New York Yankees Make Mistake By Having AJ Burnett on the ALDS Roster

October 5, 2010

The New York Yankees post season roster is always highly debated, but this season the roster has a few extra spicy sidebars. We now know for sure what has been assumed for at least a few weeks: AJ Burnett will not get a post season start.

But if Burnett is not going to get a start, then he should not be on the post season roster in the ALDS at all. He is not going to get any late innings work, as those are reserved for Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Kerry Wood and David Robertson.

A.J. will only get long relief work, and that is if the Yankees are down by a few runs early or the games goes into a few extra innings.

In the first case, the reliever is in the game to “hold” the other team down and keep the game close. In the second example, the tight game takes on added pressure that a single bad pitch could cost a victory. 

One of the biggest needs to be a relief pitcher is to have control of the strike zone. I do not care if the reliever gives up hits, just do not walk anybody. Without a walk involved or back-to-back extra base hits, it usually takes three hits to score a run.

In either scenario, there are usually very few or no innings left and the team can not afford to put extra runners on base. If a reliever walks guys and gives up a few runs, the offense has fewer opportunities to get those runs back. While it is not OK for a starter to walk many guys, either, a team has far more chances to get early runs back if a starter gives up walks and runs early on.

It is imperative, and rule No. 1 for a relief pitcher, to throw strikes.

A.J. Burnett DOES NOT throw strikes consistently and can not be trusted to pitch in big spots, especially extra innings where his high walk rate (3.8 per 9 IP) would really hurt. He does not deserve a roster spot as he will not even get a chance to pitch.

But Burnett will pitch in the ALCS if the Yankees get that far. Probably in a Game 4, and for that reason, Burnett should also be off the ALDS roster.

It will allow him to go to Tampa to work out in Tampa and pitch during instructional league games against real hitters.

Forget the innings limit garbage and “saving the arm.” One of the keys for starting pitchers is to throw consistently against hitters, keep in rhythm and stay in pitching shape. If A.J. is in the bullpen for the ALDS, he is taken out of his consistent throwing.

I also believe Sabathia will have issues after not throwing for eight days between his last start and his first in the ALDS.

CC Sabathia will go his customary seven or eight innings win or lose, and I do not foresee him getting rocked early to where he has to be removed. So, no need for a long man in Game One. Andy Pettitte will go Game Two and will get at least five or six innings, maybe seven if he is cruising along.

And with Sabathia saving the bullpen in Game One, everybody is ready for Game Two. Phil Hughes has been pretty reliable all season. He has gone at least five innings in all but one start, and if not on an innings limit this year he probably would have gone five in that game, too. Expect Hughes to give his customary six innings in Game Three while allowing three or four runs, including at least one home run.

If those first three starts go as I anticipate, then the bullpen will need to get seven innings worth of outs. Joba, Wood, K-Rob and Rivera can do that with a little does of Boone Logan thrown in. There is no need for Burnett, unless one of the games goes extra innings.

And isn’t that what middle relievers are for?

Burnett was not great the last time he pitched in extra innings, allowing three hits, two earned runs and a walk, taking the loss. Granted he did throw that inning on two days rest (stop the presses!), but still was typical AJ Burnett.

Joe Girardi made a great choice in putting Sergio Mitre on the roster instead of Chad Gaudin. Mitre throws more strikes (2.7 BB/9 IP), has a lower ERA, WHIP and HR rate.

He also does very well against left-handed hitters (.226 BA/.261 OBP/.368 SLG) and in 13 relief appearances of more than one inning, Mitre has only allowed runs in four of those contests. Gaudin allowed runs in 10 of his 17 appearances of more than one inning. Mitre’s success against left-handed hitters (plus his ability to go multiple innings) likely cost Royce Ring a shot to get a roster spot as a second situational lefty.

And why is Dustin Moseley on the ALDS roster? He will not pitch unless the Yankees are getting killed, and they probably will end up losing by more if he enters a game. On the season, Moseley had an ERA just under 5.00, and the worst strike out rate, walk rate and home run rate of any Yankee pitcher. He is the worst possible candidate to be on a post season roster.

Girardi’s confidence in Moseley is baffling.

He has worse numbers than even Javier Vazquez, and has terrible number in relief roles. Meanwhile, Vazquez is 2-0, with a 2.70 ERA and limiting opponents to a .528 OPS in relief.

So instead of having both A.J. Burnett and Dustin Moseley on the ALDS roster, with both likely in the same role as Sergio Mitre as long man, Girardi should have been more versatile with his roster. I would have taken Vazquez over Burnett and taken an extra bench player such as Eduardo Nunez over Moseley. Burnett and Moseley are not going to pitch much, if at all, and it would be better for the Yankees to have that extra bench player.

With Golson in for Swisher for defense, the Yankees also lose their speed player in case they need to pinch run for someone. For example, Yanks are leading late and Golson is in for Swisher for defensive purposes but the Twins rally and tie the game.

Posada gets on base his next time up and you want to run for him. Run with Cervelli since he will replace Jorge? Good, but not great. It can’t be Ramiro Pena because he is your emergency infielder. If he runs for Posada, what happens if Alex pulls something? Who plays infield then?

That is where Nunez comes in to play. He can run and then provide added insurance as another infielder.

Roster management in a five game series should be much different. Teams don’t need that extra pitcher, and the Yankees have 11 arms on their ALDS roster. Extra position players would help a team more in various situations than an 11th pitcher.

The Yankees made a mistake carrying both Burnett and Moseley.


Javier Vazquez Back Into The Yankees Starting Rotation, But Why?

September 1, 2010

Back in 2007, the Yankees had a starting pitcher in the minors who blew through several levels of play. He regularly hit the gun at 95-97, even as late as the 7th inning inone game for the Trenton Thunder.

He was good starting pitching prospect, but the Yankees needed his power arm in their bullpen. So Joba Chamberlain was in the bullpen for the 2007 post season.

He was tried as a starting pitcher and despite not being Wes Ferrell right off the bat, he still did well considering he was restricted in more ways that Stephen Strasburg laughs at him.

But Joba was perceived to be a better pitcher as a reliever (where he was needed) and the numbers appeared to show this fact. Even before this inconsistent season from the pen, Joba has a lower ERA, WHIP, and higher strikeout and K/BB rates as a reliever.

Despite only starting 43 games, Joba was better in the pen than as a starter. The debate was fierce and everyone had an opinion.

However, the Yankees are going in a different direction with another pitcher who gets much better results when he comes out of the bullpen.

Manager Joe Girardi said today that Javier Vazquez will move back into the rotation on Saturday, replacing Dustin Moseley. This comes on the heels of Vazquez’ two really good relief appearances over the past week.

In the first one on August 25th, Vazquez came in the middle of the 4th inning to replace Phil Hughes. Javy completed the game, going 4.1 innings, allowing two hits, one earned run, while walking one. He struck out two.

The second appearance was on August 30th, where Vazquez replaced the increasingly ineffective Moseley. Once again, Javy finished the game, cruising through almsot five very effective innings. He finished with 4.2 IP, allowing two hits, one earned run, walked one hitter while striking out six batters.

In his last two appearances, both in relief of ineffective starting pitchers, and totaled nine innings of two run ball. He kept the Yankees in the first game (an eventual loss to Toronto) and got the win in relief of Moseley.

He also got the win in the May 17th game versus Boston, when he came in relief and struck out Kevin Youkilis in a big late inning situation. That was the game which Marcus Thames homered off of Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom of the 9th inning.

As a reliever, Vazquez has a 1.93 ERA, 0.643 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 4.5 SO/BB and a .125 BAA. All those numbers are considerably better than the 5.07 ERA, 1.366 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 1.9 SO/BB, and .257 BAA.

So then why put Vazquez back into the rotation? He pitches so much better out of the pen in his long-man role. At the point when Vazquez enteres games, either the Yankees are behind a few runs or the game is close and the Yankees have scored a bunch of runs already.

The game is already in its groove, and the big pressure of starting is off. Does Vazquez relish this lack of pressure role, where he is being used to give the Yankees innings?

Probably. Although he is a veteran pitcher, the pressure of New York was the reason why many people thought he wouldn’t pitch well this year after the off season trade with the Atlanta Braves.

With Ivan Nova, Moseley’s spot, and Phil Hughes commanding three straight starts in the current rotation, that is a lot of possible innings for the bullpen to pitch. You need a long man to maybe keep the Yankees in the game if one of those guys hit the showers early.

Like Hughes did on August 25th, and Moseley did two days ago.

Vazquez and Chad Gaudin (unbelievably surprising!) have formed a nice, recent one-two middle relief punch. Gaudin pitched well last night, throwing three innings in relief of another short Hughes outing.

But Moseley is not a very good pitcher, and should not start this Saturday. He is 2-1 but averages fewer than five innings a start. He’s walked 13 and struck out 11 while allowing five home runs, resulting in a 6.41 ERA.

But who to start on Saturday? You can always go the Sergio Mitre route, but that doesn’t excite me.

Nova has done well in his recall from Triple A so why not got down that well once again? While Moseley ws blowing up Monday night in the Bronx, David Phelps was throwing five innings of opne run ball in Triple A.

Phelps has a 3.23 ERA in 11 appearances. While he does allow a fair share of hits, Phelps is similar to Nova in that he does not walk many hitters (13 in 62 AAA innings). You can give up hits or walks, just don’t be good at allowing both in the same game.

Phelps doesn’t need to be on the Yankees 40 man roster until after next season, I can not see him spending all his time in AAA all next year. He will pitch in the majors sometime in 2011.  

The Yankees have too many wasted spots on their 40 man roster, such as Chad Huffman, Wilkin De La Rosa, Reegie Corona and even Mitre is expendable. He will never get a post season roster spot.

So I say lets go with Phelps and see what he can do. It won’t be for long since Andy Pettitte will be back in two weeks.

Vazquez needs to stay in the bullpen now. He is performing well in that role.

Let Phelps pitch and if he does well, you might have an idea for next years rotation with two guys (Nova and Phelps) who could challenge for a 2011 rotation spot. At the very least, it will increase his trade value in the off season.


Joe Girardi: New York Yankee Manager Makes Huge Gaffe in Pulling Starter

June 19, 2010

After seven brilliant innings by New York Yankee starting pitcher Javier Vazquez in Friday night’s game versus the New York Mets, Joe Girardi did his usual routine.

He pulled out of the game a very effective pitcher who was cruising through a lineup all night long, giving up one very soft run in the top of the 1st inning.

Why did Girardi pull Vazquez?

Well, by God, Javier was over the magical 100 pitch count threshhold! Vazquez threw 109 pitches before being pulled.

Oh my goodness! The Yankees best starting pitcher over the last month was pulled out of the game during a very critical moment. The game was 1-0 Mets, and Vazquez was cruising, having not allowed a hit for five and a third innings!

And this was after Vazquez quieted the Mets bats earlier this season on one hit over six innings.

That mistake of pulling Vazquez based upon pitch count by Girardi COST the Yankees an opportunity to win that game.

And to make matters worse, Girardi brought in perhaps his most inconsistent pre-8th inning guy Chan Ho Park to start the inning. He put Park in the game ONE NIGHT after Park gave up two hits in a third of an inning in a loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

In that game, Park relieved another reliever, Joba Chamberlain, who had replaced an effective starter in Andy Pettitte. Pettitte was relieved after throwing a whopping 105 pitches!

According the Michael Kay on the broadcast, Andy’s pitch count was high.

Take him out!

Is that why Girardi took Pettitte out yesterday after 105 pitches? Pettitte could have AND SHOULD HAVE gone out for the 8th inning against Philadelphia.

AND VAZQUEZ SHOULD HAVE GONE OUT FOR THE 8TH INNING FRIDAY NIGHT.

Are 109 pitches really too much for one of the most durable pitchers (besides Roy Halladay and Mark Buerhle) in the entire sport? A guy in the 34 year old Vazquez, who has averaged 217 innings and 33 starts in each of his 10 full seasons in the majors?

That is flat out retarded. Girardi is not a good manager when it comes to pitching. That is surprising Girardi was a pretty good catcher. He is the same as every other manager in baseball, making the same moves with pitchers and trying to lose ballgames.

They do not follow the most basic rule in pitching.

It is also DelGrippo’s Baseball Rule No. 1 to win games :

In a close game, if your starting pitcher is throwing well (and especially dominating the opposition) NEVER, EVER take him out due to an innings limit or pitch count.

WHY?

Because as a manager, you know how your current pitcher is throwing, but you have no idea how your relief pitcher will throw. Is it a good day, or a bad day for them?

We don’t know, but we do know our starting pitcher (who is usually at least 30 years old if they are throwing for the Yankees).

*This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George is going to get married to Susan. Kramer then tells Jerry all about the horrors of marriage, including the following exchange:

Kramer: Yeah, and you can forget about watching TV while you’re eating.
Jerry: I can?
Kramer: Oh, yeah! You know why? Because it’s dinner time. And you know what you do at dinner?
Jerry: What?
Kramer: You talk about your day! “How was your day today? Did you have a good day today or a bad day today ? Well, what kind of day was it? I don’t know, how ’bout you, how was your day?”
Jerry: Boy!
Kramer: It’s sad, Jerry. It’s a sad state of affairs.

The same exchange can be used in the sad state of pitching affairs in major league baseball. All around you see how young pitchers are doing well , and that more have sub 3.00 ERA’s. But many of these hurlers are being conditioned to look over their shoulders towards the bailout bullpen at every hint of trouble from the fifth inning on.

But the sad state is when managers think that after 100 pitches, it is time to take your starter out of the game, and never go above 120. This is because some guy who never played the game suggests that pitchers will be injured for life it they do.

That is why Justin Verlander has not thrown above 120 pitches since I wrote this article .

And if your starter IS OUT due to some reason, like getting hit hard or has been replaced by a pinch hitter, and your first relief pitcher is pitching well, NEVER, EVER take him out to bring in your 7th inning, 8th inning or closer (unless it is Mariano Rivera).

WHY?

Same reason above, you know how your current pitcher is performing and you do not know how the next guy will do.

When relief pitchers have good days, everyone is happy. But why take the risk? That is why they are relievers – they really aren’t great pitchers.

But when relievers have bad days, and they oftentimes do, the team usually loses the game. Most of the time when relief pitchers give up runs, games penciled in the win column turn into losses. Or as Girardi has shown the Pettitte and Vazquez games, he takes a one run deficit and makes it into a game you never will win.

Maybe, just maybe they turn into games you barely squeak out but use up your entire bullpen by playing the idiotic matchup game.  

And the matchup game is because lefty pitchers supposedly can only get out left handed hitters, and righty pitchers can supposedly only get out right handed hitters.

And that is why (as I mentioned earlier) relievers are not good pitchers because they can pretty much only get out the same side hitter. They never had the pitches to make it as a starter.

That is why starters should pitch longer than seven innings and 100-110 pitches. They are your better pitchers. They should pitch more, especially when they are in their 30’s and have been involved in the majors for a decade as have Pettitte and Vazquez have been.

No way Vazquez should be taken out of Friday night’s game. Girardi cost the Yankees an opportunity to win that game. I have much more confidence in Vazquez (after throwing 5.1 consecutive hitless innings) pitching the 8th and, even the 9th, innings than I do some middle reliever guy.

And that includes Joba Chamberlain.

A team today should only have ten pitchers – five starters, a closer, and four guys who can get out both right handed and left handed batters and pitch multiple innings. One of those four needs to be a five+ inning type guy (a sixth starter)- in case there is an extremely long extra inning game.

I ask you, “is it too much to think that a pitcher can’t throw 15 pitches per inning? That equates to 105 pitches for a seven inning game. Then why can’t he go two more innings than the usual seven if he feels good, his legs are strong and he is dominating the opposition?

The biggest knock on the “abuse of pitchers” was that the pitches they threw when tired is what led to injuries. Vazquez (and Pettitte*) did not appear tired after seven innings. So why take them out, and lose those games?

* I do understand a little about Pettitte as the Yankees are a little worried because his rib cage injury from last season has begun to act up again . The Yankees may think it might be a little more serious than just a pull .

Is is that hard? Or is everybody scared of what the agents will think? Are the GM’s who let this craziness continue worried too much about the money lost if a pitcher gets hurt?

Are wins and losses important?

As I said earlier, it is not just Girardi who makes this terrible blunder time after time. Zack Greinke’s bullpen has blown at least three games for him this year, Tim Lincecum’s bullpen blew several of his early starts.

Just yesterday, The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen blew a win for Cole Hamels . The Phillies bullpen is a sad group of pitchers who should be the poster children for complete game advocacy.

But Hamels had thrown 117 pitches by that time, and the Phillies had a five run lead with two innings to go. As the PAP guys say, “the game is in the bag, why abuse the starting pitcher?”

It is not pitch counts or innings workloads which hurt pitchers arms. Josh Johnson of the Florida Marlins, the second best pitcher in baseball had Tommy John surgery at age 22. He was not abused via pitch count or innings increments, having a steady increase throughout his pro career. 

Johnson was taken out of yesterday’s game  by manager Fredi Gonzalez, he of the double-switch lineup snafu’s, removed Johnson after eight innings because he had thrown 117 pitches.

“If the pitch count had been 103 or 104, you’ve got to give him the opportunity to go back out there,” Gonzalez said.

Johnson’s last two pitches, his 116 and 117, were 96 MPH.

How about a 34 year old man in Javier Vazquez, who has a history of durability and was pitching great baseball?

Why take him out after 109 dominating pitches?

Now that the Yankees are in sole possession of first place, Girardi will try like hell to help his team lose games.

You can pitch count on it.


The New York Yankees: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Segment No. 3

May 19, 2010

We are here with our third installment of the Clint Eastwood crusade regarding the New York Yankees. If you missed the first installment, click here .

Second installment? Click here .

The Yankees record is 25-14, three games behind the American League East leading Tampa Bay Rays. And the Yankees are home against Tampa for the next few games, then have a short road trip (across the river) to face the New York Mets for three games, and then on to Minnesota.

While the Yankees did not get into first place after Tampa’s dominant nine-game West Coast road trip earlier in the month, they have a chance to make up two games quickly.

After the Yankees, the Rays head to Houston where they luck out against the worst team in baseball.

THE GOOD

Brett Gardner

He has been really good in his time as a starter . Gardner has put up a line of .280 BA/.345 OBP/.380 SLG/.725 OPS with two doubles, a homer, 3 RBIs and 4 stolen bases. He also scored 10 runs. In February, Yankee fans would have signed on the bottom line for those slash numbers for the entire 2010 season. Currently at .321/.399/.412/.811, Gardy has surpassed all of our expectations.

Alex Rodriguez 

After there was talk about his lack of power, he comes up and wins one game with a grand slam , and ties another with a two-run shot in the bottom of the 9th. Even if he wasn’t hitting home runs, I remember lots of stinging line drives ripped all over the field. His OPS is 1.064 over the last two weeks.

Mark Teixeira

The three and four hitters are finally cranking. Tex has raised his season average to .219 with a two-week spurt of .300/.375/.640/1.015 OPS with five homers and 16 RBI. Although, during the last two Yankee losses, he has come up in the last inning with runners on base and made out both times.

Francisco Cervelli

A total pleasure to watch play the game. No HR’s so far (tied with Ben Zobrist in that category). Enthusiasm, ability to call a game, sets up hitters well, and really comes through with RISP. He slashes .647/700/.882/1.582 in that situation with 15 RBI.

I like his aggressive hacks at pitches in the strike zone. Good to see that aggressive nature in this take a pitch down the middle world we live in.

Juan Miranda

Huh? Why? Well, despite his .231 average, Miranda has a .872 OPS with a long double and booming home run. I love the way he attacks the baseball, looking to hit. But while he is aggressive, he does not swing at too many bad pitches.

I have noticed his tendency of being pull happy, trying to pull fastballs on the outside corner. Even the HR he hit last night was on an outside fastball, but he did try and pull a similar pitch in the 9th inning, too.

He must only like the pitch over the plate because he takes too many fastballs on the inner half.

I truly believe the Nick Johnson signing was a waste of $5 million, when Damon or Miranda could have been had for about the same money.

Young pitchers

Because of injuries to Chan Ho Park and Alfredo Aceves, the Yankees had the Chris Britton memorial shuttle to Scranton working overtime. They needed arms and brought up Romulo Sanchez and Ivan Nova to the majors.

Both players responded very well, combining for 6.2 innings of no run ball, allowing five hits, a walk while striking out four.

Nick Swisher

I was not a huge fan of the trade for Swisher , not because of his talent, but when the Yankees got him they had a glut of 1B/DH/RF types already on the roster.

But since the injuries to Curtis Granderson and now Swisher, you really see how Swisher’s presence is missed in the lineup and in the outfield. His new mentality in the batters box really lengthened the Yankee lineup.

Phil Hughes

Despite the not so bad start Monday, Hughes still had a good two weeks. He made three starts, going 2-0 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.105 WHIP. He only walked three batters in 19 IP, a very impressive number.

Andy Pettitte

One start after being skipped and it was more of the same from Andy. 6.1 IP, no runs, good stuff and his fifth victory.

Javy Vazquez

He is moving up the charts quicker than a Taylor Swift single. He was impressive in his two outings, one a start, and one a relief appearance. He pitched seven solid innings in Detroit (but lost a tough one), and entered Monday night’s game to face Kevin Youkilis, and got him swinging with two men on.

His curve appears to have that good break and location, but he needs to keep the fastball on the corners, not in the middle of the plate.

THE BAD

Robinson Cano

He is beginning to swing at non-hittable pitches, getting himself out in the process. His last two weeks have produced .239/.327/.326/.653 OPS with six strikeouts.

CC Sabathia

Three starts, no wins, 5.09 ERA. I know he was ripped off by the bullpen last night and should have gotten the win in Boston before the rain fell, but he is the ace and he can not go three straight starts without a victory.

If I were him, I would sit down with Joe Girardi and tell him, “Unless I am getting knocked around, I want to go eight or nine innings every start. No more of this seven inning garbage.”

AJ Burnett

Two starts, 0-1 record and 8.18 ERA. He is back to Bad AJ, issuing seven free passes and 16 hits in two starts. Almost Ugly. If he has no control of the curveball, he is useless.

David Robertson  

He is improving, but he still walks too many. Six walks in five plus innings, but seven whiffs. He should throw his curveball more for strikes early in the count. No one swings at it and if they do, it isn’t a hittable pitch.

Marcus Thames  

I really would not care if this guy hit five game winning home runs last week, he stinks. The only reason he is not part of the ugly group is the one game-winning home run.

He obviously can’t field, can’t throw and can’t hit righties. He is the ultimate one-dimensional player.

And with a team beset by injuries, that is the worst type of position player to have on the roster.

THE UGLY

Derek Jeter

If I see one corpuscle of blood come across the hall…I mean one more weak ground ball to short, I am going to freak out. FREAK OUT!  

Last night, I had more confidence in Juan Miranda coming through in the ninth inning than I would have if Randy Winn got on base and Jeter came up with a chance to win the game.

He takes too many fastball strikes, can’t hit with authority with the ones he does swing at, and flails at WAY TOO MANY breaking pitches outside the zone.

Jorge Posada

He needs to play or go on the DL. It is a waste to have him on the roster without using him.

If a limping Kirk Gibson can go to the plate in the 1988 World Series against Dennis Eckersley, then Posada could have pinch hit for Winn in the bottom of the 9th inning in Tuesday night’s game.

Posada is showing his age with all the nagging injuries. As I said, either DL him or play him.

Boone Logan  

Boone Logan stinks. Why is Girardi the only one who does not see this? In 6.1 innings this season, Logan has allowed ten runners! Lefties are hitting .357 off him with a .500 slugging percentage.

Send him out and bring up a versatile position player like Kevin Russo, who is now playing outfield in Scranton.

Joba Chamberlain

Whew! Not much to say, we all saw the two games.

Joe Girardi

I pretty much said a couple things about Joe already, but for him to need another pitcher by sending down a speedy outfielder like Greg Golson when Nick Swisher is unavailable, this might be the dumbest move I have seen all year. 

Except when Girardi brings Logan into a game.

Girardi has this penchant for resting certain guys as DH’s, giving them a half day off. That is stupid. Either give them the full day or play them in the field. Have a set DH.

The revolving DH has pushed the Yankees into a non-DH situation three times recently where the pitcher would need to hit, one which was Monday night when there were no bench players left. If the game went into extra innings, then Vazquez would have had to hit.

And if Posada can not play, then Cervelli is the only catcher with Ramiro Pena as the back-up. But when Pena was removed from the game the other day (Alex went in), the DH was lost and not only did the Yankees have no one to pinch hit, they had no backup catcher at all!

Girardi needs to have much better roster management. With too many guys unavailable, but still on the roster, they need versatile guys and a set DH.


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.


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.


Javier Vazquez Trade Looks Good Now, But There is a Big Variable

December 24, 2009

Everybody seems to love the New York Yankees trade with the Atlanta Braves for Javier Vazquez. The Yankees traded OF Melky Cabrera, LHP Michael Dunn and Low-Low A (although highly rated) pitcher Arodys Vizcaino to get the former Yankee right handed pitcher.

I am always a little wary when too many people love things at the same time. When too many people jump on the bandwagon, it always seems like time to get off the ride. For example, when every housewife is day trading stocks to “make easy money,” the time for the bubble to burst is right around the corner. At that point it is time to cash out and sit in the sidelines.

With baseball trades, I always get a first impression, then let the trade sink in for a day or two before I make a judgment whether a trade is good or bad for a team. For example, the trade the Yankees made during 2008 when they traded four young players to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. Everybody loved it. I did not .

On the surface, there is not a lot to dislike about the Vazquez trade if you are a Yankee fan. General Manager Brian Cashman essentially traded a starting/fourth outfielder in Cabrera, a probable LOOGY in Dunn and a possible good starting pitcher in Vizcaino for an established major league starting pitcher. A starter who was one of the best in the majors last season, going 15-10 and 2.87 ERA with 238 K’s in 219 innings.

But the more I thought about the trade, I realized the most important player affected in 2010 might not be a player even in the trade.

As Cashman stated in his remarks after the trade was announced, he said that replacing Cabrera was easier than getting a pitcher of Vazquez’ stature.  In fact, Cabrera was beaten out of the starting job last season by the speedy Brett Gardner, and unless the Yankees make a move for a more established player, Gardner would likely platoon with recent Rule 5 draft pick Jamie Hoffmann .

I highly recommend this platoon rather than the Yankees signing free agent such as Mark DeRosa, who is not even an upgrade on Cabrera’s offensive production. DeRosa’s career slash is .275/.343/.424/.767 with an OPS+ of 97, while Cabrera hit .274/.336/.416/.752 with an OPS+ of 99 this past year (and is only getting better). DeRosa is 10 years older than the others, will cost a lot more cash (about $6 million a year for 2+ years), and likely will not play defense as well as Cabrera would have or Gardner/Hoffmann will.

I was initially surprised Cashman moved Dunn after the GM almost pulled the plug on the Curtis Granderson trade because Detroit insisted on both Dunn and Phil Coke before agreeing to accept only Coke. Then it was apparent Cashman wanted Dunn available to trade for a starting pitcher.

The Yankees also lost lefty Zach Kroenke in the Rule 5 draft this year, so they are out three home grown lefties within the last two weeks. Cashman is pinning a lot of hope Damaso Marte can continue to pitch in 2010 like he did in the 2009 post season. Kroenke, who was a Rule 5 pick last season also and was returned, has a decent chance of being returned again.

The player the Braves were most interested in was Vizcaino, who according the Baseball America was the Yankees No. 3 ranked prospect. The 19-year-old Vizcaino has a good fastball and knee-buckling curve (the best combo a pitcher can have, better than sinker/slider type guys), but both pitches aren’t always in control. He is a good prospect but for the Yankees was at least FOUR years away before he reached the Bronx.

Don’t you think the Yankees will sign at least two or three similar type Dominican guys before Vizcaino reaches the majors? Plus, the Yankees also have Wilkins DeLaRosa, Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, and Romulo Sanchez on the 40 man roster who are far more advanced than Vizcaino. Also, Zach McAllister, Jairo Heredia, David Phelps, DJ Mitchell, and Manuel Banuelos are all highly regarded pitching prospects who are also more advanced than Vizcaino.

So although I believe Cabrera is a much more important player than most Yankee fans (and obviously Yankee executives), he and Dunn and Vizcaino don’t bother me as much as the player most likely affect by this trade.

Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano. Why Cano?

He and Melky Cabrera were best friends, inseparable on and off the field. Once they began to play together in the majors late in 2005, they were constant companions. Like current teammates Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, who began playing together in the minor leagues.

Cabrera was always enthusiastic in his play, playing hard all the time (why aren’t Latin players ever called gritty?), and some, but not all, of that enthusiasm wore off on Cano. As an example, Robby saw Cabrera sent down late last in the 2008 season and worked hard last winter and had the best offensive season of his career.

Will Cano be affected by not having his compadre with him on the field, in the dugout, in the clubhouse and on the road, where it might be most important? Will Cano give it his all, or will he show the sings of immaturity that has plagued him at various times throughout his career?

I know that players who are paid millions of dollars to play baseball are professionals and need to act like pros. And in professional sports today, players are continuosly moved, and players like Cano need to understand that it is part of the profession.

But players are humans, and like all of us they have emotions and feelings. Losing a brother in Cabrera might affect Cano to some degree, the degree of which we will not know until probably mid-way through the 2010 season. I say mid-way because Cano sometimes gets off to slow starts.

With his tremendous mechanics, Vazquez is a workhorse and will give the Yankees the customary 200+ innings, about 15 wins, and even if his ERA rises by a full run this season over last year, a sub 4.00 ERA. Better than new Boston Red Sox free agent signer John Lackey’s ERA last season and similar to Josh Beckett’s.

People have speculated that Vazquez will not be as good in the American League and worry about his 2004 campaign with the Yankees, where after a strong start, he wilted in the second half. Vazquez pitched well when he was with the Chicago White Sox in 2007 and pitched well last year against the only AL team he faced, the Boston Red Sox. In that June 27th game , Vazquez allowed one run while striking out eight in 7.2 IP. He absorbed the 1-0 loss and fell to 5-7 after that game.

He bounced back to go 10-3 over the next three months and alleviated any fears of his perceived second half collapses. In fact, his career ERA (4.04) is lower after the All-Star break than it is before the break (4.32).

If Vazquez averages the almost seven innings per start like he did in 2009, he should easily win 17 games in 2010. And with the designated hitter in the American League, there is no reason why Vazquez won’t reach those innings pitched per start.   

However, the true test is if the Yankees get to and win another World Series in 2010.

Vazquez will help the Yankees get there, and the Yankees hope Cano helps them, too.


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