Tagged: Phil Coke

Amending the Joba Rules

It’s more than one game, though. Since we’ve been arguing about Jorge Posada all week, I thought I would point out that his detractors got his wish, with the old man taking a ball off the finger and going out of the lineup for a few days. With Thursday’s loss, the team record in Molina’s starts dropped to 13-14. Having fun yet? Maybe the next time Bob Geren brings the A’s by, he can suit up and spend the series putting up a .280 on-base percentage for the folks who miss the quiet Yankees games of the early 1990s. You know–the pro-Molina guys.

Peter Abraham reports that Joba Chamberlain will now pitch every five games. There is something to be said for not making things up as you go along, especially when dealing with a kid pitcher who probably lacks the perspective that the Yankees have about injuries. He just wants to win some ballgames, get established, make some millions. Maybe he should care more about innings limits, but it’s hard to when you have a strong desire to do something, the way you might linger of a project, a book, or a TV show when you should really quit and go to bed; the way some have trouble turning down a slab of chocolate cake when they know they really shouldn’t eat it (yes, the previous two examples describe me). Consequences or always for another day. If the Yankees have gotten bad results from putting Joba on an innings diet, it is because they failed to make it clear to him at the outset what he’d be doing and when, and by “outset” what is meant is “spring training.” It is clear that the erratic nature of the Rules left Chamberlain confused and under pressure as well as disrupted him mechanically. He appeared to pitch as if he knew this would be his only chance for the next seven to ten days.

As I have pointed out in the past, the worst thing about this second iteration of the Rules is that they were counterproductive. Preventing pitcher injuries is in no way a science. There’s a lot of guesswork, and in the end, it is likely that the only thing that can prevent pitching injuries is not pitching. The best teams can do is avoid the obviously dangerous stuff. That’s what the Yankees are trying to achieve by controlling Chamberlain’s innings. Yet, another danger, and perhaps a more important one than innings, is that of long, high-pitch innings. The more time off Joba had, the wilder he got. The wilder he got, the more pitches he threw. The total for the entire game might be the same, but one or two innings would suffer from a balloon effect. It is those innings, where pitch after pitch after pitch is thrown, that carry the highest risk of injury.

The latest change would seem to carry the best chances of good results for everyone except Yankees relievers. Chamberlain will start in his rotation spot, but will have his pitches limited and his appearances truncated. Given a fairly solid lock on a postseason berth, team goals shouldn’t be compromised too badly, certainly not any more than they have been by putting Sergio Mitre in the rotation.

The Yankees’ primary bullpen lefty has now allowed six home runs to left-handed hitters this year. Though left-handers are hitting only .209 against him with a .235 OBP, they’re also averaging a home run every 18 at-bats, which is a 33-homer pace over 600 at-bats. Coke might seem too dangerous to use in a key situation, but should we discount some of the home runs by left-handed hitters because they get to take aim at Yankee Stadium’s short right field? It’s hard to say. Three of the six homers have been shots to right field at home. Would they have gone out of the old park? We can’t know for sure. The one thing we can say is that Coke gets very few groundballs. In his brief but effective debut last year, he was much better at keeping the ball down. This year, he’s deep in negative territory when it comes to groundball/flyball ratio. If he’s going to succeed in a late-inning role, be it at Yankee Stadium II or anywhere else (but especially there), a change in style is going to be necessary.

                  W-L  RS/G  RA/G  AVG   OBP   SLG  AB/HR  SB  CS  HR/9 BB/9  K/9
White Sox  8-12 4.6    4.9    .251   .337  .412  28       14  2    1.4    3.0    7.2
Yankees    14-6  6.1    4.6    .296   .362  .506  20        9   3    1.2    3.7    9.0

The Red Sox took three of four, and given that the Yankees lost three of four in Chicago, they owe the Pale House some of the same treatment… The Yankees’ runs/game numbers are distorted by the 20 they put up in Boston. Discount that game, replace it with a 21st game, August 5 at Toronto, and they have averaged 5.5 runs per game, still very good… Since his perfect game, Mark Buehrle has gone 0-4 with a 6.21 ERA in six starts. That includes eight shutout innings against Seattle (a 1-0 loss for the White Sox), so you can see how miserable he’s been in the other five games… That Alex Rios pickup hasn’t really worked out so far, with the outfielder hitting only .200 in 12 games. White Sox center fielders have batted .223/.276/.307 on the season, which is a lot like not having a center fielder at all… Gordon Beckham, a Rookie of the Year candidate, has been ice cold, with only eight hits in his last 12 games (.170)… An overly right-handed ballclub, with over 60% of plate appearances going to northpaws, the Sox shouldn’t be able to take too great an advantage of Yankee Stadium II.

I’m very happy my friend and colleague Jonah Keri is still alive.

Responsibility must be with Burnett

Friday was a sort of good Yankees day (great hitting, no pitching) and Saturday was a very bad Yankees day, which sounds like some kind of weird children’s story: “Jorge Posada and the Rumpy Grumpy Starting Pitcher.”

It does seem like Posada has had more than his share of disagreements with his starters this year, but in many ways there is a culture clash at work with the Yankees in a minor key way. The team has a new pitching staff. Few of the current pitchers — CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, David Robertson, Chad Gaudin, Damaso Marte, and Sergio Mitre (that is, just about everyone except Andy Pettitte and Brian Bruney) — have much experience being Yankees and throwing to Posada. The veterans among them have their own way of doing things. The rookies may be headstrong or timid. Posada, one senses (at least from trying to talk with him in the clubhouse), may not be the most diplomatic guy in the world. You can see how this could lead to conflict on those days when defeat wants to be an orphan. Suddenly it’s not what the pitcher threw, but what the catcher called.

When it comes to an established veteran like Burnett, the final responsibility must be with him. He certainly has the standing on the Yankees to call his own game. It’s not important that he disagrees with Posada, only that he either shake Posada off until they come to an agreement (that is, doing it Burnett’s way) or Burnett throws Posada’s selection with confidence. An in-between approach — resignedly throwing Posada’s pitch — can lead to disaster, apparently what happened yesterday.

Perhaps, though, we need not delve that far to find the source of Saturday’s discord. Burnett has rarely been a consistent pitcher. There are days his control just doesn’t show up for work, one of the reasons he currently leads the American League in walks issued. This has been a career-long problem for Burnett, and blaming his catcher would be unfair given just how many catchers have received his pitches on days like Saturday. Note that Burnett did not blame Posada. We shouldn’t either.

If you average Nick Swisher’s 2008 road stats with his 2009 home stats, you get .198/.343/.309. Miserable. If you put last year’s home stats with this year’s road stats, you get .263/.363/.552. Brilliant. I have no further comment, except to say that if the fellow could just get his concentration down in both places, he could have a 40-homer season. Of course, that he hasn’t is why he was available to the Yankees for Wilson Betamax. As with Burnett’s occasional wild days, Swisher’s oddly bifurcated production represent the invisible hand of human psychology at work on the game. 

Some Yankees math

The Yankees are now 69-42, which puts them on a pace for 101 wins. Let’s say the Yankees maintain that pace — they don’t get better and they don’t get worse. The Red Sox would need to win 102 games to take the division title. Given their present record of 62-48, the Red Sox would need to win 40 of their remaining 52 games, or 77 percent. That’s equivalent to winning 125 games over a full season.

While not impossible, it’s also not likely. Consider an alternative scenario, one in which the Yankees somehow have a rough go of it the rest of the way and play a game under .500 for the remainder of the schedule. In that case, the Yankees would finish at 94-68. To reach 95 wins, the Red Sox would need to go 33-19. That’s a .635 winning percentage, in the realm of possibility, but it still requires Boston to spend one third of the season playing as if they were a 103-win team. Obviously, for any team behind the Red Sox, such as the Rays, to displace the Yankees, the road is that much harder.

In short: While you can never take anything for granted, this sweep has put the Yankees in a very, very good place.

Taking the Yankees’ initial 0-8 against the Red Sox out of the equation, New York is 69-34 (.670), and Boston is 54-48 (.529). Those wins by the Red Sox were legitimate, but now seem like a fluke event. The record the rest of the way is simply not comparable. The 2009 Yankees could be a team we will remember. However, much remains to be done. As I pointed out yesterday, the Yankees have had “special” teams in recent years that didn’t bring him any rings. The 2002, 2003, and 2004 Yankees all won over 100 games and were, respectively, bounced out of the first round of the playoffs by the Angels team they can’t seem to beat, mismanaged to a loss in the World Series, and the victims of a historic reversal of fortune against the Red Sox in the ’04 ALCS. The intensity that the Yankees showed in this series, particularly on the pitching side, has to carry over or the events of the past weekend will end up as little more than a footnote.

Like all of you, I was initially shocked and appalled at Phil “Home Run” Coke pitching to right-handed batters in the eighth inning, and doubly appalled when premonitions of doom proved to be highly accurate. I’m not going to criticize the manager for that call, not with too much conviction, anyway. For obvious reasons, Joe Girardi had not let the world know that the bullpen was mostly off-limits. I will say that if Girardi really has an ironclad aversion to using pitchers in three consecutive games (a quick look at the record shows that Joe Borowski pitched in four straight games in August 2006 and pitched in three straight games on one other occasion that year; Matt Herges also did so once. Jose Veras appeared in three straight games without an off-day twice last August, and Damaso Marte pitched in four straight games during the same period) then his usage of Hughes for one out in each of the previous two games was shortsighted.

Today will bring more in the way of decisions and bullpen usage because Sergio Mitre is pitching, which is another way of saying that Chad Gaudin will be making his Yankees debut in the fourth or fifth inning. Mitre is 11-23 with a 5.48 ERA in his career, and he’s been lambasted this season. It’s not clear why the Yankees are persevering with him, especially since Brian Cashman has secured the team a better alternative in Gaudin. If the postseason is truly assured, or at least likely, the fifth starter is now auditioning for a role in the bullpen. Try to imagine the circumstances in which Girardi would call Mitre in during a playoff game. No, I can’t think of one either.

The Blue Jays are 12-19 since the end of June. The Yankees will miss Roy Halladay in this series, which means they have a more than fair chance to keep their winning streak alive. That’s if they don’t throw it away on one more Mitre adventure. The only way the club can lose now is to take things for granted, and pitching Mitre is doing just that.

The around (and about)

nathan_250_051509.jpgTwins 6, Tigers 5: It has to be special for the Tigers when Justin Verlander strikes out 13 in 6.1 innings and they still lose. The Yankees get to face a Twins team emboldened by a dramatic sweep of their divisional rivals, including a walk-off grand slam on Wednesday and the explosive uprising against Verlander on Thursday. The good news is that the three pitchers the Yankees get, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey, have all been beatable this year, so while the Twins have a number of hot hitters right now, especially Joe Mauer, on the rampage since he finally got healthy, they may be able to beat these fellows by putting the ball in play (walks are a different matter — Blackburn and Slowey don’t do walks). It would also be good for the Yankees if Phil Coke is healthy, because some spot southpaw relief against Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel could go a long way in this series. Could Zach Kroenke be helpful, maybe as a court of last resort?

Brewers 5, Marlins 3: Almost unnoticed, the Marlins have dropped a game under .500. I’m still waiting for a word or two from some colleagues who prematurely jumped onto the fish cart. Nothing wrong with the Marlins that surrounding Hanley Ramirez with a real team wouldn’t solve… Trevor Hoffman still hasn’t allowed a run, has eight saves. It’s just nine innings, but it’s always good to see an older Hall of Famer do well.

Dodgers 5, Phillies 3: Russell Martin is 17-for-36 this month. It’s pretty much all singles, but every little bit helps when your Manny has gone… The Phillies lost, but the game held some very glad tidings for them, as they got a terrific start from Cole Hamels. If they’re going to win, he has to be healthy and at the top of his game… Who turned off Chase Utley? He’s having Robby Cano’s May.

Rangers 3, Mariners 2: Matt Harrison has had four solid starts in a row, including consecutive complete game wins. In his last 30 innings, he’s struck out just 18, which is a problem, but he’s also walked two, which isn’t. Chris Davis hit a walk-off shot off of Brandon Morrow (Morrow the closer isn’t working out, and Morrow the starter isn’t going to happen, that leaves Morrow… the deep-sea explorer? ), and even if he does strike out 210 times this year, we all gave up on him too early.

Cubs 11, Padres 3: It’s just a reflection of how bad the Padres are, but it’s still somehow impressive that the Cubs can be reduced to playing their B team (Soriano, Theriot, Fukudome, Hoffpauir, Soto, Reed Johnson, Scales, Miles) and yet still were able to score 11 runs. Ten walks in a regulation game will help with that. Meanwhile, Adrian Gonzalez hit his 14 home run, Kyle Blanks waits in the minors, and which contender needs a first baseman badly enough that they would restart the Padres in exchange for one? If the Giants went for it, they could sure make things tough on the Dodgers…

Astros 5, Rockies 3: In fairness to Ed Wade and his various man-crushes, I’m obligated to report that Michael Bourn is currently batting .317/.382/.439. If that’s not just dumb luck, then someone should give hitting coach Sean Berry a Man of the Year award. Of course, the same could be said for the Yankees and Melky Cabrera. Note also Wandy Rodriguez’s terrific start (4-2, 1.90 ERA, 48 strikeouts in 52 innings) and that LaTroy Hawkins just picked up his fifth save. Perhaps the Yankees should have been more patient.

Angels 5, Red Sox 4: Sure it was a 12-inning game, but one so rarely sees a hitter go 0-for-7 and leave 12 runners on base. That the hitter in question was David Ortiz has to be disturbing for the Royal Rooters. The Red Sox are in a delicate place, but at some point they’re going to have to shuffle things around. It would no doubt be easier if Kevin Youkilis was healthy, and perhaps Ortiz will get that much longer to turn things around. Papi is an all-time team great, but even team greats can’t stick through .208/.318/.300… The Angels got Ervin Santana back, giving them another weapon towards making a run at this very soft division.

Cardinals 5, Pirates 1: The Pirates score once on 12 hits, a double, a triple, and three walks. They hit into three double plays and were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Scary Fly Ball Guy Jeff Karstens gave up a Scary Fly Ball to Colby Rasmus and that was decisive. The Pirates are now six games under .500. All credit to the oversized Cardinals bullpen, which shut down the opposition after starter Mitch Boggs was pulled in the fifth.

Indians 11, Rays 7: Three of the runs were unearned, but make no mistake, James Shields was pounded, as were those famed explorers Nelson & Balfour. There’s still a run in the Rays, but lately it’s harder to believe that it’s coming…. Victor Martinez’s 4-for-5 raised his average to .400. It seems like the odd day at first base has been liberating for him. Note the Indians still playing around with their defensive alignment. Would have been nice to have gotten this sorted out during spring training, when everyone was asking, “Hey, Eric, when are you going to get around to sorting this out?”

Orioles 9, Royals 5: All I can think of just now is, “Matt Wieters is batting .280/.368/.500 in May.” Oh, and Kyle Farnsworth pitched a scoreless inning of relief down by four runs.

Mets 7, Giants 4: A roller coaster ride of a game in which the Mets stole approximately 46 bases (are they trying to show up ol’ Bengie Molina?) but still finished the game chasing after their own bullpen, just like old times. David Wright stole four bases, continuing his unexpected transformation from Mike Schmidt to Paul Molitor. Sure, he’s been caught stealing in six of 15 attempts, but in at least one of those the umpire really blew the call, so it’s all working out okay. Really! My XM receiver ran out of juice in the car today, so I spent some time listening to sports talk radio for the first time in awhile. Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar David Wright. It’s unfortunate that he’s signed through 2012 or 2013 (the latter season a team option), because I feel for player and fans alike that they won’t be rid of each other any time soon.