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Archive for April, 2010

Yesterday, A’s starter Dallas Braden unleashed a childish tirade at Alex Rodriquez for having the unmitigated nerve to step on the pitcher’s mound when returning from third to first after a foul ball. Seriously. According to Braden, this is yet another part of baseball’s unwritten code that often leaves so many of us amused. Even if this is some kind of “code”, and I’ve never heard of any such thing in over 20 years of following baseball, does it justify Braden’s reactions both on and off the field?

After the game, Braden made no less than a threat to Alex Rodriquez. Of course, if he was so outraged, one wonders why Braden waited until he was walking off the field to confront Arod? Could it be that his bravery grew along with his distance from Rodriguez? Regardless, MLB needs to address Braden’s conduct. Making direct threats is not something that should be tolerated. At least a fine is in order…and a suspension wouldn’t be unwarranted.

Someone else who needs to address Braden’s comments is Derek Jeter. Time and again, Arod’s critics invoke the Captain when trying to put him down. Of course, that’s just a ploy meant to attack Arod where he is most vulnerable. As the captain, Jeter needs to step up and let Braden know that calling out a teammate in his name is not acceptable. Arod doesn’t need Jeter to be his defense lawyer (Arod handled the situation deftly on his own), but in this case, Braden specifically referenced Jeter. As the team captain, Jeter should go out of his way to say something like, “Arod doesn’t have to be like me. If Dallas has a problem with Arod, he should probably discuss it with him directly”. Short, sweet, classy…and being a good teammate.

He Said:

The long and short of it is it’s pretty much baseball etiquette. He should probably take a note from his captain over there, because you don’t run across the pitcher’s mound in between an inning or during the game. I was just dumbfounded that he would let that slip his mind. – Dallas Braden (via LoHud Yankees Blog)

He Said:

He just told me to get off his mound. I was a little surprised. I’ve never quite heard that, especially from a guy that has a handful of wins in his career. I’ve never even heard of that in my career and I still don’t know. I thought it was pretty funny, actually. – Alex Rodriguez (via LoHud Yankees Blog)

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Today’s loss to the Athletics can almost be boiled down to one very poor decision. After walking two of the first three batters of the game,  C.C. Sabathia and Francisco Cervelli met for a mound conference and, for some reason, decided to throw a first pitch fastball to Kurt Suzuki. Even if Suzuki hadn’t had success against Sabathia in the past, it seems kind of obvious that he would be sitting on a first pitch heater. Well, he got it and didn’t miss.

Robinson Cano makes the pivot on a 5-4-3 triple play in the bottom of the sixth inning (Photo: Yahoo).

Staked to an early lead, Dallas Braden used his mid-80s fastball and change-up to keep the Yankees’ lineup off balance. The hitters would never adjust, allowing Braden to breeze through six innings with only 81 pitches. Brad Zeigler and Andrew Bailey had similar success in three innings of 1-hit relief, putting the lid on a game the featured a very lazy Yankees’ offensive effort. Instead of working the count, the Yankees exhibited a very impatient approach, so not surprisingly, the game checked in at a very un-Yankee like 2:07.

After falling behind in the first, Sabathia pitched relatively well despite not having his best location. He also got some help from his defense, which turned a 5-4-3 triple play in the bottom of the 6th.  Sabathia wound up going the full 8 innings, but the damage had been done in the first.

Game Notes

  • The Yankees last triple play was on June 3, 1968 against the Minnesota Twins. In the top of the 8th inning, the Twins loaded the bases when Johnny Roseboro hit a soft pop back to pitcher Dooley Womack, who then threw to Bobby Cox at 3B to double off Tony Oliva, before Cox relayed the ball to Mickey Mantle at 1B to triple up Bob Allison.
  • The last triple play (also of the 5-4-3 variety) in the majors was pulled off by the Brewers in a game against the Giants on September 6, 2009.
  • Robinson Cano’s throwing error in the bottom of the 4th inning snapped a team errorless streak that had extended to 12 games. Before the miscue, the last game in which the Yankees made an error (3 in fact) was the second game of the season in Boston.
  • Kurt Suzuki’s first inning HR was his third career blast off C.C. Sabathia. Only Alfonso Soriano, Jermaine Dye, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome have hit more off Sabathia.
  • Sabathia tied a career high by giving up six walks. He had issues six free passes two times previously, the most recent of which was also against the Athletics on September 11, 2004.
  • The Yankees scored fewer than three runs for the first time all season.
  • After Braden retired the side in the 6th inning, he was caught on camera yelling something at Alex Rodriquez. In response, Arod simply waived him off.

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The Yankees look for the sweep in Oakland behind the golden arm of ace C.C. Sabathia, who is coming off a rain shortened start in which he threw only 73 pitches. Sabathia may need to work deep into today’s game because both Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain, who have worked in the first two games of this series, are unavailable. David Robertson is probably first in line to close out the game, but Damaso Marte could also be called upon if the A’s lefty laden bench dictates. 

The Athletics counter with lefty Dallas Braden, who has pitched at least six innings in each of his first three starts. Braden is basically a fastball/change-up pitcher who also throws the occasional slider. His fastball tops out at 90mph, so he relies more on location and a change of speeds. That formula doesn’t usually work against the Yankees, but Braden has improved his efficiency as a pitcher.

For the final game of the series, Joe Girardi has juggled the lineup. Nick Johnson is making his first start in the field, pushing Mark Teixeira to DH, while Curtis Granderson gets his first day off, opening up CF to Brett Gardner. Marcus Thames gets the start in LF, which exposes his subpar defense to McAfee Coliseum’s large expanse.

vs. Dallas Braden PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 6 0.600 0.667 0.600 0 3
Nick Johnson 1B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Mark Teixeira DH 10 0.300 0.300 0.300 0 1
Alex Rodriguez 3B 2 1.000 1.000 2.500 1 1
Robinson Cano 2B 5 0.200 0.200 0.400 0 3
Nick Swisher RF 6 0.000 0.333 0.000 0 0
Marcus Thames LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Francisco Cervelli C 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Brett Gardner CF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 29 0.346 0.379 0.500 1 8
             
vs. C.C. Sabathia PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Rajai Davis CF 12 0.083 0.083 0.083 0 0
Daric Barton 1B 6 0.333 0.333 0.833 0 1
Ryan Sweeney RF 7 0.167 0.286 0.167 0 0
Kurt Suzuki C 16 0.250 0.250 0.688 2 5
Jake Fox DH 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Kevin Kouzmanoff 3B 11 0.182 0.182 0.182 0 0
Adam Rosales 2B 1 1.000 1.000 1.000 0 1
Matt Carson LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Cliff Pennington SS 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 56 0.200 0.214 0.382 2 7

 

Yankees vs. Athletics    
Season: 2010 Season: 2009 Season: 2008 All-Time
NYY: 2-0 NYY: 7-2 NYY: 5-1 NYY: 1114-758
  • The Yankees have scored at least three runs in all 14 games this season, their longest stretch to begin a season since the 2000 club reached 15 games.
  • With yesterday’s victory, the Yankees have now won the first five series of the 2010 season, matching a franchise record set by the 1926 team.
  • With another victory, the Yankees will match last April’s win total of 12.
  • Braden was hit hard by the Yankees in his only career start against them. On July 26, 2009, he surrendered seven runs in 5+ innings to the Bombers.
  • Sabathia, who was born in nearby Vallejo, is 2-4 with a 6.35 ERA in 9 games started in Oakland.
  • Francisco Cervelli has now caught Sabathia’s last three starts.
  • Kurt Suzuki has two career HRs against Sabathia in 16 career plate appearances. Suzuki has also crushed all Yankee pitchers. In 66 PAs against the pinstripes, he has a line of .385/.394/.585.
  • The Yankees have a 2.14 ERA during their current six-game winning streak.

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For the second time this season, a Yankee pitcher flirted with a no hitter, but came up short in the 8th. Unlike Sabathia’s earlier attempt, however, Phil Hughes’ pitch count was a much more manageable 88 when the A’s finally broke through, so there would have been no question about his ability to finish the game. It wasn’t meant to be, but Hughes did earn his second win of the season after Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera closed out the game.

Phil Hughes expresses disappointment over lost no-hitter bid, but the Yankees righty did strike out a career-high 10 batters (Photo: AP).

Hughes came out of the gate throwing gas and throwing strikes.  After a first inning walk to Daric Barton, he retired the next 20 batters until Eric Chavez singled off his glove for the A’s first hit. As much as it stings to lose a no hitter on an infield hit, it sure beats how Hughes lost his last no-hitter bid. While watching Hughes deal, I am sure many Yankee fans joined me in flashing back to May 1, 2007. Like tonight, Hughes, who was then making his second career start, breezed through the Texas Rangers’ lineup. By the time the 7th inning rolled around, the Rangers still had no hits on the scoreboard. Then, fate took a hand, and Hughes’ hand grabbed for his hamstring. The injury would set Hughes career back for several years. Needless to say, the no hitter was lost.

Efficient isn’t even close to being a suitable explanation for how precise Hughes was in the game. He mostly featured a mid-90s fastball (58% of fastballs were at least 93mph) in the early going, but relied more on his cutter as the game went on. Hughes also sprinkled in the occasional curve, but did not throw a single change-up (see breakdown chart below). Hughes was so confident in his fastball that he often shook off Posada’s call for an off speed pitch, including during two consecutive batters in the fifth inning. In that sequence, Hughes shook to a fastball to strike out Kevin Kouzmanoff and induce a pop up from Gabe Gross. In total, Hughes threw 101 pitches, of which 71 were strikes. Until the 8th inning, Hughes never threw more than four balls in any one inning.

Phil Hughes Pitch Breakdown By Inning

Inning 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Number Percentage
Fastball < 90 1  0  0  0  0 1 1%
Fastball: 90-92 2 1 6 1 1 3 4 4 22 22%
Fastball: 93+ 9 9 2 4 5 1 2  0 32 32%
Curve  0 3 3 2  0 2 1 3 14 14%
Cutter 3  0 6 3 6 4 3 7 32 32%
Total 12 16 14 11 11 12 14 15 101  

(more…)

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Phil Hughes looks to follow-up on his solid first outing of the season and continue a stretch in which Yankee starters have earned the victory in all five games of the current winning streak. In his first game, Hughes unveiled a slightly different arsenal that relied more on a cutter and less on a curveball. He also mixed in a couple of change-ups, something he may use a lot more tonight against the A’s lefty laden lineup. 

The A’s counter with the often injured Ben Sheets, who has a strong 2.65 ERA in 17 innings over three starts this season. The more telling statistic, however, may be his BB/K ration of 10 to 8. If Sheets is unable to get ahead and pound the strike zone, he’ll be ripe for another early exit by an opposition starting pitcher. 

In other prominent news, Chad Jennings reported that Joba Chamberlain is now the official 8th inning setup men. Of course, had he been in that role yesterday, he wouldn’t have been available to strike out Ken Kouzmanoff with the bases loaded in the 7th. Hopefully, Girardi will be flexible enough to use Joba earlier in the game when the situation dictates it. According to Jennings, Chamberlain is available tonight.

vs. Ben Sheets PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 4 0.333 0.500 0.333 0 0
Nick Johnson DH 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Mark Teixeira 1B 4 0.250 0.250 0.250 0 0
Alex Rodriguez 3B 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Robinson Cano 2B 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Jorge Posada C 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Curtis Granderson CF 3 0.000 0.333 0.000 0 0
Randy Winn RF 7 0.167 0.286 0.167 0 0
Brett Gardner LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 27 0.125 0.2222 0.125 0 0
             
vs. Phil Hughes PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Cliff Pennington SS 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Daric Barton 1B 1 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0
Ryan Sweeney RF 1 0.000 1.000 0.000 0 0
Kurt Suzuki C 2 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Eric Chavez DH 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 1
Kevin Kouzmanoff 3B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Gabe Gross CF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Adam Rosales 2B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Eric Patterson LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 5 0.250 0.400 0.500 0 0
  • Robinson Cano is 0 for his last 29 at the McAfee Coliseum.
  • Alex Rodriguez’ 585 home runs leave him one behind Frank Robinson for 7th place on the all-time list.
  • Ben Sheets only career start against the Yankees was a 7-inning shutout effort on June 7, 2005, when he was a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.
  • With another victory against the A’s, the Yankees will notch their fifth consecutive series win to start the season, a franchise record matched only by the 1926 ball club.

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Much to the dismay of Joe West, the Yankees have made an early season habit out of wearing down starting pitchers. In the last three games, each opposing starter has had at least one 30+ pitch inning, and all failed to make it through five innings. So, it is not surprising that the Yankees lead the American League in runs per game.  Then again, patience simply for the sake of taking pitches is not necessarily an optimal offense strategy. Consider the following:

 

Team R/G PA Pit Pit/PA
CLE 3.54 479 1949 4.07
BOS 4.07 542 2191 4.04
NYY 5.85 515 2070 4.02

As you can see, the Yankees only rank third in terms of pitches seen per plate appearance. But, that’s not the whole story. More important than taking pitches is not swinging at balls. In other words, there is nothing wrong with swinging at strikes, particularly ones in a hitter’s hot zone. In fact, a closer look at the numbers reveals that this is the approach that the Yankees have perfected.

 

Team R/G PA Pit Pit/PA Str Str% BB BB/PA
CLE 3.54 479 1949 4.07 1234 0.63 47 0.10
BOS 4.07 542 2191 4.04 1336 0.61 45 0.08
NYY 5.85 515 2070 4.02 1206 0.58 71 0.14

As evidenced by the expanded chart, the Yankees have been most successful at drawing balls (i.e., not turning them into strikes by swinging). As a result, they have taken many more walks than the two teams ahead of them in Pit/PA. Because OBP correlates better to run scoring than just about any other stat, converting pitches seen into walks is vital. Again, however, there is more to consider. (more…)

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Eduardo Nunez gets a helping hand from Derek Jeter during Spring Training. Could he be Jeter's backup by the summer?

 In his Daily Futures feature on ESPN.com (insider only), Kevin Goldstein identified Eduardo Nunez as a potential sleeper who could help the Yankees this season. Nunez, currently hitting 370/.442/.522 while playing SS at Scranton, was originally signed by the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent on February 25, 2004. Initially regarded as a promising prospect (ranked by Baseball America as the organization’s 6th best prospect in 2006), Nunez had toiled in the minors for five years before jump starting his career with a fine season at Double-A Trenton in 2009. Although his offensive production has come around, he has still exhibited a propensity for making errors in the minors (33 errors in 120 games at Trenton last year), so that might still keep him from overtaking Ramiro Pena as the Yankees main utility man. Still, Nunez has yet to turn 23, so the Yankees may eventually be able to extract some value from him.

For a more complete profile of Nunez, check out this full scouting report from Yankees Daily.

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FanGraphs.com has released its first installment of 2010 UZR data. I am not a big fan of this metric for reasons previously outlined, but nonetheless, it is gaining prominence and is worthy of consideration.

Not surprisingly, the Rays place atop the early UZR returns with a team rating of 10.5. Right behind them in fourth place, however, is a surprise. If you’ve watched the Red Sox, you’d swear that their defense has been a major reason for the team’s early malaise. However, according to UZR, Theo Epstein’s genius is real as the Red Sox check in with a UZR of 6.6. Meanwhile, the Yankees, who have committed only 4 errors and currently have a nine game errorless streak, rank toward the bottom of the UZR charts with a rating of -6.1.

The Yankees biggest UZR culprits are the double play tandem of Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, who currently rank near the bottom at their positions with a UZR of -2.3 and -2.9, respectively. Is Jeter reverting back to his status as UZR’s whipping boy at short? Anecdotally, he has looked shaky on defense, both in terms of range and the mishandling of routine balls that were scored hits (by my count, at least two opposition “hits” should have been scored as an E-6 on Jeter). Of course, one should caution that even for a full year, the sample size for defensive stats can be too small to draw meaningful conclusions, so two weeks is basically the proverbial grain of salt. Then again, any sample of data would be enough to accurately portray Marcus Thames inability to play the outfield. In 19 defensive innings, Thames UZR stands at an abysmal -2.0 (UZR/150 of -148.7).

On the bright side, Alex Rodriquez has been playing a great 3B. According to UZR, Arod’s 1.8 rating ranks him as the second best defensive 3B in the game so far. Again, I think most who have watched every Yankee game would agree with this assessment (check the Sabathia near-no hitter for a case in point). Another early positive has been the CF play of Curtis Granderson, whose early UZR returns have him at 1.4, good for 6th best among major league center fielders.

Other notables atop the leader boards include former Yankees Johnny Damon, who ranks second among left fielders, and Austin Jackson, who tops all center fielders with a UZR of 3.1.

UZR Data obtained from FanGraphs.com.

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Javier Vazquez earned is first victory of the season and first as a Yankee since September 2004, but two late home runs took some of the luster off his performance. Even though he threw an impressive 72 strikes, Vazquez needed 107 pitches to complete only 5 1/3 innings. Also, while he did mix his pitches, he seemed to shy away from the slider in favor of the curve and change. With his fastball missing about 2 mph, there were fewer swings and misses resulting from the change of speeds. To be fair to Vazquez, a miscommunication by Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano in the sixth inning did contribute to one of his earned runs, and his six strikeouts in 5+ innings do suggest superior stuff. Still, Vazquez will need to find his lost velocity (only 40% of his fastballs topped 90mph) and also throw his slider more if he is going to repeat his 2009 success. In the meantime, he can use this victory as a stepping stone heading into his next start in Anaheim.

Javier Vazquez bested the Athletics to earn his first Yankee win since September 2004 (Photo: Getty Images).

As has become their usual, the Yankees used a very patient approach to frustrate starter Gio Gonzalez, whose pitch count approached 100 by the fifth inning. It was the third straight game that an opposition starter threw at least 30 pitches in an inning, and failed to complete 5 innings as a result. The Oakland defense also contributed to Gonzalez’ demise as a Daric Barton misplay, curiously scored a hit, on a Jorge Posada grounder led to three first inning runs.

  • Nick Swisher snapped a 0-16 stretch with a two run single in the first inning.
  • Yankee batters drew 10 walks in the game, the most since taking 11 free passes against the Mets on June 28, 2009. Three of the walks were issued to Robinson Cano, who had accomplished the feat three times in the past, including most recently against the Texas Rangers on August 5, 2008.
  • Alex Rodriguez’ fifth inning HR was the 585th of his career, leaving him one behind Frank Robinson for 7th place on the all-time list.
  • Boone Logan made an eventful Yankees debut in the 6th inning. One pitch into his appearance, home plate umpire Ed Rapuano, who earlier had been hit in the facemask by a foul ball, was forced to leave the game, resulting in an extended delay.
  • Logan was also forced to get an extra out in the 7th inning when Derek Jeter double clutched on an infield single by Rajai Davis. Eventually, Logan would depart with the bases loaded, but Joba Chamberlain stranded his runners by striking out Kevin Kouzmanoff.
  • Athletic’s reliever and former Yankee Edwar Ramirez made his first appearance against his old mates. In typical Edwar fashion, he walked four and struck out two in two innings of work.
  • Derek Jeter went 0-5, snapping his season long hitting streak of 11 games.

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The Yankees hope the third time is a charm for Javier Vazquez as they kick off their first West Coast swing in Oakland. In fact, Vazquez’ Yankee struggles extend back much farther than the start of this season. Javy’s ERA in his last three starts (not including playoffs) of 2004 was 6.50, so he is looking to get a pretty big monkey off his back. According to the LoHud Yankees Blog, Vazquez has been battling both a dead arm and poor mechanics. The days of the Moneyball A’s are long gone, so perhaps Vazquez can use his change up to effectively take advantage of a less than patient and potent lineup (.252/.321/.362).

The 9-5 Athletics, who sit atop the AL West, counter with left hander Gio Gonzalez. In his only start against the Yankees (July 25, 2009), Gonzalez pitched 6 2/3 innings of 2-hit, 1-run ball in a 6-4 victory. Interestingly, the Yankees are not making any concessions to the lefty. Both Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner remain in the lineup, while Marcus Thames sits on the bench. The large outfield at McAfee Coliseum likely played a role in that decision, but Girardi has also been known to ride the hot hand. Gardner and Gonzalez could be an interesting matchup all game…not at the plate, however, but on the bases. Gonzalez’ pick off move is among the game’s best, so some cat and mouse could ensue if Gardner reaches base.

 

vs. Gio Gonzalez PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 3 0.000 0.333 0.000 0 0
Nick Johnson DH 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Mark Teixeira 1B 5 0.250 0.400 0.500 0 0
Alex Rodriguez 3B 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Robinson Cano 2B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Jorge Posada C 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Nick Swisher RF 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Curtis Granderson CF 5 0.250 0.400 0.250 0 0
Brett Gardner LF  3 0.500 0.667 1.500 0 1
Total 25 0.143 0.28 0.286 0 1
             
vs. Javier Vazquez PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Rajai Davis CF 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Daric Barton 1B 6 0.400 0.500 0.400 0 1
Ryan Sweeney RF 4 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Kevin Kouzmanoff 3B 6 0.167 0.167 0.333 0 0
Kurt Suzuki C 10 0.111 0.200 0.111 0 1
Eric Chavez DH 12 0.100 0.250 0.400 1 3
Mark Ellis 2B 17 0.188 0.235 0.188 0 0
Travis Buck LF 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Cliff Pennington SS  1 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0
Total 60 0.164 0.217 0.255 1 5
  • Before the game, the Yankees presented Chad Gaudin and Edwar Ramirez with their World Series rings. The entire team congregated around both players in pre-game warm-ups before handing out the jewelry.
  • Derek Jeter returns to the lineup after missing a game because of a head cold. Jeter looks to resume his season long streak of consecutive hits.
  • Nick Swisher looks to rebound on the road. In line with last season’s split disparity, Swisher is batting .333/.440/.571 on the road, but only .053/.250/.158 at home. 

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