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Archive for August, 2011

When the Yankees’ beat the Orioles on Monday night, Robinson Cano was batting in the cleanup spot. Then, in the team’s victory over the Red Sox on Tuesday, Dustin Pedroia was batting fourth in the opposition lineup. Why is that significant? Because of the position both men play.

Since 1919, only 7,096 lineups have featured a second baseman in the cleanup slot (or just above 2%). However, this year, that ratio has tripled, which signals the relative level of strength throughout the position in the current game.

Cleanup Hitters by Position, Since 1919 and Current Year (click to enlarge)

Note: Due to database errors, the position count differs from total games played by about 1%.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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For the final time at Fenway Park during the regular season, the Yankees and Red Sox renew hostilities in a three-game series that begins tonight. If the Bronx Bombers hope to finally get the better of their rival, winning game one will be paramount. In the opener, the pitching matchup of CC Sabathia vs. John Lackey favors the Yankees, but in the subsequent games, the Red Sox enjoy a decided advantage. With Boston’s pair of aces, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, facing New York’s struggling tandem, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett, the onus is on Sabathia to get the Yankees off on the right foot.

Can Sabathia wipe away his earlier season struggles against Boston (Photo: AP)?

Of course, the Red Sox might not look at game one as much of a mismatch. Despite compiling a 17-3 record with a 2.40 ERA against the rest of the league, Sabathia has been unable to beat Boston. In his four starts against the Red Sox, the Yankees’ ace lefty is 0-4 with an ERA of 7.20, so you can’t blame the Boston lineup if it enters tonight’s game with supreme confidence.

Considering how well he has pitched against every other team, it stands to reason that Sabathia will eventually turn in a strong outing against the Red Sox. At the very least, history should be on his side. Since 1919, only eight Yankees’ starters (in nine seasons) have lost five games against one team in a single season, and only three have done it without recording a victory. So, not only is Sabathia pitching to keep the Yankees alive in the divisional race, he is also trying to avoid making an ignominious mark on franchise history.

Yankees’ Starters with Five Losses Against One Team, Since 1919

Pitcher Year Opp GS IP W L ERA WHIP
Red Ruffing 1931 CLE 6 30.1 0 5 9.20 2.18
Bill Zuber 1945 DET 5 33.1 0 5 5.13 1.77
Bill Bevens 1947 CHW 5 27.2 0 5 4.88 1.70
Lefty Gomez 1935 DET 6 47 1 5 4.60 1.43
Sad Sam Jones 1925 MIN 7 51 2 5 4.41 1.55
Catfish Hunter 1976 BAL 6 43.1 1 5 4.15 1.08
Bob Turley 1955 CHW 6 35.1 1 5 4.08 1.78
Sad Sam Jones 1922 MIN 10 88.2 5 5 3.45 1.32
Tiny Bonham 1945 CLE 6 48.1 1 5 3.35 1.16

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Correction: Although listed as a rookie by several sources, including fangraphs.com, Alexi Ogando is not eligible for the award because the service time he accrued in 2010. As a result, all references to him as a contender for the award are invalid, which makes Nova’s candidacy all the more stronger.

For much of the season, most of the award-related speculation surrounding the Yankees has centered upon CC Sabathia’s pursuit of a second Cy Young and Curtis Granderson’s candidacy for MVP. However, without much fanfare, Ivan Nova has emerged as a dark horse candidate in the Rookie of the Year race.

Will Ivan Nova be tipping his cap when the ROY award is announced? (Photo: NY Daily News)

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Nova’s 14-4 season has gone relatively unnoticed. After all, back in July, he was demoted to the minors in favor of two struggling pitchers (AJ Burnett and Phil Hughes), so if the Yankees’ brass was slow to realize his contribution, it’s easy to why everyelse has been. Nonetheless, since returning from his stint in triple-A, the 24-year old right hander has won six consecutive victories (seven including a start before his demotion, besting Vic Raschi’s single-season franchise rookie record) to go along with a 3.60 ERA. As a result, Nova has emerged as the Yankees’ most reliable starter during a turbulent August that has seen the rest of the rotation struggle significantly.

Although Nova’s rookie-leading 14 wins are sure to garner votes from the more traditional voting bloc, his candidacy remains an uphill climb. Not only does he rank fourth in average WAR among AL rookie pitchers, but three position players also rate ahead. Granted, most of the beat writers casting a ballot do not necessarily consult sabermetrics, but the combination of underlying statistics and name value still make the rest of the field formidable competition. In particular, Mark Trumbo’s 23 HRs and 71 RBIs could counter the “face value” of Nova’s 14 wins, while the more heralded Desmond Jennings, Michael Pineda and Jeremy Hellickson could have a built-in recognition advantage.

Top-10 Rookies, Ranked by Average WAR (Position Player and Pitchers)

Position Player Team PO fWAR bWAR aWAR PA AVG OBP SLG
Desmond Jennings TBR LF 2.3 2.4 2.4 153 0.354 0.440 0.646
Dustin Ackley SEA 2B 2.2 2 2.1 256 0.282 0.359 0.445
Mark Trumbo LAA 1B 2 1.9 2.0 472 0.256 0.294 0.475
Josh Reddick BOS RF 1.8 1.5 1.7 211 0.282 0.332 0.471
Casper Wells SEA OF 1.5 1.4 1.5 206 0.258 0.327 0.473
Brett Lawrie TOR 3B 1.5 1.2 1.4 82 0.338 0.378 0.688
Mike Carp SEA 1B 1.1 1.1 1.1 194 0.292 0.351 0.472
Ben Revere MIN CF 1.6 0.4 1.0 361 0.255 0.301 0.294
Jemile Weeks OAK 2B 1.2 0.7 1.0 314 0.295 0.330 0.408
J.P. Arencibia TOR C 1.1 0.7 0.9 393 0.212 0.275 0.437
Pitcher Team PO fWAR bWAR aWAR IP W L ERA
Alexi Ogando TEX SP 2.8 3.3 3.1 151.1 12 6 3.57
Michael Pineda SEA SP 2.9 2.5 2.7 153 9 8 3.71
Jeremy Hellickson TBR SP 1.6 2.7 2.2 149.1 11 9 3.01
Ivan Nova NYY SP 1.9 1.9 1.9 131.2 14 4 3.96
Jordan Walden* LAA RP 1.8 1.7 1.8 50 4 3 2.70
Greg Holland KCR RP 1.5 1.9 1.7 49.1 3 1 1.82
Zach Britton BAL SP 2.1 1.1 1.6 122 8 9 4.28
Chris Sale CHW RP 1 1.9 1.5 58.2 2 1 2.61
Vinnie Pestano CLE RP 1.2 1.7 1.5 51.2 1 1 2.44
Aaron Crow KCR RP 0.5 2.3 1.4 56.2 3 3 2.38

*Jordan Walden currently has 26 saves.
Note: AvgWAR = (bWAR + fWAR)/2
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

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The Orioles refusal to push up Saturday’s doubleheader to Friday, and the Yankees subsequent vocal criticism of that decision, has created a strain between the two organizations. Until this morning, the harsh words were mostly directed by Joe Girardi and Yankees’ players toward the Baltimore organization, but this morning, Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter took the opportunity to fire back.

Showalter pointed his finger at the Yankees for complaining about the Orioles' weekend scheduling.

According to the Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec, Showalter not only called the Yankees hypocritical, but implied their reaction was insensitive in light of the recent death of former Orioles’ player, broadcaster and executive Mike Flanagan. “Some of stuff was a little disrespectful to Flanny. That doesn’t sit too well with me,” Showalter told reporters.

Admittedly, I am big fan of Showalter, and his desire to defend his organization is admirable. However, by evoking the death of Flannigan, he has crossed the line and, ironically, done a greater disservice to his memory.

As Jack Curry reported Wednesday night, the Yankees had broached moving the doubleheader up one day as early as that afternoon. Unfortunately, almost concurrently, Flannigan was in the midst of taking his own life. In other words, the Orioles refusal to adjust the schedule likely had nothing to do with the aftermath of Flannigan’s death.

So, why did the Orioles refuse to bow to common sense and play two games on Friday? The answer seems simple: money. With a hurricane bearing down on the region, the number of Yankees’ fan flocking to Baltimore would be limited, so instead of trying to squeeze five games into one rainy weekend, why not schedule one game for another week? Undoubtedly, more additional tickets will be sold for the newly minted September 8 game than the makeshift one that would have been played on Friday afternoon.

If Showalter had criticized the Yankees for being hypocritical from a business standpoint, he would have had a legitimate point. However, by mentioning Flanagan, he lost the moral high ground. Whether or not the Yankees’ brass responds to his retort, Showalter’s next comment on the subject should be an apology: one directed not at the Yankees, but the family of Mike Flanagan and all those who mourn his loss.

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Albert Einstein is widely believed to have said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. He must have had the Yankees’ handling of A.J. Burnett in mind when he made that observation.

Even Burnett has found it hard to look when he takes the mound (Photo: AP).

For two seasons, A.J. Burnett has been a terrible pitcher. Unless he can whittle his ERA below 5.00 before the end of the season, he will go down as the only Yankees pitcher in franchise history to have an ERA above that mark in two seasons of more than 110 innings. What’s more, among all pinstriped hurlers with at least 160 innings pitched, Burnett’s 2010 and 2011 each rank among the top-three worst seasons in terms of ERA. The anecdotes that illustrate Burnett’s futility are almost as limitless as the frustration he has inspired over the last two seasons, so it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the time has come to remove him from the rotation.

Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have instead preferred to remain willfully ignorant. Not only have the Yankees’ brain trust shoe horned the struggling right hander into a six-man rotation, but they have taken every opportunity to defend his performance. If the Yankees had no other viable options, perhaps the decision to keep running Burnett out to the mound would make some sense, but the Yankees actually have too many starters, not to mention several minor league/bullpen options that would also provide a superior alternative.

Yankee Pitchers with an ERA of 5.00 or Higher (minimum 160 innings), Since 1901

Player Year ERA IP W L ERA+
A.J. Burnett 2011 5.31 161 9 11 ~79
Bump Hadley 1937 5.30 178.1 11 8 85
A.J. Burnett 2010 5.26 186.2 10 15 81
Roy Sherid 1930 5.23 184 12 13 83
Melido Perez 1993 5.19 163 6 14 80
Snake Wiltse 1902 5.10 164 7 11 74
Dwight Gooden 1996 5.01 170.2 11 7 100
Randy Johnson 2006 5.00 205 17 11 90
Richard Dotson 1988 5.00 171 12 9 80

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Lost amid the power explosion in yesterday’s 22-9 victory over the Athletics was another three-hit game by Derek Jeter, which momentarily vaulted the short stop over the .300 mark for the first time since the second game of the season.

Game-by-Game Progression of Derek Jeter’s Batting Rates

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Even though his status as a .300 hitter only lasted for one at bat (he struck out in the ninth to drop back down to .299), simply attaining the mark stands out as a remarkable accomplishment when you consider the depths to which the Yankees’ Captain had sunk. When Jeter went on the disabled list in mid-June with a strained calf, he was hitting a paltry .260./.324/.324. At the time of his sabbatical, there was rampant speculation about a lineup demotion, and even suggestions that the Yankees gradually replace him with Eduardo Nunez. In fact, for some, the countdown to 3,000 hits was more like a clock ticking away on Jeter’s time as a prominent member of the team.

Derek Jeter’s Overall Performance Over Given Periods
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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For the first four innings of today’s matinee between the Yankees and Athletics, Oakland seemed well on its way toward sweeping it first series in the Bronx since June 2006. Then, the Yankees scored 20 runs over the next four innings, turning a 7-2 deficit into a 22-9 victory.

In order to effect the comeback, the Yankees hit two grand slams in successive innings. Robinson Cano belted the first one, which cut the deficit to one run in the fifth, and then, in the following frame, Russell Martin added the second. It was only the fourth time in franchise history that the Yankees hit two grand slams in one game. 

Yankees’ Multi-Grand Slam Games, Since 1901

Date Opp Score Stadium Batters
8/24/2011 OAK 22-9 Yankee Stadium Robinson Cano Russell Martin
        Curtis Granderson  
9/14/1999 TOR 10-6 SkyDome Bernie Williams Paul O’Neill
6/29/1987 TOR 15-14 Exhibition Stadium Don Mattingly Dave Winfield
5/24/1936 PHA 25-2 Shibe Park Tony Lazzeri (2)  


Source: Baseball-reference.com

Not content to merely tie a franchise and league record, the Yankees proceeded to load the bases again…and again…and again. In the seventh inning alone, the Yankees had six different plate appearances with the bases loaded, but the record breaking third grand slam proved elusive. However, after two more failed attempts with the bags juiced in the eighth, Curtis Granderson finally put an exclamation point on history by depositing a 1-2 fastball into the Yankees’ bullpen.

Yankees’ Grand Slams by Year, Since 1950

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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After falling behind 6-0 to the Oakland Athletics in last night’s game, the Yankees mounted a furious comeback attempt that literally just fell short when Nick Swisher’s bid for a walk-off grand slam landed in Coco Crisp’s glove, just inches from the center field wall.

As is often the case when losing by a slim margin, there are several at bats, plays, and managerial decisions (bunting with one of the games’ hottest hitters, for example) that can be second guessed, but perhaps no one will be kicking themselves more than Swisher and Mark Teixeira. Not only did the two Yankees’ switch hitters fail to deliver with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, but the duo combined to leave 11 runners stranded.

If Swisher’s fly ball had traveled a couple of more feet, he would have been hailed as a hero. Instead, he wound up producing the lowest WPA by a Yankee batter this season. At least Swisher hit the ball hard (although the wisdom of swinging 2-0 against a wild pitcher could be questioned). After popping up to third base, Teixeira had no such consolation. Thanks to his ninth inning out, which capped an 0-5 night, the Yankees’ first baseman also cracked the top-10 lowest WPA games by a member of the offense.

Top-10 Lowest and Highest WPA Games by a Yankees’ Batter, 2011 (click to enlarge)

Note: Based on available data.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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In complete contrast to preseason expectations, the 2011 Yankees have mostly been a team lead by its pitching. Not only is the team’s ERA+ of 119 higher than its OPS+ of 112, but according to bWAR, the Yankees’ pitching staff has almost accumulated as many wins above replacement as it offense (20.2 to 21.4).

Yankees’ Monthly ERA and Runs Scored Per Game

Source: Baseball-reference.com

In August, however, the profile of the team has started to change. During the month, the Yankees have scored a whopping 6.1 runs per game, while leading the majors with a wOBA of .381, far outdistancing the second place Cubs at .356. By just about every measure, the Yankees have been the Bronx Bombers during the dog days of August.

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Joe Girardi’s personality exudes loyalty. In his three-plus years as manager, it’s hard to think of one instance in which he publicly criticized a player. In many ways, that’s an admirable trait, one that his players must surely appreciate. However, there is a difference between throwing a player under the bus and acknowledging his deficiencies. Unfortunately, at least with A.J. Burnett, Girardi has been unable to make that distinction.

AJ Burnett watches from the dugout after being pulled in the second inning (Photo: AP).

After surrendering four runs and loading the bases in the second inning, AJ Burnett received another early hook from Girardi. As he departed the mound, the right hander seemed to mouth something in his manager’s direction. Then, the YES cameras caught Girardi following Burnett into the clubhouse. Had there been a confrontation? With the score lopsided, the remaining innings became a formality leading up to the post game.

After the game, Girardi was livid. However, his anger wasn’t directed toward Burnett’s rampant ineffectiveness, nor was it inspired by the way in which the right hander expressed himself while leaving the mound. According to the Yankees’ manager, those events were much ado about nothing. Instead, what sparked Girardi’s post game tirade was the unfair way he believes the media has been treating Burnett.

I’m tired of people looking for something between me and A.J. Me and A.J. have mutual respect for each other. I cheer for this guy. He cheers for me, and we cheer for this team. I want the guy to do well.” – Joe Girardi, quoted by AP, August 20, 2011

Instead of taking the opportunity to hold his erratic right hander accountable for his actions and performance, Girardi choose to make him the victim. In some ways, that has become the organization’s party line. Just last week, Brian Cashman launched into a similarly impassioned defense of Burnett. According to the GM, Burnett’s struggles were as much a media creation as a reflection of reality. Unfortunately, the statistics don’t support the claim.

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