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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sleepy Joe Must Go, pt 2

The picture directly to your left is that of Edwar Ramirez. Study it, because if it's up to Joe Torre, you probably won't see him much soon unless you live in Scranton. He came up and made his Yankee debut on July 3rd, striking out the side in an inning of work. He was electric. Dominant. His changeup was like a nintendo pitch. I was excited, but I immediately thought to myself, "Self, do you think Joe will play him?" (Self just laughed at me). This, however, was clearly an exciting find for the Yankee talent evaluators. Here was a kid who was waived twice by the Angels. Apparently, they prohibited him from throwing his changeup, which appears to be a major-league strikeout quality pitch. Even Rob Neyer, who at best usually has only sarcastic barbs to throw toward the Yankees thinks this is an exciting deal for the Yanks (you'll need ESPN Insider), because the kid has dominated statistically. Rob loves his spreadsheets.

That was last season. This season, Ramirez's numbers in the minors were simply phenomenal. With Double-A Trenton, he struck out 33 batters in 16 innings. With Triple-A Scranton, he struck out 47 batters in 27 innings. Now he's in the majors, and he's struck out four batters in two innings. In his debut he struck out three straight Twins, all with that nasty changeup.

For all the talk about the Yankees' financial advantage, it's worth mentioning that any other team in baseball could have picked up Ramirez. If only they'd let the statistics do their work for them.

Ah.... There's the rub, Rob. (heheh - Rub Rob!) We have Sleepy Joe working the phone to the bullpen. He doesn't need statistics! He manages with his gut! He's just like our stupid croc-wearing commander-in-chief: Intelligence be damned! They know what's right in their gut!

What does Sleepy Joe's gut say? It says, "Kyle Farnsworth is the MAN!"
Asked about mounting speculation that he might lose his eighth-inning role, Farnsworth answered: "Who says that? That's exactly what it is: speculation."

A little while later, Torre acknowledged he would stick with his setup man a while longer.

"Yeah, he's still our eighth-inning guy," Torre said.

Conventional wisdom says that you build the bullpen from the end and go backward***. Your closer, who pitches the ninth, is supposed to be the best pitcher. The 8th, second best, and so on until you get to the 5th or so and then you're really talking about a "long man". So, Joe being all about tradition and conventional wisdom is definitely saying that Kyle Farnsworth is his second best pitcher. In other years, this might be true. It's not anymore and Joe appears to be trying to make it so by force of will. Joe knows that Kyle is his second best pitcher and he'll keep throwing him out there out of loyalty and respect. That is what makes Joe admired by his players. They really feel he cares about them and he really does. But, it's also this loyalty that ruins his bullpen management.

Because while Joe Torre thinks Kyle Farnsworth is the second best pitcher, he's in fact the worst. Statistics bear that out.

Here are the Yankees bullpen members ordered by OPS against:
1)Ron Villone, .610
2)Brian Bruney, .684
3)Luis Vizcaino, .694
4)Mike Myers, .695
5)Scott Proctor, .710
6)Kyle Farnsworth, .777
7)Edwar Ramirez, .829 (2.1 innings)

So, of all the pitchers in the pen, Joe Torre picks the guy who is allowing the best results to the opposition (note, I am giving Edwar a pass here on the 2.1 innings - he had one great outing and one where he gave up a run and let an inherited runner score not enough data). Not only that, but Farnsworth is having by far one of his worst years. Let's look at a very good statistical indicator of the effectiveness of a pitcher - Strikeouts per 9 innings pitch. It's not perfect, but a good indication that a pitcher is pitching at his expected level of performance, luck and random meltdowns aside. Here's Farnsworth's K/9 since settling in as a reliever in 2001.
2001: 11.74
2002: 8.87
2003: 10.85
2004: 10.53
2005: 11.19
2006: 10.23
2007: 5.79

Wait, wuh? 10.23 k/9 in 2006 (first with Yanks) dropped to 5.79 in 2007? WTF? What are these statistics telling me? People who follow pitching know that precipitous drops in K/9 are often very bad signs and can indicate an injury. At the very least it's an indication that there is something wrong with this guy. He's giving up too many hits, walking too many batters and striking out too few hitters. He is not performing to his normal level. Statistically, this indicates something that needs investigation. But, hey, Sleepy Joe's not much for statistics. He's gonna keep throwing Kyle out there until his arm falls off because Kyle is his guy.

Logic would tell you that a pen building backwards based on actual performance would look like this. Let's take Farnsworth out of the equation and far, far out of pinstripes. That leaves this:
CL: Rivera
8TH: Villone/Bruney
7TH: Vizcaino/Proctor

Not bad. But can it possibly be even better?

Now for more K/9:
2006A: 13.79
2007AA: 17.82
2007AAA: 15.86
2007MLB: 15.43

Those numbers are Edwar's. You see, after he was cut for the second time by the Angels, he decided to start throwing his changeup. It's apparently a special pitch because no one's been able to challenge him since then. This is exactly the kind of talent Joe ought to be developing aggressively. It's fairly common for a young reliever to come up and bring a spark to a team. Need examples? Mo Rivera in 1995. K-Rod in 2002. Bobby Jenks and Joel Zumaya in the last two years. Edwar Ramirez could do that for the Yanks when the need it most - RIGHT FUCKING NOW. What sez Joe?

Hard to say, really? What does silence sound like? Edwar Ramirez hasn't pitched since July 6th - Villone, Farnsworth, Vizcaino, and Proctor have pitched a total of 20 innings since then. In the Post article linked above, we get this Sleepy Joe gem.
With a roster move imminent, Torre said he'd like to see righty reliever Edwar Ramirez this week.

Meaning, Joe needs to see him to know whether to cut him. Jesu-Fucking-Cristo. Apparently, Edwar had a lackluster second outing and Joe isn't a fan. This is of course quite ironic because all of Farnsworth's outings are lackluster outings. I'm not saying that Edwar should replace Farnsworth as the 8th inning guy. But certainly we ought to see what we have in the kid, not let him rot on the bench. Going from trying to hit his changeup which drops out of the zone to hitting Mo's cutter and 4 seamer and who operates mostly in the upper half of the strike zone could be especially confounding. And in the meantime, I do think that Farnsworth ought to be banished from the 8th inning - any of the remaining relievers would be an upgrade. Unfortunately, neither of these things will likely happen.

What will happen? Edwar will now have to pitch for his job because of a head count crunch, where he could easily have been used aggressively to see what the Yanks have in his tantalizing talent. He may do well under this pressure, but going from sitting on the bench for two weeks to pitching for your job is not easy. He has the talent, so I expect him to do well. But he could have been given more of a chance to break in. On the other hand, Kyle Farnsworth has a ridiculous amount of job security given his performance. And his drop in strikeout rate scares the crap out of me. I expect him to keep being ugly in the 8th until he blows up one game. Then we'll hear that "he experienced soreness but pitched through it". Then he'll have an MRI. Then he'll go see "Dr. James Andrews" which is always bad. Then a sleepy Joe Torre will sit in his office and ruminate about what a big blow it was to lose Farnsworth for the year and how "he was just beginning to turn it around" because Joe's been "seeing positive signs" and how "he just hasn't been right all year but is a tough sonovagun" and "how could anyone have known this was gonna happen"? Yeah, how could anyone know?

p.s. Dear Yankees, If we can't have Edwar, can we at least have Chris Britton? He would give us one reliever that doesn't walk someone nearly every time out. Thanks.

*** Remind me to post on the logical failing in building a bullpen this way sometime. Thx.