Scouting Porcello and explaining Joba

porcello_250_042909.jpgCHIEN-MING WANG’S DAY OFF

Having seen the real Phil Hughes for the first time since that wonderful, fatal start in Texas, the Yankees face another important test as next generation starters Joba Chamberlain and Rick Porcello (born in Morristown, N.J.) face off in Detroit. The former first-round pick has had mixed results in three starts; he’s been competent, not dominating. As in the Minors, his strikeout rate has been light (the Tigers restricted his repertoire in the sticks, but that shouldn’t be a problem now).

However, he has a bit of the old Chien-Ming Wang kicker: his fastball sinks, resulting in a high grounder/fly ball ratio. The trouble has been that when Porcello — who, we should note, is so young he can’t legally buy a drink — is that when he misses his mistake leaves the ballpark. He’s given up five home runs in just 18 innings. Over 20 percent of his flies allowed have left the park, a crazy high ratio. Note that these are the only extra-base hits he’s allowed and that he’s been stingy with the walks, so when he doesn’t elevate, it’s just like trying to build an inning against Wang Classic — it takes three singles to score a run, four to score two, and that’s difficult for any team to do before they make three outs.

The Hutt also has something to prove tonight, as some mediocre starts combined with poor work by the relief corps has renewed calls for Chamberlain’s bullpen parole to be revoked. The basis for the argument revolves around reduced velocity, but that’s not really at issue. In 12 starts last season, Chamberlain struck out 10.2 batters per nine innings. In his career as a reliever, he’s struck out 11.9 per nine innings. This doesn’t seem like a significant tradeoff given that in the latter case the Yankees were getting two innings of Chamberlain and in the former they were getting five, six, or even seven. The team gains multiple innings, gives up one or two strikeouts because Chamberlain is trying to save his stuff, as Christy Mathewson said, for the pinch. Fair enough.

This year, Chamberlain has made three starts and has struck out 6.2 batters per nine innings. The league average is 6.7. The change in role from relieving to starting does NOT account for this difference, especially given Chamberlain’s starting strikeout rate of last season, or, for that matter, his strikeout rate as a starting pitcher in the Minor Leagues. Chamberlain could be hoarding his stuff like an obsessive-compulsive squirrel going through a fit of paranoia about winter in Nome, and it still wouldn’t account for what is practically a 50 percent drop-off in K rate. In short: if things don’t change for Chamberlain tonight against the Tigers, the Yankees may be forced to confront another pitching problem.

Just a little experiment in format today…

? White Sox 2, Mariners 1: It’s got to hurt when Chris Jakubauskas throws a comple game and you still lose. Meanwhile, only the fact that it’s the first game of a doubleheader excuses Jerry Owens (.091).

? Seattle 9, White Sox 1: And in Game 2 the Sox confront the reality that they’ve been playing baseball for eight hours and have scored only three runs. On the other side of the field, Endy Chavez is down to .305, which means he’s gone 4-for-27 over his last seven games. No one could have expected that. Note also Felix Hernandez, 4-0, 2.38 ERA. — and still just a few weeks past his 23rd birthday.

? Braves 2, Cardinals 1: When you consider the Braves’ batting order, you realize that they’re missing a big hitter, and it’s not just that catcher Brian McCann is on the disabled list. They were in on Garrett Anderson when they should have been in on Adam Dunn or Manny Ramirez, and in the latter Ted Turner days, when they were both rich and rational, they would have been. Instead they settle for pot luck in a pot luck division — that is, maybe they’ll win and maybe they won’t, but it could have been a sure thing. On the Cards side, Yadier Molina got me wondering, through an indirect route, what the record for fewest runs scored/most plate appearances combo was. It turns out there are many candidates who were worse than his 485/37 last year, for example 1972 Angels shortstop Leo Cardenas, who batted second, sixth, and seventh and scored just 25 runs. He came to the plate 602 times. With .223/.272/.283 rates not much is going to happen. Molina was much better than that. I remain baffled that Del Rice batted Cardenas third 17 times that year, but my faith in the laws of physics is reassured by the Angels’ going 5-11 in those games. In all others, they were 70-69, which says something.

? Rangers 5, Athletics 4: It wasn’t Mexican Swine Flu, but seemingly every Athletic to get into this game got hurt. It’s not surprising when Nomar Garciaparra twists an ankle and heads for the DL, and the loss is only a blow to notional depth given that even when Eric Chavez is playing, he’s not playing (and he’s not playing now). Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising when most valuable Athletic Mark Ellis heads for the DL is well, but that’s where he’s off to as well after straining his calf… The decisive run in the game came when Jason Giambi let a grounder go through his legs. In 100 years of Giambi in pinstripes, I can remember many misplays, and I’m sure plenty of them contributed to losses, but it’s harder to recall a game where the connection between Giambi’s iron glove and a loss was so obvious… The A’s are hitting .233/.310/.314 overall, which makes the Hitless Wonder White Sox of 1906 look like Murderer’s Row.

? Angels 7, Orioles 5: Dave Trembley was ejected for arguing a balk in this one, and his fury was something to behold, and unsurprising given just how quickly his team is falling away after the Yankees gave them some false hope in the opening series… Batting .196/.226.294 on April 21, Howie Kendrick has turned it on, going 8-for-19 with three doubles and two home runs in his last five games (.421/.450/.895). He’s taken but one walk on the season, though, and until he has the same awakening that Robbie Cano has apparently had, he’s only going to be as good as his batting average.

? Indians 9, Red Sox 8: The winning streak had to end sometime, just as the Indians are due to win one or two. It only hurts because the Sox made three errors in the game, resulting in three unearned runs, and they got kicked with Brad Penny on the mound and they have better options whenever they want to use one. Dear Cleveland: Kelly Shoppach has regressed, as ever he was doomed to do, you’re back to catching Victor Martinez again, and Matt LaPorta is tearing it up in the Minors. Heck, Ben Francisco isn’t hitting either. Why Ryan Garko? Love, Steve.

? Phillies 7, Nationals 1: I was asked if it was too soon to start playing “Nats Math,” where you start figuring out scenarios where they might lose 110-120 games. I don’t think it is, if only because it’s difficult to see where they’re going to find ways to improve. There’s only so much talent trading a damaged Elijah Dukes or a benched Josh Willingham or an impotent Austin Kearns is going to bring you. 


  1. charlief

    Come on Steve, as a fan of all teams patriotic (Nats and Yankees), I can tell you the Nats are not that bad. Dukes hasn’t had any issues since he’s come to the team, and he’s had an OPS+ of 125 over that time. This year he looks even better than last year. Zimmerman, Johnson, Guzman and Dunn can hit. Kearns, shockingly, has an OPS over .900.
    They’ve gotten adequate starting pitching after the first week – Lannan and Olsen aren’t great but they’re not bad, and Zimmermann has been spectacular.

    Their real problem is a lack of a bullpen. Without the bullpen blowups, they’d probably have about a .500 record. They’re not historically bad, keep watching.

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