Results tagged ‘ Melky Cabrera ’

To the mats with reader comments

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_062409.jpg

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
Baseball Prospectus.

Bombers hitting into double plays too often

BY GEORGE
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.

angel_062409.jpgIn 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_062409.jpgRobinson 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.

PARENTHETICALLY, A-ROD

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.  

The trouble with offense … and A-Rod

SO, WHAT HAVE WE GOT?
During the offseason, I frequently argued that though the Yankees had their attention focused overwhelmingly on pitching, the offense might prove to be a bigger problem. Then they signed Mark Teixeira, and I promptly shut up. It seems odd to talk about a team that has averaged more than five runs a game as having offensive deficits to make up, but the truth is that the particular construction of the Yankees means that it’s still a realistic possibility. The Yankees have to guard against being fooled by the numbers they are seeing, many of them distortions caused by their generous new home park. To this point in the season, certain aging Yankees would seem to have found the Fountain of Youth. What they’ve really discovered is a beautifully appointed new ballpark with wide concourses, laptops in the lockers, and a loving right-field power alley.

The home/road splits are damning: Derek Jeter, .295/.364/.381 with two home runs in 239 at-bats. Melky Cabrera, .278/.329/.354 with one home run in 79 at-bats. Johnny Damon, .260/.317/.449 with four home runs in 127 at-bats. Jorge Posada, .253/.348/.440 with three home runs in 75 at-bats. These numbers aren’t terrible, but they’re more realistic than what the players have done at home, more in line with what the players have done in the recent past and what we might have projected them to do this year.

arod250_062209.jpgThe Yankees are a .500 team on the road so far this season. Their road production has been, overall, quite good, given that Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui have done the bulk of their hitting while traveling. Teixeira has also done his part. Still, this hasn’t been enough to give the team the same explosiveness that it has had in the Bronx, especially when you throw in Alex Rodriguez’s post-surgical problems. (Likely unrelated to his staying up late. Though I’m sure we all want to jump on Rodriguez for his latest transgression, I’m pretty sure that sitting on a barstool next to Kate Hudson doesn’t stress his hip as much as playing does, which was more the point of his “fatigue” problems than his lack of sleep, dig?)  

Insofar as winning the division goes, this bifurcation would present less of a problem if the Yankees had won more than 60 percent of their games at home. The 1987 Minnesota Twins showed that in a soft division you could be a hundred-loss team on the road if you were a 100-win team at home. The Yankees are a few games off the latter pace. Say they were just a few games better in their own park, 25-10, instead of 21-14. That’s asking a lot of the Yankees, but we’re in the land of make-believe just now, so stay with me. Were the Yankees to maintain that kind of pace at home while staying around .500 on the road, they would finish the season with a record of somewhere around 99-63, and be in very good shape to win the Wild Card if not the division. They may win the Wild Card anyway, but you can’t take anything for granted.

There is something to be said for players that can take advantage of the features of your home park. Not every Yankee has popped a home run every 13 at-bats at home, as Damon has. The problem is that the park can’t discriminate. The Yankees have outscored their opponents by just 13 runs at home. Over time, that gap may narrow, perhaps because of the park, or maybe because Brett Tomko is pitching. Or Brett Tomko is pitching in the park. The players who have reaped the extra support might also regress, simply through age, fatigue (to use a dangerous word), injury, or changing weather patterns or other effects of the new park we can’t yet foresee.

In June, the Yankees are batting .247/.342/.424, roughly a league mark. The pitchers have been fine. June’s ERA is 3.85, actually the team’s best of the season. June’s starters have an ERA of 4.40, above-average for the league, and the transformed, Veras-free bullpen has an ERA of 2.87. Assuming that CC Sabathia isn’t hurt in any long-term-kind-of way, the pitching staff may well have achieved stability. It is the offense that should now be the source of worry. The lesson for the Yankees is clearly that if opportunities to upgrade the offense present themselves, any chance to replace a middling 35-year-old bat, they have to take it. If finances mitigate against such a move, that’s one thing, but sentimentality or the belief that Melky Cabrera (injured shoulder or not) is going to achieve consistency or Hideki Matsui is going to turn back the clock need to be ignored.

And most of all, perhaps more than anything else, a day-in, day-out A-Rod substitute must be found. Applicant should be able to out-hit Angel Berroa and outfield both he and the less-than-limber Rodriguez. Rodriguez could struggle all season, even if he takes a vow of celibacy. Again, the Yankees don’t want to take anything for granted.

A pinstriped win, no matter what

jorge_250.jpg

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
WORD

Remember Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell. Better by far to
give Mark Melancon a long look before dealing the farm for a Jose Veras
replacement.


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
ABOUT)

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.

 
Padres 8,
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
come down).

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
13.83.

 
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
weeks.  

 
MORE FROM ME
Wholesome
Reading

continues to be wholesomely updated with new entries, and I’m about to start an
argument with a commenter. Warning: politics!

Walk-offs: Transformative or transient?

damon_250.jpgJOHNNY DAMON ARMY VS. THE WINKIE GUARD
It’s very difficult to tell when an event you’re witnessing is a matter of luck or true talent. The Yankees are now 6-2 in one-run games, baseball’s best record in such games. This record, propelled by a series of last-minute, walk-off wins, has propelled a five-game winning streak. In the process, the Yankees have been transformed from a rather flat-looking 15-17 team into an electric 20-17 club that seems a good threat to surge to the top of the division. However, it is not certain if what we’ve seen was truly a transformative moment or just a transient moment.

As Bryan Hoch reported at MLB.com, the last time the Yankees made walk-off hits in three consecutive games was late August, 1972, and the last time they had three consecutive walk-off wins against the same club was way back in 1931. You won’t find those years listed on the Bathroom Wall of Champions in right field at Yankee Stadium II–the 1972 club was a mediocre outfit that went 79-76, brought down by weak pitching. The 1931 club boasted a spectacular offense (Ruth, Gehrig, Dickey–you know, those guys) and won 94 games but finished 13 games behind an Athletics club that had, relative to its league, one of the best pitching staffs of all time. In the long run, the big walk-offs did not prove to be steps on the way to a championship, but merely trivia for us to discover at moments such as this one. From our vantage point in the midst of the battle, we can’t know, won’t know until the end of the season, which we’re looking at now, harbinger or happenstance.

Some will be tempted to grab hold of these moments as evidence of superior character, fortitude, dedication, conviction on the part of the Yankees or the specific players attached to them. The presence of Alex Rodriguez on the last will probably suppress the urge on the part of some, but they’ll bend the rules this once while also handing out Medals of Courage to Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon and the Cowardly Lion. “What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk?” Damon asks hopefully.

Those that want to take the cosmic dice roll as a prism through which to view character are welcome to do so, and maybe once in awhile they’ll even see something that’s worth talking about. However, they would be wise not to place any bets on outcomes. The very rarity of these events–the vast majority of the time, the team that goes to the bottom of the ninth losing takes a loss–argues strongly that the last three days are not evidence that the Yankees have turned a corner. While it would be unfair to deprive Damon, Cabrera, and A-Rod credit for their timely hitting, especially Damon, who has been a monster in the clutch (and has also taken to YS II like he thought it was the House that Damon Built), but given similar chances if the next ten series the Yankees play, it’s unlikely that they’ll repeat the feat even once.

We see luck at work on a broader scale when looking at team records over the course of a full season. In a given season, a team’s record in one-run games does not carry over to the next year. Balls drop in on a one-time basis. The wind blows out when you need it only now and again. Now, it does seem to be true that sometimes the wind favors a particular team (fortune favoring the foolish, as Shakespeare wrote) for an unlikely span of time, even the length of a season. Maybe the Yankees have that kind of luck going for them this year, but judging by their lack of ability to deliver key hits before this recent surge, that seems to be asking a lot.

What really jumps out about the last five games after all the drama is pushed aside is the performance of the pitching staff. Its performance was only superficially good. In the 48 innings spanning those give games, the Yankees have allowed just 14 runs, less than three a game. That’s seemingly spectacular, given both the league environment and the performance of the staff to that point in the season. However, there is, here’s that word again, a lot of luck in all of that run prevention. The Yankees walked 32 batters in those 48 innings, six per nine innings, the rate rising to 6.6 over the weekend against the Twins. This is nothing new–the Yankees lead the league in walks allowed and in walks per nine innings (4.3). Given that they are also allowing an average number of hits per nine innings and the second-highest rate of home runs allowed per nine innings, all of these baserunners are more often than not going to translate into big numbers for the opposition. If that didn’t happen against the Twins on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, well, the Twins are not much more than an average offensive team. After Justin Morneau, Jose Mauer, and Jason Kubel, there’s a lot of dross in the their lineup.

Similarly, over the last five games the offense has scored five runs a game. Yes, the hits have been well timed and have included a ton of extra bases, among them four triples and eight home runs, but this is exactly a league-average mark. Give the Yankees an extra bump for facing one of the league’s two best pitching staffs in Toronto in two of those games and you still don’t have cause to rate the lineup as any better than it is.

This entry is not meant to rain on anyone’s parade, especially since for Yankees fans the last three games were no doubt orgasmically exciting. Nothing can take away from that. Nor should the enthusiasm and optimism generated by the current five-game winning streak be taken for granted. It should merely be noted that that the Yankees have miles to go before we can view these events as evidence that the team is ready to pass the Red Sox and Blue Jays. While some will want to call it proof of talent and others character, it’s possible, as Cole Porter wrote, that it was one of those bells that now and then rings–just one of those things.

Battered Yanks seek win vs. Richmond

halladay250_051309.jpgOK, 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. 

The Pinstriped Bible — LIVE from the Bronx

andybiblepinstriped09.jpgMORE 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.

CRACK

Silence.
Silence.
Silence.

CRACK

Silence.
Silence.
Silence.

CRACK

It must have been pure heaven.

swisher_pblog_050609.jpgAs 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 madness

melky200_042309.jpgLOGICNESS
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.

sabathia250_042309.jpgSABATHIA
… 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.”

Yankee Stadium II: The Sequel

stadium300_041709.jpgQUICK FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Today I’m making my first trip to the new Yankee Stadium. I opted to give Opening Day a pass: I’m not much for crowds to begin with, so heaping an extra helping of humans on top of the throngs that are normally here just seemed like a bad idea. Part of this reluctance springs from my partial blindness — it’s very difficult to navigate through crowds when you can’t see half of them coming. Intriguingly, when you can’t see people coming, they act like they can’t see you coming. Not for the first time, Douglas Adams was right. I also figured that nothing worked the first day at Disneyland, so I’d give the Pinstriped Magic Kingdom a day to shake the bugs out.  

I’m skipping around the page as I write these words, so it will be hard for me to construct a strict chronology, but just so you get a sense of the action, at this moment in time the Indians are batting in the top of the fourth and Joba Chamberlain, in imitation of CC Sabathia on Thursday, is trying to burn through his entire allotment of pitches in less than five innings. He’s already over 70, thanks to four walks and four strikeouts. That means that among my first-time experiences in the new ballpark will be an early appearance by the Yankees’ middle relievers. My cup runneth under.

The superficial impression given by Yankee Stadium II: The Sequel is that you’re in the old ballpark, albeit a version that has been cleaned up, reshaped a bit so that it’s more capacious, more comfortable. As wide as the new concourses are, it’s still not easy to thread the crowds (as per the above, if it were easy, I would know), but the flow of traffic is still far superior to the cramped cattle chutes of the old ballpark, and thanks to the openness of the design, the air is actually breathable. In the old ballpark, if you were exiting the stands after a long, hot afternoon at the ballpark and happened to get behind some socially untrained fellow who had been stewing out there with you, albeit without the aid of deodorant (roughly 10 percent of the crowd at any game, it seems), your hair might fall out before you were able to escape. That should be less of a problem now.

I pause here to note that Melky Cabrera just crushed a ball to right field, the Yankees’ third shot of the game in that direction. The ball seems to really take off when hit in the air that way, but I can’t tell if that’s an artifact of the new park or because the Yankees are legitimately crushing them.

The similarity of YS II to the old ballpark — meet the new stadium, same as the old stadium — still seems like a missed opportunity. The original Yankee Stadium helped bring ballparks and sporting events into the modern era. YS II could have reinvented the stadium for the 21st century in the same way. The new building is nice enough, but it’s not groundbreaking and new in the way it could have been, and given what it cost, probably should have been.  

I pause again to register a complaint. There have been eight walks and more than 200 pitches in this game, and it’s only the fifth inning. This is like watching Tommy Byrne face Steve Dalkowski. At this writing, the Yankees are trailing by two, and you can blame either Joba, Sabathia, or Joe Girardi. Chamberlain had no control today, and after he labored through the fourth inning, it seemed pretty clear that little would be gained by letting him come out for the fifth. I know that would be a quick hook, but Joba had already thrown a day’s worth of pitches, and in a compact amount of time. While the worries about Joba’s health, and pitch counts in general, are often overblown, there’s something to the idea that a pitcher throwing 100 pitches in five innings may be more of a strain than his throwing 100 pitches in seven innings. Unfortunately, Girardi was not inclined to make a move until he was forced to, and maybe, given the work of the bullpen lately, his reluctance is understandable.

The field does its best impression of the old park, but the stands seem to press in a bit more. Perhaps it’s the giant television in center field, Arthur C. Clarke’s monolith beaming stats, fan videos, and commercials into our apelike brains. Derek Jeter’s face flashes on the screen, two stories tall, and the urge is to scrape before the neon god. Though the upper deck is visibly withdrawn compared to its old, aggressive tilt, almost perpendicular to the field, the bowl seems cozy. That’s only when you look straight out to center or into the power alleys. The lower seats are further away from the action (and not nearly filled).

Robinson Cano just launched the Yankees’ fourth blast to right field. The ball soared out like Werner Von Braun had stuffed some solid rocket fuel into it. Again: Power, or park effect? In the time it took me to ask that question, we have seen a Melky groundout (helpless as always against a left-handed pitcher) and a rare Cody Ransom single. Every day, a new bit of history.

One thing I do enjoy like about the new location is that it actually sits next to human habitation, not just the elevated train tracks and various bars and souvenir shops. Unlike the old building, you can walk completely around the new park without running into a security checkpoint, and as you get around to the building’s rear you see trees and apartment buildings (which have clearly traded down from their old park setting). The stadium seems less an island now, and more a part of the neighborhood. There is also light when you arrive at the ballpark, something you didn’t get crossing under the tracks in front of the battleship gray of the old park.

Vinnie Chulk just chulked the ball down the right field line, allowing the Yankees to tie the game. The crowd roared, but as you have heard, YS II does seem to be a quieter park than its late uncle. Perhaps that’s because the lower dish is only partially filled, perhaps it’s the distant upper deck. The sound system is geared up to overcome a much higher level of crowd noise than seems to exist here.

In a development that I imagine will be of scant interest to most of you, thanks to the reduced territory behind home plate, the press box is even closer to the action than it used to be, and we have better dining facilities as well. Note to self: Do not sample press box pretzels until they’ve had at least five innings to warm up. I will share one special thrill with you, though, one of the reasons that I am blessed to have this job. When I entered the press box for the first time, I asked one of the Yankees media relations staffers to point me to the chair reserved for YES. He pointed to an older gentleman in a baseball cap. “He’s in your seat,” he said, “just ask him to move.” I approached the seat, and saw the man clearly for the first time: it was the great Roger Angell. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to ask Roger Angell to move anywhere. I took the seat next to him. We chatted throughout the game, comparing lists of top Cary Grant films (more about that last in my next entry).

One other note: It’s good that they got the retired numbers out where they can be viewed, but (1) they’re tiny and (2) they’re on a somewhat grubby tile wall, as if they grew in someone’s shower with the mildew. Guys, you’ve got to treat the history of this franchise with at least as much respect as you treat your advertisers, if not more.

As we go to the top of the eighth, the game is tied, 5-5, Cabrera having just popped out with two runners on. We can forgive this given that he had already homered in the game, but did he have to leave Ransom to lead off the next inning? Consumed with feelings of dread, I will sign off for now.

Upsetting fact: Yankees have had weak defense

jeterblog040209.jpgONE MORE QUICK NOTE ON JETERIAN DEFENSE
Last year, opposition batters put 4,351 balls in play against the Yankees. They turned 68 percent of them into outs, which is a low rate. Boston turned 70 percent of balls in play against them into outs. The Rays turned 71 percent of balls in play against them into outs. These differences may seem small, but over the course of a season they can make a difference in a pennant race. Had the Yankees caught balls at the rate that the Red Sox did, for example, they would have retired an additional 74 batters. Had they fielded them at the Rays’ rate, they would have put out an additional 122 batters. The Yankees only allowed 1,170 fly balls all season long, so you can’t blame the entire shortfall on Bobby Abreu letting balls drop at the base of the wall. Their rate of line drives allowed was actually on the low side. Only so many balls were pulled down the lines past Jason Giambi or Alex Rodriguez. No one is to blame, apparently, and yet the balls weren’t caught. This happens year after year — the Yankees don’t catch as many balls as the opposition does, but no one is to blame.

This isn’t an argument. This isn’t subjective. Weak Yankees defense is a fact. You can choose not to see it when you watch a game. In the end, though, you have to account for what actually happens in those games. If the fielders weren’t at fault, then what happened? Unexpected stadium tilt? The moons of Saturn get in their eyes?

WE KNOW A REMOTE FARM IN LINCOLNSHIRE WHERE MRS. BUCKLEY LIVES… EVERY JULY, PEAS GROW THERE
The moment the Marlins bagged on former Angels’ prospect Dallas McPherson, the 28-year-old who led the minors in home runs last year, his name was circulated as a potential A-Rod sub. McPherson clearly has left-handed power, and the Yankees can use all the power they can get this year. There are two problems: First, McPherson strikes out so much that he would have trouble maintaining a .300 on-base percentage in the majors. Second, his defense at third is suspect. I’ve been skeptical of Cody Ransom’s ability to hit for average as well, but he should be able to field the position and hit a couple of home runs of his own. I figure the added defense makes Ransom a better fit than McPherson, or at least makes the two a wash. Now, you can argue about McPherson being a better bench asset than Angel Berroa or Ramiro Pena, but until Rodriguez comes back you might be forced to actually play him at third base if Derek Jeter leaves a game early, requiring Ransom to slide over to short.

It just occurred to me, reading what I just wrote in the context of our first item, above, that the Yankees worry an awful lot about defense but get very little out it.

FLESH PEDDLERS
If there’s a market for Gary Sheffield’s services, there’s a market for Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady. One also wonders if the Phillies would like to adopt Melky Cabrera — now that Geoff Jenkins has been released, their only reserve outfielder is Matt Stairs. They have rookie John Mayberry on the 40-man as well, but like Stairs he seems to be strictly corner material. Former Yankee Chad Moeller is going to back up Gregg Zaun for the O’s, at least until Matt Wieters comes up. Henry Blanco is going to be the starting backstop for the Padres. Consider those two pieces of information and feel free to speculate about a possible Jose Molina trade market. Say the Yankees brought up Frankie Cervelli halfway through the season, and… but no.