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A Piercing Eye on the Hawk
2008-01-22 19:14
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

As frustrating as it might be to have my life overtaken every winter by Baseball Prospectus annual (I just edited what will be the largest and should be the earliest edition ever), I can't say I was terribly upset to be otherwise occupied while Johan Santana trade rumors and Mitchell Report fallout were repeated and rehashed ad nauseam by media large and small. As far as I'm concerned, the only significant Yankee news I missed over the past month and a half was the LaTroy Hawkins signing, the departure of a few enduring (and fewer endearing) Quad-A staples, the announcement of a roster's worth of non-roster invitees (whom I'll address in my annual Yankee campers post when pitchers and catchers report in just over three weeks), and the early stages of the team's arbitration negotiations. Here's my take on the first of those:

The Hawkins singing seems rather pointless, but also relatively harmless. One could argue that the Yankees should have re-signed Luis Vizcaino instead, but with Kyle Farnsworth in the final year of his deal, there's something reassuring about the fact that the Yankees refused to make a multi-year commitment to the overworked Viz, instead affecting what amounted to a cost-cutting trade that saw Vizcaino sign a two-year deal with the Rockies for $7.5 million with a club option for 2010, and ex-Rocky Hawkins sign with the Yanks for a single year at $3.75 million. Given that exchange, here's a full list of Yankee pitchers who are under contract for 2009:

Mariano Rivera (2009-2010: $30 million)
Kei Igawa (2009-2011: $12 million)
Andrew Brackman (2009-2010: ~$3 million)

That's it. Carl Pavano's 2009 option will be bought out for $1.95 million. Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Kyle Farnsworth, and LaTroy Hawkins will be free agents at the end of the season. Everyone else remains under team control with only Chien-Ming Wang and Brian Bruney (if he lasts that long) having reached arbitration. Looking at things that way, the Hawkins deal allows the Yankees to build an entirely new pitching staff for 2009 around the young starters and relievers who are expected to emerge this season.

As for Hawkins himself, I spoke to him a few times while covering the Rockies' NLDS games in Philadelphia for SportsIllustrated.com. I learned two things of significance about Hawkins from my brief post-game encounters with him. First of all, he is a genuinely nice guy. Admittedly, I caught him in a good mood following a pair of upset playoff wins, but of all the Rockies I spoke to in that clubhouse, Hawkins was easily the warmest and friendliest. If nothing else, he should serve as a positive presence in the pen, a veteran to help learn them youngsters a thing or two about taking their lumps in the big leagues and getting back up on that horse . . .

. . . the key lesson there has nothing to do with Hawkins, of course, and a lot more to do with how easily a sportswriter can lose his outsider objectivity when a friendly ballplayer is willing and able to give him a few choice quotes so the writer can turn in something worthwhile on deadline.

The more important bit of information I learned about Hawkins is contained in his quote in that story:

"After last year [with the Orioles] I was thinking about shutting it down. I definitely didn't have any fun. I got the call from [manager] Clint [Hurdle]. He asked me about it, and I looked at the [Rockies'] defense and saw how good they were, and I decided that this is the place I wanted to be." Adds Hawkins: "I saw the other day that we have the best fielding percentage in major league baseball history."

Hawkins, who just turned 35, has had an interesting career. A minor league starter, he spent three years struggling in the Twins rotation and, by his 27th birthday, had made just five professional relief appearances. Since then, he hasn't started a single game, has posted an ERA+ below league average just once (in his sophomore relief season in 2001), and has been significantly above league average in every other season save that soul-crushing season in Baltimore in 2006 (102 ERA+). His three best relief seasons came with the Twins in 2002 and 2003 and the Cubs in 2004, during which be posted a combined 2.22 ERA and 1.03 WHIP while striking out 207 men in 239 2/3 innings, good for a 7.77 K/9, which combined with his 1.65 BB/9 gave him a remarkable 4.70 K/BB.

That LaTroy Hawkins is but a memory. After averaging 80 innings over those three seasons, he was a different pitcher over the next three with the Cubs, Giants, Orioles, and Rockies. Over those last three seasons, Hawk has posted a 3.92 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 5.18 K/9, 2.88 K/9, and an exceedingly pedestrian 1.80 K/BB. Within each of those three-year periods, his performance was fairly consistent. Last year, however, he experienced an unexpected spike in his groundball rate. Entering the year with a 1.17 career groundball-to-flyball ratio, a mark from which he had seldom strayed far, never surpassing 1.34 as a reliever, Hawkins posted a 3.06 GB/FB ratio as a Rocky. That, combined with that record-setting Colorado defense led to a corresponding improvement in his overall performance. That performance is unlikely to be repeated with the Yankees as, even if he is able to maintain the increased groundball rate, he'll give something back simply from having Derek Jeter take the place of Troy Tulowitzki and the assortment of Giambi, Duncan, and Betemit in place of Todd Helton.

All of that said, compare those rate stats for the 2005-2007 version of Hawkins to what Vizcaino did for the Yankees last year:

Hawkins: 3.92 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 5.18 K/9, 2.88 BB/9, 1.80 K/BB
Vizcaino: 4.30 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 7.41 K/9, 5.14 BB/9, 1.44 K/BB

Hawkins will give more back by returning to the tougher league, and he'll be more consistently mediocre than Vizcaino, who fluctuated between periods of sore-armed ineffectiveness (10.19 ERA, 11/17 K:BB in 17 2/3 IP from April 19 through the end of May; 10.13 ERA in September) and live-armed dominance (1.31 ERA, 39/18 K:BB in 41 1/3 IP in June, July, and August). Hawkins will also max out at 60 innings, which is yet another reason that his signing suggests that the Yankees' real hope in adding him is that their new skipper will display the flexibility of thought and approach that his predecessor lacked when it came to bullpen management and that, as a result, by mid-year, younger, better, cheaper arms that will help form the core of the 2009 pen will have emerged to push Hawk down the depth chart where his sort of unspectacular consistency will prove to be more valuable.

In other news, Jon Weisman has the full report on Don Mattingly's departure from Joe Torre's full-time coaching staff in L.A. Knowing that the Mattingly family is in good health, there's a part of me that wants to believe that Donnie's decision was based entirely on his inability to get comfortable in another team's uniform.

Comments
2008-01-23 04:01:34
1.   williamnyy23
I think the most important part of the Vizcaino/Hawkins swap is that the Yankees actually wind up with a draft pick as well. On that basis alone, the move made perfect sense.
2008-01-23 05:12:26
2.   murphy
hey. who's this cliff guy and what's he doing posting on alex, will, bruce, and emma's blog?!

;)

(can't wait for the campers post)

2008-01-23 06:09:50
3.   OldYanksFan
It's happened to me before. I think Donnie was so disappointed at not getting the managers job, that he bolted from the Yankees when maybe he should have stayed. He may be comfortable with Joe T., but he is and forever will be a Yankee.

We could have used his talents as a 'hitting instructor' and a guy who could make any 1Bman better. Whatever his position may have been, he would have always carried great weight with Yankee players and fans.

It's really a shame we lost him. I don't think he was a 'token' Yankee vet, but a smart guy who has a lot to offer. I still miss him.

2008-01-23 06:13:27
4.   joe in boston
3 Good words - I agree completely.

My top three Yanks (that I've seen play):
Mantle, Jeter, #23

I still have a Mattingly shirt that unfortunately doesn't fit anymore. Maybe my sons can wear it someday

2008-01-23 06:24:06
5.   williamnyy23
3 I think Donnie was smart and admirable for realizing that his remaining on the staff would have created an awkward situation and placed added pressure on Joe Girardi. Perhaps if Joe G. settles in nicely this year, it would be easier for Mattingly to return to the fold next season instead of joining the Dodgers (especially if Easler does such a good job they can't fire him). In the meantime, I think both Mattingly and the Yankees organization expressed genuine regard for each other, so by no means have any bridges been burned.
2008-01-23 06:33:02
6.   horace-clarke-era
Agree with William here. Mattingly lingering would have been almost toxic for Girardi, a media firestorm, and he was REJECTED when half-anointed beforehand. Only reason to linger becomes to hope Joe G messes up. Not pretty. Not Donny. He can get the job in 2-3 years if he wants it, from L.A. should that happen (Girardi fired.).
2008-01-23 06:52:38
7.   ms october
2 Yes, looking forward to the campers post. Seems like a lot of invitees. Am I right in that Joba was not invited to ST last year? If so, what a difference a year makes, and also maybe this is why there seems to me to be so many invitees.

Yes, my speculation is after he didn't get the job he took the Dodgers job with Torre for a mulititude of reasons, but now that it's getting closer he wasn't ready for it for another mulititude of reasons.
In a way I thought it was good for him to go somewhere else for a couple of years just to know what baseball life was like somewhere else and then come back to the Yanks - but I agree with william and hce -it would have been too much drama for him to be around this year.
But I'm glad there is nothing serious going on.
The welcome mat will always be out front for Donnie.

2008-01-23 07:19:51
8.   Shaun P
Welcome back, Cliff, we miss you over the winter months but its very much worth it. Can't wait to read BP '08.

Won't it be something to see Hawkins used at different times depending on the game situation and opponent? And not have him be the default "well its the 7th inning and a save situation" pitcher?

How many days until pitchers and catchers?

2008-01-23 07:21:33
9.   Cliff Corcoran
7 That's right. Joba and Kennedy were 2006 draftees and were not invited to camp last year. Joba had only pitched in Hawaiian Winter Baseball at that point and had not made his regular season pro debut.

8 22 days, but who's counting?

2008-01-23 07:26:32
10.   dianagramr
Word has it the Mattinglys are getting divorced ... (at least Daily News is quoting a source within Dodger organization)
2008-01-23 07:58:50
11.   standuptriple
The results of the last few days should put all those feelings that Donnie should have gotten the job to bed (thankfully). I never thought he was really ready. Now he can learn the ropes some more and I seriously doubt he'll find a better organization than the Yanks. Maybe it's really a family issue, but it could also partially be a case of "buyers remorse".
2008-01-23 08:26:25
12.   pistolpete
10 Ugh, I hope the coaching jobs with the Yanks didn't lead to that.
2008-01-23 09:32:57
13.   YankeeInMichigan
Henn and Rasner both made their MLB debuts in 2005, so I believe that both will be arbritation-elligible next year (as long as they are on the winter 40-man roster).
2008-01-23 09:34:32
14.   YankeeInMichigan
I would presume that ERA translations-for-league are last drastic for relievers than they are for starters, since relievers generally don't get to pitch to the pitcher.
2008-01-23 09:45:53
15.   underdog
The welcome mat will be open for Donnie back in LA, too, I bet. Well, he'll be working for them in some capacity as a regional scout and consultant so at least Torre knows he can still have his ear. Easler's about as good a replacement as they could have had.

If it is divorce, I wouldn't be surprised. He's been married to his h.s. sweetheart since the age of 18(!), which is wonderful, but they could have grown in separate directions. Best of luck to him. And hey, oldest son Preston is in their minor league system so maybe he'll hang around for that reason, too.

2008-01-23 10:05:54
16.   JL25and3
13 It's not based on the number of seasons in which a player appeared, but on the time they spend on a major-league roster.

Rasner now has 1 year, 142 days of ML service (172 days makes a year). He'll probably be eligible next year as a "Super Two" (as Wang and Cano were this year).

Henn, on the other hand, only has 149 days so far. He'll have to wait two more years.

2008-01-23 12:58:22
17.   Sliced Bread
Great to see you back at the Banter, Cliff.

Of course Hawk isn't the only groundball pitcher on the Yanks: Wang, Pettitte, Moose, Kennedy, 'Dorf, Albaladejo, and even Mo will rely heavily upon the groundout.
Tight D behind them will also inspire confidence in Hughes and Joba.
Nobody should expect Jeter's range to improve this year, but at least toward the end of last season he was acknowledging the benefits of rest. More rest could mean less pastadivingjeter. Here's hoping Betemit can give the Yanks the dose of Dougie D they'll be missing at 1B. Giambi, Duncan, and Miranda are not slick glovemen to say the least.

2008-01-23 19:00:51
18.   Gagne55
Andrew Brackman??
2008-01-23 19:05:46
19.   El Lay Dave
The best thing about LaTroy is the great nickname: Screamin' Line Drive Hawkins.
2008-01-24 07:00:25
20.   dianagramr
19

touche'

2008-01-24 09:21:27
21.   Shaun P
So . . . 21 days to pitchers and catchers now. Sweet.
2008-01-24 09:46:51
22.   JL25and3
Two things that didn't surprise me even a little:

1. "Magglio Ordoñez" and "steroids" appear in the same sentence. (Remember the trip to Austria for surgery, and his refusal to let the White Sox see his medical records?)

2. José Canseco once again demonstrates that he's an even bigger prick than we thought.

2008-01-29 13:00:54
23.   Raf
18 Yes, he's on the 40 man roster; Yanks signed him to a ML contract.

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