Results tagged ‘ Francisco Cervelli ’

In-game management of Molina-Burnett critical

GAME, WEATHER PERMITTING…
And really, what isn’t?

posada_275_100909.jpgI DREAMED I SAW ST. POSADA
There will be a lot of cheap material in the papers and on-line today, stuff about Jose Molina starting Game 2 and Carl Pavano starting in Game 3. After Jorge Posada’s erratic defensive game on Wednesday, it seems to me that it’s harder to criticize Joe Girardi for going with Molina, as egregious as Molina is at the plate. Perhaps Posada’s game was just a case of bad timing, perhaps Girardi’s decision is simply his reenacting the active player phase of his career, when Joe Torre frequently chose the Yankees’ then-Molina — that is, Girardi himself.

Posada gets it twice from the same guy, and in that sense you can’t help but empathize with his frustration. The drag here is that Nick Blackburn is the kind of ball-in-play pitcher that Posada conceivably could have damaged. Strangely, the two have never met in a baseball game, but Blackburn doesn’t strike out many and also allows his share of fly balls, all of which adds up to a nice recipe for runs in Yankee Stadium II. Molina will likely put the ball in play as well, but a lot less happens when he does. This year he hit .264 on balls in play, a slight improvement on last season, when he hit .255. This is actually kind of hard to do; the Major League average this year was about .303.

Despite this, if Girardi observed a difference in Burnett in those late-August/early-September in which the two catchers alternated, this is the right call. The Twins are not a big offensive team, and while this kind of move might sabotage the Yankees if it was carried out over the basis of 25 or 50 games (that is, benching Posada), in one game the Yankees can carry Molina’s bat. Given that the Yankees are carrying three catchers, another decision that would be problematic over the course of the regular season, Girardi can pinch-hit for Molina at any time.

That last is really the key. If Girardi is going to go with a glove man, he needs to channel a bit of Casey Stengel and be ready to pinch-hit as soon as the last notes of the National Anthem sounds. If it’s 0-0 in the third, the bases are loaded, and Molina is up, well, better Burnett struggles with Posada’s defensive deficiencies with a 4-0 lead than Molina and three runners stranded. It’s unconventional, but Francisco Cervelli’s presence sets Girardi up perfectly to manage aggressively. Heck, he could even pinch-hit Eric Hinske instead of Posada and put the highly mobile Cervelli into the game. Posada might pop a blood vessel, but Girardi’s defensive imperatives will be satisfied.

Starting Molina is in itself not a bad decision; Burnett might struggle anyway and it would still be a defensible call. It’s what Girardi does after that will make it a good call or a bad one. He can use Molina to the point that his negatives outweigh his positives and then dispense with him or he can let the offense be strangled in a key spot. Very few managers would feel secure enough to pull the trigger in that spot, but then, there are very few great managers.

Catching Burnett

POSADA VS. BURNETT
Rob Neyer has it right: if Joe Girardi truly feels that A.J. Burnett is going to pitch better with Jose Molina receiving his pitches, then he has little choice but to bench Jorge Posada despite the huge offensive difference between the two catchers. Burnett is a highly variable pitcher. When he’s on, he’s unhittable. When he’s off, he walks the ballpark and gets pounded. Posada did most of the catching for Burnett at midseason (with some Kevin Cash and Frankie Cervelli throw in). They had the usual mix of good starts and bad, but things seem to have changed in late August after a three-start sequence in which two Posada games bracketed a Molina game. Burnett was savaged in the Posada starts, but struck out 12 Rangers in the Molina start (August 27). That seems to have convinced Burnett or Girardi or someone, because the Burnett’s final six starts were taken by Molina. Burnett’s ERA in those starts was 2.92, so clearly something was working.

The Yankees should survive three Molina at-bats in one playoff game, but this does raise an interesting question for next year. Molina’s contract is up and Cervelli is clearly ready to contribute at roughly the same level as Molina does now. It would be a shame if the Yankees retained Molina just to cater to the whims of one pitcher. And before anyone suggests as an alternative that Posada replace Hideki Matsui as designated hitter while Molina and Cervelli handle the bulk of the catching, keep in mind that the offensive loss would be disastrous.

That Cervelli kid

cervelli_275_091809.jpgI want to respond to one commenter on yesterday’s entry — I tend to assume that even one opinion fronts for an army of like-thinking fellow travelers, though in this case it’s something we’ve heard before: Let Frankie Cervelli catch next year.

We’ve been over this ground before, but since this thought is still harbored out there like some kind of hidden infestation of bedbugs, I want to go back to it. Cervelli is an athletic, mobile catcher and he’s going to have a decent career just on the quality of his defense. This is not in dispute. Cervelli’s active presence behind the plate catches the eye; there’s nothing subtle about his work, no “inside baseball” aspect that requires you to be told what he’s doing. He’s a lot of fun to watch back there, especially compared to Jorge Posada’s no-frills brand of backstopping, with his trademark “pick it up when it stops rolling” approach to pitches in the dirt. Posada was never the most artful of catchers, and now that his ballplaying life can be numbered in dog-years, he’s starting to be a bit reminiscent of Rodin’s “Thinker”

You already know where we’re going with this: Posada is a crazy good hitter for a catcher. The average MLB receiver is batting .254/.320/.397. There’s a reason the Tigers have tried to shift their catching responsibilities from veteran Gerald Laird to Alex Avila, a rookie out of Double-A while in the midst of a pennant race, which is that Posada-ism is seen as a desirable thing to pursue. There’s always a team or two that goes with a Brad Ausmus-style catcher and sees that as an advantage, but the offensive pace of today’s game is simply too demanding to embrace purely defensive players on more than a limited basis.  

Make no mistake that Cervelli is a purely defensive player at this time. While 89 Major League plate appearances is a small sample, Cervelli’s .268/.282/.341 is consistent with his production during his short Minor League career, during which he hit .273/.367/.380 in 828 plate appearances. Although Cervelli showed decent selectivity at the lower levels, his complete lack of power mean pitchers won’t respect him enough to let him utilize that patience — they’re going to come right after him. One key takeaway here is that .273/.367/.380 in the Minors, primarily the low Minors, does not suggest the foundations of a Major League hitter. It suggests an out machine. It might suggest Jose Molina, and Molina, also a very talented catcher, isn’t good enough to play every day.

The Angels, for all of Mike Scioscia’s love of good defense at catcher (he being an excellent defender himself, and a brick wall when blocking the plate), kept him firmly behind Bengie Molina. The team to give Molina the most playing time, last year’s Yankees, was also the first Yankees team to miss the playoffs in 100 years. It was not a coincidence — despite the fact that Molina allowed only two passed balls, despite the fact that he caught 44 percent of basestealers. An offense can’t overcome that many outs, and a bad hitter makes more of them on offense than he can possibly save on defense.

Period. No debate. This is reality. It’s not a stathead thing. It’s not a calculator thing. It’s just very basic truth. A catcher might get 600 chances on offense a year. The number of great, run-saving plays that a strong defensive catcher will make over a mediocre one doesn’t add up to the extra outs. It can’t when we’re talking about plays that save perhaps a base a game, if that.

If Posada’s defense frustrates you, that’s understandable. However, the kind of exchange being proposed suggest that winning is also frustrating. Posada, when he’s not elbowing opposing pitchers in the ribs, is a huge contributor. You want to get mad at the Yankees for being tolerant of players who don’t contribute, you can always remember how many games they lost with Cody Ransom subbing for Alex Rodriguez, or think on how long Angel Berroa stuck on the roster, or rent your garments every time Sergio Mitre pitches — I’m about out of good shirts at this point, although the cats enjoy chasing the flying buttons.

Otherwise, you’re really biting the hand that feeds the Yankees, or one of them. As it says in the New Testament, a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country. It turns out the same thing is true of Jorge Posada. An offensive-minded catcher is not without honor, save to team’s fans.

STILL WAITING ON ACTION JACKSON
Scranton lost their playoff series on Thursday, which frees as many Pennsylvania Yankees as the club would like to come on up to the big city. Juan Miranda was recalled today. Austin Jackson is not on the 40-man roster, so a move would have to be made to get him to the bigs. Perhaps Christian “Out For the Year” Garcia could be shifted over to the 60-day disabled list to create a spot. Or Sergio Mitre could be released…

…Miranda, who is either 16 or 29, had a solid year at Scranton, batting .290/.369/.498 with 19 home runs in 122 games, handling left-handed and right-handed pitchers with equal aplomb. This performance translates to .273/.351/.491, which is not without its uses, though it’s not particularly useful to the Yankees because they’ve gotten fine left-handed production at DH and Mark Teixeira is a full-service first baseman. Thus, the Yankees have another power-hitting pinch-hitter to go with Shelley Duncan, which is okay.

Unfortunately, every team except, apparently, the Rays, has their own Duncan or Miranda, so there’s not much market for these guys. Every once in awhile one will surface in the Majors and do well, like Randy Ruiz with the Blue Jays or Garrett Jones with the Pirates, and everyone will act surprised, but they shouldn’t, because the thing that held them back wasn’t that they couldn’t hit, but that over the long term they weren’t expected to hit well enough to sustain first base or right field given lousy-to-non-existent defense. Kevin Millar is the rare example of this brand of player who actually went on to have a sustained career as a starter.

Whatever his age, Miranda has hit well enough in the minors to deserve at least a small chance from some team looking for a low-cost lefty for a DH or first base rotation. The production likely wouldn’t be great, but say your team is in the position of the Rays, having to play 35-year-old Chris Richard — at that point, you’ll take whatever Miranda can give you.

Unfortunately for him, barring a catastrophic series of injuries, that team will never be the Yankees. Here’s hoping he pops a few home runs during his Big League cameo and ups his trade value. Given his age, which is closer to 30 than not, he’s not going to be getting any better, so he’s not doing much at Scranton other than providing a “Break Glass in Case of” option.

The Posada debate continues

TO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS, MORE POSADA DISCONTENTS
If you check out the comments on yesterday’s entry, you will see a lot of frustration with Jorge Posada’s defense. A few lines:

Mr. Goldman, you know as well as I do that we should have let the Mets sign Jorge, instead of the Yanks giving a mediocre catcher the amount of money he received. He grounds into many, many rally-killing DPs and he is a big “K” way too often. Molina is twice the catcher that Jorge is.

Molina knows more about catching than Posada could ever dream about. I believe Cervelli should be brought up to work closely with Jose to refine his game. He’s already proven that he is a better defender than Posada, and hits the ball pretty effectively.

It’s time for the front office to stop turning a blind eye when they see Posada catch. Girardi should know this by now, Posada is not going to learn and doesn’t want to hear it.

molina250_082509.jpgI’m going to agree on one thing. Jose Molina is a much superior defensive catcher to Posada, and Frankie Cervelli looks pretty good, too. I will further agree that Posada hits into a lot of double plays, although show me a catcher who comes up with as many runners on base as Posada does and I’ll show you a double-play machine. I will not agree that he’s “a big K way too often,” as he’s a career .282/.400/.493 hitter with runners in scoring position and a .292/.405/.474 hitter late and close. Finally, I will strongly, violently disagree that the Yankees would be helped in any way by giving more playing time to Molina and Cervelli.

You don’t have to look too far to see what the Yankees would be like without Posada. It happened in a little season called 2008, which was still slowly bleeding to death at this time a year ago. Posada was on the shelf, Molina was playing, and the Yankees were losing games. There were other things wrong with the ballclub, but the Posada-Molina exchange was one of them.

As I tried to indicate in yesterday’s entry, everything in baseball is relative. Posada’s defensive flaws don’t make him a zero as compared to Molina’s 100, it makes him a 70 compared to Molina’s 100. Molina’s pitchers have actually thrown fractionally more wild pitches per nine innings than have Posada’s. Molina has thrown out 41 percent of attempted basestealers in his career, Posada only 29, but that’s a difference of 12 outs per 100 attempts, which sounds like a lot but only works out to a few runs on the season. We could talk about catcher-specific ERA, but that’s a flawed statistic, as it is open to sample size and other distortions, such as who caught who. The point is that you can’t judge players in isolation, but only in comparison. Compared to our idealized vision of a good defense catcher, Posada is terrible. Compared to actual catchers, he’s just a bit below average overall.

Take that knowledge, set it aside, and then consider Posada’s offensive game, which is much easier to evaluate. For most of his career he has not only been an above-average hitter for a catcher, he’s been an above-average hitter period. In 2000, when Posada hit .287/.417/.527, the average AL player hit .276/.349/.443. The average catcher hit only .261/.331/.425. The advantage conferred upon the Yankees was huge. Posada is no longer in his 2000 prime, but he still towers above his catching brethren. Even with Joe Mauer’s huge season in the mix, even counting Posada himself, the average Major League catcher is hitting only .254/.320/.397. To the extent that winning each baseball game is a battle of potential offenses, of being able to say, “My first baseman is better than your first baseman; my catcher is better than your catcher,” the Yankees win still win that battle with almost anyone but the Twins and perhaps the Braves (Brian McCann).

Molina is a career .238/.278/.338 hitter. He’s a below-average hitter compared to the general population. He’s a below-average hitter compared to catchers, shortstops, bat boys, and Snuffleupagus from “Sesame Street.” The offensive loss from such a transaction would outweigh the defensive gains. The Yankees would be net losers, a few runs up on defense, 50 or more runs down on offense. Going by Molina’s performance last year and Posada’s this year, the Yankees would gain a win on defensive runs saved and lose six on offense. As Posada ages, they will eventually have to make a change, but not this one, and hopefully not any time soon.

And before you say, “Yes, Molina, but Cervelli — !” Cervelli is far closer to Molina with the bat than Posada. He’s now 23 and has hit .270/.367/.379 in the Minors, most of that at the lower levels. He hasn’t even had 300 at-bats above A-Ball as yet and it shows in his offensive approach. He needs more time in the bus leagues if he is ever going to improve, and that’s a big if either way. Neither Molina nor Cervelli is going to be the next great Yankees catcher. It could be Jesus Montero, but right now I’d bet on Austin Romine. He’s at least two years away and has some real work to do on his hitting game, as the 20-year-old has power but lacks in selectivity.

In short, keep yelling at the TV if you want to. Perhaps it’s therapeutic. It’s also a bit misguided, because, as I said yesterday, passed balls advance a runner one base. Home runs advance them four. Unless you enjoyed 2008, with its great defensive catching and poor results, root against Posada at your own peril.
 

W-L
RS/G
RA/G
AVG
OBP
SLG
AB/HR
SB
CS
HR/9
BB/9
K/9
Rangers 10-10  4.9  4.1 .281 .342 .458    28 24  5  1.2  3.3 7.9
Yankees 16-4  6.2  5.8 .301 .357 .519    20 6  1  1.1  3.4 8.8


Of the 20 Rangers games surveyed here, 13 were at home, which puts a friendlier tinge on their numbers than is deserved. On the road they have hit .240/.295/.417 as a ballclub. To continue our discussion from above, those are close to Jose Molina numbers.  On the whole this is not a great hitting club. They do run the bases a lot, especially rookie Julio Borbon, one of those outfielders that I mentioned in last week’s draft review (which I’ll return to tomorrow). One player to note is Chris Davis, the slugging but strikeout-prone first baseman who returns to the lineup Tuesday night after a long stint in the Minors. A left-handed hitter, he’ll be taking his shots at Yankee Stadium’s right-field porch.

The rookie the Yankees really don’t want to see in this series is Neftali Feliz, a Minor League starter who is doing the Joba Chamberlain ’07 thing for the Rangers’ bullpen. He’s been close to untouchable so far, slinging the ball up to the plate at 100 mph. The Rangers haven’t been great at closing games, but they’ve become very good at the holy eighth inning. In the starting department, the Yankees will face the veteran Kevin Millwood, whose low strikeout rate should work against him in this ballpark — though note that for the last few years he has been much more successful against left-handed hitters than right-handers. Hard-throwing rookie lefty Derek Holland has pitched very well of late, with a 1.85 ERA in his last five starts, and has had a lot of success away from Arlington, so Andy Pettitte has drawn a tough matchup. Journemyman Dustin Nippert takes what would have been Vicente Padilla’s spot, and no doubt everyone involved except Padilla is happier about that. Nippert is a giant at 6’7″, with a good fastball and a power curve but has never pitched with anything approaching consistency. That shouldn’t change in this series.

How well is Robinson Cano playing?

joe_blog_bible_070109.jpgGIRARDI 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.

cano_blog_070109.jpgAnother 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.

Too many double plays

LET’S KILL TWO!
If the Yankees hitting into three key double plays on Tuesday night bugged you, if you were awake to be bugged, then know that it’s about par for the course for these Yankees, who have gone for the two-outs-on-one-swing sale in about 11.6 percent of their opportunities this year, the seventh-worst rate in the majors this year. The Mariners lead the majors, hitting into a double play in 13.6 percent of their chances. This is kind of amazing, as the Mariners also have the lowest on-base percentage in the majors. They reach base less than anyone else, then kill the few runners they get faster than anyone else.

jeterblog_pbible052709.jpgWhat’s fascinating about the Yankees’ poor performance in double play situations is that for the most part, it’s not the regulars who are doing the damage. This year, the average AL batter is hitting into a twin killing 10.6 percent of the time (the NL rate is almost exactly 10 percent). For example, Derek Jeter has hit into four double plays in 25 opportunities, which is 16 percent. That looks bad, but it’s not, really — one fewer and he’d be right at the league average. The same goes for Melky Cabrera, who has also pounded into four DPs in 25 chances. Brett Gardner, with two in 17 chances, is at the league average, which is surprising given his speed, but less so when one considers that he hits more ground balls than any Yankee except Derek Jeter. The worst Yankees regular is Robby Cano, who has hit into five in 28 chances, or 17.9 percent, but again, that’s not a horror-movie number — Geovany Soto and Mike Lowell are at 30 percent in a significant number of chances (29 and 40, respectively). Several Yankees have actually done a terrific job at staying out of the double play. Nick Swisher, last night’s DP villain, has hit into only two in 33 chances. Johnny Damon has only two. Hideki Matsui and Mark Teixeira are both around six percent.

It’s actually the guys who haven’t played much, or played too much due to injuries, that are driving the Yankees’ into a high number of twin killings at bat. Together, Cody Ransom, Xavier Nady, Kevin Cash, Angel Berroa, Jose Molina, and Francisco Cervelli have hit into 11 double plays in 44 chances, or 45 percent. There’s not much that Joe Girardi can do to address the situation except not play those guys — he already calls as many or more hit-and-run plays as any manager in the game. Unfortunately, he hasn’t always had the choice not to play them, and the existence or continuation of Ransom, Cash, Berroa, and Molina as Yankees was the general manager’s call — but now we’re away from talking about the double play and once more in the realm of depth, so never mind.

In the short term, it’s little consolation that the Yankees blew a chance to take first place in part because of missed offensive opportunities, but at least you can be sure that it was a bit of a poorly timed fluke on the part of two of the three. There’s also an “on the other hand,” which is that when Jorge Posada comes back the team’s double play rate will actually pick up, because Posada runs like the 37-year-old catcher he is. Fortunately, Posada does other things with the bat that more than make up it. You can’t say that about the 11-for-44ers above.  

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Orioles 7, Blue Jays 2: Just over 10,000 showed up at Camden Yards to see the Orioles deal the Jays their eighth straight loss. During the streak, Jays batters are hitting .251/.306/.331, which is very bad but isn’t too different from what Padres hitters did during their recent winning streak. Of course, the Padres had great pitching, whereas the Jays have allowed nearly six runs a game. No doubt you’ve heard that Matt Wieters finally comes up on Friday. With Wieters, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis the Orioles are finally changing, and none too soon… I’ll talk more about Wednesday’s game in our next entry, but it should be noted that the Jays dropped their ninth straight to the Orioles in daytime action, the pen being unable to follow up Roy Halladay’s strong start. The Jays are now just four games over .500 and the division is wide open.

Mets 6, Nationals 1: The Nats DFA’d Daniel Cabrera. As Bill Ladson reported at MLB.com, GM Mike Rizzo said, “I looked at the execution of the performance and it wasn’t up to par. I was tired of watching it.” You have to appreciate a candid GM. Among other things, this should inoculate the Yankees from having to face the spectacularly tedious Mr. Cabrera during interleague play (as Bob Uecker said in “Major League,” “Ball three… Ball four… Ball eight…”). Adam Dunn homered again… Just sayin’. Another home run for Gary Sheffield, and he’s now batting .291/.430/.535. Talk about getting something for nothing, and a needed something now that the Mets are in the position of having to play 20-year-old prospect Fernando Martinez, who hasn’t actually looked very prospect-y in years.

Reds 6, Astros 4:
Another three-hit night for Miguel Tejada, but that was most of the fun as Roy Oswalt is no longer the lucky rabbit of yore. Among the most unexpected events in baseball this season: a Laynce Nix renaissance in left field for the Reds, which is kind of like a Rod Stewart renaissance taking over for the late Joe Strummer in a Clash reunion tour. It’s just not something you’d ever think about.

pavano_052709.jpgIndians 5, Rays 1: Can’t tell a lie — Carl Pavano killed. Four Indians hit home runs, three of which probably shouldn’t have been in the lineup, but sometimes you win with your worst foot forward. Both of these clubs lost key players yesterday, with Jason Bartlett hitting the DL with a sprained ankle, and Grady Sizemore may take a seat with a left elbow that’s feeling poorly. The Indians shuffled Matt LaPorta off the roster to get another center fielder up to the bigs, so my criticism of them yesterday was in error.

Phillies 5, Marlins 3:
The much-denigrated (at least by me) Joe Blanton had one of the best starts of his career, shutting out the Marlins for seven frames, striking out 11. That has far more to do with the Marlins with Blanton, as their defining characteristic as an offense is the strikeout. Make that double if Hanley Ramirez’s groin sidelines him for more than 30 seconds.

Cubs 6, Pirates 1: Cut short by rain, and you can expect that Lou Piniella danced in it, maybe more like Roger Daltrey closing out “Quadrophenia” than Gene Kelly — this win got the team that was going to end the 100-year-old dry spell to the break-even point. Elements of the Cubs that haven’t disappointed this year: Kosuke Fukudome, Ted Lilly, Johnny Evers. Evers in particular has done exactly what was expected of him.

Cardinals 8, Brewers 1: The Cards are pitching at about 20 percent above league average, the mark of not only a good pitching team, but a staff on the verge of having a great season. Whether the Cards can improve that much more I don’t know, but in this division they might not have to. Extra-credit to Adam Wainwright for his solo home run, thereby batting in as many runs as he allowed in seven innings.

Twins 5, Red Sox 2: One of the season’s great flukes — Nick Blackburn striking out seven Red Sox. Blackburn never strikes out seven anybodies. Jacoby Ellsbury has a 21-game hitting streak going, during which he’s batting .333/.366/.417. During the streak, he’s stolen 10 bases, been caught four times, and has driven in four runs.

Royals
6, Tigers 1:
How does Jose Guillen have a .412 OBP? Not “how”– that’s like asking where babies come from–I mean, “Why?” …KC shortstops, principally Mike Aviles (now on the DL) are hitting .183/.214/.250 this year. With anything from the position, they might be leading the division right now. It also hurts that David DeJesus is having the worst season of his career. Haven’t mentioned another fine Zack Greinke start, and I won’t, except to say that for some, “potential” is a curse. It’s grand to see someone survive it.

Dodgers 7, Rockies 1:
And there was much gnashing of teeth in Denver given the club’s .400 winning percentage, or maybe it was just losing to Eric Milton (and congratulations to the former Yankees’ draftee for making it back). Andre Ethier in May: .190/.298/.266, following up a .306/.423/.553. Shades of Melky ’08! That’s not to suggest that Ethier won’t be back, but that Melky should have been, or maybe that we just don’t know what turns a hitter on or off–the recipe is probably something like one-third mental, one-third physical, and one-third luck (sprinkle lightly with shredded cheese, serve over pasta).

Diamondbacks 6, Padres 5: Thus endeth the Padres’ winning streak, as Max Scherzer strikes out 10 in seven innings…  Mark Reynolds is just off of last year’s 204-strikeout pace; he’d finish with 202 in the same number of at-bats. Scherzer is only 2-7 in his brief major league career, but his ERA is 3.21, and he’s K’d 119 in 106.2 innings. Of the current roster, Scherzer and Justin Upton will be part of the next great ‘Backs team, but you can’t be certain of anyone else. At .173/.220/.313, Chris Young has to be one of the biggest failures to launch in recent baseball history, a kid who came up with all the tools but didn’t develop a centimeter from where he started.

White Sox 4, Angels 2:
Big day for the Nix family, as Jayson hit two home runs to go with Laynce’s one. What is it with that family and the letter “y?” Big Scrabble fans? Bart Colon’s win pushed his quality start percentage up to 33 percent, still well below average… Bobby Abreu hit his first home run of the season.

Athletics 4, Mariners 3: The A’s did all their scoring in one frame, Jason Giambi driving in two runs on a single as the Seattle pen tossed away six shutout innings from Jarrod Washburn. With Kenji Johjima off for a long stay on the DL, the M’s didn’t call up Jeff Clement, batting .309/.382/.533 at Triple-A Tacoma. The guy has his limitations — he’s an offensive catcher with a big swing — but given that the M’s are by far the worst offensive club on the circuit , you’d think they would go for a little more offense. Oddly, for a team that can’t hit, the Mariners have tried the fewest hitters in the American League. They’re standing pat, even though their lineup looks a lot like that of the ’54 Pirates.

Giants 4, Braves 0: And nothing to say about it except, “Lincecum!” Also, every time I load up the news on the Internet, there’s something about “Jon and Kate.” I have not the foggiest who they are, and don’t think I’m going to try to find out. Jon, Kate, Bread, Circuses — there are bigger fish to fry, like baseball (?).

Jorge to the shelf

…Or so it’s being reported. See the previous entry for more reaction, something akin to outright disgruntlement. The key here is how long Jorge Posada will be out. If it’s going to be more than a month, Mr. Cashman had best start shopping, and not in the superannuated Pudge Rodriguez aisle of Catcher-Mart either.

Actually, I take that back. Even if Posada is out only the minimum 15 days, the Yankees need to find a backstop who can hit at something close to league-average rates. Given Posada’s age, the chance of another injury is high, this year and next year and for however long his career lasts. It’s nice that the Yankees have Yogi Berra, but they need an Elston Howard to get by as well, or at least a Charlie Silvera. They don’t have that, and it was an obvious need — we talked about it in this space all winter.

I just want to repeat something I wrote this morning, because I see in the comments for that entry someone talking about Jose Molina as the awesomest backup of all-time or somesuch thing. Not so much. There’s no arguing he’s a good defender and very tough for opponents to run on, but he just doesn’t reach base enough to play with any regularity. Reaching base is the basis of offense — a team can’t score runs if the hitters don’t reach base. Molina’s career OBP is .277. It is, no matter how you slice it, dice it, adjust it, the 11th-worst OBP of the last 25 years.

Remember Alvaro Espinoza and how little he hit? He reached base more often. Alfredo Griffin once took four walks in a full season of play. He reached base more often. Rey Ordonez’s bat was the joke of the league when he played with the Mets. He reached base more often. You know how my YES colleague John Flaherty likes to make fun of his offensive abilities during many broadcasts? He reached base more often. If you reduce the population solely to catchers, Molina has the sixth-lowest OBP of the last 25 years.

Giving a hitter of this quality anything like regular playing time is extremely damaging regardless of his defense, because the offensive losses outweigh the defensive gains. If the Yankees are going to reap the benefits of having Posada, his bat, they’re going to have to find a better way of dealing with the costs of having Posada, occasional, perhaps lengthy, unavailability.

…The Yankees called up Frankie Cervelli. He seems spectacularly unlikely to hit, but might actually get on base more often than Molina. Yes, this is faint praise.

I’VE SUGGESTED THIS BEFORE…
The Diamondbacks aren’t going anywhere, their bullpen is egregious, and they don’t seem to have much use for 25-year-old backstop Miguel Montero, a career .239/.310/.412 hitter to this point. In 444 career at bats he’s hit 24 doubles and 17 home runs. He’s walked 44 times and has struck out 95 times. In the minors through 2006, he batted .291/.359/.467. He’s not the next Bill Dickey by any means, but he’s overqualified to be a pure reserve and is underappreciated by his current franchise. There might be a match there if the Yankees are willing to part with a pitcher or two. Just sayin’. 

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.