Can the New York Yankees Please Summon Mark Melancon from Triple-A?

April 29, 2010

One of the biggest factors in bringing up young players from the minor leagues is when they have done all they can do down on the farm. 

A young player who dominates his minor league-level over a couple-month period should be promoted to the next level. A player who dominates Triple A over a long period should also be promoted. 

No matter who is in the major leagues in front of him.

No reason to keep a young pitcher in Triple-A “for more seasoning” when he has filled up every spice rack in the country. 

That is why Mark Melancon needs to be immediately recalled from Triple-A Scranton. I have repeatedly called for Melancon to be on this team.

With the win in Thursday’s day game, Melancon now is 3-0, with a 1.76 ERA and three saves.

He saved the game the night before, going back-to-back days for the second time this season. Melancon is not the “closer” in Scranton (Jonathan Albaladejo is), but he is by far the best relief pitcher there. 

Despite what was perceived to be a strong part of the 2010 Yankees team, this year’s bullpen has been less than stellar.

The breaking point might have been Tuesday night’s loss to the (at the time) 3-16 Baltimore Orioles, who beat up on LHP Boone Logan and RHP David Robertson, who absorbed the loss. 

Logan is up to replace Chan Ho Park, signed late this offseason to bolster the Yankees’ pen. The Yankees liked what Park did against them in last year’s World Series. I was not a big fan of the Park signing, thinking Melancon had deserved a full season in the majors.

K-Rob has been stellar in his short Yankee career, but had a very off night Tuesday. 

Both Logan and Robertson were in relief of starter Phil Hughes, who was pulled by manager Joe Girardi after 5.2 innings and 106 pitches. After Hughes recorded two quick outs in the sixth inning, Girardi brought in Logan to face the left-handed hitting Luke Scott, who eventually walked.

Girardi, and his over managing hat, is a big part of the issue with the bullpen, often pulling his starters earlier that needed for due to his fondness for matchups. 

Girardi also pulls effective relievers after a few hitters or “their inning.”

The Yankees have spent considerable time developing two- to three-inning relievers. Girardi has to begin to have comfort in those situations, instead of his mix-and-match tendencies. 

Melancon is one of those multiple-inning guys, having thrown 171 total minor league innings in 93 appearances. He has routinely gone multiple innings in his minor league career. 

His overall Triple-A numbers include an 8-1 record, 2.65 ERA, and eight saves in 54 games. He strikes out more than a batter an inning, and has an almost 5:1 K/BB rate. 

Like Robertson and even Alfredo Aceves, Melancon can get out left-handed hitters. If a reliever goes multiple innings, it means he is facing hitters from both sides of the plate, and getting them out.

This means Logan, here to face lefty hitters like Scott the other night, is not needed.

The Yankees starters have been pretty good so far this season. Since the first run of the rotation, the starters have gone at least seven innings in 10 of the 16 games played.

Joba Chamberlain is the designated eighth-inning guy, and Mariano Rivera is obviously the closer, which means left handed pitcher Damaso Marte is going to pitch earlier in the game.

He would be able to handle any lefty-on-lefty situation that arises in the sixth or seventh inning. 

Marte has reverted back to his old form of a LOOGY. It was also thought that Park would already be back with the Yankees, but his sore hamstring has not responded well to rest and treatment, and there is no timetable for his return.

With their quality starting pitching, selected ineffectiveness in the middle innings and defined roles already established, there is not much of a need for Marte, and no need for Logan.

The Yankees need Melancon for his production, and they need him to produce a small shakeup in a stagnant bullpen. He has produced at all levels, including his small stint in the Bronx last season.

Melancon is in his third separate season in Scranton.

He needs to be in the Bronx.


Are the New York Mets Prepping Hisanori Takahashi for a Starters Role?

April 28, 2010

In Tuesday night’s New York Mets game against the reeling Los Angeles Dodgers, Hisanori Takahashi came in relief of Oliver Perez, tossing 3.1 innings of two-hit, one-run baseball, while striking out five Dodgers.

Takahashi has the looks of a strike-out machine, fanning 21 hitters in 14.1 innings. While allowing only 11 hits, he has also issued 10 free passes, all good for an ERA of 3.77.

Those 14.1 innings have accumulated during eight relief appearances, and in each appearance Takahashi throws a similar or increased amount of innings as the prior appearance. His first appearance on April 7 was 0.1 innings (a loss), and he threw 3.1 innings last night.

In-between, he appeared for 1.0 inning (April 8), 1.0 inning (April 9), 1.2 innings (April 13), 2.0 innings (April 17), 2.0 innings (April 21), 3.0 innings (April 23), and 3.1 innings. (April 27 – last night).

When innings allowances increase that much, there is a very good chance the organization is seeking to transform that pitcher into a starter. While I do not believe GM Omar Minaya is intelligent enough to initiate such a plan, it has fallen in his lap. Takahashi’s appearance Tuesday night saw him throw 75 pitches.

Do the Mets need starters?

Well, their top two starting pitching prospects are already in the major leagues. Jonathan Niese is currently in the Mets rotation, and 20-year-old Jenrry Mejia is a middle reliever. Niese is finally been given his full opportunity (I do have to credit Omar for this), and it appears Minaya and field manager Jerry Manuel are the only two people who believe Mejia shouldn’t be down in Double-A Binghamton building his starting resume.

Unless you count Dillon Gee (4 starts, 3-0, 2.77 ERA), there is nobody else on the horizon. With the 2010 season starting terribly Oliver Perez and John Maine, the Mets do need starting pitching depth. Perez has a case of strikeaphobia (a fear of throwing the ball over a 17-inch home plate), and despite Wednesday’s impressive performance Maine has a strong injury history. He is one pitch away from an injury and also has a slight case of the strikeaphobia.

That is where Takahashi comes in to play.

He was a starting pitcher in Japan before he signed with the Mets, and he appears to have the ability to throw lots of pitches. Most Japanese pitchers do, it is just the American system of pitch counts that affect the Japanese hurlers. He did not seem to be laboring at all in Tuesday nights game, even after 70+ pitches.

And because he is 35, you can ride Takahashi hard, every fifth day for at least seven or eight innings, up to 120 pitches. It’s not like he is among the prized young starters whom organizations like to limit in their effectiveness .

Only Mike Pelfrey has shown the Mets that he can consistently throw at least seven innings, doing it twice in four starts. Johan Santana has gone seven only once and in Maine and Perez’ eight combined starts, they have pitched six or more innings only twice.

There are calls for Perez to be removed from the rotation, just days after Maine’s spot was in jeopardy. However, it has been reported Manuel will stick with Perez in the rotation for the time being, as he has with Maine.

But the time is now to move Takahashi into the Mets rotation, and move Perez or Maine into the bullpen. Let Takahashi piggy-back Perez in his next start and allow him to go four-plus innings. 

There are concerns that pulling Takahashi from the bullpen will affect the surprisingly effective relief pitchers on the Mets roster. However, it is much more important to have good starting pitchers who can pitch at least seven innings, so you do not overwork your bullpen.

And besides, Jenrry Mejia is down in the bullpen to save the day.


Marcus Thames Should Never See Left Field Again for the New York Yankees

April 28, 2010

Looking at the image with this article, you see that Marcus Thames has great hitting mechanics. Hips opening for power, a stiff front leg, elbow tucked near the hip to keep the swing short and the bat rotating through the zone.

A good hitter who, on occasion, can really mash left handed pitching.

But Thames is a designated hitter. Pure and simple. He can even be counted on to pinch hit when a lefty is brought into the game. With a career pinch hit line of .321 AVG /.424 OBP /.625 SLG /.1.049 OPS with five homers and 14 RBI in 56 at-bats, Thames would likely star in that role for the 2010 Yankees.

But he should never start in left field again over Brett (The Jet*) Gardner.

*I know Gardner’s popular nickname is GGBG (Gritty, Gutty Brett Gardner) but I refuse to use that term for two reasons. First, it was originally coined by the traitor Peter Abraham, who used to run the Lohud Yankees Blog and now writes for the Boston Globe, covering the Boston Red Sox.

Wasn’t it great that Abraham left the Yankees before the playoffs? Then, saw his new team, the Red Sox, lose to the Los Angeles Angels. Then, his old team goes on to win the World Series.

Second, the term “gritty” for a baseball player is very overused. What constitutes gritty? Why are only white ballplayers called gritty? Is it another term for a hustling ballplayer? Baseball is a game of hustle. Baseball is a game of spurts and there is always a constant need to sprint. When hitting a ground ball a hitters only job is to run to first base, so why not run hard?

When the offseason signings were completed, we were told that Gardner that would be the starter, Randy Winn would play left field on occasion, and Thames will be a righty bat off the bench, occasionally getting a start at designated hitter. He was originally signed to a minor league deal, for heaven’s sake.

Then, after a really bad spring training, Jamie Hoffmann was released, cleared waivers, and offered back to Los Angeles, we heard that Thames would likely platoon with Gardner.

After Sunday’s game in which Thames played an easy ball hit by Brandon Wood into a two-run double, he confirmed the consensus that he does not need to be in left field ever again.

That was a ball which landed to Thames’ right, then he let it get behind him. If Gardner was playing that, he gets to the ball easily and saves Javier Vazquez from a big inning.

Also, back on April 9, the Tampa Bay Rays had a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning with runners on first and second. Jason Bartlett drove a line drive to left and Thames tried to dive and catch it, but came up empty. Again, Gardner catches that ball because he is a lefty thrower or, at worst, he keeps the ball in front of him, saving, at least, a run.

Once again, Vazquez was the pitcher.

One more play in Game 2 against the Boston Red Sox when Thames mis-judges the soft fly ball by Jacoby Ellsbury into a single, stolen base, catcher’s error and run scored on a sac fly.

That is at least four runs, maybe five, that Gardner saves the Yankees.

Errors are terrible anywhere they occur, as they increase the pitch count and put more strain on the pitcher with additional men on base. But outfield errors (both physical and mental) compound the problem, as they usually lead to two bases on the error for the batter, and usually clear the bases of all runners, when they happen. 

Those types of mistakes are game changing, like they were in Tampa and Los Angeles. In both of those games Vazquez was the starter.

We already have dicussed why Girardi hates David Robertson, but what does Girardi have against Vazquez by playing Thames in left when Javy pitches?

Thames is hitting well in limited time against lefties.

He has shown power and the ability to get on base via the walk. But he is a two, maybe three, plate appearance per game hitter because once the lefty starter is out, so is Thames. 

Gardner is not the detriment on offense he is portrayed, he has gotten on base at a 42 percent clip, and has shown the ability to wreak havoc on the bases when he gets there. He is a plus defender and a plus runner. He makes things happen; he causes the defense to rush throws and play different than normal.

That is what speed does to the defense.

The Yankees have enought offense versus lefties with right handed hitters. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. Plus switch hitters, Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada. Girardi can DH Thames as often as he would like against left handed pitching, but Marcus should not play the field.

I will not understand if Joe Girardi puts Thames in left field again, as his defense likely cost the Yankees at least two opportunities to stay in the game, and possibly cost them a win.

We will find out on Thursday how Girardi will play it when left handed starter Brian Matusz pitches for the Baltimore Orioles.

Girardi will be best served by letting Thames DH and having Gardner in left field.

For the rest of the season.


New York Mets: It’s About Time The Youngsters Are Getting Their Shot

April 25, 2010

Since becoming the New York Mets General Manager in 2004, Omar Minaya signed free agents Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner, Luis Castillo, Francisco Rodriguez, Oliver Perez and Jason Bay.

In addition, Omar signed veterans Elmer Dessens, Livan Hernandez, Tim Redding, Cory Sullivan, Mike Lamb, Angel Berroa and other assorted has-been players.

Those in the second group were all signed in an effort to find “lightning in a bottle.” And all of the second group of guys stink as major league players.

Some of those players in the first category (usually multi-year deal guys) stink as well. Why?

Because they did not help the Mets team get to a World Series, let alone win one. Wait, they almost did in 2006, but the veteran free agent Beltran took a called third strike from St. Louis Cardinals rookie-closer (at the time) Adam Wainwright made Beltran look silly.

Carlos also took the first pitch fastball right down the middle for strike one, immediately getting himself in the hole. I wonder if the “work the pitcher” guys out there in the blogosphere would like to have that pitch back.

At that time, Wainwright was a young pitcher with all of 77 major league innings under his belt. Tony LaRussa was not afraid of using his young players.

Omar Minaya and the New York Mets are. Or should I say were.

With the promotion of Ike Davis to play first base, during his first major league game, the Mets had five players (David Wright, Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Jonathan Niese and Davis) as homegrown Mets starters, plus the final relief pitcher Jenrry Mejia.

A game which  saw the Mets win 6-1.

If you wanted, you could also include Jeff Francoeur as “homegrown” since the Mets traded Lastings Milledge to the Washington Nationals for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider, then spun Church off to get Frenchy from the Atlanta Braves. Francoeur has provided a stabilizing influence in right field, has played great defensively, and despite a recent 0-24 slump, has now shown moderate signs of being more selective at the plate.

He has a big run-scoring double today, a big 3-1 Mets victory.

His biggest contribution is the presence he has brought to a clubhouse desperately in need of a strong personality. Wright and the Latin contigent have not provided that since the Minaya regime began.

Francoeur is still only 26 and was a former first round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves.

Minaya, who is on the hot seat as GM and NEEDS to make the playoffs this year or at least have his team show vast improvement over last season.

And that insurgence has been helped by the play of Met young players promoted from their won system. I have consistently gotten on Minaya for his free agent signings, losing first round draft picks, and still not getting anywhere with other teams forgotten players.

And then Minaya signed Bay to a four-year, $66 million contract this off season.

Would Minaya have been better served by not thinking of saving his ownshort-term neck by signing Bay, and looking instead to improve the Mets over the long-term? With that I mean letting all the young guys play.

Instead of Niese trying to make the team as a fifth starter, give the job to him. Let him get a full season of major league ball under his belt. Thus far in 2010, Niese, despite walking too many hitters on occasion, has pitched pretty well. Then let young Jenrry Mejia develop in the minors as another homegrown starting pitcher.

With Mike Pelfrey those three could be 60% of a current rotation.

Minaya might have been better served letting the Wilpon’s keep their $66 million they gave Bay and, similar to what good teams do, invest it in signing some of this young talent (Pelfrey, Niese, Davis) in two to three years on a longer term basis.

It’s all about the Mets future, except in Minaya’s mind.


Why Does Joe Girardi Hate David Robertson?

April 24, 2010

It was during last night’s game at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that I realized Joe Girardi does indeed hate New York Yankees relief pitcher David Robertson .

Why do I think that? Because after another game which has Robertson finishing off a tough inning by retiring batters with ease, Girardi pulls him in favor of a new reliever to begin the next inning.

Pure lunacy.  

I have stated many times that the biggest mistake a manager makes is the constant replacing of an effective reliever currently in the game with a new reliever. Most of the times this is for the sake of “this guy is my 8th inning guy or he is my closer.”

What these managers do is replace a reliever who we know how is currently throwing with another reliever who is an unknown that current day. And that is a huge mistake which managers continuously make.

What happens most of the time is that the manager replaces what is likely a win with an eventual loss.

K-Rob is the victim most of the times by Girardi in regards to this overmanaging nonsense.

Last night saw Girardi summon Robertson after a one-out walk from AJ Burnett to Bobby Abreu in the bottom of the seventh inning, game tied 4-4.

Jorge Posada threw out Abreu trying to steal and Robertson struck out Torii Hunter on a 92 MPH fastball up in the zone, literally blowing Hunter away. The coup de grace to Hunter was preceeded by two pin-point fastballs on the outside corner for called strikes.

Robertson raised the bar (and the sight level) on that final pitch, turning the 92 MPH heater into a 95 MPH fastball. K-Rob threw only six pitches.

Then why did Girardi pull him in favor of Joba Chamberlain? Because he is your 8th inning guy? Not a good enough reason, especially when Kendry Morales was coming up that inning, a hitter who virtually owns Joba .

That was also Joba’s ninth appearance in 15 games. I know the rules are off him now, but Girardi, without Park in the pen, is leaning more heavily on Joba.

Girardi did the same thing to K-Rob in the opening night game . David came in the bottom of the 6th face Adrian Beltre, allowed a single to tie the game, but then retired the next two batters on weakly hit ground balls.

After the Yankees scored two runs in the top of the 7th inning to take the lead, Girardi brings in Chan Ho Park, who promptly blew the lead and the game.

As in last night’s game, Robertson was doing the job, but was removed well before he was finished pitching effectively. You know how he was dealing in that game, but we did not know how the next releiver will pitch that day.

The Yankees began several years ago to develop two-to-three inning relievers, Robertson (and Mark Melancon) being the first two test cases. It is about time Girardi lets K-Rob pitch more often when he is in the game.

Girardi should actually let his starters go longer if they are still dealing, and let relief pitchers who are successful in that particular game stay in even if the next “inning guy” is ready.

David Robertson is a quality pitcher who has had one bad outing this season, albeit coming against these same Angels 10 days earlier. But that outing, which resulted in grand slam by Abreu, came when the Yankees were already up by six runs.

That grand slam by Abreu was the only hard hit ball that inning which had an infield single, bunt single and fly ball which dropped in to load the bases.

Every time that Robertson comes in during a tight game, he gets the job done. Last season he had the great Houdini act in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins.

He had two scoreless appearances in the 2009 ALCS against these same Angels.

I again ask, why does Girardi hate David Robertson?


With Phil Hughes, as Yogi Berra Would Say, It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

April 22, 2010

He is not the savior, and he was never a prodigy, but he was a talented right-handed pitcher who had a popping fastball and killer, knee-buckling curve.

The fact that Phil Hughes carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of last night’s game on the road, against an American League West opponent in his second start of the season, seemed familiar to Yankee fans.

That is because Hughes turned the same trick three seasons ago on May 1, 2007, as a 21-year-old in his second ever major league start at Texas. That game ended with Hughes allowing no hits but being removed from the game, as he popped his hamstring* making a pitch.

As Yogi would say, “It was deja vu all over again,” which is basically being repetitively redundant.

*The great image on SNY a few days ago of New York Mets reliever Ryota Igarashi’s hamstring popping and visible from underneath his pants was the same as Hughes’ hamstring issue in 2007 and Pedro Martinez’ in 2008.

Hughes did return that season, starting 13 games total.

Hs second start last night was just as dominating—probably more dominating. His fastball was great, and his curve induced many weakly hit balls, as there were not too many balls in play that were hit hard. The hardest-hit ball might have been Eric Chavez’ up the middle grounder that hit Hughes and bounced away, and Chavez made it to first base safely.

His final line last night was impressive: 7.1 IP, one H, one ER, two BB, and 10 K’s, with 70 strikes thrown in his 101 total pitches. He probably would have been able to finish the eighth inning, but Hughes walked Gabe Gross in a nine-pitch at-bat two batters after Chavez’ single.

Hughes pretty much threw fastballs, cutters, and curves all night, and when he needed to, he blew the ball by hitters for many of his 10 strikeouts. Interestingly, the pitch f/x summary indicated Hughes did not throw a single change-up, the same pitch he worked on throughout spring training.

Hughes’ command of that new pitch was the primary reason manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman gave Hughes the coveted fifth starter’s job.

The Yankees had too much invested in Hughes’ development as a former first round pick and projected savior. He is not a savior, but just a talented kid finally getting another chance at starting in the major leagues.

I am not complaining about Hughes getting that fifth starter’s job, as it was a foregone conclusion that he would “win” the job. It did not matter how well Alfredo Aceves or Sergio Mitre pitched. That is why the manager and GM came out with those change-up command reasons for keeping him in the rotation and sending Joba Chamberlain to the pen.  

I was against Joba in the pen (I believe Mark Melancon can be a dominant closer), as I feel he can still be a very effective starting pitcher, but it appears Cashman and Girardi’s plan of Hughes in the rotation and Joba in the pen has worked very well.

Everybody is happy with that.


New York Yankees: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

April 21, 2010

One of the best Clint Eastwood movies from his Western days was “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” Fantastic. Rent it if you have not seen it. In fact, get a bunch of Clint movies one rainy day and park yourself on the couch.

This movie title is going to be the same as this Yankee theme. It will be a bi-weekly segment on the most recent Yankee two week stretch of games.

Don’t look now, but despite Javier Vazquez, the Yankees enter Wednesday at 10-3, a half game ahead of Tampa Bay and Minnesota for the best record in baseball.

With a record that strong, the Yankees obviously have much which is good about their team. Veteran Yankees like Robinson Cano, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter have performed well, while CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett have not suffered the Yankee sophomore jinx.

Newcomer Curtis Granderson was well documented in his inability to hit left handed pitching, but has hit well enough against southpaws. He was also supposed to have bad routes to the ball in the outfield, but appears to do an admirable job with the leather.

They have the best offense, and best starting pitching in the American League.

Here are my opinions on various players over the first two weeks:

THE GOOD

1) CC Sabathia —He continues to be the defined ace. A 2-0 record with a 2.84 ERA and 0.737 WHIP including two dominant starts. The Yankees likely will not have a long losing streak (5+ games) as long as CC is pitching. The thought of removing him in his near no-hitter is dumb . Let this guy pitch and pitch often.

2) A.J. Burnett —I was not a big fan of his signing last year, but, after a nice rookie Yankee campaign, he has also produced this season. Has thrown the same amount of innings as CC with a better ERA (2.37 vs 2.84).

3) Andy Pettitte —Why do too many scouts and baseball people continue to stress high velocity for young starting pitchers? True that extra speed will let you get away with some mistakes, but Pettitte has showed over the last year and this April that a starter can win with movement, changing speeds and location. He didn’t top 90 MPH all day Sunday and still dominated a strong Texas Rangers lineup.

4) Robinson Cano —His hitting for early power has dramatically boosted his lineup presence. Hitting in the No. 5 spot is paying off early and his good start has helped temper the slower starts of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.

5) Brett Gardner —Brett the Jet has gotten on base at a .410 clip, and has shown what he can do when on the bases with seven steals, tied for the league lead. Still needs to improve his swing, as it is still a bit jumpy. Amazing that he went from first to third last week on a single by Derek Jeter to left field.

He should be in the lineup most every day, and leave the pinch hit duties for Marcus Thames, whose defensive skills are brutal. There is enough offense in that lineup that Thames’ right handed bat is not needed every time a lefty pitcher starts.

6) Curtis Granderson —He has performed about as well anyone could have hoped. He has hit for average (.313 BA), hit for power (.563 SLG) and also hit better against LHP (.263 BA). A good guy in the clubhouse, who has given the Yankees good early returns playing under the bright lights of New York.

7) Overall offense —First in runs scored, first in OBP, SLG and OPS, and second in batting average. They has also knocked in those runners once they get on base, hitting .291 with RISP.

8) Joe Girardi —Seems to be even better this year, but does have a little Sparky Anderson in him pulling pitchers too early. I still do not know why he removed David Robertson entering the seventh inning of game one in Boston .

Robertson did give up the game tying hit to Adrian Beltre in the sixth, but then got two weakly hit ground balls for easy outs. No way you burn K-Rob after only six pitches to bring in Chan Ho Park.

Unless it is for Mariano Rivera, never take out a pitcher who is doing well. You just do not know how the new pitcher will be, but you already can see how the current guy is throwing.

THE BAD

1) Robinson Cano —Huh? How is Cano good and bad? While Cano has had a nice start, most of his damage is still with the bases empty. He is only hitting .214 with RISP, and .227 with men on base. He also has a .100 average (1 for 10) in high leverage situations .

Cano still swings at too many bad pitches, getting himself out on pitches out of the strike zone or on good pitchers pitches.

I like his aggressiveness but he needs to be more tempered and selective during big at bats.

2) Nick Johnson —I really don’t care about his high OBP, he takes too many pitches which are good pitches to hit. That working the pitcher stuff is crap. When a hitter works the count against a pitcher who throws strikes, pretty soon you are down in the count and sitting on the bench very quickly.

Johnson struck out looking three times in Sunday’s game!

If it is a good pitch to hit, then hit the ball; especially with a struggling Teixeira hitting behind you. There are certain times to take a walk (bases empty, man on first), but other times where you need to swing the freaking bat and drive in runs.

If Teixeira was swinging the bat well, then NJ can walk as much as he wants. But when Teixeira, and Alex early on, were struggling, with men were on base and good pitches pumped down the middle, a hitter has to adapt to the situation and swing the bat.

3) Derek Jeter —The Captain is hitting .345/.368/.545/.914 OPS with three home runs, nine runs scored and nine RBI. Why is he bad?

Jeter is resorting again to his early pitch swings at balls he has no business swinging at. Like first pitch fastballs on the inside corner. That is not his pitch. He should only be swinging at inside fastballs if he has two strikes in order to protect. Otherwise, wait for a pitch near the middle or outside and drive it up the middle of the other way.

On good pitches for him to hit, Jeter is magnificent.

His bat seems a bit slow, though, and all those weak ground balls to short stop are an indication and the result.

Also, he has looked a bit tentative defensively, making one error and booting several other balls which were deemed hits by overly friendly official scorers.

THE UGLY

1) Mark Teixeira —We know he will hit, but when will it begin? It appears he has bad approaches at the plate in that he knows he is a slow starter and is waiting for May to begin.

But, he is playing extremely well in the field, and there is no one else I would rather have as the Yankees first baseman. This team is so good, that is can get off to a 10-3 start with your #3 hitter looking like Bob Buhl  most of the first two weeks.

UZR Warning – Teixeira’s UZR took a hit early in the season when Jacoby Ellsbury doubled down the right field line. Doesn’t matter that Tex was playing Ellsbury (who doesn’t pull the ball down the line much) over in the 3.5 hole. A ball hit into his zone was not turned into an out.

2) Javier Vazquez —Up until last night I was going to include a REALLY UGLY category, but Vazquez got on the board with his first Yankee W in 2010. As in his first two starts, Vazquez puts up ZEROES most of the innings he works, but then gives up the big (2+ run) inning.

With Travis Buck solo HR in the 5th inning, it was the first time Vazquez worked an inning where only one run was scored. It is usually two-plus runs or zeroes. That was the pattern when Kurt Suzuki took him deep an inning later, resulting from the miscommunication on a lazy pop up behind second base. 

How many UZR were affected by that ball?  

Neither HR hurt as the Yankees had the big six run lead. In fact, Buck’s HR came on a 3-2 pitch with the bases empty. With a six run lead, Javy did what pitchers are supposed to do: throw it down the middle and hope for the best. But why not throw all the pitches down the middle at that point?

And as Pettitte has shown this year, you do not need 92+ fastballs to win in the league. So no worries here about Javy’s reduced velocity from last season.

THE END

The Yankees are stacked, having the best hitting in the league and the best starting pitching, too. Even the bullpen has been good, with Chan Ho Park’s Boston meltdown the only blemish. Bullpen ERA’s can get inflated with a blowout loss, so Robertson’s four-run inning while the Yankees were already losing late is not an issue.

But when the pen needs a big pitch, they are usually getting it—like Joba Chamberlain did last night by striking out Kevin Kouzmanoff with the bases loaded in the eighth inning.

What will happen in the next two weeks? Teixeira will hit, someone else will then slump (that’s baseball), Jeter, and CC and Posada will do their thing and Nick Johnson will continue to take pitches down the middle.

You can pitch count on it.


David Wright’s Career Is Over Unless He Becomes Fearless at the Plate

April 19, 2010

The event occurred after my college career was over and I was several seasons into one of the various semi-pro leagues I played in during the summer. Make no mistake about the quality of “summer ball,” as these were some of the most competitive seasons we ever played. A regular season was usually a 40-game schedule played over 60 days, then playoffs.

We were taking infield practice during a team workout and while playing second base, I moved to the left to field a ball hit into the 3.5 hole, when the ball hit something (the skin fields were never great), and came up and hit me square in the nose.

You can tell by my picture on my home page here a Bleacher Report , that it was not the only time I was hit in the nose by a baseball.

But this occasion, which produced a stream of blood and an immediately dark black eye, produced a fear for me in fielding ground balls. I would flinch every time I was about to field a ground ball. For at least a month (or maybe more) I shied away from ground balls, especially those which were hit hard.

I was relegated to outfield duty until my fear of the baseball eventually subsided.

If a baseball player is ever fearful of the baseball, then their ability to play the game is severely compromised.

Which bring me to New York Mets third baseman, David Wright.

After watching the very draining three-game series the Mets played at the St. Louis Cardinals, I have come to the conclusion that Wright’s baseball career, as he and Met fans knew it, is over.

Why? The Aug. 15, 2009 fastball from San Francisco Giants RHP Matt Cain which beaned Wright in the head. That 94 MPH 0-2 pitch sailed in on Wright and knocked his helmet off.

When Wright was beaned, he suffered a concussion, was placed on the 15-day disabled list and did not return to the Mets lineup until Sep. 1, 2009. Wright missed 15 games.

This past weekend, I saw all three Met games, including all 20 innings Saturday night. In these three games, Wright ducked away from eight inside pitches, literally turning away from the ball in a frightened state.  

What was amazing is that all eight of these pitches were curveballs! They were pitches which were thrown at Wright, which then broke over the inside or middle part of the plate.

David Wright was afraid of these pitches as they were thrown at him.

Wright also now “steps in the bucket” on most pitches, pulling his front foot towards the third baseman rather than stepping straight at the pitcher. It must be noted that Wright, in his career prior to the beaning, almost always didn’t step directly at the pitcher, but his bailing out now is much more pronounced.

After the inside curveballs, Wright was peppered with breaking pitches away. The standard procedure, likely devised by Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan, was to throw Wright inside pitches to get ahead and then get him out away.

But teams cannot pitch the same way every time to a hitter, so the Cardinals mixed up the philosophy a few at bats, just to keep Wright honest. They would work outside, then get him looking outside before coming in with their “out pitch.” 

Also, a couple times this weekend (ninth inning Saturday, fifth in Sunday) Wright took inside curve balls for strike three. Wright literally turned away from the ball before taking the called third strikes. The main situation is that the Cardinals sensed Wright’s fear and set him up all weekend.

Professional sports are copycat businesses, and I expect to see other teams follow suit with this program of pitching to Wright.

If he continues to be afraid of the ball, Wright will never be the same type of productive hitter he used to be prior to Aug. 15th of last season.

There have been many beanings in baseball’s history and some of the most famous include Tony Conigliaro of the Boston Red Sox, Dickie Thon of the Houston Astros, and Paul Blair of the Baltimore Orioles.

Because of various reasons none of these three hitters ever were the same as they were before the beaning. It is tough to get back in the batter’s box to face 90+ mile an hour pitches when you have suffered a head shot.

Blair even tried switch hitting before ending that experiment. I do remember Blair from his days as a New York Yankee, a backup outfielder on the two World Series teams of 1977 and 1978. At that time, Blair had a severe “step in the bucket” hitting style, afraid to stand in against right handed pitchers.

Blair was one of the best defensive center fielders of all time and was primarily a defensive specialist for those Yankee teams.

In addition to Wright, there were seven other players hit in the head with a pitch during the 2009 season, including Marco Scutaro, Paul Konerko, and even pitcher Micah Owings. A check of their statistics after their beaning indicates very little change, although I do notice Scutaro stepping away from the pitcher a little. Several players even hit a little better.

However, Wright returned after the beaning and hit .239 BA/.289 OBP/.367 SLG/.656 OPS after the beaning. This was after putting up a line of .324/.414/.467/.882 OPS prior to the beaning. That is very significant.

And Wright also walked only nine times and struck out 35 times in that final month after the beaning, whereas he never had less than nine free passes and never had more than 27 punch outs during a single month—in any full season of his career!

While that could be a fluky final month in 2009, combined with Wright’s slow start and high strikeout rate already (14 whiffs) this season, there should be cause for concern. While he has continued to walk (17 times so far in 2010), that can attributed more to big money free agent Jason Bay’s even worse start (another great move by Omar !), the batter who normally hits behind Wright.

While the above beaned player’s careers were stunted after their beanings, three Hall of Fame players also suffered severe beanings—Mickey Cochrane, Joe Medwick, and Frank Robinson.

Cochrane was the premiere catcher in his day but never played another game after he was beaned in 1937, but both outfielder’s Medwick and Robinson returned to the diamond. 

Medwick won the National League’s Triple Crown in 1937 as a 25-year-old. He was in his prime when he was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Brooklyn Dodgers early in the 1940 season, and was beaned a week later by former teammate Bob Bowman of the Cardinals.

Before the beaning, Medwick was a superstar, finishing first or second in various batting categories 28 times, including three straight RBI titles* from 1936-1938. After the beaning, he was a shell of his former self, never leading the league in any category and finishing second once.

*I know the sabermetric crowd doesn’t like the RBI stat, but driving in runs is still the most important job a hitter can do. Just ask the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets this season about getting hits with runners in scoring position (RISP). They can’t hit with RISP and, so far, both teams stink this season.

Medwick hit .338 and slugged .552 before the 1940 season and after the 1940 season hit hit only .302 and slugged .439. Severe drop-offs. According to reports from the time, Medwick was plate shy and not the same aggressive hitter.

Similar to Conigliaro , Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was a hitter who stood on top of the plate, and was always getting hit by pitches (198 total). Robinson, who was one of my favorite players (we share the same birthday), led the league seven times in getting hit by a pitch. Robinson was beaned in spring training 1958, his third season in the major leagues, and his career was in jeopardy.

In an interview with Investor’s Business Daily on April 5, 2007, Robinson admitted when he woke up in the hospital he wasn’t the same hitter. “I was in denial. I was fearful at the plate for the first and only time in my career. I had struggled through the first half of the season. I was just leaning back on pitches, rocking back, and I wouldn’t admit it to myself .”

The great Robinson, Rookie of the Year in 1956 and already a superstar was afraid of the ball. Then during the 1958 All-Star break, he decided it was time to have a talk with himself. “I said, ‘If you still want to be a major-league ballplayer, you’re going to have to start going into the pitches again and not have any fear up there at the plate .'”

David Wright has the ability to play the game at a high level, but the beaning he took last August has noticeably affected his play. The numbers since the beaning supports that observation.

Wright can take one of two routes going forward. He can fight through the fear of the pitched ball like Robinson did and improve his game or he can stay in his state of fear and continue his downward spiral, similar to the spiral Joe Medwick had after his beaning.

I fear Wright will follow Medwick’s path, and that is too bad.

If I was running a pre-series meeting before facing the Mets, I would tell my pitchers to be aggressive up and in EARLY to Wright at least once a game to intimidate him. Take advantage of his current weakness.

You never know how long it will last, and with continued aggression, it might last forever.


Was the Javier Vazquez Trade A Bad One for Yankees?

April 16, 2010

One word – NO.

After Vazquez was booed off the mound the other day, many fans were chanting. “We want Melky, we want Melky.” They were indicated their love for Melky Cabrera, the key player given up by the Yankees in the five player deal last winter with the Atlanta Braves.

Well, Melky is hitting a robust .088/.205/.118/.323 OPS for an OPS+ of negative 13. The other players Atlanta received in the deal, 19 year old Arodys Vizcaino, got banged around in his first start for Low A Rome in the Sally League, while Michael Dunn, a lefty reliever has been stellar in his two appearances for Triple A Gwinnett County.

Vizcaino was mentioned by some to be a lock as a top of the rotation starter, but as I mentioned in a piece when the deal was announced, the Yankees did not like Vizcaino’s bad attitude. From what I have researched, many young and talented Dominican kids have the “I am so great” bad attitudes.

But what I thought was going to be the key variable, Robinson Cano, has worked out well so far. With Cano and Cabrera being best buddies, I thought Robby might have ill effects from his friend being traded away.

Not so as Cano has gotten off to a hot start, putting up a line of .395/.400/.816/.1.216 OPS with four home runs, including two bombs last night at the Stadium. What was special about those home runs on the 63rd anniversary of the debut of Jackie Robinson was that Cano was named after the great Brooklyn Dodger pioneer.

Cano’s start is fascinating in that I hear Cano is more focused than any other year, because his good friend Melky Cabrera is not around anymore.

I have heard that Melky was a distraction for Cano, if not a bad influence. Melky was always into more of the off field activities. Since the trade, Cano has been more of a student of the game.

The sky is the limit for Cano, who is on the way to becoming the dominating player which was thought of him.

So, now that Vazquez is considered the worst pitcher in New York history, that trade is still a good one since Cano is a better player because of it.

I did write a few months ago that Cano would get 110 RBI’s this season, but that was hitting 8th in the lineup. With the great start to 2010, and hitting behind three high on base guys in Nick Johnson, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, Cano could hit that mark relatively easy.

But while his great start is a nice sign of things to come, Cano’s average this season with RISP is only .250, and he would need to lift that up to have a monster year.


A New Big Money Pitcher Has Early Struggles For The New York Yankees

April 16, 2010

Due to financial reasons, a highly paid pitcher moves from a solid team, and comes to the Bronx with high expectations.

People spoke on how he comes from a weaker divison, and wonder how this right hander, who is a control specialist but strikes out his share of batters, will fare in the mighty American League East, a division which had four of the top five hitting teams in the AL.

This starter is a workhorse, rarely missing a start and throwing 200+ innings with relative ease.

But this right handed stud pitcher was bombed in his first two starts against two of the top hitting teams in the majors.

Javier Vazquez?

Nope. Jim “Catfish” Hunter of the 1975 New York Yankees.

Catfish became a free agent after the 1974 season, and, became the first big money free agent, signing a HUGE $3.75 million, five-year contract on New Year’s Eve 1974, which at that time it was THE landmark contract. 

After his first four starts, Hunter was 0-3 with a 7.36 ERA, while the Yanks were 0-4 in his four starts, including two losses to the rival Boston Red Sox. George Steinbrenner was none too thrilled, and neither were Yankee fans. Similar to Vazquez, Hunter was booed early and often at the Stadium.

In a positive trend for current Yankee fans, Hunter went on to pitch into the eighth inning over his next 32 starts, including 27 complete games. Catfish ended that season at 23-14 with a 2.58 ERA, throwing 328 innings.

And as with Catfish, Javier Vazquez is a good pitcher, who will have good starts, great starts…and some bad starts.

It just so happens that his two bad starts were his first two of the season, and coming off the heels of his 2004 Game 7 relief appearance against the Boston Red Sox.

Just let the guy pitch and stop trying to dissect every little nuance of his starts.

I have read that his velocity is down from his usual 91-92 to 88. I have also read that Vazquez is not comfotable pitching in New York, and I have even heard (many times) the argument that Vazquez is a National League pitcher who can not pitch in the hitting established American League, specifically the AL East.  

First, Vazquez has shown he can pitch effectively in the AL, as his 15-8, 3.74 ERA, 1.140 WHIP indicates. During that season, Vazquez beat a good hitting Cleveland Indians team (96-66, 1st place) two times.

That Cleveland team went to the ALCS and included Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Garko, all who banged out 20+ home runs.

Javy also dominated (3-0, 2.20 ERA in 5 starts) a good hitting Minnesota Twins team which had Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Torii Hunter in the lineup.

Last year Vazquez beat the Philadelphia Phillies twice (he lost once) in five starts, with a 3.00 ERA and 1.030 WHIP. The Phillies were the best hitting team in the NL last season.

Vazquez can beat good hitting teams.

Due to the Designated Hitter, it is widely assumed the American League is the tougher league to pitch in due to the deeper lineups. While it may have been so in all prior seasons, it is not so thus far in 2010.

Going into yesterday’s games, the National League is the superior hitting league, with higher batting averages, OBP and slugging percentages. The NL OPS is a full 18 points higher than the AL, even with the pitcher having to hit!

Three NL teams were slugging over .500 (Phillies, Dodgers, DBacks), while the highest team in the AL, Boston was slugging only .478!

And I went through the various lineups for each team, and categorized each hitter as regular or difficult. I want to point out that while every hitter in the major leagues can hurt a pitcher at any time, there are many hitters who are impactful enough to hurt a team during each at bat.

These guys include hitters like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira (although not in April), Ryan Howard, Hanley Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun, etc. Hitters who put fear into the pitcher nearly every time they come to the plate.  

Going through the NL lineups I came up with 56 such impact hitters, and in the AL there were only 44 such hitters. Both leagues had seven teams with four or more impact hitters, and while there are two more NL teams, the NL does have deeper lineups.

In the NL, Philadelphia, Colorado, Los Angles Dodgers, Arizona, and Atlanta have five deep impact lineups. The AL has Tampa Bay, Los Angeles Angels, Texas, Minnesota and New York with five or more impact hitters.

Boston has Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury (a stretch) and Victor Martinez as the only impact hitters in the lineup. They appear to be an easy team to pitch against. Pedrioa is carrying the offense now, so pitch around him and get out the easy outs like David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and JD Drew (I don’t care how many walks he gets, he stinks) have not been good for at least a year.

It just so happen that Vazquez’ first two starts were against two of the top hitting teams in the AL, the Rays and the Angels. Wait until Vazquez gets to face the Kansas City Royals (surprisingly good so far, but it will not continue), Oakland A’s (not one impact hitter), Toronto (doing it with young pitching), an underperforming Baltimore lineup and an overrated Detroit Tigers top nine hitters.

Many times it not the teams you face, but when you face them.

When good pitchers struggle, it is usually that his pitch location is off and he gives up the big hit, leading to a big inning. A winning pitcher (and team) limits offenses to very few big innings, innings which often change the complexion of an individual game.

This is done by hitting spots with key pitches when men are on base.

When runners are on base this season, Vazquez has been throwing his key pitches over the middle of the plate, allowing the big inning. In his 12 innings of work, Vazquez has had five 3 up/3 down’s, three additional zero run innings, but four innings of two or more runs. He has not given up a single run inning yet.

By making a few more quality pitches, Vazquez would not be getting knocked around – by the hitters, the media or the fans.

The season is long, the games are numerous and Vazquez will have at least 30 more starts to right the ship. He is a quality pitcher, with four working pitches and has shown as recently as last season he can dominate top hitting teams.

Just give him the best opportunity to succeed, which does not include booing every time he gives up a run scoring single.

And then Vazquez will be like Catfish Hunter, a winning Yankee pitcher.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.