Jorge Vazquez Should Replace Injured Eric Chavez on Yankees Roster

May 5, 2011

When Eric Chavez came up limping running out his third inning triple today, the first thing I thought was that Jorge Vazquez will finally get his chance to play in the major leagues.

Also, another reaction to the injury was a similar problem which Chien-Ming Wang had a few years ago in Houston. That of breaking a bone in his foot while running the bases.

Most non-players believe that the simple task of running the bases should be easy enough, and most of the times it is. But there are many times where the sprinting and turning take a toll on the feet. When players sprint, they run on their toes, and when a player is making a 90-degree turn while running on their toes, foot injuries can occur.

That is what happened to Wang in Houston while turning third base and now to Chavez while turning second base.

With Chavez now on the disabled list, the first and third back up role should be Vazquez’ now. It might have been Brandon Laird’s job, but Laird has not been hitting well enough at Triple A Scranton. In fact, since Laird’s great debut in Triple A last season when he hit two homers, it has been virtually all downhill for the Yankee youngster.

One thing against Vazquez is he is not on the 40 man roster, while Laird and Ramiro Pena (another possibility) are on the 40 man roster, No big deal. Just drop Kevin Russo, he of no shot of being a Yankee major leaguer. And who cares if someone (Pirates, anybody?) claim him., Guys like Russo are a dime a dozen.

Yankee fans should give Vazquez some space and patience because Jorge does not have much patience at the plate. He only has walked four times this season in 110 plate appearances. He only walked 18 times in over 350 PA last season.

Vazquez will swing at many first pitches, including some out of the zone, many times getting himself out. And he will strike out LOTS OF TIMES. And I mean lots of times, basically every third at bat, Vazquez will walk back to the dugout.

He is not the patient hitter Yankee fans are used to having in their lineup. Sometimes hitters are patient and work counts, etc, but many hitters do not like to take pitches, especially with men on base.

Vazquez is one of those guys.

He can play both first and third base, but does not have nearly the range, glove or arm as Eric Chavez. However, Vazquez does have decent footwork at both positions so it will not be a total loss.

He started the year very good at Scranton, hitting .323 with 9 homers and 27 RBI in April, but has struggled over his last ten games.

Vazquez is streaky and when he gets hot, look out, but when he struggles, the Ks really pile up.

Yankee fans should have patience with Vazquez. With Posada struggling a little, maybe Vazquez can also step in a DH a few games against LH pitchers.

I would also drop Eduardo Nunez. Maybe not right after the two-error game today, but maybe some time next week. Bring up Ramiro Pena, a guy I have always liked for his glove. When your reserve infielder does not play much, all you need is a good glove. Any offense is icing on the cake.

Pena has a great glove, and is more secure at all three infield positions.

So look for two moves by the Yankees. Vazquez replacing Chavez and Pena eventually replacing Nunez.

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Victor Martinez: Tigers Sign Catcher, Show They Don’t Know How To Build a Team

November 23, 2010

The Detroit Tigers are about to sign free agent Victor Martinez to a four-year deal worth $50 million. Martinez is listed as a catcher, but will primarily earn his keep via the designated hitter position.

It is said this move will give the Tigers a real good 3-4 duo of Miguel Cabrera and Martinez with V-Mart providing valuable protection for Cabrera. Maybe they can even sign another hitter (Magglio Ordonez, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford?) to have a good 3-4-5.

That might boost Cabrera’s MVP status for next season (he finished 2nd today), but it still will not help the Tigers win in 2011 or 2012 and especially not during the final two seasons of the proposed deal.

The signing is terrible for the Tigers, and comes on the heel of another bad signing, the three-year $16.5 million deal for right handed relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit.

It just goes to show that the Tigers management has no idea how to build a winning team. As the Tigers are trying to do, it is impossible to buy your way into a championship.

Martinez does not offer anything more than a DH and occasional first baseman. He is completely unproductive on the defensive end of catching, unable to move well behind the plate and is really good in his ability to allow stolen bases. I am sure V-Mart is not the best game-caller either.

So to pay $50 million for a 32 year old DH is mind-boggling. And not only do they sign Martinez for four years, but they also have to give up a first round draft pick in 2011 (No. 19 overall) to the Boston Red Sox.

The Tigers give up a draft pick in a draft that is considered to be very, very deep. It could rival the 2002 first round and/or 2005 first round in terms of quality and depth.  And both those drafts were quality after the first round, too.

So, in a deep draft, a team which has a terrible farm system has given away its first round pick, and if they sign another Type A free agent, they lose their second round pick, too.

I am not against free agent signings. Many free agent signings work out for the teams with decent production, but rarely do they ever lead to World Series championships. When they do, it is because the free agent player was the “final piece.” 

Free agents are to be used to supplement a good farm system, to complement the players a team has already developed and who are ready to compete. They should not be signed to start a team or fix up some holes.

When your own home grown players have reached the point where they are “knocking on the door” is when you search the free agent market for that key piece. The Tigers did that in 2004 when they went out and signed Pudge Rodriguez to handle a younger pitching staff, and eventually went to the World Series in 2006.

The fact that the 2010 Tigers positional prospects are ranked the worst overall in baseball has forced the Tigers hand here to sign an aging FA veteran bat.

And the prospect spiral keeps plummeting downward for the Tigers. They would not win in 2011 without Martinez and they will not win with him.

Martinez is not a key piece for the Tigers as their lineup still stinks even with him protecting Cabrera in the No. 4 hole. V-Mart had a decent season last year, but in no way does it warrant a four-year deal worth $50 million. He is not a real impact guy, only the best available now, and will only decline as he gets older.

Even if Martinez does not catch any games in 2011, the wear and tear already on his lower half will hasten any decline*. Did you know Martinez only has had one season with a plus .500 slugging percentage?

Even Derek Jeter had one plus .500 slugging season, back in 1999. Jeter’s career OPS is a scant .001 below Martinez career mark of .838. Is that worth $50 million? In a park which is historically bad for Martinez and is considered a pitcher’s park?

*Some readers will relate this deal to the one the Yankees gave Jorge Posada four seasons ago, a four year $52 million deal. Another deteriorating switch-hitting catcher who will end up as a DH. But things are much different for the Yankees at that point.

First, Posada was a home grown, key member of the Yankees dynasty run in the late 1990s-early 2000s. There is something to be said for paying for past performance when you are a home grown champion. Second, Posada was still the primary catcher and also pretty decent behind the plate at that point. Third, he was coming off a career year which he slashed .338 BA/.426 OBP/.543 SLG/.970 OPS, with 42 doubles, 20 HRs and 90 RBI.

The deal does not make sense in terms of years, money or losing a draft pick.

The Tigers would be better suited to follow the lead of the Minnesota Twins, who won the A.L. Central division last year, three of the last five years and six of the last nine seasons. Load up on home grown talent, sign the top two or three to long term deals, and keep producing enough talent to fill holes along the way.

Granted the Tigers are taking on more payroll in trying to win.

But smart franchises increase payroll on their own players, not somebody else’s free agents.

That is the recipe for staying near the top of the standings nearly every season. But an organization first has to produce your own home grown major league talent.

Bad franchises keep signing other teams players instead of producing their own.

Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit are two bad free agent signings.

Par for the course within the Tigers ownership of Mike Ilitch.


The New York Yankees: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Segment No. 5

June 28, 2010

This is the latest installment of the 2010 New York Yankee progress, honoring the epic Clint Eastwood movie of the same name.

MOVIE TRIVIA: Given that the Italian Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo literally translates to the English: The Good, the Ugly, the Bad, reversing the last two adjectives, advertisements for the original Italian release show Tuco (Eli Wallach – the Ugly) before Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef – the Bad) , and, when translated into English, erroneously label Angel Eyes as “The Ugly” and Tuco as “The Bad”.

Now I know why beat reporters who work on deadlines get very frustrated.

I had the following paragraph all ready during the 9th inning of last night’s Yankees – Dodgers clash.

“Since my last installment (No. 4), the Yankees have played 12 games, resulting in a 6-6 record. What is more important is that the Yankees still have themselves the No. 1 record in the major leagues at 46-29, a game up on the pesky Boston Red Sox.”

After the stunning comeback last night over the Dodgers, correct that to a 47-28 record and two game lead over the injury-depleted Red Sox.  

The Yankees have been 16-8 in June, with a split of their just completed, six game West coast Inter-league trip through Arizona and Los Angeles. During the last 12 games, the Yankees lost three in a row once (two to Philadelphia and the opening game versus the New York Mets).

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

THE GOOD

CC Sabathia – with all the hub-bub over AJ Burnett’s disastrous June, have you noticed that the only pitcher the Yankees should have signed two season’s ago, is 5-0 in June? Sabathia became the third pitcher this season to win five straight starts while going seven plus innings in each?

The other two? See below.  

CC was 3-0, 1.57 ERA over the three starts the past two weeks. Simply dominant.

Phil Hughes – because of his innings limit skipped start out west, he only made one start over the last weeks. Phranchise made it his 10th win, going seven strong over the New York Mets, avenging his only loss to the Mets and Mike Pelfrey.

Robinson Cano – hit .298 BA/.365 OBP/.489 SLG/.855 OPS with two runs, which isn’t exactly Canoesque as we have been programmed to see. But he continues to come through with huge hits, culminating in last night’s extra-inning, game-winning home run off of left-handed reliever George Sherrill.

He also has a string of 60 errorless games. Interestingly, his throwing error was during Dallas Braden/Alex Rodriguez “don’t cross my mound” game.

Alex Rodriguez – starting to get the power stroke back with three home runs this past week. He slashed .256/.362/.564/.926 with the three HR’s and 11 RBI. All three home runs were huge, giving the Yankees the lead in this game and this one.

His home run last night got the Yankees on the board with his fifth inning two-run shot off of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

I am concerned with Alex’s hip/groin issue as it has made him much slower in lateral movement. It also has eliminated his ability to steal a base.

Brett Gardner – until getting hurt last night, Gardner was hitting .342/.419/.395/.813 while continuing to play great defense. He still leads the other New York left fielder, Jason Bay, in OPS this season (.821 vs. .791), while making considerably less money.

Colin Curtis – due to inter-league games in NL parks, he made his major league debut this past week. When Jorge Posada was catching, Curtis was the primary left-handed bat off the Yankee bench.

He had a few hits in six at bats, driving in four runs. His great at bat last night led to a RBI ground ball.

He has shown a good knowledge of the strike zone, takes great swings and can play better than average defense.

Read more about Curtis here in my 40 man roster advice from last season.

Good video of Curtis here on the biggest challenge of his life.

Good deal for Curtis, who is a very likable guy, cancer survivor and all.

He also played his college baseball at Arizona State. I remember in 2008, after the Trenton Thunder won the Eastern League title, I asked Curtis if that title was bigger than starring in the College World Series his junior season.

He smiled, took a few seconds, and said “the College World Series was awesome.”

In that Series, he faced Joba Chamberlain and former Yankee Zach Kroenke of Nebraska in Game 2, doubling off Kroenke in the 8th.

Chad Huffman – like Curtis, Huffman got his first major league hit within the last two weeks. He also had that big two-run single in Sunday night’s stirring comeback against the Dodgers.

And he hustles all the time.

Mariano Rivera – A great move by Joe Girardi in bringing in Mo into a tie game on the road again last night.

Two times in one road series, and two wins. I guess Girardi can learn from his mistakes when he did not use Rivera in that June 5th extra-inning road game at Toronto.

As I tweeted last night, Rivera is like an elite piece of real estate – location, location, location. When he hits the corners, he is unhittable.

David Robertson – he continues his really good pitching after a disastrous beginning to 2010.

In 5.2 innings over the last two weeks, he allowed a single cheap run. His overall ERA is now 5.04 (it was over 14 in early May!), but in June he has pitched to an ERA of 1.00.

People wanted to dump him to the minors in early May, but he is now the most consistent bullpen arm not named Rivera.

Yankees rookies – very interesting, but four Yankee young players have gotten their first major league hit this season; both Curtis and Huffman, plus Greg Golson and Kevin Russo. And Ivan Nova and Romulo Sanchez pitched well earlier when the bullpen needed a few new arms.

Sure, the team’s payroll is around $200 million, but the organization is doing a much better job at bringing up their young players and letting them play.

Joba, Phranchise, Gardner, Francisco Cervelli, David Robertson, and even when they started this new trend by bringing up Cano and Chien-Ming Wang in 2005.

THE BAD

Mark Teixeira – I am sorry, but Teixeira needs to change his approach from the left side to stop being a complete pull hitter.

But from what I hear, Teixeira is not a willing participant in the adjustment game, and thinks “he will come out of it on his own.”

He won’t by continuing to try and pull every pitch when he hits left handed.  

With pitchers getting better, Teix getting older and the usual big shift, Mark’s split against RHP is a terrible .228/.333/.386/.719.

I do not see him improving unless he makes some changes.

Jorge Posada – he is beginning to look old, with a slower bat. But it might just be him getting back into the groove of playing every day.

Posada will get more consistent at bats as the Yankees are finished with the National League parks and Jorge can DH a few days a week.

Last night’s 9th inning ten-pitch at bat against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton was the Posada we know.

If he hits the way he can, the lineup can withstand the continued year-long slump from Teixeira.

Joe Girardi – even though I am a big fan of his Mariano Rivera move, Girardi still tries to show everyone that he is a National League manager. Too many double switches by pulling Swisher out of games, and leaving his bench very vulnerable.

But the NL park games are over.

He was gong to pinch hit Ramiro Pena at Arizona in the Mariano game. I would rather see CC Sabathia pinch hit then Pena, especially after using both catchers. Pena is the emergency backup.

Then with first and third, with one out in LA, and Gardner on first base, Girardi elects to have AJ Burnett bunt over the runner to second.

Why not have Gardner steal second instead? If he gets thrown out, and AJ makes an out (very likely), then Derek Jeter leads off next inning.

I am a big fan of the bunting game, but with one out, giving away an out when AJ isn’t moving over two runners is a big mistake.

THE UGLY

Derek Jeter – whew! That three strikeout performance Saturday night was brutal. His slash line over the 12 games is worse – .244/.358/.289/.647 with ZERO extra base hits and no RBI.

Chan Ho Park – a .400/.444/.680/1.124 slash line is great if you are a hitter, but just brutal if you throw the ball for a living. Many have pointed out that it is usually his second inning which causes lots of damage, but some of his single inning appearances aren’t great either.

I do not believe it is Park’s durability which is an issue, as he was a starter and has several successful multi-innings appearances this season, including April 7th at Boston and June 5th at Toronto.

But after a really good 2009 season, maybe Park isn’t that good this season. This is typical of many relief pitchers.

But if the Yankees only pitch Park for a single inning, then he needs to go. Other pitchers can go the one inning route, but an effective bullpen needs lots of guys who can go multi-innings.

When Alfredo Aceves comes back, Chad Gaudin is gone, but Park is not far behind. The Yankees have lots of patience with ineffective relievers (see Damaso Marte last year), but if Sergie Mitre comes back, too, Park could be gone.

AJ Burnett – it is not Dave Eiland’s month off, lack of in your face, walk-off cream pies, or Jorge Posada catching him.

It is AJ Burnett. He is not that good.

I was against him coming here in the first place, and have never wavered off my thoughts. I still believe he will eventually be on the disabled list.

He can not throw strikes to specific spots, thus leaving the ball out over the plate, where it gets roped all over the park. Except for his really good 2008 season, Burnett is basically a .500 career pitcher. There is a reason for that.

He is not that good. When you can not command your pitches, you will never pitch well. And it does not appear he concentrates on every hitter in every situation.

Never a good combination.

ANSWER: The other two pitchers in 2010 besides Sabathia with five straight starts, five straight wins and each win going seven or more innings is Ubaldo Jimenez and Nick Blackburn.

Jimenez was the easy choice, but Blackburn was tough. He has had a terrible April and June, but sandwiched them around an amazingly dominating May.

I guess he is destined for a really good July?


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 Next 35 Games Are Of Extreme Importance

May 24, 2010

The Yankees began a crucial 35-game stretch Thursday night with a 8-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Bombers then have split the first two games of the Subway Series against the cross-town New York Mets.

The Rays showed just how much better they are than the Yankees, with better pitching, scoring early and having a back end of the bullpen which did not blow games.

They also out-scouted the Yankees, using defensive positioning to help defend Mark Teixeira and surprisingly, the newly-promoted Juan Miranda. 

With all the injuries and the starting pitching not performing well (at least the last turn through the rotation), it will be interesting to see how the Yankees respond to this upcoming stretch.

After concluding their three-game set at the Mets, the Bombers travel to Minnesota, then home for seven games against second division teams Cleveland and Baltimore. The Yankees go on the road, seeing for the first time the pitching-rich and homer-friendly Toronto Blue Jays.

Interleague play continues with three against the Houston Astros, last year’s World Series opponent Philadelphia Phillies and another series with the Mets.

The Yankees go west for the second time, including visits at the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Yankees renew friendships with former Yankee skipper Joe Torre and former pitcher (and first-round pick) Ian Kennedy.

It is about this time where Jorge Posada should be ready again, out for about a month with a stress fracture in his foot. The foot injury is devastating for any catcher who continually squats down and flexes his feet.

However, with the defense which Francisco Cervelli is displaying, Posada mostly could be used as a DH with occasional catching duties.

While Cervelli has certainly been impressive, it has mostly been as the “backup” catcher. Despite playing the majority of the last 10 days behind the plate, it was not until Posada actually went on the disabled list (DL) that Cervelli became the “starting catcher.”

While no one expects him to become the next Yogi Berra, the pressure is now on Cervelli to keep playing well. If he doesn’t, there is no one behind him to help carry the load. He has only hit .227 over his last six games, the time which Posada has been out.

Nick Swisher is back and hitting. Curtis Granderson has begun a minor league rehab assignment, and the Yankees could have a full complement of starting position players (minus Posada and the easily replaceable Nick Johnson), within a week.

After being swept by the Rays, the Yankees need to win 20 or more of these 35 games over these next five weeks, before they get Posada back.

At least keep the distance manageable from the Rays, but these upcoming games are not important due to catching the Rays, but because the Yankees are looking to keep distance between them and the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers.

Minnesota has the same record as the Yankees while Detroit is only two games back of the Yankees entering Sunday’s schedule.  

Both those AL Central teams have good starting pitching, with the Twins complementing that with a really good, powerful lineup.

The Tigers are riding veterans Johnny Damon, Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez, and have had immediate success with rookie outfielders Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch. They did recently take three of four from New York.

Lots of question marks remain relative to the Yankees starting pitching, relief pitching, recent offensive woes and some defensive issues with Alex Rodriguez and his throwing. 

Is that all?

With certain guys still out, it is imperative that veterans Mark Teixeira (1 for his last 20) and Derek Jeter begin to improve their strike zone discipline and the starting pitchers work more efficiently to keep the weak middle relief off the field.

With all the other issues, the Yankees can ill afford to further their recent skid which has seen them drop nine of their last 14 games.

Other teams are lurking.


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

April 28, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once again, Vazquez was the pitcher.

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

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

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

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

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

Thames is hitting well in limited time against lefties.

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

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

That is what speed does to the defense.

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

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

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

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

For the rest of the season.


New York 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.