Vin Mazzaro and Mike Minor Hurling Against the New York Teams Tonight

August 31, 2010

And I sponsor both their pages on baseball-reference.com.

Here are those pages:  Mike Minor and Vin Mazzaro.

Mazzaro is a Bergen County (NJ) kid who dominated high school at Rutherford High. He played his games just over the George Washington Bridge from Yankee Stadium and I still do not know why the Yankees did not select him as he was right under their noses.

But, while he is in the majors now for the Oakland A’s, if Mazzaro was a Yankee, he likely still would have been mired in the minors.

And speaking of minors, Mike is 2-0 in his young career and is coming off a 12 strike out performance over the Chicago Cubs. He was the 7th overall pick in last years amateur draft out of Vanderbilt University.

Many baseball analysts said he was a reach going that high, but it sure has worked out better for he and the Atlanta Braves than the first guy drafted last year, huh?

Anyway, I also sponsor guys like Josh Johnson, Mike Leake, Rick Porcello, Mark Melancon, David Robertson, Johnny Sain (former Yankee great pitching coach) and Jim Tracy, who went to Marietta College like I did.


New York Yankees: Top Five Replacements for the Great Mariano Rivera

July 14, 2010

Well replacement might be a tough word, because no one is going to ever replace the supreme production supplied by Mariano Rivera.

Replacing someone was as great as Rivera in their own line of work is the ultimate no-win situation. It rarely works out the same way, and no one usually remembers the replacements.

Quick: Who replaced Lou Gehrig at first base? Who replaced John Wooden at UCLA? Answers below.

Mariano is the greatest closer of all time. Not the greatest relief pitcher (that would be Rollie Fingers because of his multiple inning durability), but Mo is the one pitcher you want on the mound for three ninth inning outs holding a one run lead.

Finding a new closer is going to be a difficult challenge as no one knows how long Rivera will continue to want to pitch.

At age 40, Rivera has shown no signs of vulnerability. He still sports one of the best closer ERAs with 1.05 and 20 saves, and a WHIP of 0.641. He also retired an incredible 24 straight batters in the month of June.

Still highly effective, how long will Rivera want to pitch? Similar to Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees will allow Rivera to make up his own mind when he wants to leave the game.

Rivera has mentioned that signing a series of one-year deals (similar to what Pettitte has done) would be acceptable to him.

I believe Rivera will pitch at least two more seasons after 2010. The “Core Four” will begin to gradually leave the team after this season (Pettitte retiring) and after 2011 (Jorge Posada not being re-signed).

If I were Mo, I would not want to retire the same season as another long time Yankee does.

I believe Rivera will then leave after the 2012 season, which makes getting my preferred replacement very difficult, as that guy is available sooner than the 2013 season.

Here are the five top candidates for the eventual new Yankees closer spot, and Joba Chamberlain is NOT on the list.

Answer to above questions: Gene Bartow replaced the Wizard of Westwood, and Babe Dahlgren replaced Gehrig at first base after his 2,130 consecutive games streak ended.

5 – Mark Melancon, Yankees Scranton AAA team

If they ever give this guy a chance of more than a couple mop up appearances, then he will show the Yankees that he will be the eventual closer.

Mark Melancon was drafted in 2006 with the idea of becoming the eventual Yankees closer. He was the very effective closer for the University of Arizona, a pitcher with a great mound demeanor and a bulldog want-the-ball attitude.

He has done everything you could ever want and need in the minors, including some dominating times in Triple A.

Melancon does three things you want in a relief pitcher: 1) He throws strikes, as he only walked 35 batters in three minor league seasons coming into 2010; 2) he strikes out hitters with his 95 MPH fastball and knee-buckling curve; and 3) he can go multiple innings.

He has struggled a little this season, but most of the damage has come in a few different games in his 34 appearances this year.

He deserves more of a major league opportunity than Chad Gaudin or Dustin Moseley. 

And when he gets more of an opportunity, he will show the Yankees that he can and will perform the function that he was drafted for in 2006.

Being the Yankees future closer. 

Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 50:1

4 – Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers

Valverde was a relatively unknown closer who toiled for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros for five and two seasons respectively, before signing with the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2010 season.

Valverde saved 47 and 41 games in 2007 and 2008, and has not slowed down since joining the senior circuit.

He sports a miniscule 0.92 ERA this year, allowing a scant four earned runs in 39 innings. Valverde has a WHIP of 0.821, walking 3.7 per nine innings, but allowing very few hits. Hitters are batting .125 off of him this season.

His strikeout rate has steadily declined over the years from a high of 12.6 per 9 IP in 2006 to a “measly” 8.3 per 9 this season.

Have no fear as Valverde usually gets two strikes on most hitters he faces, and finishes them off with a strikeout or weakly hit ground ball off his devastating splitter.

But one thing hurts Valverde’s chances of becoming the next Yankee closer.

Mariano will likely pitch two more seasons after 2010, and Valverde will be a free agent after 2011.

With the lack of quality closers available, some team will overpay for Valverde, and it is very likely he re-signs with the Tigers.

At the grand age of 34 when he becomes a free agent, I do not see Valverde accepting an eighth inning role for a year or two so he can eventually close with the Yankees.

And unless Rivera retires after one more season, I do not see the Yankees aggressively going after Valverde.

Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 20:1

3 – Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers

He is the current Los Angeles Dodgers closer.

Broxton is big and strong (6’4″ and close to 300 lbs!) with a massive lower body that screams high heat. He can register the guns all the way up to 100 MPH, and regularly hit 98-99 on the gun in closing the All-Star game out last night for the National League.

Over the last two seasons (his only two full years as a closer), Broxton has struck out about 13 hitters per nine innings, while having a WHIP around 1.000.

Those are two great traits for a dominating closer.

Like Jose Valverde, the only issue is that Broxton can become a free agent after the 2011 season, and will have many suitors vying for his work.

If Rivera wants to continue pitching, will the Yankees fork over big money for Broxton over four years, using him as a very highly paid set up guy for a season or two, then letting him close once Rivera retires?

This could happen as Broxton will only be 28 when he reaches free agency.

Will having the opportunity to eventually close for the New York Yankees be enough of a luring card for Broxton to forego his closer role for a year or two?

Or, since Rivera will be 42 in 2012, could both he and Rivera alternate as closer two years from now?

Broxton is the perfect fit for the Yankees, but what does scare me is his arm action, which is shown above. This type of action is ripe for injury, and not something which should be taken lightly, especially for a guy who throws as hard as Broxton does.

He is the perfect candidate to step right in as the future Yankee closer, but the timing of his free agency hurts his overall chances.

Odds of being the next Yankee closer -  7:1.

2 – Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals

Since he closes for the lowly Kansas City Royals, Soria is the best closer in the game that no one really talks about.

But people have been noticing him work lately as many have Soria pegged as possibly being traded to the Yankees as a set up man to Rivera for 2010.

Soria has put up dazzling numbers with a 162 game average of 2.13 ERA and a 0.994 WHIP with 37 saves. He walks only 2.5 per nine IP while striking out over 10 per nine IP.

He is signed through the 2011 season, with three club otions for 2012 ($6M), 2013 ($8M) and 2014 ($8.5M).

I do not believe the Royals will be wanting to pay Soria $8 million per in 2013, and could trade the closer to the Yankees sometime in 2012. If Soria is still effective two years from now, the Yankees will certainly have enough trade chips to whet the Royals’ appetite.

And two years after 2010 is when Rivera is likely to retire. But his odds decline a little as another team needs to be involved, and it is not just a straight free agent signing.

Odds of being the next Yankees closer – 5:1

1 – Huston Street, Colorado Rockies

Basically this deal works timing wise more than anything.

Huston Street will probably be a free agent after the 2012 season, just when I believe Mariano Rivera will retire.

When healthy, Huston is nothing less than very effective. He throws strikes, changes speeds and strikes out hitters at a good (although not great) rate.

Street just does not allow many hitters to get good contact off him. His career WHIP is 1.023 in 343 career innings.

Street is signed through 2012, but has a player option for $9 million in 2013. Assuming he is healthy and still effective at the then age of  28, if Street knows Rivera is retiring and the Yankees (among others) need a closer, Huston would be smart to decline the option and become a free agent.

The Yankees could easily give him a multi-year deal at $10 million per.

Street was rumored to be coming to the Yankees near the 2009 trade deadline, but the Yankees will have to wait a few seasons for his eventual arrival.

Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 3:1.

Honorable Mention – Current Yankee Farmhands

I would always allow a younger player to get an opportunity over a major league free agent, but the future job of Yankee closer is going to have so much scrutiny, it might not be a good idea to have a young player in that role.

It would not be fair to that youngster, and not fair to the fans, who would demand instant success. The role of closer is not allowed to have any failures, especially coming off the retirement of Mariano Rivera.

But the Yankees do have an abundance of young pitchers with strong arms, routinely hitting 95 MPH, with good control and two out pitches.

If the eventual closer was from the current ranks of farmhands, one of these young pitchers would likely be the next one:

Andrew Brackman – this 25 year old stands 6’10″ and has finally become the prospect he was once destined.

Now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Brackman has been successful this year as a starting pitcher at High A Tampa, andwas then promoted to Double A Trenton.

He finally harnessed the one negative in his game—pitching control. Cleaning up some mechanical issues has allowed Brackman to reduce his walks to only 16 in 80 innings in 2010.

During the debacle which was his 2009 season in Low A Charleston, Brackman’s only success was when he was sent to the bullpen. While better than normal his first handful of relief appearances, his last four stints were stellar.

He did not walk anyone over those ten innings, allowing only six hits with no runs, HBP, or wild pitches while striking out nine.

Here is my report last year on his bullpen success.

Brackman has now begun to throw a sharp slider at 87 MPH to go along with his hammer curve and fastball which has now hit 96 MPH.

With all the Yankees’ starting pitcher prospects in the system, Brackman might be better suited in the bullpen.

History has already shown he can succeed there.

Graham Stoneburner – this guy has what it takes to be successful as a major league bullpen arm. He has a fastball at 95-96 MPH and a nasty slider which generates lots of swings and misses.

Here is my report on him from one of his Charleston starts.

He walks relatively few hitters, allows few hits and has one of the best WHIPs in the entire minors. He has also struck out exactly a batter per inning so far in 2010.

He was promoted so far this year from Low A Charleston to High A Tampa and likely will stay in steamy Florida State League all season.

It is only Single A baseball, but Stoneburner continues to impress the Yankee brass with his stuff and mound presence.

If he does not consistently generate a third pitch, like his improving change up, Stoneburner could make his major league debut in the bullpen as soon as next season.

Tim Norton – a real long shot as this 27-year-old has spent most of his career on various disabled lists, including missing the entire 2008 season with a shoulder injury requiring surgery. 

But I have liked his pitching style since seeing him in short season Staten Island in 2006.

But when he recently returned this season, he was nothing short of dominant, striking out well more than one per inning and having a WHIP well below 1.000. Norton has scrapped his splitter, which I have always said harms shoulders more than any other pitching factor.

But Norton, who has a serious nasty pitching mentality to dominate, is hurt again and on the Double A Trenton disabled list.


New York Yankees: How Will Curtis Granderson’s Injury Affect This Team?

May 2, 2010

New York Yankees starting centerfielder, Curtis Granderson, strained his right groin and will be placed on the 15-day disabled list. The injury occurred in the sixth inning of Saturday’s 7-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

Similar injuries have kept players out up to four-six weeks.

How will this affect the Yankees?

Pretty badly. 

In fact, it cost them Saturday’s game.

When Granderson went out, the Yankees were forced to move Brett Gardner from leftfield to centerfield. Randy Winn went to left.

The 36-year old Winn was acquired for defense and the versatility of playing every outfield position. 

Winn is showing signs of old age. He doesn’t hit much, he’s rarely not an automatic out, and has lost a step on the basepaths.

A.J. Pierzynski’s two-run double in the top of the seventh, a key to yesterday’s loss, Granderson’s absence was immediately felt.

Due to Gardner having to shift to centerfield, Winn’s old legs couldn’t get to Pierzynski’s game-winner. Gardner would have tracked it down for an out.  

I was listening to the White Sox TV broadcast afterwards and when the ball was hit, the announcer was yelling, “…stretch, get over their heads..” to the ball, meaning that he thought the ball had a chance to be caught.

I did too.

Gardner was playing a shade or two to left center when lefty Damaso Marte was pitching to the left-handed Pierzynski. Gardner probably would have been more straight away or even right center if a right-handed pitcher was on the mound.

Gardner almost beat Winn to the ball from centerfield, and would have caught it if he was playing leftfield at the time.

I know the bullpen is a little thin, but the Yankees are making a mistake by bringing up Mark Melancon to replace Granderson on the roster.

While I am a huge fan of Melancon’s, and want him in the majors, the Yankees need to replace C-Grand with another speedy outfielder.

Melancon should have come up to replace Boone Logan. And they could use their phantom DL placement for the struggling Marte.

Joe Girardi said he will go with Gardner in centerfield, and platoon Winn and Marcus Thames in leftfield.

That is a huge mistake.

I have written that Thames is a right handed designated/pinch hitter and should never see the field again.

Thames will now get lots of playing time out there, possibly costing the Yankees runs on defense.

The best thing the Yankees could have done to replace Granderson is bring up a speedy centerfielder.

Instead of Melancon replacing Granderson, the Yankees should have promoted Greg Golson from Triple A Scranton. 

Golson was obtained in the offseason from the Texas Rangers for High A minor league infielder Mitch Hilligoss.

Golson was a 2004 first round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies, and is serviceable if used the correctly.

Defensively, put him in centerfield. He also adds speed on the bases.

He has hit .260 in Scranton with a couple homers, nine runs scored and a few stolen bases.

With the Yankees lineup as is, Golson does not need to provide offense, but any offense from him is gravy. I would rather give Golson playing time for his defense over a platoon in leftfield of Thames and Winn.

Thames is a hitter only and Winn is essentially done as a player.

With his defense and speed, Golson would help the Yankees win more games.


Why Does Joe Girardi Hate David Robertson?

April 24, 2010

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

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

Pure lunacy.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I again ask, why does Girardi hate David Robertson?


2010 Yankee Spring Training: Five Most Impressive Baby Bombers

March 16, 2010

The New York Yankees are usually one of the teams where most (if not all) the 25 man roster spots are already accounted.

But, as is the case with a team based in New York, the hype does follow the younger players. Many times this hype is unwarranted.

In the case of these young Yankee players, it might be justified.

This list is not predicated on which Yankee farmhand is the best prospect or will make the most impact on the major leagues.

Jesus Montero is the best prospect and will make the most impact.

But he is NOT on this list. He just has not played enough so far this spring, plus everybody knows of his vast hitting talents.

This list represents the players who may or may not be impact guys down the road, but who General Manager Brian Cashman and field manager Joe Girardi feel can help the 2010 team and could get a taste of the Bronx sometime this season:

1) Mark Melancon

As I have written before, Melancon deserves a spot in the 2010 bullpen.

However, the signing of Chan Ho Park likely eliminates the youngster’s spot to begin the season. Melancon has not let the player numbers game affect his spring pitching numbers. He has only pitched 3.2 innings this spring, but has allowed no runs on three hits while striking out five.

In his first appearance he stranded the Phillies’ Jayson Werth with a man in scoring position, then two days later cleaned up Jonathan Albaladejo’s fifth inning mess against Toronto.

Most importantly, Melancon’s impeccable control is back as he has yet to walk a batter.

While I feel he should make the squad out of the spring, Melancon will be the first call up when the pen needs a new arm.

2) Colin Curtis

While he will not be an impact type player, with timely hitting and solid defense, Curtis has shown this spring why the Yankees have kept him in the system for four years.

 Thus far this spring, Curtis has been 4 for 8 at the plate with a double and walk off grand slam in the first spring game.

Over four minor league seasons, Curtis has put up a line of .264/.334/.375/.709 OPS with only 27 home runs and 182 RBI’s; they are solid numbers but not great. 

With a dearth of upper level talent in the Yankee minor league system, Curtis could get a major league opportunity in 2010.

Let’s hope he gets that chance as Curtis is one of my favorite Yankee minor league players.

3) Zach McAllister

I remember watching Zach Attack in his first pro season at Staten Island. He already had good pop on his fastball, but the sinker was already a force.

Ironically, that first year in split season baseball was his worst as a pro going 4-6, with a 5.17 ERA and 1.514 WHIP. With a completely inadequate defense, all those ground balls found holes and he began to nibble, walking 3.5 batters per 9 IP.

As he moved up the ladder against better hitters, McAllister has been 26-16 with a 2.26 ERA and 1.042 WHIP at three levels, walking only 1.5 batters per 9 IP.

He moved up last season to pitch in the Triple A playoffs and got the win for Scranton, and has been unfazed in major league camp, hurling three no hit innings while allowing a single walk.

With the expectation of Sergie Mitre being traded and Chad Gaudin thus far not impressing, with a good showing early in the AAA season, McAllister could get the first call to the Bronx.

4) Kevin Russo

Kevin Russo has always been able to hit the baseball, just with not much power.

He sprays line drives all over the field, and thus far has continued to show that ability in his first major league camp, producing a line of .385/.500/.538. Russo is 5-13 with two doubles and an RBI.

Russo is likely competing with Ramiro Pena for the utility infield bench spot, but the Yankees do not need another stick. Pena’s superior fielding ability will land him in the majors, and Russo will likely start the season in Scranton.

In the equivalent two full seasons worth of at bats, the former 20th round pick is a career .300/.360/.403 hitter. That lack of power will hurt his opportunity to stay as a major leaguer.

But Russo has shown he will not hurt the major league squad in a brief call up and if an injury occurs, Russo will get a call to the Bronx.

5) Brandon Laird

The Yankees did not let an offseason scuffle with the law affect their commitment to Brandon Laird.

This guy can flat out hit.

In two full minor league seasons (and part of a third), Laird has mashed 44 home runs, knocked in 190 runs, and was named a Florida State League All-Star in 2009.

He has always started off slow but comes on late in the season. It might be the pressure he puts upon himself or in just getting acclimated to the new level and league.

In hitting 23 homers for Low A Charleston in 2008, 11 of them came in August. In 2009, Laird pounded out seven home runs and hit 47 points higher AFTER the 2009 FSL All-Star break. He has tremendous power to right center and his bat would fit very favorably in Yankee Stadium one day.

This spring, Brandon has gone 7-18 with a double and only one strikeout. As a power hitter, Laird has always made good contact and shown the ability to consistently put the ball in play.

While his defense has been suspect at times, he has played very well at third base this spring, and can also play first base. His desire is there, as he appears to have slimmed down considerably from last season.

While he realistically will not get moved up to the Bronx this year or next, the still 22-year-old Laird (his birthday is 9/11) will begin the season in AA Trenton.

Except for my honorable mention No.6 pick, there are really no other right-handed corner infielders this high at the Yankee level. If Laird stays slimmed down and keeps his newer quickness, it would not surprise me if the Yankees play him some in the outfield in Trenton to develop some defensive versatility.

No matter where he plays in the field, I expect Laird to continue to rake at AA and make a push for Triple-A late in the season.

6) Jorge Vazquez   HONORABLE MENTION

My sleeper pick for a 2010 Bronx call up is Mexican League import Jorge Vazquez.

After seven stellar, full seasons in the Mexican League, Vazquez was signed by the Yankees last season. He made his debut at AA Trenton and was ripping apart the league with a .329/357/.578/.935 OPS with 15 doubles, 13 homers and 56 RBI’s through 225 AB before getting hurt and missing the remained of the season.

While his defensive ability is a question mark, his hitting is not. He was very consistent in his Mexico playing days and in the equivalent of four full AAA seasons Vazquez hit .321/370/.595/.965 OPS with 103 doubles, 143 HR’s and 486 RBI’s.

It doesn’t matter where you are hitting, those are legit numbers.

Vazquez has been given adequate playing time this spring and while only 2-13 with four strikeouts, he has banged out two doubles and knocked in three runs. A few of his outs were screaming liners right at fielders, including a laser beam to LF in Game 2 against the Phillies which John Mayberry, Jr. made a sliding catch to rob Vazquez.

Vazquez is the wild card right handed Yankee power bat, which could allow them to give Jesus Montero a full season in Triple A, and send the overrated Marcus Thames packing. 

That saves the Yankees some time with Montero and about a million dollars with Thames.

Vazquez will begin the year in Triple A Scranton but do not be surprised if he is called up to the Bronx sometime this season.


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.


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.


Jorge Posada Gets His Big Ears in An Uproar

September 17, 2009

Childish, baby like and potentially dangerous. That is what Jorge Posada’s actions were Tuesday night in the fracas that erupted at Yankee Stadium.

And I thought boxing was coming to the New, New Yankee Stadium a few years from now, but not as soon as last night.

Posada felt he should not be the recipient of the Toronto Blue Jays retaliation of “my hitter gets hit, so we must hit yours.” Actually, that is a badge of honor to be the recipient. It means the other team values you as a player, so as the player who was hit, Posada should have just taken his base and let it go.

I remember one time when Albert Belle was on the Cleveland Indians and in his prime. At one point the Red Sox couldn’t get him out, so someone on the Sox threw at Belle. Albert then hit a home run his next time up and when he got to the Dugout, he pointed to his bicep. In essence Belle was telling the Red Sox, “I am too strong for you, you might as well hit me because you can’t get me out.”

A badge of honor.

Posada, though, never lets anything go, which is sometimes good as clubhouse motivator, but oftentimes it puts the Yankees in a bad situation*.

* Posada holds grudges and thinks he is beyond things. I believe he still does not like Joe Girardi since Girardi stayed on as Yankee catcher for the 1999 season and taking time away from the early part of Posada’s career. But Posada still does not get that Girardi stayed on with the Yanks that year to help WITH Posada’s development. Posada had completely cool feeling towards Girardi the entire 2008 season, not helping the transition with General Joe’s first year at the Yankee helm.

Everything started in the top of the 8th when Mark Melancon plunked Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill, one of the bright, young hitting stars on this Blue Jay team.

Melancon appears to be the guy that Joe Girardi is authorizing as his late inning retaliator. On August 6th, Melancon beaned Dustin Pedroia, then buzzed Kevin Youkilis, leading to an agitated Youkilis. Melancon has hit four guys so far this season (in only 16 innings), two Red Sox players (Jason Bay and Pedroia) and two Blue Jays players as M.M. plunked John McDonald earlier this month.

I hope Melancon is not eager to get the reputation as a head hunter. That would not bode well for his popularity on the team amongst the everyday lineup players who likely would be on the receiving end of the retaliations.

Posada needed to leave well enough alone, as when the fight broke out, the last things the Yankees need is to have one of their big arms like Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte (already with a sore shoulder) or Chamberlain hurt like Boston Red Sox hurler Bill Lee was back in 1976 in a brawl against the Yankees.

It is good to see that Shelley Duncan always has his teams back. Duncan was in the mix early on, separating players and being a Yankee enforcer. He was in the middle of the scrum two springs ago with the Tampa Bay Rays after Francisco Cervelli had his wrist broken. Too bad the Yankees front office does not have as much love for Shelley as the Yankee fans do.

As much as the Rays probably hate Shelley, he would be a great fit for that team with his versatility (1B, OF, RH bat off the bench) and could do offensively for Tampa what Pat Burrell gave them this season…at a fraction of the price.

One more thing about that fracas last night. Michael Kay, the Yankee play by play guy on the YES Network harped on the slight swelling on Girardi’s left eye after TV camera’s captured the Yankee manager. Kay said repeatedly that John McDonald, the slightly built Toronto shortstop sucker punched Girardi when Johnny Mac entered the fray. That was the furthest thing from the truth as McDonald appeared to be a peace keeper.

Replays showed that McDonald’s left hand did make contact with Girardi, but had made contact with the RIGHT SIDE of Girardi’s face, and only by accident as McDonald was trying to pull people away. Girardi also said that he got his bruise from one of his own players who inadvertently elbowed him during the scrum.

If McDonald wanted to cheap shot someone, he definitely would have gone after A-Rod.

Posada could have caused more harm than good with his childish antics, and it is great that he got to spend last night on the suspended list while the Yankees walked off with another win.


Joba Should not be on the ALDS Roster if he will not get a start

September 10, 2009

Joba Chamberlain was given the guinea pig status again last night, allowed to throw only  three innings for the third consecutive “start.” Although he allowed two runs in the first inning, he only walked one batter and set down the last eight men he faced.

He deserved at least one more inning (or maybe two), but the Yankees have a “plan” for him, so we should all see how that eventually turns out. Will they now strategically increase his innings to six per start, where he will be able to start a play off game and contribute?

After giving up those two runs and getting the last eight batters, Joba was pumping his fastball at 95 MPH. In the first inning, he was topping out at 91, and it showed with his first inning struggles.

Have you ever heard what some baseball people said about hard throwers like Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Doc Gooden, Josh Beckett, Justin Verlander etc., “You better get them early because they only get stronger as the game gets longer.”

I feel that Joba is a similar type of pitcher. His increase in velocity last night only two innings later is a better indication of his future true effectiveness. I remember watchi9ng him when Joba was starting games in Double A Trenton back in 2007. His velocity was in the high 90’s in the 7th inning of starts.

Remember back in May when Joba used to have those terrible first innings, but settled down and threw well the rest of the game? Then the Yankees increased his pre-game bullpens to throw more pitches, AND they had hitters standing there in the batters box? It seemed to work for a while, as he had that great start in Cleveland on June 1st.

I wonder if they Yankees still do that pre-game routine with Joba? Probably not.

Not a full time part of “the plan” I bet.

After that Cleveland game, Joba then had a decent June where he regularly went into the 6th inning (drat those innings limits and pitch counts!), and while he had some control issues, Joba did not give up any more than 3 earned runs in any of those starts.

He then had two bad starts in early July where he gave up a lot of hits (but only walked one per game), but then after the All-Star break, pitched brilliantly for three straight starts, including an eight inning gem at Tampa Bay. People began to wonder if this was “the real Joba,” the Joba most expected since he first burst upon the major league scene in late 2007.

But then the Yankees decided to change the Rules, and began to sporadically space out his starts to limit his overall innings. After the three great starts to begin the second half, Joba’s next four starts were changed to go on seven days, four days, four days and eight days.

After those four starts, Joba’s ERA rose from 3.48 to 4.34. Part of the plan?

If the Joba plan all along was to screw up this kid, then the Yankees should consider it a success. I bet Brian Cashman is happy that Tom Verducci is all smiles.

After those starts, the Rules were changed again to start Joba on regular rest, but then limit him to three innings per outing. There are rumblings, however, that the Yankees will gradually increase his innings up to six innings in order to get him ready for the playoffs. Yankee management has constantly stated that Joba’s innings limits will not be part of the post season, that Joba will be allowed to pitch normally in a playoff game.

But if the Yankees decide to play in the ALDS which has the extra day of rest, they will not need a fourth starter. This scenario will also give the Yankee position players extras rest. Joe Girardi has continuously held to his original plan (unusual for the Yankees) of regular days off for all position players.

Nobody was immune to that scenario, and it paid off well as the rested players have performed well down the stretch and appear to be strong in September.

But if the Yankees do not need a fourth starter, then Joba should not appear on the ALDS roster. Especially if they have upped his innings per start. The Yankees will have a long man in Chad Gaudin, (sorry Sergio Mitre) and a three inning type guy in Alfredo Aceves.

The playoffs are a time where innings limits and pitch counts are tossed out the window, especially with your top veteran starters. Does anyone remember Lou Piniella’s blunder two season’s ago at Arizona? Locked into a pitchers duel with Brandon Webb in Game 1 of the NLDS in 2007, the Chicago Cubs ace, Carlos Zambrano, was pulled after six innings because Piniella “wanted to save him for a Game 4.”

Game 4 never happened as the Diamondbacks won three straight.

So expect CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte to pitch into the seventh inning or later in the ALDS. The only way Burnett or Pettitte should be pulled earlier is they are getting hit hard by the opposition. Sabathia should go at least eight innings and/or no fewer than 125 pitches.

Therefore, unless AJ or Andy gets rocked, long guys aren’t really needed, and Joba wouldn’t be needed on the roster if he doesn’t get a start. Why use him in a short role in the first round of the playoffs if he has once again been groomed as a starter? And if the Yankees advance, then Joba will probably be needed as a starter in the ALCS. Why move him back and forth again in different roles?

See why all this moving around and innings limits are incredibly stupid and defeating for a young pitcher? It would have been much better for the Yankees to deal with Joba the way another team has dealt with their young pitcher. Only on one of the Los Angeles Dodgers Clayton Kershaw’s 28 starts, has he started a game that was not on four or five days rest.

Now that is a real plan.

If Joba is not starting a game in the ALDS, the Yankees might be better served to keep an extra position player like Ramiro Pena or Francisco Cervelli. This offers the Yankees more versatility regarding replacements in later innings via pinch runners and pinch hitters.

Do you believe that Jorge Posada is going to catch every game? If so, that’s great, but I have doubts he will catch Burnett in the playoffs. If  Molina catches Burnett, you might need an extra catcher.

Let’s say that Burnett starts Game 3 and faces Jarrod Washburn. You can start Jose Molina behind the plate to keep Burnett happy, but can sit the lefty hitting Hideki Matsui and DH Posada against the LHP Washburn. With men on base late in the game, if a RHP reliever comes in to face Molina? You can pinch hit and still have Cervelli catch and not lose Posada as the DH and the pitcher has to hit.

Just more options available to Girardi.

Assuming David Robertson is healthy, the Yankees have enough bullpen strength to withstand a five game series, especially when the veteran starters are going longer per start. Joba could then be held out of the ALDS, and if he is going to get a start in the ALCS, he can be sent to Tampa on an off day to throw in a minor league game down there and stay on regular rest.

If  he is not getting a start, the Yankees do not need Joba on the ALDS roster.

But if they play Detroit (highly likely right now), they might want to take the other Divisional scenario with fewer days off and keep Joba as the fourth starter.

Why?

Joba Chamberlain is 2-0, with a 1.32 ERA in two starts against Detroit this season, striking out 14 in 13.2 innings.


The Yankees Should Have Emulated Their Minor League “Joba Rules” in the Majors?

August 30, 2009

Joba Chamberlain will finally get his opportunity to pitch every fifth day as the Yankees yet again, refine the Joba Rules.

In trying to keep Chamberlain’s total amount of innings around 160 for the regular season, the Yankees have decided to let Joba pitch every five days. The disastrous results from his 6, 7 and 8 day layoffs haven’t thrilled Yankee management (or Yankee fans), so Joba will pitch in lock step within the the rotation.

But he will be limited in the amount of innings he goes every start. He likely will no go more than five innings in any of his remaining six of seven starts.

According to Yankee manager Joe Girardi, the primary goal is to get Joba on a regular routine and not worry about his (or the team) getting a victory.  “He’s in the starting-pitcher mode in the sense that he’s going to get the ball every fifth game,” Girardi said. “As far as innings, there’s going to be games that will be short. I will say that. He might not factor in a decision.”

While Joba might not factor in the decision, the idea to pull out an effective Chamberlian after four or five innigs could result in a Yankee loss. If Joba is cruising in a game with the Yankees winning, say 3-1, after five innings, the Yankees would then rather take the risk of blowing a September game with their bullpen coming in for the remaining four innings.

The Yankees do have a current six game lead over the second place Boston Red Sox, and with CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte throwing very well, the Yankees don’t appear to be in line to blow the division lead.

But, they should also keep an eye on Los Angeles for the best overall record in the American League. Especially if they want to limit Joba’s innings. With the best AL record, the Yankees get to choose what playoff schedule they want to appear. With the right schedule Joba does not even have to pitch until the ALCS, and then only one game there.

That is very appealing to the Yankees and their fans as they can ride the power arms of Sabathia and AJ Burnett, plus the playoff experience of Andy Pettitte as much as possible.

If the Yankees are worried about Joba throwing every five days and staying in “rotation” then they can simulate games while the ALDS is going on.

In today’s game, Joba only went three innings, giving up four hits and two earned runs. However, he did walk any White Sox hitters, and after only 35 pitches, Joba was relieved by Alfredo Aceves. With a plethora of pitchers (Mark Melancon, Anthony Claggett, Jonathan Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez, Zachary Kroenke/Michael Dunn) likely being called up on Tuesday when rosters expand, the Yankees will have plenty of options to piggyback Joba’s future starts.

For example: Melancon, Claggett and Kroenke have regularly pitched 2+ innings in each of their last 10 appearances, with Claggett and Kroenke starting several games.

With the way it looked today, the best bet might be to always follow Joba with Aceves, the 26 year old multi-talented Mexican import*. That will allow Aceves to lengthen his innings to fill a long reliever/extra innings role during the playoffs.

*It is funny how the Yankees do not worry about Aceves’ innings, pitch counts or how they use him as he wasn’t a high draft pick or considered a “prospect.” Minor league starter to begin the season, multi-inning reliever, one inning reliever, major league spot starter. It didn’t matter for Aceves as he is still throwing the ball when called upon.

If the idea was to limit Joba’s innings this year, and the  didn’t ever want him in the bulpen, why not piggyback every one of Joba’s starts with a multi-innings relievers such as Aceves, Melancon, David Robertson or even Brett Tomko, who was the Yankees veteran “long man” early in the season.

It was a scenario I originally brought up on a radio show called “The Locker Room” with Kevin Williams last season when the Yankees moved Joba from reliever to starter.

That is exactly what the Yankees do in their minor leagues to develop their young pitchers, to keep their innings in check. Even though the minors are about development and not necessarily winning (although try telling that to the kids who travel the busses and play the games), it would have been better to let Joba from the #5 spot in the rotation go 30 starts at five to six innings per to get to his innings limit.

That scenario would have been much less problematic all season long, with less questions from an ever inquisitive New York media. After all isn’t it about Joba’s future and no his present?

With the stud aces at the top in CC and AJ, returning veterans Chien-Ming Wang and Pettitte and a potent lineup, this was the perfect season to let Joba and Aceves work the #5 rotation spot all season long. It would have limited Joba ‘s innings the correct way, and would have limited his frustrations, too.  It would have been a good plan all season long.

And it is the successful system the Yankee organization has been using in the minor leagues over the last several years.


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