Results tagged ‘ Yankees ’

Angels-Yanks: Head to head, Part I

MERRY-GO-ROUND
Angels-Dodgers. Angels-Phillies. Yankees-Dodgers. Yankees-Phillies. These are the World Series possibilities thanks to last night’s conclusion of the Phillies-Rockies series, a denouement hastened by Jim Tracy’s Night of the Living Dead decision to let Huston Street pitch to Ryan Howard with the game on the line, a devotion to the idea of the CLOSER so compulsive as to be akin to mental slavery. Howard hit .207/.298/.356 against lefties this year, .226/.310/.444 lifetime. Conversely, he’s a .305/.406/.661 career hitter against right-handers, a number likely to be elevated against Street, who has always had problems with lefties until this year (and there is good reason to believe that he was just lucky). Tracy had Joe Beimel heated up and ready to go, but because Street is his CLOSER he stuck with him and got exactly what should have expected to get. Way to go, Jim.

Before anyone jumps and asks if this means that, should there be a Yankees-Phillies World Series, Mariano Rivera should not be allowed to pitch to Howard, the answer is no, it does not mean that. Rivera’s cutter makes him very hard for left-handers to hit. Lefties are hitting .206/.256/.261 against him for his career, .182/.238/.273. He’s a full-service closer, and the normal rules do not apply.

THINGS WE NEVER SAW IN NEW YORK …
… Happened in last night’s game. First, Jason Giambi singled to the opposite field. He then scored from first on Yorvit Torrealba’s double. Where was that guy the last five years?

TRIAD
In today’s Joe Girardi conference call, the manager suggested that he could go with a three-man rotation in the championship series. This is feasible because due to the wonders of television scheduling, the American League Championship Series will last 10 days if it goes the distance. Thanks to three off-days, after Game 2, Game 4 and Game 5, CC Sabathia would be able to start Game 1, then Game 4 after three days off, and then Game 7 on normal rest. A.J. Burnett would start Games 2 and 5, the latter on normal rest, and Andy Pettitte would start Game 3 and Game 6, also on normal rest. The question is, how has Mr. Sabathia done on short rest? Sabathia didn’t make any quickened starts this year but has in the past. Last year he made three such starts and did quite well, allowing just two earned runs (six total) in 21.2 innings. Those three starts represent 75 percent of his starts under such conditions. In short, there’s a record of success in short rest, but we’re well short of conclusive evidence. This does seem like a better option than going with Chad Gaudin, who has not pitched well against the Angels in his career (19 games) or pulling Joba Chamberlain back out of the ‘pen and praying.

If you want an “on the other hand,” here it is: in the fourth inning of his next start, Sabathia will pitch his 240th inning of the season. The guy could get fatigued. The guy could already be fatigued. This seemed to be a problem in past postseasons; in 2007 and 2008, Sabathia entered October already past the 240 mark. You never know if making a start on short rest will hasten him toward the wall.

ANGELS-YANKEES HEAD TO HEAD, PART ONE

FIRST BASE: KENDRY MORALES (39.8 VORP, 12th among first basemen) vs. MARK TEIXEIRA (54.7 VORP, 5th)
tex250_101309.jpgCuban import Morales finally had his big breakthrough this year, knocking 43 doubles and 34 home runs while hitting .306. Intriguingly, his line-drive rate was actually a tad low, while his batting average on balls in play was high, so he likely had some good luck this year. If his line drive rate is normal next year, we’ll never notice the correction. Morales was much better from the left side of the plate than from the right side, batting .296/.319/.481. He was far more consistent, far more patient, against right-handers, and it’s probably worth it for Girardi to turn him around in the late innings. Mike Scioscia very rarely put Bobby Abreu and Morales back to back in the lineup, as this would have created an exploitable vulnerability to lefty relievers.

Teixeira wasn’t set back by turning around, not this year and not during his career. In fact, he’s a bit more dangerous against left-handed pitching. He’s a career .388/.464/.551 hitter against John Lackey, has hit .261/.346/.652 against Jered Weaver, and is 7-for-11 against Scott Kazmir. The only Gold Glove in the conversation is Teixeira. EDGE: YANKEES.

SECOND BASE: HOWIE KENDRICK (16.5, 20th) vs. ROBINSON CANO (50.3, 3rd)

In their eagerness to whack the ball, Kendrick and Cano are similar players. Both players had a crisis in their 25th year, Kendrick hitting so poorly at the outset of this season (.231/.281/.355 through June 11) that he was sent down. He hit well in the sticks and was brought back about three weeks later. In the 54 games remaining to him, Kendrick hit .351/.387/.532 and was a bit more patient than he had been before, walking 10 times. That doesn’t seem like much, but this is a guy who had taken just 40 walks in 303 career games to that point. He hit .371 against left-handers after coming back, and batted .400 with runners in scoring position.

Cano had his most consistent season in 2009, hitting well except for a two-month, May-June cold snap. Even then, results were never as bleak as they had been the previous year (.271/.302/.439). He was at his best in the second half, hitting .336/.365/.557 after the break. Cano’s season had two major downsides. He continued to be a double-play threat due to his lack of speed, his tendency to hit grounders, and his ability to hit the ball hard even when he wasn’t hitting it anywhere good. The other problem was his spectacularly poor hitting with runners on, runners in scoring position, runners anything. Put a man on in front of him and he melted like ice on a hot stove. Defensively the two are a wash. I see this as EDGE: NONE.

NEXT
Third base, shortstop, catcher.

A vintage Yankee playoff win

Sabathia-10-7-(3)-250.jpgOne down and two to go for the Yankees as they strive to escape the first round for the first time since Casey Stengel’s 1953 team made it to the Championship Series. Okay, okay, it was 2004, but who wants to remember that season with its crushing reversal of fortune against the Red Sox? I also don’t want to remember 2003 (ugly World Series loss), 2002 (rampaging Angels), or  2001 (Tony Womack? Come on), the 2000 team was one of the weaker champions you’ll see, and I resent 1999 because Derek Jeter should have won the MVP award that year but didn’t. The way things are going, I think it would be safest to go with 1953.

CC Sabathia did exactly what he was supposed to do, the thing he was paid the big money to do, which is reassuring after so many disappoints, both in terms of past Yankees signings and Sabathia’s own performance in recent postseasons. What most impressed about this start was that when the Twins were able to lay the bat on the ball, they were able to knock it for singles (six of ’em, plus two doubles), but Sabathia didn’t walk anyone and got eight strikeouts, al of them seemingly when they were most needed. It wasn’t Don Larsen ’56, but it was good enough.

With a big lead, Joe Girardi had the luxury to pull Sabathia after 113 pitches, not a high total for him. The on-off schedule of the first three games gave him the additional luxury of being able to get his mostly inexperienced relievers into the postseason in a relatively low-pressure situation. Using four relieves, including Mariano Rivera, in a 7-2 game seemed like a bit of overkill, but with Thursday off, Girardi can make changes like there’s no tomorrow, because, well, there isn’t.

The one disturbing aspect of the game was Jorge Posada’s bad night behind the plate. It was as if Old Man Jorge set out to confirm every paranoia that has been attributed (probably unfairly) to A.J. Burnett. Two passed balls and a wild pitch in one game is an extremely poor showing, regardless of if Sabathia might have crossed up his catcher on one of the three misses. Posada has always missed a lot of balls. He’s the active leader in passed balls, and his first next year will vault him into the top ten all time (fortunately, all-time leader Lance Parrish’s record of 192 seems out of reach). As he becomes older and more immobile, there are going to be ever more balls skipping past him. At the risk of overreacting to what could be one aberrant game, tonight might have been a preview of the moment, coming perhaps in 2010 or 2011, when Posada’s bat still plays but the sheer number of balls sailing by or rolling to the backstop make him an untenable catcher.

Those misses represent just one base given up and amount to nothing most of the time, but you can get into difficult psychological territory when pitchers feel they are not being properly supported. Mackey Sasser’s problem returning the ball to the pitcher with the Mets in the late 1980s didn’t necessarily lead directly to any runs scoring, but it definitely had the pitchers angry and distracted. One hopes that this day is farther off that it appears after tonight, because if it happens sooner then there will be a gap between Posada and Austin Romine or Jesus Montero or whoever the next catcher the Yankees produce who can hit with more authority than Jose Molina.

Matsui and Damon are as old as The Beatles

matsui01.jpgMATSUI FOREVER?
Hideki Matsui is now hitting an excellent .280/.370/.516. There is life in the old boy yet. The average AL DH (it used to be redundant to say “AL DH,” but with the advent of interleague play, there is now such a thing as the NL DH) has hit .253/.336/.446 this season, which is depressing in that a position purely devoted to hitting has produced only slightly above-average offense, the league as a whole averaging .266/335/.429.

Teams with middling to miserable DH production include the Rays, who made a very expensive mistake in signing Pat Burrell; the Tigers (.245/.319/.390), primarily due to the decline of Carlos Guillen, Marcus Thames’ weak season and Aubrey Huff’s inability to hit in their uniform; the Royals, because Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman somehow think Mike Jacobs can hit (.231/.300/.395 as the DH); Seattle (Junior Griffey’s Seattle comeback is like one of those reunion tours in which none of the original band members participates); and Oakland (Jack Cust isn’t the hitter he was last year).

Some of the best DH production belongs to the Twins (primarily Jason Kubel, but also lots of Joe Mauer), Angels (Vlad Guerrero plus great work from almost every regular Mike Scioscia has rotated through) and the White Sox (until recently, Jim Thome). Thanks to Matsui, along with small contributions from Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter, the Yankees lead them all in hitting at the hitting position.

Matsui has done this despite bad knees and a stroke which has not made great use of Yankee Stadium — he’s hitting .268/.356/.481 there versus .294/.389/.561 on the road. Joe Girardi has kept him on the bench against some lefties, but Godzilla has never had a platoon problem and has creamed them, hitting .276/.348/.610 against southpaws. The semi-platooning has been primarily directed towards keeping Matsui’s knees functional as well as giving rest to the other Yankees veterans, and it seems to have worked out very well.

Matsui’s contract is up at the end of the season, as is Johnny Damon’s. Next year will be Matsui’s age-36 campaign. Damon will turn 36 this winter. It’s going to be a crowded winter for players whose main job is to hit. Likely free agents include Russell Branyan (if ambulatory), Carlos Delgado (ditto), Nick Johnson (likewise), Adam LaRoche (Mr. Second Half), Hank Blalock (having a miserable year at .237/.278/.466), Troy Glaus (back in the “if ambulatory” category), Bobby Abreu, Jason Bay (who plays the field but maybe shouldn’t), Jermaine Dye (if the White Sox don’t pick up his option), Vlad Guerrero and Andruw Jones.

These players are going to have to tamp down their financial expectations given how few slots are available, how limited their contributions, their generally advanced age, and of course, The Economy. This is true of Damon as well, who has had a strong year at the plate but whose defensive abilities are at ebb tide.

The Yankees have the option of filling both spots internally: Damon’s place with Austin Jackson, Matsui’s with some kind of rotation, but that would be a huge offensive blow. Unless Jackson takes an unexpected leap forward, there just won’t be enough hitting to make up for the loss. The Yankees could also re-sign one player, or both, while attempting to work Jackson into the mix. The International League playoffs could end as soon as tonight (Scranton is down two games to none in a best of five series) and perhaps we’ll see a bit of Jackson in the Majors soon after. They could also re-sign Damon, refuse to pay a high price to keep Matsui in the fold and sign whichever of the many free agent bats fits their budget.

There is no correct answer, except perhaps to observe that retaining two 36-year-olds is courting twice the danger of keeping one — one of them is likely to decline. Actually, there is a correct answer, and that’s two 23-year-olds in those spots, young players who can be Yankees over the next five to ten years, but unless Jesus Montero is going to get an express ticket to the Bronx, the Yankees don’t have even one of those guys in position.

WILL BIG PAPI BE A FORCE IN THE PLAYOFFS?
He’s been up and down since his miserable first two months, but on the whole he’s had a productive half-season’s worth of work since then, hitting .262/.353/.544 in 88 games, 82 of them starts. He’s hit 23 home runs in that span. Left-handed pitchers can neutralize him (.216/.298/.435 overall), but you can’t take him for granted in most situations.

A SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
Tim McCarver Sings Selections from the Great American Songbook
I really, really hate to alert McCarver to the fact that “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is not part of the American Songbook, though Americans have sung it. It was written by two British fellows and made famous by Vera Lynn, the same chanteuse who is presently keeping the reissued Beatles CDs off the top of the charts in Great Britain.

NUMBER NINE… NUMBER NINE… NUMBER NINE…

Speaking of those Beatles CDs, I’ve been assiduously working my way through the remastered stereo set and enjoying the heck out of it. The music is much clearer, as if you had been listening through some kind of murky haze all of these years. You can make out small touches in the playing and singing that you couldn’t before, perhaps not even on the original vinyl, though I confess it has been years since I listened to those.

Coincidentally, yesterday I came across this quote from the late Kurt Vonnegut in my notes:

The function of the artist is to make people like life better than they did before. When I’ve been asked if I’ve seen that done, I say, ‘Yes, the Beatles did it.’

… I wonder if John Lennon knew he had won the battle of the White Album. The Beatles were writing and basically recording separately by this point, with each composer using the other three as backing musicians (and in Paul McCartney’s case, sometimes leaving them out altogether), so you can attribute each track individually and sort the sprawling mess that is the “The Beatles” (IE “The White Album”). George Harrison and Ringo Starr got a combined total of five tracks; as good as George’s are (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Piggies” and “Savoy Truffle”) you can’t call that more than an EP’s worth of material, whereas John and Paul each contributed a standard album of material. John’s White Album looks like this:

1.    Dear Prudence
2.    Glass Onion
3.    The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
4.    Happiness is a Warm Gun
5.    I’m So Tired
6.    Julia
7.    Yer Blues
8.    Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
9.    Sexy Sadie
10.  Revolution I
11.  Cry Baby Cry
12.  Revolution 9
13.  Good Night (sung by Ringo, but written by John)

I haven’t yet listened to the remastered “Revolution 9,” but in a perverse way I’m looking forward to it. If you look at this track listing, it anticipates John’s early solo albums. He wasn’t trying to write pop singles anymore (though “Dear Prudence” could have been one) and instead concentrated on emotional work that tried to express a deeper mood or feeling than good time rock and roll. Given that this is the same man who was primarily responsible for “I Feel Fine” and “Ticket to Ride,” both No. 1 singles, Lennon’s turn towards introspec
tion is, retrospectively, shocking and a harbinger of the group’s dissolution.

Here’s Paul’s White Album:
1.    Back in the U.S.S.R.
2.    Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
3.    Wild Honey Pie
4.    Martha My Dear
5.    Blackbird
6.    Rocky Raccoon
7.    Why Don’t We Do It in the Road
8.    I Will
9.    Birthday
10.  Mother Nature’s Son
11.  Helter Skelter
12.  Honey Pie

Here you have three tracks that could have been singles but weren’t — the Beatles’ 1968 singles releases were non-album tracks like “Lady Madonna” and “Hey Jude” —  “Back in the U.S.S.R,” the Beach Boys parody, “Ob-La-Di,” which did get a belated single release in the US eight years later, and perhaps the irritating and ubiquitous “Birthday.” A souped-up version of “Revolution” was the B-Side to “Hey Jude,” but that’s the closest the group came to taking a single off the album. McCartney was still working the pop song-craft part of the street, with one song even inspired by his sheepdog. “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Blackbird” were initially attempts at political relevance, though one’s enjoyment of those songs is greatly enhanced by being unaware of the discarded subtext. Or the sheepdog.

John’s would have been the better album. Take this, brother. May it serve you well. 

Down with Mitre, brawling, rivers in Thailand

mitre02.jpgWHAT CASEY SAID
Forgive me if I’ve used this quote before in talking about Sergio Mitre. When the Yankees lost a miserable home game, ten-time pennant-winning Yankees manager Casey Stengel had a saying: “The attendance was robbed,” by which he meant, “We didn’t give the fans fair value tonight.

Each time the Yankees start Mitre, the attendance gets robbed. After Mitre’s last start, Joe Girardi claimed that the defense had undermined what was otherwise a good start. This time, Mitre allowed four home runs in five innings of work. With all respect to Girardi, who has largely done a fine job this season, if he says that Mitre pitched well but the stadium was too small to contain his genius, I’m going to be sick.

The Yankees don’t need these wins, or at least they don’t right now, though if they somehow lose home field advantage in the playoffs, you can start pointing fingers at whoever has authorized Mitre to make start after miserable start. Still, even if they end up with pole position in the postseason, simple professionalism should dictate that Mitre doesn’t get any more games.

Even if these starts rank as throwaways for the 2009 season, surely there is some deserving young hurler — perhaps Trenton’s Zach McAllister? — who deserves a chance to show what he can do so the Yankees are more informed about their options for next year. The more the Yankees know about what they have on hand for 2010, the less they have to sweat subsidizing Chen-Ming Wang’s decline or making any other needlessly expensive moves. At this point, all Mitre is telling them is that he’s currently not a Major League pitcher. What he’s telling the fans, or what the Yankees are telling them by pitching him, is a very different matter.

OVERHEARD
I was drinking coffee in a bookstore recently when I heard a fellow at the table next to me say, “Denial is a river in Thailand.” I’m still not sure what he thought he was saying.

THE BRAWL
It seems like just about every observer of last night’s fracas has come to the same very reasonable conclusion, which is that whatever the offense Jorge Posada thought he had suffered — and having someone throw behind you is worse than having someone throw at you, because you can duck the latter, whereas you’re more likely to duck into the former — the fight was not something the Yankees needed. The risk of serious injury to a key player is too great, and with the team needing to protect both the division title and home-field advantage, even a small suspension can be ruinous.

This is particularly true in the case of Posada, who is sure to be seen as the primary instigator of last night’s action. The drop-off in offense from Hip-Hip Jorge to Hic-Hic Jose Molina or the non-alliterative Francisco Cervelli is so huge that an ICBM couldn’t carry the distance – although let’s give all due credit to Molina for his .320 on-base percentage, which is easily a career high; Molina has never cleared a .300 OBP in any season of more than 81 plate appearances. Sadly, his newfound selectivity does not erase his other offensive deficiencies, so he’s literally about half the hitter that Posada has been this year.

Jesse Carlson is a busher, a 28-year-old sophomore spot reliever on a nowhere team. He was wrong to throw behind Posada, even to deliver a message, and he was out of place on the play at the plate during which Posada (needlessly) elbowed him. We talk about players like this playing spoiler, but usually they do that by beating a contender, not taking a beating so that the contender loses its best players to disciplinary action. Tempers can flare, people will fight — that’s all understandable and human. The Yankees have to be smarter than base instinct if they want to win a pennant and eventually a championship. Girardi was right to tell them so after the game. There’s more at stake than masculine pride.

The wins keep coming … and coming

THE PACE

Posada-9-1-250.jpgThe Yankees are currently on a pace for 103 wins, and given their remaining schedule, they could win more than that. Should they hold up, the 2009 Yankees would become the 18th team in club history to win 100 or more games. Note that this is no proof of destiny–the 2002, 2003, and 2004 Yankees won over 100 games and only one of them got to a World Series. Still, winning 100 games is the traditional mark of a club that is dominant in a historically significant way, so at some point we will have to figure out where this Yankees edition ranks among the great teams, both in comparison to Yankees predecessors and the 75 other 100-game teams from 1901 onwards.

Should this year’s team exceed 103 wins, they would join a most elite list of Yankees teams that have exceeded that mark — 1998 (114 wins), 1927 (110), 1961 (109), 1932 (107), 1939 (106), and 1963 (104). While dispensing with the normal allowances made for modern conditioning, relievers, the slider, night baseball, integration, and other factors that make comparing teams and players across eras an exercise in futility, it’s hard to see this team competing too strongly with the six listed above, except perhaps for 1932, a very similar outfit that was all about the offense (the only consistent pitchers were Red Ruffing and the fiery Johnny Allen), and the overrated 1961 team. The 1961 team had better starting pitching and a couple of Hall of Fame-level offensive seasons from Mantle and Maris, but the rest was unremarkable.

If you want to go by winning percentage, then the bar gets a little higher, with the 2009 team’s current .636 tied with five other clubs for 18th-best in club history, some non-100-game teams like the 1938 and 1953 Yankees sneaking in ahead of them. No one ever talks about the champion 1953 team as one of the best in club history, but it was a very good offensive unit (Mantle, Gene Woodling, and Hank Bauer all had big years in the outfield, and the only starter not to have at least a league-average season was second baseman Billy Martin) with a deep, versatile pitching staff.

We have another month to figure out where the 2009 team fits, or if they fit at all, so this is premature, but it’s more fun talking about this than the stuff we were talking about at this time last year.

POSADA AND THE PARK EFFECTS…
…That would be a swell name for a band, particularly if your name was Posada. It was good to see him swat a couple of home runs on the road, as he has largely confined his hitting to Yankee Stadium II this year, and we wouldn’t want folks to conclude he was merely banging ’em over the Blue Enabler (see, the Red Sox have the Green Monster and the Yankees have, heh, the Blue… oh, forget it). He still has some distance to go to overcome the possibility of being labeled the anti-Swisher, with .227/.314/.399 rates on the road versus a Piazza-like .335/.403/.658 at home. Despite the imbalance, his current 883 OPS ranks 15th among Yankees catchers (single-season, 300 PAs and up), mostly exceeded by Bill Dickey, Mike Stanley, and Yogi Berra, plus about three seasons from Posada himself. It has been a fine year, though slightly subpar by Posada’s own high standards as his walk rate has hit the lowest level of his career. Given that Posada is a 37-year-old catcher having one of the top 20 seasons at his position in team history, it probably would be ungrateful to kick about a detail like that.

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.

Responsibility must be with Burnett

ONE AND ONE
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.

SWISHER’S WEIRD SPLITS
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. 

Where have all the outfielders gone?

WHERE HAVE ALL THE OUTFIELDERS GONE, LONG TIME PASSING (DRAFTING OUTFIELDERS, PART II)

As we go through the draft, you will note that not only have the Yankees passed on several quality outfielders, they haven’t put much of a priority on drafting outfielders at all. Of course, in the draft you select the best player available, rather than choosing for organizational need. Still, if the Yankees are taking the best available player in each slot, those players should actually prove to be better than players selected subsequently. That hasn’t often proved to be the case.

We’ll look at the third round, then pause to consider the outfielders the Yankees actually did select from 2003 to 2007, players who, had they Yankees hit on an outfielder of value, would have been ready by now. Keep in mind one important fact, one so important that I’m going to repeat it several times below: the lower you go in the draft, the more expectations should be tempered, if not non-existent. Farm systems are vast and not every player can be a prospect; quite often, teams just need a guy to stand in right field so that they can field a functional nine. When you see that the Yankees blew their #31 draft choice on a player who washed out in the Gulf Coast League, keep in mind that 98 percent of the time everyone blows their #31 draft choice on a player who washes out in the Gulf Coast League. Being critical of this would represent a failure to understand the system.

After we dispense with the draft, we’ll consider the international talent market, specifically the recruitment of young talent in Latin America.  

Third Round:
Jordan Schafer (2005/HS), Daryl Jones (2005/HS),  Nick Weglarz (2005/HS), Scout Cousins (2006/C), Cedric Hunter (2006/HS), Angel Morales (2007/HS), Kyle Russell (2008/C), Roger Kieschnick (2008/C).

What the Yankees did:
The Yankees picked 29th in the third round of the 2005 draft, and while Weglarz went at #14 and Schafer went at #27, the Yankees drafted Brett Gardner. The Cardinals took Jones with the last pick of the round. In 2006, they picked 28th and selected Zach McAllister, a very promising righty who is now carrying a 2.13 ERA at Trenton. With the last pick in 2007’s third round, they went with another righty, Ryan Pope, also at Trenton, a pitcher who emerged from the unlikely cradle of the Savannah College of Art & Design. He’s shown good control in the minors but has also been knocked around quite a bit.

In 2008, five outfielders were selected after the Yankees wasted their pick on Bittle. Two of them are on the list above. Russell, selected by the Dodgers at #16 in the round, is a left-handed power-hitter with a long swing, now playing in the Midwest League and hitting .271/.365/.544 with 24 home runs. He has also struck out 156 times in 421 at-bats, which is something that might relegate him to a Russ Branyan-style career. That said, Branyan is a more productive hitter than anything the Yankees have on the outfield shelves right now. Kieschnick, taken by the Giants with the fifth pick of the round, is also a lefty power-hitter, batting .298/.344/.535 with 23 home runs in the California League. The Yankees took second baseman David Adams at #29, a pick which has yet to resolve for good or ill — Adams has been a solid but unspectacular performer thus far. In the supplemental phase of the third round, the Padres selected University of Kentucky Sawyer Carroll, one of those “polished college hitters” who have a mature approach at the plate but don’t promise to develop too much. In 114 pro games taking him up to Double-A, the 23-year-old Carroll has batted .314/.412/.485 with seven home runs and a nice 72 walks.

WHO THEY DID GET

We pause here to switch gears, and instead of looking at the outfielders the Yankees passed up or didn’t get a shot at due to draft position, let’s look at the outfielders they did draft in the years 2003 to 2007. If the Yankees took you out of high school as an 18-year-old then in 2003, you’d be 25 now. That should give even the late bloomers enough time to manifest themselves.

2003 Outfielders: Estee Harris (#2), strikeout machine Tim Battle (#3), Jose Perez (#7), and two others who did not sign. Harris stalled at High-A and went off to the Atlantic League. The Yankees nursed the athletic Battle until the end of last season, when they finally conceded that his swing would never be of Major League quality. Perez didn’t make it past Staten Island.

2004 Outfielders: Rod Allen (#12), Robert Vilanova (#15), Jon Tierce (#17), Scott Rich (#21), and four others who did not sign. Allen’s career ended in High-A. Villanova got a cup of coffee–in the Midwest League. Tierce topped out at High-A Tampa. Rich was cut after 42 games at Staten Island.

gardner_bible_082009.jpg2005 Outfielders: Brett Gardner (#3), Austin Jackson (#8), James Cooper (#9), Joel Perez (#14), Chris Valencia (#41), and four others who did not sign. Gardner and Jackson you know about. They should be good role players or part timers, but anything beyond that is still in doubt. Cooper, now 25, is playing at Trenton this year. In 391 career games he’s hitting .264/.353/.351, and his chances of being more than organizational filler have long since passed. Perez’s career ended in the Gulf Coast League. Valencia is currently playing for Brockton of the Canadian-American Association.

2006 Outfielders:
Colin Curtis (#4), Jeff Fortenberry (#11), Donald Hollingsorth (#14), Brian Aragon (#22), Nick Diyorio (#38), Chase Odenreider (#49), and two other players who did not sign. Curtis, now at Scranton, began promisingly but hasn’t hit in three years. His career averages in 413 games are .265/.336/.378, which won’t get you to the Majors. Fortenberry, 25, showed a little home run power early, but has never hit for any kind of average. The Yankees promoted from Tampa to Trenton this year after he hit .180/.272/.354; he’s hitting .160/.259/.256 at Trenton. Hollingsworth had a good eye but had almost literally zero power and failed to advance past the Sally League. The players taken in the later round care organizational filler/hope to get lucky guys. Suffice it to say that the Yankees got neither.

2007 Outfielders:
Taylor Grote (#8), Austin Krum (#9), Isiah Howes (#11), Dave Williams (#15), Taylor Holiday (#19), Matt Morris (#23), Gary Gattis (#26), Steven Strausberg (#27), and three others who did not sign. Grote is currently playing at Low-A Charleston. In 154 career games he’s hit .242/.322/.329. Just 20, it’s in the realm of possibility he could get better, but it seems pretty darned unlikely given how far he has to go. Krum has made it to Double-A Trenton at 23. A center fielder, he is willing to take a walk and will steal the odd base, but the aggregate — this year he’s hitting .263/.371/.351 — doesn’t get you anywhere. Howes washed out at Staten Island. Williams didn’t show anything with the bat and was not promoted out of the Sally League after hitting .249/.321/.367. Holiday hit .215 in the Sally League and that was that. Morris hit .207 up through the Sally League and… Gattis stopped in the Gulf Coast League. Again, good players are rarely found this far down in the draft, so that the Yankees didn’t score here doesn’t necessarily indicate anything. Stausbaugh was apparently cut from Tampa earlier this year.

TO BE CONTINUED

In our next entry, we’ll pause for some present-day stuff, then pick up with the top 86 outfielders and the fourth round of the draft.

Some more on deadline trades

TRADE-O-RAMA
I enjoyed my BP colleague Christina Kahrl’s take on the Dodgers’ acquisition of George Sherrill from the Orioles for prospective third baseman Josh Bell and righty Steve Johnson:

torre_pb_080109.jpg[T]his move seems more about Joe Torre’s desperate need to turn to people he’s heard of in his pen. Sherrill’s been around long enough that Torre can use him with fully-formed preconceived notions without any chance that anyone will blame anyone other than Sherrill if it doesn’t work out in any particular high-leverage ballgame, and that’s the kind of cover the veteran skipper’s grown accustomed to over his long years of service. Bleeding talent for players Torre doesn’t have to sweat developing was one of those intrinsically accepted costs of employing the man in the first place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Dodgers fans have to like it.

Torre had his talents, no doubt about it, but he did become spectacularly risk-averse in the bullpen. Most managers are, but Torre reached an extreme. As I’ve remarked before, Joe Girardi has “made” more Major League relievers in less than two years running the Yankees than Torre did in his last five years, perhaps longer.

If you’re the Orioles, you wish you could have done more than this, but the organization isn’t willing to move Brian Roberts, while Melvin Mora and Aubrey Huff haven’t been productive enough to excite anyone. Still, in Bell they added the possible replacement for Mora, and none too soon. There’s some question as to whether Bell can stay at third, and the club still desperately needs help at shortstop, but this is a start.  

The Red Sox made an excellent move in picking up Victor Martinez. They received an offensively talented catcher-first baseman who can spell Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, or, by pushing Youkilis to third base, Mike Lowell. Martinez can’t throw, but Varitek can’t either, so no big loss there. Martinez can belong to the Red Sox for another year if they pick up his $7.5 million option, which seems like a no-brainer. The one risk here is that Martinez has been in a severe slump; in his last 30 games he’s hit .161/.268/.279.

The acquisition of Martinez rendered Adam LaRoche redundant, so he was swapped off to the Braves for Casey Kotchman. Kotchman is the New Millennium Doug Mientkiewicz, and he’ll take on that role for the Sox. A greater role in the future will depend on this offseason. If Varitek wants to come back, he has the contractual right to do so, and that could block up the catchers’ position a bit. Mike Lowell has another year to go on his deal, and has no-trade protection. David Ortiz is also signed for another year.

The Braves made an odd deal here, picking up an imminent free agent who isn’t a great hitter for a first baseman. True, Kotchman hadn’t hit like on either, but he’s better at getting on base and is the superior gloveman. The Bravos may do well in the short term given that LaRoche is a second-half hitter, but the gain here is likely small and they may be in possession of neither player by November.

These moves will have an impact on the Yankees as they fight the Red Sox the rest of the way. The Sox have hit well in their own ballpark, averaging 5.7 runs per game in the Fens, but have hit just .252/.336/.402 on the road with an average of 4.6 runs per game. The league-average offense scores 4.7. How the addition of Martinez benefits the Red Sox depends on how they spot him to best advantage in different pitcher match-ups, and if they’re willing to cut into David Ortiz’s playing time now and again or bench Mike Lowell against the odd right-hander in road games. In addition, the deal cost the Sox Justin Masterson the versatile swingman. They might miss having him around.

In terms of the moves the Yankees did not make, it’s a bit surprising to see the long-coveted Jarod Wasburn go to the Tigers for two left-handed pitching prospects, Luke French, who has pitched seven games in the majors this year with strong results, and Mauricio Robles, an A-ball pitcher. Neither is a high-value prospect, just “interesting,” and it seems odd that the Yankees couldn’t have made a competitive offer had they wanted to do so. Now they have the choice of sticking with Sergio Mitre, pulling Phil Hughes out of the bullpen, or trying another minor leaguer, either another retread like (choke) Kei Igawa, or go with an untried pitcher such as Scranton’s George Kontos or Trenton’s Zach McAllister (currently on the disabled list with a “tired arm”). Given Mitre’s track record, they have very little to lose by rolling the dice on anyone this side of Sidney Ponson.

Hairston gives Yanks options

J. HAIRSTON JR.
Say this for the acquisition of the utility man Jerry Hairston: the Yankees have bought into one of the great ball-playing families. Hairston’s brother, Scott, plays for the Athletics. His father, Jerry, was a pinch-hitter for the White Sox for roughly 63 years. His uncle, Johnny, got a cup of coffee with the Reds. His grandfather, Sam, played in the Negro Leagues and briefly made it to the Majors a few years after the color line was broken. There have been more Major League Hairstons than DiMaggios, Niekros, Boones or Bells.

The Hairston under consideration here is 33 years old and, but for a couple of fluke seasons, not much of a hitter. Playing for the Orioles in 2004, he hit .303/.378/.397 in 86 games. Last season he gave the Reds .326/.384/.487 in 80 games. Those numbers stand in stark contrast to his career marks of .259/.328/.372. Even those numbers don’t tell the whole story because Hairston spent 2006-07 hitting .198/.260/.271, then relied on the GAP for his comeback, batting .410/.471/.590 in Cincinnati’s home park. On the road, he hit only .252/.307/.396.

Fortunately, the Yankees didn’t acquire Hairston for his bat, but for his ability to move around the field. This season he’s played everywhere but first base and catcher. Although primarily a second baseman at the outset of his career, Hairston has enough speed that he can move around the field and play competently. Roster flexibility is a virtue, as long as one doesn’t plan on actually making use of it all that much. One assumes that this is curtains for Cody Ransom, which is too bad — as badly as the guy did subbing for A-Rod in April, it was good to see a journeyman get his shot, and he has been passable since coming off of the disabled list, batting .240/.345/.400 in 29 plate appearances. There is no guarantee that Hairston will hit better, but again, the trick is versatility: Ransom was a third baseman-shortstop. Hairston plays everywhere, giving the Yankees more bang for the roster spot.

The Yankees give up a 20-year-old Low-A catcher in Chase Weems in the deal, which isn’t too much given Hairston’s age, ability and one-year contract. Weems hasn’t shown much offensive ability in his 88 pro games, and even were he to blossom, the Yankees are deep enough in catchers that they shouldn’t miss this one.

I’ll be back later today with more trade deadline analysis.