The New York Yankees are at a Crossroads

May 6, 2012

Well, the New York Yankees are at a crossroads.

And that was well before Mariano Rivera tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee.

I was talking with Mike on Saturday, saying how this Yankee team was in a serious situation. They have a veteran team, aging superstars and aging bench players. Guys right now are playing every day that weren’t signed this season to play every day.

An aging and expensive team in a young man’s game. And the team is only getting more aged and will be getting more expensive.

So, these Yankees are at that crossroads and there are several reasons for this.  

First, there are the exorbitant salaries paid to aging players whose careers are on a decline. You see the decline already. Alex Rodriguez and especially Mark Teixeira are in their decline phases of their careers, former top of the line talent now slowly sinking down the rope to the floor below.

I wrote about Teixiera here, saying if he doesn’t change his approach (not trying to pull every pitch), his carrer as we had known it is effectively over. And over and over again I see Alex beaten inside with moderate to advanced fastballs, indicating his bat speed is further slowing.

Two guys, who play the infield corners for the Yankees, earning a total of $51.5 million this year, are in slow to moderate declines. They are owed a combined $204 million over the next 4/5 years. I bet the Kansas City Royals wouldn’t trade their current infield corners, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer (who had all four RBI in last night’s game) for Alex and Teixeira, even if the Yankees paid upfront to the Royals all of Alex and Teixeira’s salaries for balance of their careers.

Second, there is the self-imposed salary cap of $189 million for 2014.

It is this number which the Yankees owners have said they want the team payroll to be in 2014. This number will allow the Yankees to avoid huge luxury tax monies required to be paid to MLB. Not that the Yankees couldn’t afford higher salaries and additional luxury tax monies. They could even get a rebate if they remain under that amount for 2015 also.

With the $78 million tied up in Alex, Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Derek Jeter ($8 million player option) for 2014, the Yankees would “only” approximately have $111 million available for 21 other players. And they still have to re-sign Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano to extensions likely to cost $15 million each on an annual basis. Then by 2014, players such as Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Eduardo Nunez and Ivan Nova will all be eligible for arbitration or will be locked up for “below market” multi-year contracts.

That’s a lot of players important to the roster who will be making mucho more cash.

Third, the Yankees will very likely lose Russell Martin and Nick Swisher to free agency after this year. During every long Yankee run of titles, the team has a high quality catcher and right fielder. The Yankees have had such a history at catcher with Wally Schang (an OBP machine), Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada. In right field they had Babe Ruth, Bob Muesel, Tommy Henrich, Hank Bauer, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson and Paul O’Neill. But now, two important starters in highly Yankee-fabric positions of catcher and right fielder need to be replaced.

Both Martin and Swisher will likely command three year deals for $8-12 million per year. That might be too rich even for the 1% Yankees.

These open spots lead to the fourth reason the Yankees are at a severe crossroads. They have a severe lack of quality position player depth at their higher levels of the system. They have ZERO, repeat ZERO help on the way to fill any open starting position players for at least the next two seasons.

And I hope you aren’t saying to yourself, what about Zoilo Almonte, who impressed the spring training? Well, he wasn’t that good the first time playing at Double A, and it is a stretch to see him seriously contributing at the major league level until at least 2015. Other strong players such as Austin Romine (remember him?), David Adams, are always hurt, with Romine having chronic back issues. That isn’t good for a major league starting catcher.

All the other position players are three years away, and with the Yankees patient nature in developing young players, it may be even longer.

Yankee fans are now suffering through injuries, lack of production and, even though the playoffs were expanded, a feeling that they just might not be strong enough to make this postseason, let alone make a run to the World Series. New York fans, in particular most Yankee fans, have what have you done for me now relationship with their players.

Many have written that maybe the Yankees should have traded Gardner before last season when his value was highest; saying his success in 2010 was never going to be improved upon. But now they miss his OBP skills, speed and quality defense on an everyday basis.

After Swisher struggled again last October, almost all Yankee fans wanted to trade Swisher this past off season. But you see how Swisher and Gardner are very important to the Yankee lineup. Along with Jeter, they are the only two Yankee hitters who consistently go the away with pitches, opening up the field and therefore, getting more hits.

Now these same Yankee fans seriously wish both could come back from their injuries quickly. The New York fans love to react to those small sample sizes.

What the Yankees have done by playing the Ponzi scheme method of long term deals to players who are now aged and much less productive is coming home to roost. There is now dead money for guys, who aren’t producing up to their salary levels, will continue to decline and because of their salaries, would be blocking any young players the organization might have developed.

So, what to do?

The Yankees could continue with what they have always done and go with the veteran presence at most positions, eschewing young talent in their system and paying big dollars to players who are getting older, and will decline over time.

Let’s all admit it right now; the 2009 World Series title was bought with shelling out over $400 million to Sabathia, Teixeira and AJ Burnett. It sucks that the rules were changed in the middle of playing the game, and the luxury tax threshold was inserted. But that is the hand you are currently being dealt. Try to think of it as the Turn card in Texas Hold ‘Em improving the odds for your opponents.

The key for any team is to constantly work in young players with established veterans, letting certain veterans go free agent when they have kids ready for the majors. But the Yankees have not produced enough young players or given them a serious chance before pulling them, benching them or having fans ridicule them every time they make a mistake (like Nunez).

I say continue with letting David Phelps get starts, let Robertson now close and bring up another reliever (Chase Whitley) if they need a one inning type arm. I wrote about Whitley here. Since there isn’t a great need in the bullpen even with Mariano out, let Phil Hughes continue to start and get his innings in and see what you have over a full season.

You really don’t know what Hughes can do. Let the guy throw the ball as a starting pitcher. Starting pitching is the largest annual expense for teams, especially if you have to go out on the free agent market and attempt to sign a Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke type starter. Except for a game here and there, Hughes can barely make it out of the fifth inning most games because that he what he is used to throwing. That is the way he has been developed. Hughes has made 77 career starts and pitched 7+ innings only 13 times, most recently in his last start when Joe Girardi finally let Hughes throw 115 pitches, only the second time he has reached this plateau in his career.

In regards to the veterans on the team, offer Cano and Granderson semi-long deal of 4-5 years at $15 million each. First one to take it gets his money, the other needs to re-evaluate. With the self-imposed $189 million payroll, this is more important than ever. You can’t let a player dictate what the team can afford.

But if the Yankee brass decides they can withstand higher salariesand go over the $189 million threshhold, all bets are off. Sign away and watch the aging team get even older. The only way the Yankees survive is letting their kids play and develop. You know how the other way works now.

They might not make the postseason each and every year via development, but then again, this 2012 team is no lock right now either.


New York Yankees: Joe Girardi Makes Excellent Move with Mariano Rivera

June 24, 2010

It wasn’t a classic to begin the evening, with lots of walks and terrible clutch hitting, but last night’s New York Yankees-Arizona Diamondbacks matchup ended up being a really good baseball game.

It had everything in the latter innings: great defensive plays, big hits (although not enough), and some stellar clutch pitching by the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history, Mariano Rivera.

With the Boston Red Sox blowing a lead in Colorado and Tampa Bay’s starting pitching continuing to crumble, the Yankees had an opportunity to pick up another full game on both their closest division rivals.

At this point, they were playing with house money.

A nice eighth inning rally scored the tying run on Alex Rodriguez’ sacrifice fly. And it all happened without the benefit hit, the Yankees’ second such inning of the game.

Simultaneously, the game was utopia and a virtual disaster for the sabermetric crowd. The Yankees “didn’t make outs” on 23 of their 47 plate appearances, generating 13 walks and ten hits plus A-rod’s sac fly.

But while their on-base percentage was about .500 for the evening, they were terrible in getting hits with runners in scoring position. Robinson Cano, their best hitter this year, had multiple opportunities to drive in runs, but he could not do the job. They hit into five double plays. It happens.

But it shows the RBI stat can be a big deal and is very important.

Joe Girardi saw an opportunity to steal a game in the standings and went for it. Again, he was playing with house money. What helped was that the Yankees have an off-day on Thursday, and Rivera would have an extra day to rest.

The manager brought Rivera into a tie game, something he rarely does. Not bringing in Rivera in a tie game earlier this season at Toronto cost the Yankees a chance at winning another contest.

(Isn’t the image above this piece priceless? It is from last night’s game, and it shows Girardi leaving the mound basically saying, “I’ve done my job, no need to say anything else. You do your job and go get ‘em, Mo.”)

Instead of Rivera in the 14th inning of that game, Girardi used Chad Gaudin (who stinks) and the waiver wire pick-up only needed nine pitches to lose that game.

But Girardi used his biggest bullpen chip at Arizona, and Rivera used his Houdini escape tricks to help seal another Yankee win.

And now they have a 2.5-game lead on both Boston and Tampa Bay.

OTHER THOUGHTS ON LAST NIGHT’S GAME

While Girardi did make a good move by having Rivera in the tie game, he did (and almost did) make some head-scratchers.

1) Why did Girardi pinch-run for Nick Swisher in the ninth inning? Is Kevin Russo that much of a burner that he is significantly faster than the Yankee right fielder? And why put in Chad Huffman to play right field, essentially burning three guys on one play?

Girardi might have been better off sticking with Swisher (since he was not the tying run) and keeping the extra position players. Remember that the Yankees had already used Colin Curtis (a great kid by the way) earlier to hit for Javier Vazquez.

The game might have gone into further innings, but…. 

2) The Yankees didn’t seem like they wanted more extra innings. That is the reason they went for broke and brought the infield in with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the 10th.

The normal move would be to play the infield back for the double play, give up the tying run and then try and get out of the inning with the next batter.

By using almost his entire bullpen during Monday and Tuesday night’s games and burning Damaso Marte, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and now Mo in the current game, Girardi likely wanted to win the game there in the 10th or lose it there in the 10th.  

He did not want an 11th inning.

 

 3) I would have blown a gasket if Girardi brought in Boone Logan (who was warming up) in for Rivera in the last of the 10th inning. You don’t need to pinch-hit for Mo in that spot already up a run.

I would rather go into the bottom of the 10th with a one-run lead and Rivera on the mound than try to extend the lead with a pinch-hitter and put Logan on the mound.

4) But if you are going to use a pinch-hitter, why use Ramiro Pena? He is your last position player, and you have no one else to back up Francisco Cervelli in case he gets hurt.

Remember that Girardi had used Jorge Posada to pinch-hit in the eighth inning.

That is why burning up all your players for unnecessary pinch-running stunts causes you to lose your bench quickly.

And that is why I always like to have only 11 pitchers at the most and more position players, especially when playing in National League parks.

But if you are going to use a pinch hitter for Rivera (now batting in the No. 2 spot), why not use C.C. Sabathia?

He loves hitting, is pretty good at it, and you don’t use your last bench player IN CASE the game goes longer than the 10th inning.

Sabathia is actually a better hitter than Ramiro Pena, anyway.

But as I said earlier, Girardi was playing with house money, as Boston and Tampa already lost, and he was going to win the game in the 10th or lose it there.

He did win it by making his best move of the night (and maybe the season) by bringing in Mariano Rivera to pitch the bottom of the ninth inning in a tie game.


The New York Yankees: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Segment No. 4

June 15, 2010

This is the latest installment of the 2010 New York Yankee progress, honoring the epic Clint Eastwood movie of the same name. According to the astute readers of imdb.com, the Baseball-Reference of the movie and T.V. industry, “Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo ” is ranked as the No. 4 movie of all time .

What is more important is that the Yankees have vaulted themselves into the No. 1 record in the major leagues. With Sunday’s 9-5 win over the Houston Astros, combined with Tampa Bay’s 6-1 loss to the Florida Marlins, the Yankees and Rays are tied atop of the AL East with identical 40-23 records , the best record in MLB.

The Yankees have been 9-3 in June, fattening up on the Baltimore Orioles (5-1) and the Houston Astros (recent three game sweep), while losing two of three to the pitching-rich Toronto Blue Jays.

All numbers are from the last 14 days, unless noted.

Il Buono

No. 1 Robinson Cano —has slashed .395 BA/.469 OBP/.605 SLG/1.074 OPS, with three doubles, two homers, seven RBI and 13 runs scored. Even more impressive are his numbers over the last month at .443/.476/.660/1.136.

During one stretch of his recent 17 game hitting streak, Cano had multiple hits in eight straight (19-33, 3 2B, 3 HR, 14 RBI).

Simply ridiculous, and at the top of the leaderboards for American League MVP.

No. 2 Brett Gardner —How can you not love Brett the Jet?  After a mini-slump which brought his numbers down considerably, Gardner began to hit again (and walk), by slashing .455/.552/.773/1.324 over the last week. Included were a double, triple, and his third home run.

Until Sunday, that homer tied him for the New York city left field lead with the New York Mets Jason Bay, he of the $66 million contract. Bay hit his fourth home run Sunday, but Gardner still leads the very wealthy Bay in OPS (.822 vs. .806).

No. 3 Derek Jeter —Do you really think he was going to stay on the bad list forever? After going through a long funk at the plate and in the field, which prompted the annual “Is Derek Jeter Done?” articles, Jeter has ripped a .333/.391/.514/.906 line over the last month.

While many do not like it when Jeter goes after the first pitch, he is hitting .404 with a .908 OPS when hacking at the first offering. The key is swinging at good strikes.

No. 4 Curtis Granderson —While Granderson’s overall numbers since returning from the disabled list are not great, the team has picked up its pace since Curtis returned to the lineup and his position in center.

That is because we saw less of Randy Winn (before being released), Marcus Thames and rookie Kevin Russo.

The Yankees are 12-4 since his return, but were only 7-11 in the last 18 games he was out of the lineup.

I would still like Granderson to sit back more when he swings, as he is often out in front on the right leg during swings and misses.

No. 5 Nick Swisher —He is turning in to one of my favorite Yankee players. I was not a fan of the trade which brought him here, but he has done very well, and has been instrumental in the lengthening of the 2009 and 2010 lineups. Has hit a very consistent .308/.402/.495/896 with 19 runs, eight doubles, three homers and 16 RBI over last month.

No. 6 CC Sabathia —What? He is struggling, right? Well, he is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA in his two June starts. A 6-3 record thus far should be 8-3, but CC lost a win at Boston because of a rain delay and another when Joe Girardi pulled CC early against the Sawx and the bullpen blew the game.

This is a durable pitcher who should be allowed to throw 125-135 pitches each start.

No. 7 Andy Pettitte —Happy Birthday to Pettitte, who turns 38 today. Imagine on Thursday when Pettitte faces Jamie Moyer, who is seven years older than Andy?

Age is no factor for Pettitte, who is still dominating lineups by changing speeds and hitting corners. Again, why do scouts always worry about velocity and arm strength when a guy who does not top 90 MPH can consistently get guys out?

No. 8 Yankee bullpen —Over the last two weeks, the main part of the bullpen, Mariano Rivera, Joba, D-Rob, Chan Ho Park and Damaso Marte have been outstanding. They have thrown 21 innings, allowing 12 hits, five walks, and struck out 23. That is a WHIP of .809 and the one earned run allowed leads to a miniscule 0.43 ERA.

No. 9 Javier Vazquez —He is 4-1, 3.03 ERA over the last month with a 0.918 WHIP. While he has allowed five home runs, Javy has only walked five over his last 33 innings. He has been the most consistent starter this side of Pettitte.

He is similar to Andy by changing speeds and hitting that outside corner to RH hitters with his curve ball being the key to his success.

Il brutto

No. 1 Francisco Cervelli— Wow! He has come back down to earth faster than the Space Shuttle. Over the last month, the Cisco Kid has hit under .200 with an OPS of .522. He still dos come through with key RBI singles.

His 13 hits (all singles) over the last month have produced 12 RBI. He is still a force on defense and calls a great game.

I love the way he watches the batter before he puts down the sign. Concentrate on Cervelli during a couple at bats tonight and you will see what I mean.

No. 2 Alex Rodriguez —it has nothing to do with his lack of power, because he is still hitting the ball hard. But his injury could be more severe than a few missing days. Any long term time missed could hurt the Yankees lineup at a time when it was finally complete. (I do not count Nick Johnson).

No. 3 Jorge Posada —Two swings doesn’t make a season. Posada was brutal before his two grand slam weekend, but he also swung the bat better in other at bats during the Houston Series.

Posada gets into a taking pitches groove once in a while, taking good hitting strikes. This leads to indecisiveness and too much thinking at the plate.

When Posada is aggressive and still taking his walks by not swinging at balls outside the zone, he is a much better hitter.

Stay aggressive and hit good pitches, Jorge!  

Il cattivo

No. 1 AJ Burnett —An 0-2 record with 7.11 ERA in June with four home runs allowed in two games. Combine that with five walks and 14 hits in 12.2 innings pitched, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Bad AJ go home, but tell your twin brother, good AJ, to come back out and play.

No. 2 Marcus Thames —basically it is the entire bench which stinks, but since I think Thames never should have made the team in the first place, he is my poster boy.

Thames is 2 for his last 22 with eight strikes out and an OPS of .322. By the time his injury heals, I hope Chad Huffman (or Jorge Vazquez from Triple A) takes his roster spot – for good.

Combine Thames with Ramiro Pena, Kevin Russo and Chad Moeller, and the bench is 14 for 81 with four doubles and six RBI over the last month.

That is why Alex needs to be back in the lineup soon.

No. 3 Chad Gaudin —There is no conceivable reason why Gaudin actually pitches in games or is on the roster. He stinks!

Having been released twice already this season, once by the Yankees should only reiterate how bad this guy is.

There is no reason why Gaudin should have been in the June 5th game in the bottom of the 13th in a tie game at Toronto. It only took nine pitches before the Yankees were walking off the field.

That 13th inning rundown: Batter One – leadoff walk on FOUR pitches. Batter two – sac bunt on second pitch. Batter three – game winning single on an 0-2 count!

No way the Yankees should lose on the road to a division rival without using your best relief pitcher, Mariano Rivera.

Get rid of this loser, Gaudin, and bring up Mark Melancon for good.


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.


Yankees Do Not Need a Second Left Hander in the Bullpen

March 5, 2010

Last week New York Yankee manager Joe Girardi said he prefers to have a second left handed relief pitcher in the bullpen. His reasoning is simple: Girardi does not want to be without a LOOGY in case David Ortiz, Carlos Pena, Justin Morneau or God forbid, Hideki Matsui or Johnny Damon comes up in an important situation late in a game.

Shouldn’t that LOOGY role be for Damaso Marte?

With his multi-year, multi-million dollar contract through 2011, Damaso Marte is about as good a lock for the Yankees bullpen as Mariano Rivera. After being injured for most of the 2009 season, Marte was ineffective during the regular season when he was pitching.  Resurrecting his best Graeme Lloyd impression, Marte eventually earned every dollar he made last year with a superb post season.

Girardi wants to add to the Marte perfection, but why would Girardi choose another lefty for the pen? A lefty who will throw maybe 25 innings total, one batter per game over about 75 appearances?

The two main candidates for this second LOOGY role are Boone Logan and Royce Ring.

Are the Yankees and Girardi serious? Boone Logan? Royce Ring?

Ring has not pitched in the majors since 2008 and did not have success last year in AAA against that level of talent. How would anyone think he can still get out lefties in the major leagues?

And Logan is really not much better.

In fact, the Yankees have several pitchers projected to be in their 2010 bullpen who have better numbers against lefties than either Ring or Logan.

Alfredo Aceves and David Robertson both had better numbers than the two journeymen left handed relievers under consideration. Two guys who did not even make the Yankees roster out of spring training last season finished as aces out of the pen, key contributors to a World Series title.

What K-Rob and Aceves did was mix in their secondary pitches well. K-Rob used his devastating curveball and Aceves used his amazing change of speeds to continuously fool left handed hitters. Aceves is amazing in that he is not afraid to throw any of five pitches in any count.

Here are the numbers against left handed hitters for the fantastic four:

Aceves   161 PA, 32 H, 5 2B, 3 HR, 8 BB, 33 SO, 4.13 K/BB, .212/.255/.305/.559 OPS

K-Rob     83  PA, 14 H, 2 2B, 2 HR, 9 BB, 30 SO, 3.33 K/BB, .189/.277/.324/.601 OPS

Logan        44 PA,  9 H,  3 2B, 0 HR,  4 BB,  7 SO, 1.75 K/BB, .231/.318/.308/.626 OPS

Ring (08)  61 PA, 14 H, 4 2B, 1 HR, 5 BB, 13 SO, 2.60 K/BB, .264/.339/.396/.735 OPS

Eyre          67 PA, 13 H, 3 2B, 2 HR, 5 BB, 12 SO, 2.40 K/BB, .210/.269/.355/.623 OPS

I added Scott Eyre, another lefty specialist who pitched last season for the Philadelphia Phillies, who is supposedly retired, but has been mentioned by some as another lefty option.

Why would anyone even think that a Boone Logan or Royce Ring is a better option than Aceves or Robertson? Both of those RHP Yankees had better numbers last season against LH hitters than the LOOGY guys written about in this piece.

And both guys can get out RH hitters, too. It eliminates the need for extra pitching changes. I would do what the Yankees with their relievers in the minor leagues. Go with one of your guys (Ace, K-Rob, Chan-Ho Park, Melancon) and leave them in for 1+ to 2 IP an appearance (unless of course they start getting hit).

In the minor leagues, the Yankees have developed the multiple inning reliever. That saves pitchers in times they have to get up and throw, saving overall wear and tear, spreading the appearances out. Once a reliever is in the game and being effective, leave them in.

The 2010 Yankee starters (CC, AJ, Andy and Javy) went at least 6 innings in 80% of their starts last season. They went at least six full and one out into the 7th in 62.5% of the starts.

Lets just say some guys get their wish and Joba goes to the pen for most of the year, and is crowned the 8th inning guy.

You men to tell me that Robertson, Aceves, Park, Melancon and Joba can’t get 4 or 5 outs (mixing in Marte for a batter) in the games they need to be in there for 2+ innings during the 37.5% of the games that the starter only goes 6+?

There is your supposed bridge to Mariano.

Even though Ring and Logan each have had a really good appearance so far this spring, they were mostly facing AAA and AA guys. Guys hitting in the 6th, 7th and 8th innings of the spring are far different from the major league All-Stars in the American League lineups during the regular season.


New York Yankee “Problems” for 2010 Are Actually No Problem

February 25, 2010

I have read a boatload of preview articles for the 2010 season, plus many articles on the 2010 Derek Jeter led New York Yankees and their attempt to be the first team to repeat as World Series Champions since, the Jeter-led Yankees of a decade ago.

Most pundits agree that the New York Yankees have the best team in baseball, and coming off a 103 win 2009 regular season and a World Series title, it is hard to argue.

But people always need things to write about. Many real baseball writer such as Jon Heyman and Buster Olney have written pieces about the Yankees chance to repeat. But hundreds of other bloggers have their viewpoints, too.

I believe most “bloggers” are just pissed off sports fanatics who could never play a major sport to any degree. Most of what they write usually is negative as they rip players, teams or GM’s. The writer never understands how difficult it is to do what those professionals go through on a daily or seasonal basis.

I even read one web site guy exclaim that the Yankees were too boring this off season and that he needed some controversy to write about. That guy has consistently provided material proving he is knows nothing about baseball.

The TMZing of baseball really galls me.

It was very difficult for Joe Girardi to walk in after Joe Torre was released, have many of his star players besieged by injuries, and be expected to win “because that is the Yankee way.” His team missed out on the playoffs in 2008 and Girardi was ripped mercilessly. Even after winning the World Series last season, many have wondered whether Girardi will be back for 2011 if the Yankees do not win a title again this season*.

*Truth is that Girardi will be the Yankees manager for at least as long as Torre, maybe longer. He is not inept. Girardi is a very intelligent as a baseball guy and as a former catcher, he knows the game pretty well. Most catchers make good managers as that position is involved in every single pitch made on the field, and the catcher is in the best position to see the entire field. That is one reason why scouts and front office brass sit behind home plate, it is the best place to see the game. Girardi also learns quickly on the job. His reversal last season of his 2008  totalitarian ways (with players and media) made for a better player/manager/media relationships.

Yep, Girardi will be the Yankees manager for a long time.

The non-extensions this off season of Girardi, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter was one of the “stories” created by a tired and broken down media. Those people writing about the Yankees possible losing one of those guys, especially Rivera and Jeter, are the same guys who thought the New York Mets were waiting for Minnesota native Joe Mauer to leave his hometown Twins, become a free agent and sign with them next season.

Yeah, like that was going to happen. Maybe Albert Pujols will leave the St. Louis Cardinals, too.

The fact that the Yankee policy of not negotiating until the contract is over was given very little credence. Also, the professionalism of all three guys were never really spoken about much either. Anybody who reads my articles knows how I feel about Jeter’s next contract.

Other off-season controversies written about include the finally ended Johnny Damon saga, the lack of getting a power bat for left field and the competition for the fifth starter spot in the rotation.

But the biggest thing I read about the 2010 Yankees is the phantom issue of complacency.

Complacency about what? Winning? Are they serious?

The complacency issue is the biggest non-issue, because complacency does not exist with today’s professional athlete. There is to much at stake—another ring, that next contract, fame, embarrassment, but most importantly is that desire to win every game, all the time.

Do people really think that these professional athletes are not going to have the personal pride to try and win every game they are playing?

Once you win, like the Yankees did last season, you know how great that feeling is and as a player, you want to win all the time. Even before a player wins a World Championship, they want to win all the time.

It is why they are a professional athlete. That desire to compete and at a high level and to win. These guys want to win on the field, in front of the Xbox and at the clubhouse card table.

While it is true that at certain times during a baseball season that players might give away at bats or go through the motions in a blow out game (but never the Big Dago Joe DiMaggio), these professionals are NEVER complacent about their jobs.

I have always said that athletes are so competitive that they would still play a game just as hard in an empty stadium with no television coverage. If a mid-July Wednesday day game were played on a sandlot field in the middle of New Jersey, Brett Gardner would still sprint towards second base hard to break up a double play, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez would still dive for hot smashes down the lines and Jeter would hustle down to first base on a ground ball.

That is the mantra of the athlete. Compete and win. You want to beat the other guy and team.

Even on the level I used to play in summer semi-pro hardball, the games and season were ultra-competitive. We used to play 40 regular season games in 60 days, then playoffs. The season would stretch from Memorial Day to early-August, playing night games after work to Sunday double headers. The teams in our league were pretty much the same every year, the same core with a few new ringers.

We wanted to win, and were really not happy when we lost a game. I remember  a bunch of us sitting around for hours after losing the final game of the playoffs one summer. It was terrible. We worked even harder to have a better team the next season.

We weren’t complacent even in a summer league.

Do you think that the pro players would be complacent? No way.

Do you think that Nick Swisher is complacent after he won his first ring last season?

No. He went out, improved his hitting mechanics with hitting coach over the winter and changed his eating habits, losing 12 pounds. Swisher wants to become even better this season, knowing he is the starting right fielder. He wants another ring.

Do you think Jeter is complacent after working hard again on his lateral movements to continue his tremendous defense at short? Is Gardner complacent by working on his bunting to expand his game?

Even management was not resting on their laurels. Do you think GM Brian Cashman was complacent this year? Nope. He made a couple key trades to get the Yankees younger and less expensive.

I read somewhere that Cashman made his first inquiry to the Detroit Tigers about Curtis Granderson during last years playoffs. The Yankees did not even win the World Series yet and Cashman was already looking to improve the 2010 Yankee team!

And if complacency did occur like in the old days, it would only occur in the off season, as players maybe would celebrate too much, not work out enough to improve their game and not be in the same physical condition entering spring training. Most of the time players had to hold off season jobs to make ends meet.

But with the money in today’s game, the players’ full time jobs are their overall health and keeping in shape year round. Spring training is not like it used to be when players would use the spring to get into shape. Now all players keep fit during the winter, and the players use the six weeks prior to the season to get into BASEBALL SHAPE.

Complacency is not an issue for major leaguers and especially these Yankees. Cashman has put together a team of high constitution players, without egos and with a strong desire for commitment to the team concept. And that commitment includes working out all year to improve and be ready to play every day.

The Yankees do have the best team in the Major Leagues but may not win another World Series Championship this season, as it is just so hard to do that with the three levels of playoffs.

But it will not be because of complacency.

That does not happen in pro sports.

It is just another media creation.


Mark Melancon Deserves a Major League Bullpen Job

February 18, 2010

One of the clichés you hear in the weeks preceding the opening of spring training camps is that “competition brings out the best in players.”

Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman both have said that over the last month. In fact, here is what Girardi said just yesterday, “I expect guys to pitch at a very high level. Will statistics play 100 percent of the decision? No. We’ll look at guys, how they’re throwing the baseball, and what we feel as an organization and coaching staff is the best for everyone involved. … It is a healthy competition for the fifth starting spot and I love that. I think that brings out the best in people.”

That competition phrase usually deals with two younger players vying for a starting position (think Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera last year), two or more pitchers looking for the #5 starting pitcher job (Joba vs. Phil vs. Gaudin/Aceves/Mitre this year) and those guys looking to become the final phone call in the bullpen or last man off the bench.

But should an important role (such as #5 starter) be determined by a month of games mostly played against mostly non-major leaguers? What if a player is working on a new pitch or a hitter is working on going the opposite way on most pitches? What if the pitcher wants to try throwing his curve ball in more 1-0 and 2-0 counts? Should those players be penalized because their numbers weren’t good, but they have adjusted their game to be better?

In regards to the non #5 starter race, I can never understand why teams have guys compete for jobs where the pitcher is destined for mop up duty or as the last position player but that guy is never getting off the bench. They should always give these jobs to younger players, especially when those players are highly regarded prospects in their system.

Most times people reason that teams do not want a younger player in these roles, because they would “rather have the young player get regular playing time at AAA” instead of sitting on the bench or the bullpen.

That is garbage and wasteful thinking. What if the young player has dominated the Triple A level? What is there for him to still prove down on the farm? That he can get out former major league rejects trying to keep the dream alive plus other not yet ready for prime time kids?

It is more beneficial for a young player to get the feel of the big leagues, gain respect from the umpires and learn how to get big league hitter out in the majors. Getting overmatched hitters out in the minors is not going to help them at the next level. Pitching or hitting against AAA players is not going to get a player to become a better major leaguer.

Those types of guys who have dominated the minor leagues should not have to go back to the bushes, but need to full opportunity to adjust to major league players. Young pitchers need that chance to get out a major league lineup. It does not good to send them back down for “more seasoning.”

The one player on the Yankee who fits this bill is Mark Melancon, my 2010 Yankee candidate for a breakout season.

Melancon was part of that unbelievably great Yankee/Damon Oppenheimer/Brian Cashman 2006 pitching draft, which I have written and spoken about on radio many times before. It will turn out to be the best one year pitching draft for one team of all time, and could rival the 1968 Los Angeles Dodgers draft* as best overall of all time.

* That is a bit of a misnomer as the drafts back then were done in different stages. While the Dodgers did get Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Bill Buckner, Joe Ferguson, Doyle Alexander and Bobby Valentine (Don’t laugh. Valentine and was a two-time minor league MVP and a major leaguer at age 19. He was future stud before he broke his leg and was never the  same), they were all obtained at various stages during the season. It is considered by many the best team draft during one season.

That Yankee draft saw Joba and Ian Kennedy as first rounders, Super-stud Zach McAllister in Round 3, and Melancon, David Robertson, George Kontos, Dellin Betances in later rounds.

The current bullpen scenario has Mark Melancon part of the pack along with guys like Edwar Ramirez, Jonathan Albaladejo, Romulo Sanchez and lefties Royce Ring and Boone Logan. They are all fighting for that coveted last spot (or two) in the pen.

I did not include Chad Gaudin or Sergio Mitre in that bullpen group because they should not be bullpen guys. They should be in “competition” for the last starter spot and if they do not win that job, they should be waived (hoping they clear) so they can be sent to Triple A to start down there. That would leave them ready to be brought up to start a few games in case of an injury to one of the five Yankee starters.

The Yankees should give Melancon a bullpen job as he was drafted to succeed Mariano Rivera and become the eventual Yankee closer. He has that bulldog mentality of wanting the ball at all times, especially when the game is on the line.

While dominating the minors, Melancon has put up a 12-2 W/L, 2.54 ERA, 0.964 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 at all levels. His K/BB ratio of 4.31 is also mind boggling. His numbers during two seasons at Triple A are just as impressive, and sometimes better! At Scranton over the last two seasons, he threw to a 0.863 WHIP, 9.4 K/9 and 5.07 K/BB.  

Melancon’s best aspect is his pinpoint control of both the fastball and his nasty curveball. That is why it is surprising that he walked 10 batters during his 16 major league innings last year. That number will drop the more he sees major league hitters and the more that umpires see him.

Make no mistake that umpires do grant very little strike zone gratitude to newbie pitchers. The more that umpires see Melancon’s demeanor and repertoire, the better he will be for the Yankees in getting close pitches called in his favor.

That is why it is imperative that Melancon be given a job even before spring training starts. To allow guys like Edwar, Albaladejo and the rest to compete with the Yankees future is downright idiotic. Melancon is part of the future, teaming up with Robertson to form a dynamic late inning duo over the next couple seasons.  

And since both of those 2006 draftees have success against lefty hitters as well as righty hitters, they eliminate a need for a second lefty in the bullpen. So bye-bye Boone, arrivederci Royce, here come the kids. Melancon has shown throughout his minor league career that he can go multiple innings at a time, too.

One of my favorite stories is the one told by former New York Met and 1979 NL MVP Keith Hernandez. Tex has mentioned on numerous occasions that he was a nervous wreck playing first base for the St. Louis Cardinals in the late 1970’s. Even as the incumbent starting first baseman entering the 1979 season, he was always worried that a mistake at bat or in the field would cause the manager or the front office to send him back down to the minor leagues. Hernandez always played the game with a little fear, looking over his shoulder and not fully concentrating on his game.

According to Hernandez, that all changed when the Cardinals manager, Ken Boyer, told him no matter how he performed that spring or during the early part of the season, he would still be the starting first baseman the entire year. That vote of support allowed Keith to played his best season in 1979 and winning the MVP.

Melancon is in that same situation. He needs to be given that bullpen spot and told he is a big part of the Yankee 2010 season, and will be part of the late inning bullpen foundation over the next 5-10 plus seasons.

It will be better for Melancon and the Yankees.


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