GIRARDI VS. CANO
Joe Girardi is a polarizing figure for Yankees fans. It was inevitable that the first manager to guide the Yankees to a finish out of the postseason in what seems like a hundred years would become a lightning rod. Some decry his handling of the bullpen, others his love of small-ball tactics — the Yankees bunt often for a present-day American League team.
These criticisms are debatable; the bullpen has risen in effectiveness throughout the season, as weaker sisters have been weeded out (Tuesday’s game notwithstanding), and those Yankees that Girardi has asked to bunt are either those who don’t generate much offense anyway (Francisco Cervelli) or just might beat one out (Brett Gardner). The place where criticisms of Girardi find a more legitimate place are in his construction of the batting order.
Variations in the batting order are not terribly significant. They won’t ruin your season, but they can cost you a few runs on the margins. Since the manager’s job is to maximize his team’s performance, that is, to capture every run that he can, that the batting order is not a top-priority item is no excuse for putting out the best one possible.
For reasons that aren’t obvious, Girardi has fallen in love with Robinson Cano as his fifth place hitter. Cano has started 46 of the team’s 76 games in the No. 5 spot. In putting Cano there, Girardi has delivered Cano some very special plate appearances with runners on base. Mark Teixeira has seen the most baserunners of any Yankees hitter, but Cano is second, having seen just seven fewer runners. The problem is that despite a .300 average on the season, Cano is hitting only .254/.289/.415 with runners on and .213/.248/.340 with runners in scoring position. The offense is setting Cano up, but he isn’t knocking them down.
Another way of looking at Cano’s production with runners on is to consider the percentage of baserunners he’s driven in (statistics available at Baseball Prospectus). Cano has scored 30 of the 233 runners he’s seen. That’s 12.8 percent.
The American League average is 14 percent. It’s a small but significant failing. Three more runners driven in would get him to the league average. Were he carrying Jorge Posada’s rate of 17 percent, he would have driven in 10 more runners. Even with all of his struggles, Alex Rodriguez has driven in a greater percentage of his baserunners, 16.4 percent.
Intriguingly, no Yankee is among the league leaders. There are currently 308 hitters who have batted with 75 or more runners on base. The top 10 in percentage of runners driven in:
Posada is the top Yankee, 53rd on the list.
Cano compounds his impatience and failure to hit with runners on base with groundball hitting tendencies that lead to double plays. Cano ranks 11th among Major League hitters who have batted in 30 or more double play situations:
This makes Cano a less than ideal RBI man, but since Girardi chooses to emphasize him in the order, his deficiencies trouble the Yankees far more often than they need to. Of course, it might be hard for Girardi to truly admit the damaging consequences of all those double plays. After all, he holds the team record for hitting into double plays, banging into 17 twin killings in 50 chances in 1999. In the 55 years for which we have records, no one else has come close.
MO, MO, MO (497 MORE MOS TO GO)
You can’t follow the Yankees without appreciating Mariano Rivera. He’s superhuman and yet human, approachable and professional. No doubt you’ve read a thousand thoughts along the same lines already today, so instead of heaping on more superlatives, let’s look at the actual record in all of its glorious length. Indeed, length is the key. What makes Rivera great is not only his rare dominance with one special pitch, but for just how long he’s maintained his high level of performance. Many closers rocket up the pop charts, but few have anything like the staying power of Rivera. Generate a list of the top 200 single-season performances of the last 55 years by a reliever (I’m using the context-sensitive wins added, or WXRL) and count everyone who appears on the list more than twice and this is what you get, ordered from lowest to highest:
3 Bruce Sutter
3 Eric Gagne
3 John Smoltz
3 Keith Foulke
3 Lee Smith
3 Lindy McDaniel
3 Randy Myers
3 Rollie Fingers
3 Stu Miller
4 Billy Wagner
4 Dan Quisenberry
4 Francisco Rodriguez
4 Joe Nathan
4 Trevor Hoffman
4 Troy Percival
4 Tug McGraw
5 Armando Benitez
5 Goose Gossage
9 Mariano Rivera
This is a fairer reflection of Rivera’s dominance than something more basic like seasons leading the league in saves-Rivera has done that only three times in 15 seasons. It’s not the number of saves that matters, it’s the quality of the performances, and no one has been as good as often as Rivera has. Twenty-four pitchers appear on the list only twice. There is normally a lot of turnover in the closer department, just as there is for all relievers. There is also much variability depending on how pitchers are used by their managers. Rivera has stuck there like no other pitcher in history. Throw in his extraordinary postseason work, his humanity and professionalism, and this is one inner-circle Hall of Famer that no one will be able to second-guess on induction day.
NADY BE GOOD (EVERYONE’S FAVORITE GERSHWIN TUNE)
The future is now, but in order to win the American League pennant, the Yankees will need to fight the future. No doubt few readers pity Brian Cashman, but he’s in the difficult position of needing to win this year while also thinking about how the Yankees win next year and in the years going forward.
While this page never roots for a player to suffer injury and never will, the removal of Nady for the season (if confirmed) helps to clarify the outfield picture for the rest of the season, or at least until the trading deadline. Nady had some value, but on the whole, 30-walk a year players who don’t also hit .330 or slug .500 are to be avoided. Nady is a stopgap-level player. The Yankees needed that kind of help last year, but don’t this year. The Yankees, particularly Joe Girardi, devoted a lot of air to Nady’s contribution in 2008, but it would seem that the first impression was a lasting one, because .268/.320/.474 isn’t memorable by the standards of corner outfielders. There was a reason that Nady played for four teams in four seasons from 2005 to 2008. The Yankees would have found out why at their own peril. The troubling aspect of the affair was that they seemed willing, if not eager, to do so.
Ironically, they might need Nady-style assistance next season. With Nady’s contract up, that might be the end of him as a Yankee, but one could imagine the team signing him to a low-base, make-good contract, because the outfield shelves could be bare this winter. The contracts of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon are up, and the arguments for bring each back are not strong. Matsui’s lack of mobility constricts the Yankees’ roster while his declining bat adds less than the team would should get for paying that price. Given his age, a multi-year contract would also be dangerous even if one expects a bounce-back next year, even if Matsui returns to Godzilla-style smashing in the second half (not that Matsui has been above Rodan-level in the U.S.).
Damon has obviously had a good year, and a couple of big nights in Atlanta and Queens have helped bring up his road numbers. Still, he too is 35, and there’s no guaranteeing that his Yankee Stadium II power boost is more than an ephemeral event. Last year, at 34, Damon was better than he had ever been before. This year he’s been better than that. That’s an unusual progression and one not likely to sustain itself over the course of another three-year contract, and perhaps even not over another two.
Thus, by the end of the World Series, three of the five current outfielders (counting the gimpy Matsui) could be in the wind. The free agent possibilities are not promising: Rick Ankiel, Jason Bay (if the Red Sox don’t extend him, which seems unlikely), Carl Crawford (a team option of $8.25 million seems likely to be picked up), senior citizen Vlad Guerrero, a long-ago Cashman crush vetoed by ownership, Randy Winn… There’s not much. Help won’t be coming from that direction.
Perhaps by the end of the year, Brett Gardner will have cemented himself in center field for a time. Melky Cabrera is not a sufficient bat for a corner, though the Yankees may choose to see him there, and at present levels, he can hit enough to be a rotating jack of all trades, though it should be noted that he’s going to be increasingly expensive in the coming seasons. As far as the farm system goes, you know about Austin Jackson (currently in a mini-slump). With two home runs, he doesn’t seem like a corner outfielder. A Jackson, Gardner, Cabrera outfield would be strong defensively but not very powerful. Swisher, who is signed through 2012, suddenly becomes very important in any conception of next year, not to mention this one.
This leads to an interesting question. If Matsui and Damon are truly to be gone next year, if Jackson is to be among the possible replacements, is it in the Yankees’ best interest to get him at least 100 plate appearances of Major League time this year? The answer is almost certainly “not yet”–while Jackson has had a solid season, his lack of power and moderate selectivity don’t portend production at the big league level. Remember, in the Majors the batting average is likely to slip, which leaves a medium walk rate and, at least this year, little in the way of power. This would change, though, if Jackson surged and/or Matsui or Damon began to slide. Then the needle that swings between present and future would be stuck exactly in the middle of the dial.
TO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS
Just a couple of quick ones from this morning’s entry:
Frequent correspondent let’sgoyankees says:
Good article, but I want to make one point…Melky should not be taken out in favor of Gardner. Swisher should. He plays awful defense and is a terrible baserunner. Since both he and Melky are slumping, those other two categories have Swishy beat. Swish is a useful player but he should be platooned. He’s exposed playing every day.
And Charlie F responds:
Swisher does NOT play awful defense. He plays incredibly UGLY defense, but he’s actually quite a good defender. His UZR/150 is above average as is his range factor per game. Don’t confuse ungraceful and lumbering for bad.
To which I, your humble servant, will add that there’s not a lot that’s pretty in Swisher’s game, but he’s a productive player and one the Yankees can’t afford to take out of the lineup. Even when his bat went on vacation in May, he still drew 19 walks, making for a .311 on-base percentage despite a .150 batting average. This month he’s hitting .267/.397/.500. You show me a team that benches a guy with those rates and I’ll show you a team that needs its head examined. Swisher has faults, and when a team is not playing well, those faults — the strikeouts, sub-Speaker agility in the outfield, become exaggerated. This happens to every team in a bad place — the urge to punish someone strong, and it frequently seizes on the wrong player. Swisher has been productive against both lefties and righties, has hit well by any reasonable standard, and has left something to be desired only at Yankee Stadium II, where, despite his struggles, he has posted a .373 on-base percentage. He’s part of the solution, not the problem…
…And yet he’s still going to lose playing time to Xavier Nady. That’s the way of things, and it’s depressing.
…If anyone wants to talk about this or anything else, I’m about to begin a chat (1 PM EST) at
We open today with a Steinbrennerism. Though many of the Yankee owner’s most acerbic comments have been well publicized over the years, this one is more obscure. Criticizing an umpire’s calls in July, 1979, the Boss said, “He’s with an excellent crew, but he fits like a $3 bill in the cash drawer.” I dedicate this Boss bit of wisdom to Angel Berroa, whose strange reign on the Yankees roster as a non-utile utility player may come to an end later today, when Cody Ransom comes up from Scranton.
In 14 games in Pennsy, Ransom has done his usual Ransom-y job, batting .250/.346/.477 with two home runs while striking out an unsustainable 12 times in 44 at-bats. Ransom is a fun guy to root for (this seems like a necessary qualifier to issue each time this subject comes up, while also having the benefit of being true), and he’s certainly a more useful player than Berroa, but at 33 years old his problems are ossified, calcified, and calcareous, set in stone and bone. He has power but has problems making contact, with the result that maintaining a functional rate of reaching base becomes an insurmountable problem. With the Yankees anticipating more time off for Alex Rodriguez in the future, and Rodriguez playing like he needs it, the club needs a more viable substitute. That player is not currently in the organization. Whatever trading chips the Yankees are hoarding, they would be better spent on an infielder with some two-way bona fides than on yet another reliever.
DOUBLE PLAYS REVISITED
With Derek Jeter doing some decisive GDP damage the last couple of games, it’s time to check out the double play percentages for Yankees’ batters. The first thing to know is that in the American League, batters are hitting into double plays in about 11 percent (specifically, 10.9 percent) of opportunities. The Yankees as a team are hitting into twin killings a little more often, 11.5 percent of the time. Last year, the average AL team had about 1210 possible double play situations when hitting. This year’s average rate would result in 132 double plays. The Yankees’ rate would result in 137 double plays, which doesn’t seem like much but might matter in a close race — quite recently we’ve seen key double plays by Jeter and Robinson Cano kill the Yankees in close games.
Robinson Cano has been the player causing the Yankees the most trouble so far, knocking into a double play nine times in 42 chances, a rate of over 21 percent. With his double play on Tuesday night, Jeter also brought his rate up to 21 percent. Other Yankees who require Joe Girardi to give their baserunners a flying start include Alex Rodriguez (17 percent), Nick Swisher (14 percent), and Melky Cabrera (13 percent). Surprisingly, the very slow Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui have above-average performances in this category, hitting into double plays in nine and five percent of their chances, respectively.
One argument for giving Brett Gardner more playing time is that, particularly if he’s batting ninth in front of Jeter, might limit the team’s exposure to the double play in some situations. With Jeter hitting ever more balls on the ground — he’s grounding out three times for every one fly out, a career high — this is going to continue to be a problem where the Captain is concerned.
A look at the Yankees ground ball ratios reveals that there’s a reason that A-Rod has such a high double-play rate: he’s hitting more balls on the ground than he has at any time in the last ten years. His offensive problems may or may not be caused by fatigue, but there might also be a mechanical component to the problem.
AN ORPHANED LINE ABOUT PHIL HUGHES
It might be time to give him something more challenging to do.
ANOTHER ENDORSEMENT OF BRETT GARDNER
The average AL center fielder is batting .260/.327/.403. Gardner is now hitting .285/.361/.401. His defense has been impeccable, as has his baserunning. If he can just keep doing what he’s doing, he doesn’t need to improve. Sure, improvement would be good, but the offense would be sufficient to support the other aspects of his game. While Gardner could still stand to be protected from the occasional lefty — one senses with Gardner that at some point more would likely become less — the ratio of playing time in center field should shift dramatically, from 75-25 in favor of Melky Cabrera towards Gardner. Plus — and this is no small thing — he’s the only guy on the team actually performing right now.
NO MATTER WHAT
HAPPENS, IT’S GOOD FOR THE YANKEES
The next two weeks are going to be a fascinating, possibly
decisive time for the Yankees. First, they should have Jorge Posada back on
Friday, which means they’ll have something like their full offensive complement
for the first time all year–Brett Gardner
substituting for Melky Cabrera for the next several days
notwithstanding, though Brett is actually out-hitting Melky in May,
.357/.449/.619 to .321/.348/.429, so you can’t say the lineup is suffering too badly
for his absence.
The Yankees then take their reconstituted offense into
battle against the Indians, a team that’s no pushover but has real pitching
problems–even during their recent little winning streak, they were pounded more
often than not. Following four games at Cleveland,
where the Indians are 10-11, they go home for three against the Rangers, a
dangerous team but one that is not nearly so dangerous on the road due to their
low on-base percentage. Yes, their power hitters are going to knock a few balls
out of Yankee Stadium II, but so will the Yankees, and they should have more
runners on when they do so.
The Rangers are followed into New York by the Rays, 12-16 on the road and
suffering from a rapidly unraveling pitching staff. After that series, the Yankees go to Boston, where they get another chance to make
some kind of statement against the Red Sox. Before the Red Sox get to that
point on their journey, the Sox have three games at Toronto, which means that no matter what
happens, one team next to the Yankees in the standings will be losing. Then it’s
off to Detroit,
where the Tigers are a tough 15-7 and currently lead the American League in
lowest run average. Finally, they entertain the Rangers at home while the
Yankees are grappling with the Rays. This could be the moment where the Red Sox
see the race slipping away. Their starting pitching is surprisingly poor. Josh
Beckett has now had five straight quality starts, but there are still problems
beyond him, like getting Daisuke Matsuzaka under control, Jon Lester fixed, and
figuring out how to get rid of Brad Penny so one of the kids can come up and
presumably have an ERA under 6.00. They have let David Ortiz kill them all
season long, and replacing him is going to be a painful and divisive thing to
do. This organization is endlessly resourceful, and they won’t just fall apart,
but they have real problems right now.
As for the Jays,
after the Red Sox, they host the Angels for three and the Royals for three,
both winnable series but neither sure things, followed by four games at Texas, which won’t be
easy at all.
THE BULLPEN: A QUICK
Remember Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell. Better by far to
give Mark Melancon a long look before dealing the farm for a Jose Veras
MAKE IT STOP!
Are we done with Angel Berroa yet? Has anyone yet explained
his purpose? Does he have incriminating photos of someone?
It’s a small thing, a very small thing, the 25th
man, but then, remember what Joe Torre did with Homer Bush in 1998. Flexibility,
or for that matter a useful hitter off the bench, would allow the Yankees to
win more games. This would seem… obvious.
THE AROUND (AND
Giants 6, Braves 3:
Randy Johnson threw six strong innings for victory No. 299 (one run, three hits,
no walks, five strikeouts). You’d rather not see him back into 300, and some of
his recent starts have been rough. He’s an amazing physical specimen: in 52
innings, he’s got 54 strikeouts, 9.35 per nine innings. The man is 45 years
old, and there are many, many 25-year-olds who don’t get that many batters to
swing and miss. Only 12 pitchers have thrown as many as 100 innings in a season
at Johnson’s age or older. At 45, Nolan Ryan struck out 8.98 batters per nine
innings. Phil Niekro struck out 6.10 as a 46-year-old Yankee in 1985. There
have been five geriatric seasons in the 5.00s, including Satchel Paige’s 5.93
in 1952. (Paige was a lot further above his league average than Niekro was
above his.) Johnson has the second-largest differential between his rate and
the league strikeout rate after Ryan.
Angels 3, White Sox 1:
Everyone pitched well, even Gavin Floyd and someone with the last name of
“Weaver.” These things happen. In fairness to the last-mentioned, he currently
ranks second in the league in ERA, about a run and a half behind Zack Greinke.
Obligatory former Yankees watch: Bobby Abreu went 2-for-3, as did Juan Rivera,
who is now batting .293/.335/.415, which is kind of like current Brett Gardner,
but without the speed and defense or the promise of improvement.
Diamondbacks 5: After a miserable, miserable, rehearsals-for-retirement
start, Brian Giles has hit .295/.407/523 over his last 14 games, throwing in
nine walks. It’s something, though 14 games is hardly definitive. Good to see
the Padres bounce back over .500 after their recent winning streak was
terminated; usually a fringe team that starts acting dominant for a couple of
weeks will quickly demonstrate the way gravity works (as in, what goes up must
Twins 4, Red Sox 2:
Solid work all around by Twins pitching in this one, including three innings of
scoreless relief, 1 1/3 by Jose Mijares, a rookie lefty with a
ninth-inning-worthy fastball-slider combo currently working the middle frames…
Another two-hit day for Ellsbury; if you get your batting average up high
enough, eventually it won’t matter if you don’t walk or hit for power. Said
batting average is higher still than your current .307; see Dernard Span–the
difference is a few more extra-base hits and about 14 more walks in exactly the
same amount of playing time.
Mets 7, Washington 4: A
wild, wild night for Johan Santana, who still seems on pace to win that elusive
third Cy Young award. Three straight wins for the Mets with a lineup that for
the Yankees would be missing Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada. It’s
the Nats, of course, so thank the Lords of Good Timing, but all credit to the
Mets for being able to execute… And Daniel Murphy, who banged a home run off a
rather idiotically placed sign.
Reds 6, Astros 1:
Seventh straight loss for the Astros, who are starting to get to the place
where a 100-loss season becomes a real possibility–something that has never
happened in what has been a generally successful franchise despite never having
had a champion. From 1969 through last year, the club had won 175 more games
than it had lost… It’s not clear who they can trade, as the few exciting
players are signed to outsized contracts, and they have no impact-level
prospects, so the journey of the ‘Stros, not just through the rest of this
year, but into the next, is going to be an interesting one. As C-3PO said,
there’ll be no escape for the princess this time… Remember I was talking about
Phil Hughes and quality start percentage a couple of days ago? Bronson Arroyo
is at 60 percent, but his ERA is over 5.00–in his three losses, his ERA is
Indians 12, Rays 7:
The Rays continue to lead the AL
in runs scored per game, but their pitching is like Cerberus’s chew-toy. That
they are hitting so well despite their injuries and a B.J. Upton who ranks as
one of the most futile hitters in the biz is amazing. The regression of the
hurlers is less so, and was widely predicted, though I for one was not so quick
to believe it. I certainly had higher hopes for control artist Andy Sonnanstine,
who has not been so controlling this year. As we saw with Ian Kennedy, a
similar pitcher last year, this model of hurler is either all right or all
wrong–their (lack of) stuff doesn’t allow for a middle ground. The good news
for the Rays is they have some alternatives, such as David Price (now up with
the club) and Wade Davis (not yet).
Marlins 6, Phillies 2:
Sometimes even the champions lose to a pitcher named Burke Badenhop, though not
often. Forty-five thousand watched this one at Philadelphia, and as Casey Stengel liked to
say, the attendance was robbed. If Ryan Howard was hitting better than
.227/.303/.455 (four home runs, 88 at-bats), they’d at least have more to talk
about during these Badenhop bow-downs.
Mariners 6, Athletics
1: Nomar Garciaparra heads back to the disabled list. Just thought I would
point out the biggest non-news of the day. I’d also like to point out that
Mariners infielders are hitting .236/.280/.375 as a group, and that’s counting
Russell Branyan. With his fourth cought stealing, Ichiro equals his total for
all of 2008.
Dodgers 8, Rockies 6:
Andre Ethier had better hurry and find his stroke, because if Juan Pierre is
still hitting .400 when Manny comes back, even I’m going to have a hard time
arguing that he should be benched–that Pierre has allowed the Dodgers to feel
so little pain over Ramirez’s banishment is one of the stories of the year. The
story of the game was that Joe Torre’s pen bent but didn’t break.
Cubs 5, Pirates 2:
Notable mainly for Carlos Zambrano’s ejection-worthy explosion and the
relocation of the Cubs to a game over .500.
Tigers 8, Royals 3:
Another strong start for Rick Porcello, though the low strikeout rate is still
troubling. Kyle Farnsworth threw a scoreless inning in the loss, his usual spot
for scoreless innings.
Orioles 12, Blue Jays
10: Add Nolan Reimold to the list of possibly invigorating youth the
Orioles are now playing with–next year, the AL East could be an even more
difficult place to win a pennant than it is now, though pitching is still going
to be a problem by the Bay. As for the Jays, by the All-Star break we’re not
going to remember they were ever in the race.
Cardinals 3, Brewers
2: In which the Cardinals take control, largely due to their busy bullpen,
though Todd Wellemeyer was solid for five. You wonder if LaRussa’s hardworking
relievers can keep up the pace for the rest of the year, though to be fair he
has spread out the work… Albert Pujols has just one home run in the last two
MORE FROM ME
continues to be wholesomely updated with new entries, and I’m about to start an
argument with a commenter. Warning: politics!
It’s always shocking when the Yankees start going for three, even with fast guys like Johnny Damon and Brett Gardner in the lineup. Traditionally the team just doesn’t hit many triples, in large part because the late Yankee Stadium just didn’t give up many. If a Yankee, even a speedy one, was going to get a lot of three-baggers, he had to leg them out of the road as the team did last night. The last Yankee to hit even 10 triples in a season was Jerry Mumphrey in 1982. Willie Randolph did it a couple of times in the late 1970s (1977 and 1979), and then to find the previous example you have to go back to 1955, when both Mickey Mantle and Andy Carey got there.
That’s trivia. Potentially more interesting was the sight of Gardner turning on a couple of fat inside pitches and smashing them for extra bases. This is a welcome return to what he did in Spring Training, when his swing seemed to have more leverage. It’s foolish to overreact to one game — you can pick moments out of any player’s career when, if considered in isolation and ignorance, the Mario Mendozas of the world looked like Babe Ruth, and vice-versa — but perhaps Gardner is finally awakening from his long funk. Now all he needs to do is find a way back into the lineup, which won’t be easy.
American League pitchers are averaging 3.6 walks per nine innings pitched. Yankees pitchers are averaging 4.1, which ties them for worst on the circuit with the Red Sox, just ahead of the Cleveland Indians, who are walking an even 4.0. A good deal of the blame most go to the bullpen, which is averaging 4.5 walks per nine innings. After Andy Pettitte walked four in his six innings of work last night, which didn’t help matters, Alfredo Aceves pitched a seemingly miraculous two innings of walk-free baseball, but Jon Albaladejo evened things up by passing two in his single inning of work. Given that the current pen has too many similarly inclined pitchers when it comes to control — and Brian Bruney has never been one for pinpoint pitching, though it seemed like he was getting there before he got hurt — that one possible solution is to forget Aceves’ possible usefulness as a long man/spot starter and instead try him in a few higher leverage situations than last night’s semi-blowout.
Then, of course, there’s the other kind of obvious solution, which is a trip to the Minors for Edwar Ramirez. Given his combined walk rate and home run rate, he’s less a reliever now than an unsecured weapon of mass destruction. He’s averaging close to seven walks per nine innings and a home run every three. He can’t survive those rates, not even with his impressive strikeout rate. Ramirez, for all the wonderfulness of his change, is essentially a trick pitcher. The league has caught up, and he needs to find a new wrinkle to be useful.
OK, NOW THAT WE’VE GOT HALLADAY OUT OF THE WAY …
Roy Halladay has made 31 career starts against the Yankees in his career, or about one full season’s worth. With last night’s victory, his record against them improved to 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA. In 216 1/3 career innings, he’s allowed 190 hits, walked 47, and struck out 167. He’s thrown five complete games and hurled two shutouts. Halladay’s three best teams are the Tigers, Orioles and Yankees. One of these things is not like the other.
For the Yankees, losing to Halladay was the closest thing to an inevitability in this series. Now they have to face Scott Richmond, a 29-year-old righty with 11 career appearances under his belt. Though he is 4-1 with a 3.29 ERA, he’s also had a great deal of luck so far. He’s a fly-ball pitcher who has already allowed a fair number of home runs. Combine that with an unimpressive walk rate and mix thoroughly, and the recipe should produce some crooked numbers. It hasn’t so far, because despite the walks, Richmond has held opposing batters to a .222 average — this despite another unimpressive stat, his rate of line drives allowed. I know this is a bit stat-heady, but stick with me for a moment: Line drives are hits the vast majority of the time. A high number of balls in play against Richmond are line drives, ergo there should be a high number of hits to go with them. In Richmond’s case, there aren’t. Opposing batters are hitting just .245 on balls in play, a rate that’s way, way below average — the league average on balls in play is .305. That suggests that Richmond has had a great deal of good luck so far, with balls practically taking sharp turns and honing their way into fielders’ mitts.
If this suggests to you that the Yankees could rampage around the Rogers Centre tonight, you’re right, but only sort of. With the Yankees order being so dramatically depleted — tonight’s order has Robby Cano batting fifth, Melky Cabrera batting sixth, Brett Gardner seventh, Ramiro Pena eighth, and Frankie Cervelli ninth — they may not have the firepower to rampage over a mound of Jell-O. Oh, those injuries, oh, that lack of second-line talent. This has been a recurrent theme since 2000, a direct contributor (to borrow a title from Buster Olney) to the last night of the Yankee dynasty, and a major issue in most seasons since. With the June draft almost upon us, it might be worth asking if anything in the Yankees’ player procurement and development philosophy has changed given these problems, but this isn’t really the draft to be asking about, given that they vented their picks on free-agent compensation.
Oh well. The more things change the more they stay the same. Perhaps no one drafting in the 900 picks ahead of the Yankees will want to meet Stephen Strasburg’s price of $50 gabooblebillion and he’ll fall out of the first 17 rounds to whenever the Yankees finally get to pick … Nah, won’t happen. Still, at this stage the Yankees could do just as well with a bunch of league-average outfielders. That seems almost like a bigger dream than projecting a Strasburgian Icarus act on draft day.
MORE OF ME …
… Later on. In the meantime, a transcript of yesterday’s chat is available in the lobby.
MORE FROM THE BALLPARK ( 9:35 p.m.)
As I write, the Yankees are batting in the bottom of the fourth. Andy Sonnanstine, who has not been particularly good this year, have held them to one hit (three hits — in the time it took me to complete this sentence, Teixeira singled and Matsui doubled. Either the Yankees are heating up or my sentences are too long). The Rays have played some excellent defense, as is to be expected given that by at least one measure, defensive efficiency, the Rays are the best leather team in the league — just as they were last year.
With two runners on, the ballpark is plenty loud — I wonder if the acoustics are really as has been said or the fans haven’t had enough to cheer about… And Cano flies out to Carl Crawford in left, and all at once it’s quiet again.
A little earlier, A.J. Burnett skipped a ball through Dioner Navarro’s toes, and that reminded me of a brief encounter I had with sports talk radio earlier today. The caller to Sirius-XM’s midmorning show argued that what the Yankees needed to do to beat the Red Sox was hit them with more pitches. We seem to hear this sentiment every time the Yankees drop a series to the Sox: the Sox intimidate the Yankees but the Yankees don’t intimidate them. It sounds pathetic. I can never remember the old saying correctly — is violence the first refuge of the incompetent of the last? It seems to work either way. Whichever the case, such sentiments are an example of it. The way the Yankees will beat the Red Sox is to win some games. I know it’s a novel idea, but if they hit better than .150 with runners in scoring position against Boston, they’ll score some runs, maybe even more runs than Boston scores. Engaging in a beanball war is not going to achieve much more than getting players suspended at best and hurt at worst. These teams see each other a lot of times this year, and the last thing either of them needs is to see sporting competitiveness spill over into violence.
The thing that really struck me about the call, after its ignorance, was its super-ignorance. The Yankees have hit EIGHT Red Sox this year. The Red Sox have hit TWO Yankees. Don’t you have an obligation to watch the actual games before making so reckless a recommendation? Couldn’t the Yankees try hitting a few home runs before starting a fight? All we are saying is give peace a chance. Or at least common sense.
As I put the pen down on this particular entry, it is the top of the sixth. The Rays have two on and one out after a Jason Bartlett sac bunt (Bartlett had struck out in his two previous at-bats, so the bunt sorta kinda makes sense). Burnett is already over 100 pitches, and I see someone loosening in the bullpen. “Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.” Maybe it’s howling at Jose Veras. Wouldn’t you?
SCENES FROM A BALLPARK ( 7:23 p.m.)
The Pinstriped Bible comes to you from the Bronx, New York this evening, where the Yankees and Rays are about to joust. Let’s see… The Rays thrashed the Red Sox, the Red Sox thrashed the Yankees, so next in the sequence is… Yankees thrash Rays? My boss is in the seat next to me, so I’m sticking with that line. Not good to look too curmudgeonly and pessimistic in front of the guy who signs the checks.
Despite the tough losses of the last few days, there was a lot of animated good spirits on display on the pregame field. Bernie Williams was on hand, joking with Derek Jeter, then chatting with Melky Cabrera behind the cage. I couldn’t make out what they were talking about — the ballpark amps were at 11 — but I hope it was some insight about growing at the major league level or how to hit from the right side, and not the best way to shift to an F#m chord from a D#7 diminished chord without breaking your fingers. Reggie Jackson was also on hand, in uniform (Williams was in civvies), watching over batting practice and chatting eagerly with some reporters (off the record ad strictly personal, natch). A few feet away, John Sterling was interviewing Joe Girardi, but somehow Joe was doing a lot more listening than talking.
I briefly tried to imagine that it was 1927, and the Yankees taking batting practice were Ruth, Gehrig, Meusel, etcetera, but quickly gave up: it was too bloody loud. In 1927 batting practice must have sounded like batting practice: the crack of the bat, a few people shouting on the field and in the stands.
It must have been pure heaven.
As Nick Swisher came out of the cage, Girardi asked him a question. I assume it was, “How did you feel hitting today?” or something like that. Swisher made a face, shook his head, and must have said something sarcastic, because Girardi bopped him over the helmet with the mitt he was carrying. Swisher isn’t tall, but Girardi had to do a little hop-step-jump in order to pull off the gesture.
Angel Berroa and Brett Gardner took extra batting practice. Berroa caught my eye when he cracked a ball far deeper into the stands than any of the Yankee regulars had–you’ll note that whereas every Yankee starter could put on a show in batting practice, most of them are more applied in their work, drilling line drives in one turn in the cage, pulling balls in another, and so on. Berroa was hitting deep flies, and one traveled deep into the right field bleachers, landing just short of the back row, just in front of the “26 World Champions” sign. This seemed like a wasted drill–Berroa is not going to be cranking balls out of the park under game condition. It’s just not a skill he has. Few hitters achieve any kind of consistency when uppercutting the ball and trying to hit home runs, and Berroa won’t be the first. Why not try to develop a skill that will keep you on a Major League roster instead of one that won’t?
Gardner’s BP seemed, to my weak, rhino-like eyes, to be a mixed bag. On some swings he used the lower half of his body to pull crisp line drives to right, including one which carried out of the park. On a few other swings, he lunged with his upper body as he has been doing in games, and hit something weak the other way. As he finished, he turned to Kevin Long and asked, “How was that?” I didn’t catch Long’s response, as at just that moment, the scoreboard kicked off the Graig Nettles “Yankeeography” at such volume that John Sterling could have been chastising the Hebrews for their dalliance with the Golden Calf, or threatening to turn Sodom into a parking lot. At one point I looked up and saw an image of Tommy Lasorda as big as an aircraft carrier. “Surrender, Dorothy!” he screamed. I dropped to my knees. In doing so, I narrowly avoided being run down by the entire Rays roster, which was engaged in a pregame stretching exercise in which they hopped, skipped, and jumped down the third base line singing, “Three Little Maids from School Are We.” Okay, they didn’t really sing that, but they could have — they were skipping to the proper rhythm.
This should in no way be construed as a comment on the collective masculinity of the Rays. The only point, if there is one, is that grown men rarely looked dignified when hopping and skipping. It’s also a good way to lose your wallet.
Melky Cabrera failed as a starter but has hit four home runs as a role player, so the Yankees should make him a starter again. If he doesn’t play well when starting, they can make him a role player again, and if he hits a few more home runs coming off the bench, they can make him a starter again. If he slumps, they can always put him back in the reserve role. Assuming he does well there, he might be ready for another shot at starting, and … and … and …
There are three possibilities right now:
1. The last 26 Cabrera at-bats outweigh the previous 1500 or so, and Cabrera has become a slugging outfielder.
2. Cabrera is having one those transient streaks, like the one he had precisely a year ago.
3. The Yankees have found a job for Cabrera in which he can actually be useful.
There is no reason to rush Cabrera into the lineup given that the upside is mostly nonexistent, while the downside includes damage to Brett Gardner’s career. Not that Gardner needs any extra help with that. He’s played terrific defense and runs the bases well, but the walks aren’t there, and since the power isn’t going to be there, the walks have to be there if he’s going to hit enough to play. Gardner is 15 games in, and needs more time to rediscover his patience. If he can’t get there, perhaps he’s not the answer this year, or not ever. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Cabrera is the answer either. Cabrera could very well be more valuable in 250 at-bats than in 500, and that’s not a missed opportunity for the Yankees, it’s seizing one.
… At least he’s done better than in his first four starts this year than in his first four starts last year. The difference, of course, is that this year he has 253 regular innings in his rearview mirror, plus postseason action. It’s early yet, so we’ll see if this is the refractory year or “first four starts phobia” is just something the big man has to get through.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
? Took my children to the toy store last night. All the Jake Peavy action figures were on clearance.
? The Jays’ Ricky Romero just hit the DL with an oblique strain. That leaves them with Roy Halladay and prayer. There’s an offensive correction coming soon, too, and then the division’s more natural order will restore itself.
? Let’s say the Mets’ Daniel Murphy stays at his current rates for the rest of the season, finishing at .315/.367/.407. Does that much offense equal that of a conventional left fielder with average defense? Almost certainly not. Meanwhile, if Mike Pelfrey and John Maine are held back by injuries and Livan Hernandez is Livan Hernandez, there’s just not enough pitching in the organization to make up for it. Of course, the way the Phillies, Braves, Nats, and now Marlins are going, it’s becoming apparent that no team can win the NL East — or more accurately, the first team to identify and fix its biggest weakness will be the winner.
? Marcus Thames is out indefinitely with a rib cage strain. Traded by the Yankees to the Texas Rangers for Ruben Sierra. Though he has his flaws — he’s no fielder and he doesn’t walk — platoon players with his kind of power are hard to find. He’s played 434 games since leaving the Yankees. The Yankees got 231 games of .249/.295/.429 out of Sierra during his second stay with the team, most of which was contained in a very hot May ’04. Not a move that Brian Cashman wants to frame and put on his mantel.
? Brandon Inge hit his fifth home run last night. Career as a catcher: .199/.260/.330, which makes him perhaps the worst-hitting catcher ever. As a third baseman: .258/.329/.430, plus defense. Hmm …
? Yes, but how many home runs has Bobby Abreu hit?
? The Yankees can at least feel comforted that Cliff Lee pitched well against the Royals, too. At 6-10, the Indians remain in deep trouble.
? I find it a continual source of amusement that the “new” Jeff Francoeur has but one walk and a .328 OBP. As Abraham Lincoln supposedly said, “If this is tea, please give me some coffee; if this is coffee, please give me some tea.”
THE FIRST “GAME” AT YANKEE STADIUM
In watching Cubs-Yankees on Friday evening, I tried to be alert to any events that would suggest that the park will be dramatically different in its influences than was the old ballpark. Given that we’re talking about one game, the penchant for distortion would have had to be fairly obvious — like a moat in center field. In the event, no moat appeared, but with two home runs bouncing off of them in one game, we might have to classify the foul poles as magnetic attractors.
There was some talk by our YES broadcast crew about the infield playing fast. Again, there is no way to know for sure if this is the case after just one game, but if it’s true, it will represent a double-edged sword for the Yankees. The hitters will benefit, but the pitchers will suffer, perhaps disproportionately to the opposition, because their deficiencies in range will be exacerbated. Fortunately, this can be corrected to some degree should the Yankees choose to do so — they can just let it grow.
The bigger question mark, and one that the Yankees won’t be able to do anything about, is if the open concourses or orientation of the new park have made the building more of a home-run park. The Yankees hit three in the game, and foul poles or not, they seemed to have a little more life in them than what we’ve seen from long flies in the old park. For the third time in just three paragraphs, I will emphasize that you can’t know anything about anything from just one game, and we probably shouldn’t come to any conclusions until the team has spent something like half a season in the new dish, and maybe not then.
I’ll be back with some additional observations after Saturday’s exhibition.
OTHER GOOD STUFF
Derek Jeter pulling two hits. Brett Gardner’s speed both on defense and stretching a single into a double. Four scoreless innings from the bullpen (albeit against Cubs subs). Robinson Cano with two hits, including one into the shortstop’s hole — nice to see him do something with the opposite field that doesn’t involve popping up to shallow left.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Injuries mean the Angels’ initial rotation will be Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver, Nick Adenhart, Dustin Moseley, and Shane Loux. No wonder the A’s feel empowered. And R.A. Dickey and his career 5.57 ERA have a spot in the Twins rotation until Scott Baker comes back: spring is a cruel mistress… Mike Lamb went unclaimed and was released. The Twins are paying him this year, so he would be cheap depth if the Yankees want to add a third baseman. That assumes Lamb can find his stroke again. I’m rooting for Cody Ransom, Journeyman, but it never hurts to have insurance. Assuming a modest rebound, Lamb should post a higher OBP than Ransom… One wonders how long Gary Sheffield will be happy with part-time status as a Met. Assuming he has anything left at all, both at bat and in the field, he should help on a platoon basis, with career .308/.407/.540 rates against southpaws. Even last year, which was a disaster overall, he hit six home runs against them in 109 at-bats.