Texas Rangers – Is Ron Washington’s time coming to an end?

National League East

Atlanta Braves – Will Freddie Freeman live up to massive contract?
Miami Marlins – Can they reinvent themselves yet again?
New York Mets – Who steps up to help David Wright?
Philadelphia Phillies – Will Jimmy Rollins be there in August?
Washington Nationals – Is there 100 wins in this team’s future?

National League Central

Chicago Cubs – Full breakout on tap for Anthony Rizzo?
Cincinnati Reds – Pencil in another .900+ OPS for Joey Votto?
Milwaukee Brewers – Can Ryan Braun and additions get Crew back to top?
Pittsburgh Pirates – Does Andrew McCutchen have a repeat effort in store?
St. Louis Cardinals – Is there a better core of young players?

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks – Were offseason moves enough to close gap with Dodgers?
Colorado Rockies – Can they get full seasons out of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez?
Los Angeles Dodgers – Will Yasiel Puig suffer a sophomore slump?
San Diego Padres – Will Chase Headley bounce back?
San Francisco Giants – Can the rotation step it up?

What other questions does your team have heading into spring training? Do you have answers to the questions above? Let me know in the comments below.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

New York Yankees Links

Logo courtesy of SportsLogos.net
You may or may not be aware that I'm a contributor for Yahoo Sports covering the New York Yankees. Over the last few weeks, I've been publishing a series of posts examining each player primed to be the starter at each position in 2014.

The New York Yankees Need Mark Teixeira to Bounce Back in 2014

New York Yankees: The Cavern at Second Base

New York Yankees: Five Reasons to Believe in Derek Jeter



New York Yankees: Can Kelly Johnson Carry the Load at Third Base?

New York Yankees: Brett Gardner Returns to His Roots

Jacoby Ellsbury is Front and Center for New York Yankees

Also, here were my thoughts after Masahiro Tanaka signed, suggesting things are not exactly business as usual for the Yankees.

Look for a new article here later today posing questions for each MLB team as they enter spring training.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.