Results tagged ‘ Brett Tomko ’

Take a lesson from Colonel Jessup, Tomko

tomko_250.jpgTHE LAST TOMKO IS COMIN’ DOWN THE LINE
Yesterday, the intrepid Peter Abraham reported that Brett Tomko was bitter about being designated for assignment:

“I don’t think I got a fair shot,” he said. “I pitched great in spring training and didn’t make the team. I pitched great in the minors, got called up and didn’t get much of a chance. I understand other guys are pitching great. But it could have been different. I can’t see the point in coming back.”

In response, Joe Girardi said, “A lot of it was circumstances… We played a lot of tight games and we went with the guys we were using in those innings. It’s tough sometimes because you want to use everyone and get everyone innings.”

This was very gracious of Joe; I imagined him saying something more like Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup in “A Few Good Men”:

“I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said ‘thank you,’ and went on your way.”

Tomko might very well have said “thank you” to Girardi and Brian Cashman for giving any chance at all to a 36-year-old with who had not posted an ERA under 4.48 since 2004 and had an ERA of 5.07 and a record of 22-41 over his previous four seasons. Tomko has never been a good pitcher, and that he had 14 good innings at Scranton is meaningless when held against the nearly 1800 innings of his big-league career.

As rarely as Tomko pitched, there was good reason for Girardi’s reluctance to use him: you can’t have a reliever who gives up more than two home runs for every nine innings pitched. Close games get un-close in a real hurry and bad games get worse. Tomko can’t even blame Yankee Stadium II for his longball problems, as four out of five cannonades came on the road. Such results would seem to call for more humility. That’s not Tomko’s way–his career will be remembered more for tiffs with Jack McKeon, Don Gullett, Lou Piniella, and Felipe Alou than for his pitching.

MEANWHILE, THE COMPETITION II
In talking about the Adam LaRoche trade to the Red Sox, I forgot to take into consideration Rocco Baldelli as a right-handed alternative to J.D. Drew, but fortunately the Red Sox made another deal so I get to revisit the fellows from the Fens.

Theo Epstein’s second deal of Wednesday involved dumping shortstop Julio Lugo, who had been designated for assignment. Lugo sometimes hits well for a middle infielder, but doesn’t always–see his utter disappearance as a member of the Dodgers and Red Sox during the second half of 2006 and all of 2007–but he doesn’t give his team enough offense to make up for the fact that he’s a mediocre fielder.

Lugo still makes for a good pickup for the Cardinals because they’re locked in a tight race in a slack division (or maybe that’s a slack race in a tight division) and any little advantage they can claim could make an outsized difference. Due to Khalil Greene’s various problems and the general failure of various substitutes, Cards shortstops are batting only .251/.307/.356. Any good stuff in there was contributed by Brendan Ryan (.294/.328/.382, which is better than nothing without being great), but Ryan can’t be counted on to hit the rest of the way–he’s currently in a pretty good slump right now. A .271/.335/.390 career hitter, Lugo should be able to keep the Cardinals overall production at short on the good side of what they’ve done to date.

The Red Sox are picking up the rest of Lugo’s contract, which runs through the end of next season. In return, the Sox get a player they can’t really use right now, outfielder Chris Duncan, brother of Shelley. A left-handed power hitter who hasn’t hit for power since having back surgery (if not before), Duncan is a defensive disaster in the outfield, so even if he were to start hitting Terry Francona would have a hard time figuring out where to place him. He’s headed for Pawtucket right now, and he needs it–over the last two seasons, Duncan has played 163 games, or just over one full season, and he’s hit .237/.337/.361 with 11 home runs in 482 at-bats. A corner outfielder who does that is flirting with professional extinction.

20-GAME WATCH: ATHLETICS AT YANKEES

    W-L    RS/G    RA/G    AVG    OBP    SLG    AB/HR    SB    CS    HR/9    BB/9    K/9
A’s    9-11    5.0    4.6    .297    .354    .439    37    21   7    1.1    3.9    7.9
Yankees    15-5    5.4    4.6    .281   .370    .463    24    8    10    1.2    3.5    6.9

The numbers above make the A’s look like a better offensive team than they are; they’re distorted by their just-completed series with the Twins in which they twice scored in double figures. The A’s hit .376/.444/.573 in those three games, .281/.336/.412 in the other 17 games in our sample. That’s still a nice uptick from the team’s seasonal rates of .250/.321/.378. I credit the surge to the team’s sending Jason Giambi to the disabled list with a critical case of not being able to play baseball.

Despite the recent flurry of hitting, the main thing this A’s team has going for it is a young pitching staff which has exceeded expectations. If the Nationals had gotten this kind of performance out of their staff of randomly selected 22-year-olds, they’d be a borderline contender in the NL East. The A’s have the opposite problem, not enough hitting to support a surprisingly effective group. Thanks to the four-game series, the Yankees will get to sample the entire rotation with the exception of Trevor Cahill. New Jersey native Vin Mazzaro goes tonight (weather permitting), and he’s going to have problems in YS II–although his fastball reputedly sinks, he’s been pitching like a scary fly ball type and giving up home runs, with four balls leaving the yard in his last 14 innings, which is a rate that would frighten even Tomko.

Friday’s starter, lefty Brett Anderson, came to the A’s as part of the Dan Haren trade (ah, Dan Haren). Just 21, Anderson is a fastball-slider-occasional curve/change guy who throws in the low 90s and up. He’s taken a step forward in his last five starts, going 4-1 with a 1.15 ERA (including a shutout of the Red Sox). Opposing batters have hit .150/.216/.187 with no home runs in those starts. The Yankees have faced some very good pitchers in the last month–John Lannan, Josh Johnson, Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, Jarrod Washburn, Roy Halladay, Jared Weaver, John Lackey, Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson–Anderson is a challenge worthy of that group.

Lefty Gio Gonzalez was acquired from the White Sox as part of a package for Nick Swisher. He’s a fastball-curveball guy who was a first-round supplemental pick back in 2004, which suggests that scouts saw great promise in him. Certainly his career minor league strikeout rate of 10.3 per nine innings bears out that evaluation. Gonzalez brought the strikeout rate with him to the Majors, but his control stayed in the sticks. He’s walked 6.2 per nine innings in his brief career, which is the prime reason, along with a Tomko-licious
16 home runs in 61 innings, that he has an 8.41 ERA. He allowed four home runs in just 2.2 innings to the Twins in his most recent start.

Finally, 25-year-old Dallas Braden, a veteran on this staff, goes Sunday. Braden is your standard low-velocity lefty, and he’s a fly ball guy too. Despite the latter tendency, he doesn’t allow many home runs, but some of that may be due to park effects. His changeup makes him very tough on his fellow lefties–they’re hitting just .174/.225/.223 off of him this year. Joe Girardi doesn’t really have a good righty platoon bat on his bench, but if he did, Sunday would be a good day to play him. Maybe Shelley Duncan is free that afternoon… 

The Sergio Mitre experiment

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?
Tim Wakefield hit the DL with back stiffness today, so the Red Sox brought up Clay Buchholz to take his spot. The Yankees had a hole in their rotation, so they brought up Sergio Mitre. There’s a huge gap between a 28-year-old with a 5.36 ERA and a 24-year-old with a 5.35 ERA.

As I wrote about Mitre a few weeks ago, he’s a heavy ground-ball type who has never found consistency in the Majors due in large part to control problems — a pitch-to-contact type can’t walk three or four batters per nine innings and expect to succeed. There are simply too many balls in play with runners on base for the pitcher to garner consistent results. That said, Mitre’s control in the Minors this year has been tremendous, with just seven free passes in 54.1 innings, or 1.2 per nine innings. If he retains that kind of control in the Majors and still has his groundball mojo as well, he can be the late-career Greg Maddux.

The main reason that this will remain just a fantasy is that Mitre almost always showed god control in the Minors. His career rate in 110 games is 2.2 walks per nine innings. In the big leagues he’s either twitchier or more advanced batters manage to lay off his more borderline offerings. When batters have swung, they’ve hit .298/.361/.435. The light power is a token of his groundball approach. Unfortunately, the singles/walks combo has been damaging enough.

The Mitre experiment is worth trying, but if the early results aren’t good the Yankees can’t hang on for as long as they did with pointless reliever Brett Tomko, who was finally DFA’d to make room for Mitre. Pitchers can reinvent themselves, but when it doesn’t happen there’s little point in chasing. That’s something the Red Sox are proving with John Smoltz. Wakefield’s injury buys Smoltz some time, but until today the biggest favor the Sox were doing for the Yankees was pursuing the last ounce the 42-year-old had to give instead of trying to get the first ounce out of Buchholz. Now they’ll do both, still an advantageous situation for the New Yorkers. Should Buchholz establish himself before Wakefield is ready to come back or Daisuke Matsuzaka is ready to give his shoulder another try, the Sox will have enviable depth for the rest of the season.

Despite the Wangery of things, a good weekend

wang_250_070609.jpgChien-Ming Wang headed back to the disabled list and Joba-To-the-Bullpen became Joba to Nowhere, but winning trumps everything. Adding to the sweetness of the proceedings was the fact that the victories came at the expense of an AL East opponent, pushing the Yankees to one game under .500 against divisional rivals. They kept the pressure on the Red Sox, who dropped two of three to the Mariners, and put some distance between themselves and the rest of the competition. The Rays, swept by the Rangers, are now six games behind the Yankees in the loss column, the Jays eight behind. The wild card standings remain close, with AL West co-leaders Texas and L.A.-Anaheim just two games back of the Yankees.

How long this happy situation persists will depend in part on how the Yankees choose to compensate for the loss of Wang. This seems a bit odd to say, “compensate for the loss of Wang,” because the Yankees haven’t really had Wang all season long. For all their patience, prodding, and pushing, Wang has yet to record a quality start. Now, quality start is just a made-up statistical category (heck, they’re all made up) denoting a starting pitcher having done certain minimal things in his games — throw six innings, allow three or fewer earned runs. It’s not a crazy high standard, as all it asks a pitcher to do is post a 4.50 ERA. Wang is 0-for-9, and whatever achievements exist in the past, they clearly don’t have much bearing on this season.

Since returning to the starting rotation on June 4, Wang’s ERA is 6.43 in six tries. His rate of home runs allowed per nine innings is a career high, and it didn’t dramatically improve during Wang’s latest sting. He allowed four home runs in 28 innings, which doesn’t sound like much, but it works out to 1.3 per nine. The career rate for the sinkerball artist coming into this season was 0.5. Wang’s latest injury is just the latest clue that anything the Yankees need to cultivate a solid alternative and view anything they get from Wang this year as a bonus.

That alternative is almost certainly not Sergio Mitre. While you can never preclude a team catching journeyman lightning in a bottle (see Aaron Small ’05), Mitre seems a long shot to click. Frequently injured, Mitre is a heavy ground ball type who has never found consistency in the Majors due in large part to control problems — a pitch-to-contact type can’t walk three or four batters per nine innings and expect to succeed. There are simply too many balls in play with runners on base for the pitcher to succeed, even with the enhanced double play rate of the sinker ball pitcher.

One intriguing note here is that Mitre has done great things with his walk rate in the Minors this year, passing just five batters in 39.2 innings. If Mitre can carry that kind of control back to the bigs, it will be almost as if the Yankees were trying a brand-new pitcher, not a 28-year-old retread. Even then, success is not assured. This is a pitcher against whom Major League batters have averaged about .300 — they’re not fooled, and while Mitre might cut down on the number of free passes he gives out, he will still have to keep the batters from simply banging their way on base.

With the All-Star break coming up, the Yankees will have a few days to reorder their rotation and figure out what they want to do with Wang’s spot over the longer term. As much as Alfredo Aceves and Phil Hughes are overqualified to be relievers, they’ve done so well in that role that it’s understandable that the club would be reluctant to pull them from the pen at this juncture, not without some kind of viable alternative to take the spot (the problem of “stretching them out” into a starting role is transient, especially given that Aceves threw 43 pitches on Sunday).

Here is yet another occasion to point out the way the Yankees have hurt themselves by perpetuating Brett Tomko in the Majors at the expense of Mark Melancon, lefty Zach Kroenke, or practically anyone else in the organization. Tomko’s trash-time work could have been developmental time for any number of virginal relievers, relievers who might now be promotable to more important roles, something that clearly isn’t going to happen with the 36-year-old, home run-happy Tomko. That theoretical pitcher might have enabled the Yankees to feel more comfortable about elevating Hughes or Aceves. Instead, they have blocked themselves. Much as with the bench space wasted on Angel Berroa until quite recently, Tomko demonstrates that there are no small roster spots, only small players.

To put the matter in proper perspective, one sentence: The loss of Wang expresses itself as a bullpen problem, not a starting pitcher problem. Corollary to the foregoing: the Yankees need to do more to solve their bullpen problem.

In the long term, one interesting starting option within the organization might be right-hander Zach McAllister, currently of Double-A Trenton. If you take his work from the second half from last season, spent at Tampa of the Florida State League, and add it together with that of this season, from Double-A Trenton, you get a stunningly good line: 28 starts, a 13-9 record, 169.1 innings, 139 hits, 36 walks (1.9 per nine), 128 strikeouts (6.8 per nine), just nine home runs, and an ERA of 1.81. The strikeout rate should be a clue that McAllister is not a 95 mph burner. He’s actually somewhat Wang-like, getting by on a sinking fastball. It seems unlikely that a jump to Triple-A, or over it, would be much of an impediment. McAllister may seem like a long shot, and given the organization’s nervousness about the untested, he probably is, but the Yankees owe it to themselves to investigate these possibilities before they start throwing out good players for the detritus of other organizations.

MORE TO COME…
With the Yankees having reached the 81-game mark, the PB hands out the dreaded midterm report cards.

Hinske Ball!

hinske2_250_063009.jpgThe Yankees made a solid move today in acquiring veteran left-handed hitter Eric Hinske from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hinske, a former Rookie of the Year (Toronto, 2002) was a solid reserve presence on back-to-back pennant winners with the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and the Tampa Rays last year, and now has the chance to add a third postseason team to his resume.

Able to play all four corners, Hinske has some power and is willing to take more than the occasional walk, so he’ll fit right in with the Yankees. He’s a career .254/.337/.436 hitter, which is not a good figure for a corner starter but you’ll take it for a four-corner reserve. No fun against southpaws at .221/.298/.363, Hinske’s numbers against opposite side pitchers are .264/.347/.456.

The 31-year-old gives the Yankees the kind of valuable bat off the bench they haven’t had in some time. That he can play third base is key. If Alex Rodriguez is going to take days off, this is a better choice than Cody Ransom and about a thousand times better than Angel Berroa. Hinske is not a very good defensive third baseman, but his ability to hit the ball with some authority should ease the pain of those Rodriguez rest periods.

With Rodriguez swinging a hot bat, it seemed as if Rodriguez and Joe Girardi were going to make a point of forgetting their previous agreement about off days. This happened last week — after skipping one game in Florida, Rodriguez played in eight straight games and started seven straight. One wonders if Brian Cashman looked at the trouble that Mike Lowell has been having lately — he had 15 CCs of fluid removed from his hip yesterday, also received a shot of a lubricant, and today was placed on the DL — and wisely concluded that he’d better give Girardi a real alternative to Rodriguez at third base before they killed the presumptive team MVP.

This is not a criticism of Girardi. As I wrote here last week, Girardi has been given conflicting imperatives: win now, win every day, and then, somewhere down the line, don’t kill A-Rod. Given that the alternatives to Rodriguez were spectacularly weak, it’s hard to blame Girardi for prioritizing his first mission at the expense of his second. Breaking Rodriguez might not get him fired, but failing to reach the postseason will. You understand why his instinct, even if on a subliminal level, would be to gamble on the slugger triumphing over pain instead of hoping that Berroa, Ramiro Pena, or Ransom might deliver a big hit, or even a small hit. If the Yankees were 3.5 games ahead instead of behind, the decision to bench Rodriguez would be easier on Girardi, but they’re not.

Ironically, Girardi could end up back in the same head space, only for different reasons. Again, Hinske is not a great defensive third baseman, and it’s possible that he’ll be a bit rusty. He hasn’t played very much third base since 2004, making just 21 appearances at the hot corner (three this year). The Blue Jays bumped him off of third base for Corey Koskie and then Troy Glaus, while in his Boston and Rays stops he was behind Lowell and Evan Longoria, so he had to get into the lineup in other ways. A few well-timed misplays and Girardi’s sense of well-being might get shaken enough that he’ll be reluctant to entrust Hinske with too much hot corner time. Still, if he times the Hinske starts so they don’t coincide with Chien-Ming Wang’s games, the Yankees should be okay. It’s also not as if A-Rod has been excelling on the fielding job; the bad hip would seem to have limited Rodriguez’s range.

In exchange for making Girardi’s life more interesting, the Yankees only had to give up Eric Fryer, the Minor League outfielder acquired for Chase Wright, who does not project to be more than a role player in the Majors, if that, and righty pitcher Casey Erickson, a 23-year-old Sally League reliever.

In his career, Hinske has had the unusual honor of being both a surprise and a disappointment. A 17th-round draft pick of the Cubs in 1998, Hinske raked in the Minor Leagues, batting .285/.380/.511. His defense troubled the Cubs, though, and so even though they were in desperate need of a third baseman at the time, they palmed him off on the A’s for Miguel Cairo. This was a Hall of Fame-level dumb move, as Cairo didn’t last even a full season in Chicago, and in any case he was Miguel Cairo. The A’s held Hinske in the Minors for a season, then sent him to the Blue Jays for Billy Koch. This was a Hall of Fame-level smart move, as the A’s got 44 saves out of Koch in 2002 and then flipped him to the White Sox for Keith Foulke, who was even better. Meanwhile, Hinske played third for the Jays, hit 24 home runs, and won the Rookie of the Year award.

The Jays rushed right out and signed Hinske to a five-year contract, but Hinske was unable to follow up on his production. His walk rate slipped, and his power and batting average went along with it. His 2003 season was subpar and his 2004 was miserable. By 2005 he had been moved to first base, which was an odd decision for the Jays to make given just how bad he had been the year before. He bounced back to some degree in 2006, but by then he was already slipping into utility work.

Kudos to Brian Cashman on this one. Adding a player who slugged .465 a year ago really gives the Yankees the added A-Rod protection they’ve needed all season. The move comes a bit late, but it’s a good one. At this writing, the Yankees haven’t announced the roster move they’re making to get Hinske a spot in the dugout. It should be Brett Tomko who goes down, but it’s hard to imagine the Yankees reducing their staff to 11 pitchers, so one assumes that Pena is headed for the sticks.

ON REFLECTION, IT SEEMS UNLIKELY THAT BIN LADEN THINKS MUCH ABOUT BUCKY DENT, BUT THE POINT STILL STANDS
I’m normally pretty happy when publishers drop a free baseball book on me, but in the case of a new book on, well, something to do with Bucky Dent, they can leave me out. On Saturday, I received an unmarked envelope bearing only my address and a mint condition 1978 Topps Bucky Dent card. There was no return address.

I subsequently have learned that this was done on behalf of a forthcoming book. Now, look: as I said, it’s cool to get free baseball stuff in the mail, but sending mysterious envelopes with no return address to a fellow’s home is no way to go about it. This is, I am told, supposed to be viral marketing. That term is ironic, because that’s what it made me think of — viruses. It occurred to me the second after I unsealed the stupid thing that you’re not supposed to open unidentified mail, that not too long ago there was a freak sending anthrax all over the place, that every once in awhile some fringe reader expresses hostility that goes beyond a mere friendly disagreement about baseball, and that I have a wife and two young children in the house. I was not amused. I was worried, and I kicked myself for unsealing the envelope. The Bucky Dent card was no solace: sometimes bad things come in attractive packages, and anonymity would seem to be something of an antonym for publicity.

So hey, marketing geniuses: if your goal was to trouble me on a perfectly good Saturday and make me associate your book with anonymous anthrax mailings, congratulations. You did your job. Next time, be intelligent enough to include a return address and a flyer so it’s clear what the heck you’re trying to accomplish. I wish the author all the success in the world with his book, and this should not be construed as reflecting upon his efforts. In fact, I hope he does so we
ll that next time he’ll be associated with a better, smarter set of publicists.

MORE FROM ME
Reflections on relief pitchers at Baseball Prospectus

One mystery remains before Yankees start season


arodblogpbible033109.jpgNOW OUR REVELS ARE ENDED, KIRK
With the demotions of Alfredo Aceves, Dan Giese, and Brett Tomko, all but one of the spring’s competitions and mysteries have been resolved. Brett Gardner (3-for-4 today) is your center fielder. Xavier Nady is your right fielder. Jon Albaladejo is in the bullpen. Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui are more or less ready to go. Mariano Rivera seems more than ready to go. Southpaw Phil Coke should make the team, and he looks like he’ll be a weapon. Joba Chamberlain started the spring in the rotation and will finish the spring in the rotation. Any time a setup man blows a lead all season long someone will second-guess his being there, even if he’s 16-1 at the time, but he’s in the rotation. All that remains to be determined is the identity of the reserve infielder, a player who may only cling to the roster until Alex Rodriguez returns. Assuming no major injuries and a timely and effective return for Rodriguez (which is assuming a lot, but let’s go with it), that player should only have minimal playing opportunities… Unless, as I hopefully speculated yesterday, Joe Girardi is brave enough to use a late-inning defensive replacement for Derek Jeter.

KEPPINGER (A BRIEF NOTE)
Earlier this spring I touted Jeff Keppinger as a player who would make a useful A-Rod substitute and post-Rod utility player. While not a defensive standout at any position, he’s adequate around the infield and has a far better bat than either Angel Berroa or Ramiro Pena. Today, the Reds dealt him to the Astros for a player to be named later. As the Astros’ farm system is drier than my aunt’s Thanksgiving turkey, the PTBNL isn’t likely to be anything special, which is to say that the Yankees, had they been in on Keppinger, likely could have topped the offer without giving away anyone of real significance. As the Yankees found out last year, the better your bench players, the better the club’s insurance against injuries to star players. I wrote yesterday that Ramiro Pena could be a fine late-inning defensive substitute, but if he has to start for two weeks the Yankees will suffer greatly. You can’t just look at these reserves as guys who are only going to pinch-run and start once a month when someone needs a day off, and you certainly can’t take the health of your players for granted. Jose Molina should have taught the Yankees that. He’s the true example of what happens when a star player gets hurt, not Erick Almonte.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
It was a bad couple of days for ex-Yankees as Gary Sheffield (499 home runs) and Mike Stanton (1,178 games, second all time) hit the release pile. The Tigers are now free to rotate some useful players, like Marcus Thames and Jeff Larish, through the DH spot. In a spot of good news for a former Yankee, it looks like utility infielder Nick Green has made the Red Sox, Julio Lugo being out and Alex Cora being a Met… Amazing that Alfredo Simon, a pitcher with a career 5.04 ERA in the minors (and a 23-40 career record) will be in the Orioles’ rotation… Chan Ho Park is the Phillies’ fifth starter; in other news, the Phillies will not be defending their championship. They also released Geoff Jenkins, who was made redundant last season after Jayson Werth emerged as an everyday player… The Marlins are going to start Emilio Bonifacio at third base; here’s hoping they enjoy their .350 slugging percentage at the hot corner… Dear Royals: Why Sidney Ponson?

Beat out that rhythm on the horse

matsui_250_022509.jpgPeter Abraham, live-blogging today’s game, reported that Nick Swisher batted with the bases loaded, was behind in the count 0-2, and came back to work a walk. I got curious as to how often that actually happened in real games, and which Yankees were the best at rescuing a bad situation with patience and selectivity. Working our way around the diamond:

Career walks after down 0-2:
Jorge Posada, 39 in 906 PA (4.3 percent).
Mark Teixeira, 29 in 619 PA (4.7 percent).
Robinson Cano, 7 in 386 PA (1.8 percent).
Alex Rodriguez, 53 in 1597 PA (3.3 percent).
Derek Jeter, 69 in 1442 PA (4.8 percent).
Johnny Damon, 37 in 1445 PA (2.6 percent).
Melky Cabrera, 4 in 269 PA (1.5 percent).
Nick Swisher, 20 in 405 PA (4.9 percent).
Xavier Nady, 10 in 473 PA (2.1 percent).
Hideki Matsui, 24 in 477 PA (5.0 percent).

I don’t know if this tells us much more than that the most patient hitters on the team are able to carry that patience through even the most difficult situations. Before running down the numbers, I had made a little bet with myself that Jeter would be tops in this category, not because he’s the most patient Yankee, but because of how many times I’ve seen him bear down in such situations. My guess was close, but it’s Matsui that takes the prize. Often you hear that clichéd description “professional hitter” applied to players who are no such thing, but what Matsui does, turning lost times at the plate into something positive, is truly deserving of the appellation. Hobbled Godzilla has only hit .220/.262/.342 in his career when down 0-2, but that’s actually a big accomplishment — no-hitter does well when he has only one pitch to work with; last year the American League as a whole batted .185/.217/.274 after an 0-2 count, so Matsui is well ahead of the pack.

I know you’re wondering about Jeter in such situations. He’s been even better than Matsui, batting .230/.283/.340 after 0-2. Hey, you’ve got to do stuff like that to get to the Hall of Fame.

DON’T BURY THE LEAD(OFF HITTER), STEVE!
In this morning’s entry, I wished that Brett Gardner would hit a triple today. Instead, he led off the game with a home run, pulling the second pitch of the game over the right field fence. Your move, Melky. And Kei Igawa pitched well, too, but we’ll pretend that didn’t happen.

TOMKONOMY
According to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, Brett Tomko is in competition with Dan Giese and Alfredo Aceves for a spot as a long man out of the pen. All three of those guys would probably make spot starts as well, should any be necessary. As I suggested this morning, Tomko really has no case to make here, having been roundly pounded every year since 1997, with the exception of 2004. As a starter last year, his ERA was 6.17. He pitched 16 innings as a reliever and slowed 12 runs, including four homers. In 177.1 career innings out of the pen his ERA is 4.92.

The best choice here might actually be Giese. Aceves seems like a very interesting starter, and I’m all for the Yankees embracing what little youth they chose to bring to camp, but I worry about his low strikeout rate and high home run rate in a bullpen role. He may simply be unsuited. It won’t hurt the Yankees to try, of course. Giese didn’t pitch that much between injuries, but was more or less effective when he did, particularly before his post-injury appearances in September. He got hammered in five innings that last month (we should watch out for any carryover to this spring), but to that point his ERA was 2.58 in 38.1 innings. Giese seems to be comfortable in the swingman role, and as a 31-year-old rookie last year is no doubt just happy to be in the majors.

All of that said, we’re talking about the last man on the staff. Given the quality of the Yankees rotation and their other bullpen options, this should be the last important decision Joe Girardi makes. Last year Giese generally relieved in low-leverage situations, and it seems unlikely that Girardi would have to call on him, or Brett Tomko, to protect too many leads. Still, if healthy, the guy knows how to pitch and deserves to have something of an inside track given his incumbency. Tomko does not know how to pitch, or if he does hasn’t translated that into consistent big league success — if he had, he wouldn’t be pitching for the last spot on the Yankees, he’d be in someone’s rotation. 

Brett Tomko? Why?

tomko_250_022509.jpgI’ve been meaning to comment on the signing of Brett Tomko, and since he’s starting Wednesday’s game against the Blue Jays, now seems like a good time to do so. Tomko was signed to a Minor League deal back on February 13. The right-hander, who will turn 36 on April 7, is … there’s no good way to say this … terrible. His career ERA is 4.68 despite extensive work in friendly parks like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Since his last good ERA in 2004 — it was only the second time in his career he’d posted an ERA below league average — he’s gone 22-41 with a 5.07 ERA in 504.1 innings. Starting, relieving, selling peanuts, it hasn’t mattered, he’s been pounded. The only good thing he’s had going on in that time is a slightly above-average walk rate.

Pitchers are variable, and you never know when you might squeeze some unexpected juice out of one that seemed an irredeemable failure. The possibility seems quite remote in this case, and if Tomko wears a Yankees uniform anywhere but Scranton this year something will have gone quite wrong. The Yankees are trying to save their starters from the longer grind of an extended spring season this year, that’s understood, but starting Tomko and then following him with Kei Igawa in the same game seems like cruel and unusual punishment to Yankees fans.

? It’s quite a drag that Frankie Cervelli is heading out of camp to play in the WBC. Due to last spring’s injury, he hardly played last year, and to date has had only a few at-bats above High-A ball. As well as Jorge Posada seems to be doing with his throwing program, the Yankees really need to have a solid alternative to Jose Molina on hand in case the Iron Jorge breaks down (Kevin Cash ain’t it). The best thing that Cervelli can do for both the Yankees and his own career is to stay around, let the coaching staff see a lot of him, and do what he can to improve his batting stroke, because right now there is very little indication that he can hit in the big leagues. But there are hints in his performance and smatterings of patience and doubles power that hint (at least to me) that there is something alive in Cervelli that could blossom if only nurtured the right way. The WBC is probably not the way to do it.

? With all due respect to my friend Rob Neyer, now that the A’s are out of the Fremont business, they shouldn’t move to Portland, they should move to Central New Jersey. Sure, there are territorial issues with the Mets and Yankees, but it’s a big market and there’s room for all. Imagine the rivalry … imagine the traffic. I haven’t done a demographic comp with Portland, but I bet Jersey’s population density and general affluence wins. Also, thanks to the large Indian population in that part of the state, we’d have the only ballclub to serve samosas. I can hear the cry of the vendor now… “Nan! Hot nan! Getcher nan bread and samosas here!” I could go for some of that now, if only it weren’t 3 AM, and even if it is.

? The reminder: Baseball Prospectus writers Kevin Goldstein, Christina Kahrl, Cliff Corcoran, and I will be at the Yogi Berra Museum Sunday at 2 p.m. for our annual roundtable. Come, ask questions, get answers, and admire the sheer Yogi-ness of the edifice.

I’ll be back with an update after the Yankees break the ice on the spring season. Let’s hope Nick Swisher hits two home runs and Brett Gardner hits a triple and makes a running catch. The outcome of the season may depend on these two players having a better spring than their competitors.