Was the Javier Vazquez Trade A Bad One for Yankees?

April 16, 2010

One word – NO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 24, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano. Why Cano?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Johnny Damon May Have Overplayed his Hand

December 12, 2009

I thought he was better than this. I thought that this time it would be more about the team, more about the fans, more about the prestige of putting on the Yankee Pinstripes.

I was wrong.

With Johnny Damon, no matter what he said in November after helping the Yankees win the World Series, is still only about the money.

And that is just plain stupid of Damon.

I wrote a piece recently saying it would be in Damon’s best interest to stay with the Yankees as long as he can. To stay hitting behind Derek Jeter, who gets on base an average of 40% of the time, and to hit in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez would greatly enhance Damon’s career stats.

And after winning two rings and making $100 million during his career, Damon’s only section to fill on his career resume is consideration for the Hall of Fame. And playing in New York always increases your chances for the Hall consideration. (Sorry Padre and Royal fans). This is not to say that Damon is HOF material (I don’t believe he is Hall worthy), but other voters might see differently if Damon hangs on to get 3,000 hits. Check out his stats here.

And padding career stats would be easier in that Yankee lineup rather than say, the Chicago White Sox lineup or the San Francisco Giants lineup.

Damon is saying through his windbag agent, Scott Boras, there are teams who might be willing to pay for 3 or even 4 years of his services. Even now, after the Winter Meetings trade which brought Curtis Granderson to Yankees, reports indicate Boras and Damon are insisting on four years and around $45 million, while the Yankees are looking at two years at the most.

Damon and Boras thought they could outlast the Yankees.

Damon and Boras thought wrong. Although Boras has worked with Yankees GM Brian Cashman on several occasions (Teixeira, Alex plus Damon 4 years ago), they underestimated Cash, who had other ideas for the Yankees 2010 outfield.

Cashman traded for Granderson – getting younger, getting faster and getting better defensively. Manager Joe Girardi could easily slide Melky Cabrera to left field and have speedster Brett Gardner as the fourth outfielder. Also, newest Yankee, Jamie Hoffmann, (who is that guy sponsoring his BR.com page?) acquired in the Rule 5 draft is a right handed power bat who can play all three outfield positions. He is really good defensively, too, ranked the last few years as the Los Angeles Dodgers best minor league defensive outfielder.

What Damon and Boras keep spouting is that there is a market for Damon’s services. There isn’t. What teams are going to give Damon three or four years? What teams have seriously looked at Damon at all?

None. The teams often mentioned as possible destinations, the San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox, have actually been media speculations based upon team needs, not actual attempts by those teams to sign Damon.

And if the Yankees decide after their internal deadline (likely Christmas) for Damon to accept a one or two year deal, then the Yankees will turn elsewhere. And Damon might end up like Bobby Abreu last season, signing only a one year deal at $5 million. But again, what team is going to pay Damon considerable money like the Yankees?

Many big market teams like the Yankees (why they only want Damon for one year), Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels are trying to nurse through one year of a stop gap in left field. Get through one more year in order to participate in the expected Carl Crawford free agent sweepstakes next off season. Although the Red Sox offered Jason Bay a four year deal to play left field (and still could be interested in Matt Holliday), right fielder J.D. Drew could be gone after next season, either in a Mike Lowell type trade where the Red Sox pick up most of Drew’s 2011 salary, or through two escape clauses the Red Sox put into the original contract regarding Drew’s propensity for injury.

Crawford is widely expected to test the waters in his first opportunity at free agency, but with the prospects of the talented player going to one of those rivals, especially the Yankees or Red Sox, I expect the Rays will come to their senses and sign Crawford to a five year deal for around $80 million to keep him in Tampa. Even though Crawford was upset at the Rays a few months ago, a big contract with the only organization that he has known will soothe any ill will he might hold.

Although I want Damon back in New York in the #2 hole behind Jeter for 2010, what the Yankees should do just after Christmas is go Damon-lite.

With an ever crowded outfield corps with the additions of Granderson and Hoffman, the Yankees should package Gardner and a minor league pitcher (maybe Ivan Nova?) to the Kansas City Royals for LF David DeJesus, a New Jersey product. At 30, DeJesus is six years younger than Damon, a better defender and has been durable the last couple seasons. DeJesus put up a line of .281/.347/.434 with a 106 OPS+ last season and hit 13 home runs, the most he has had in one season. He also hit double digits in homers (12) in 2008.

DeJesus is similar to Damon that he was once a center fielder and was eventually moved to left field. He is a lefty hitter who hits left handed pitching well and would likely put up even better power numbers in Yankee Stadium.

As a bonus, the Yankees would save money, too. In this tough economy, even the Yankees are looking to save dollars (trading Brian Bruney to save $2 million, non tendering Chien-Ming Wang) and DeJesus is signed through next season for $4.6 million with a club option of $6 million ($500k buyout). If the Rays do not sign Crawford, the Yankees would definitely go after him with gusto, but he does re-sign, the Yankees could pick up DeJesus’ option. At that rate, both seasons would cost the Yankees less than it would take to have Damon in the lineup for only 2010 alone.

Johnny Damon is a good player, fits well in the Yankee lineup and would help the team immensely in 2010. But, his presence is not mandatory as the Yankees have other options at their disposal.

Damon has overplayed his hand to his detriment, both for his overall career numbers and possibly his bank account – which is the only thing it appears he cares anything about.


A Dominant World Series Performance while on the Mound at Yankee Stadium

October 29, 2009

An in-his-prime Cy Young Award winning pitcher was making the start in Game One of the World Series on the hill at Yankee Stadium (one of the few stadiums left that does not receive money for naming rights). He completely dominates the Bronx Bombers power laden lineup, and out dueled the Yankees ace left handed pitcher.

Having won the prior years World Series, his team was seeking to become the first National League team since the Big Red Machine in 1975-76 to repeat as a World Series Champions. The Yankees meanwhile, had not been to the Series in years and were looking to continue their comeback kid way of the prior playoff series.

However, on this Game One night only the Yankee shortstop and lead off hitter, Derek Jeter, crossed the plate, while a former Boston Red Sox hitter batting second for the Yankees had one of the few hits allowed by this veteran stud pitcher. 

A young slugger for this pitcher’s team hit two home runs, one a mammoth shot whose sound of bat meeting ball reverberated throughout the stadium, that is until the entire stadium went quiet. After the second home run in as many at bats, the way this starter was pitching, it was apparent to Yankee fans knew the game was likely out reach.  

Even this Yankee fan predicted that the Yankees would win Game One.

And on this night, the Yankee bullpen put gasoline on the fire, doing their part to allow that loss to materialize.

This pitcher had the Yankees waving at pitches all night, continuing his utter dominance in the post season. Up to this game, the pitcher started Game One in both prior series, was undefeated with a ridiculously low ERA and WHIP, handily defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers along the way.

His great start and solid offense from his teams lineup gave the Yankees thoughts that the Series might not go as they expected. They knew that even if they won the next couple games, they would have to face this ace once again.

After Game One, a Yankee hitter lamented that the next time his team “might have to beat that guy 1-0 or 2-1 the next time they face him.”

Could the Yankees beat this guy the second time around, likely going head to head again with that lefty Yankee ace on the hill?

Of course they can…and they already did! And that pitching rematch was one of the classic duels in World Series history, and the Yankees went on to win the World Series title.

Cliff Lee and 2009? Hardly.

We are talking about John Smoltz and 1996. He tore through the playoffs that season, and beat the Yankees in Game One , with Andruw Jones smacking the ball over the fence twice. Smoltz and Andy Pettitte both came back again in Game Five with masterful performances, only to see the Yankees win that duel 1-0. 

And that was AFTER the Yankees lost Game Two at home to a magician on the mound named Greg Maddux, similar to a magician the Yankees face tonight in Pedro Martinez.

So, all those prognosticators who think this 2009 Series has already taken a bad turn for the Yankees because of Lee’s dominance should look back at 1996. There was nobody better than Smoltz that season, and the Yankees beat him 1-0 the second time around.

MATSUI’S GAFFE

Anytime a ball is hit in the air within the infield, it is the runners job to get back to the bag. If the ball drops, it is the batter’s job to hustle down the first base line to beat a throw. Do your job and don’t worry about the other guy.

No matter what happened to that mini-pop up hit by Robinson Cano last night, Hideki Matsui should have been on first base immediately after the ball was hit. He never would have been safe on second anyway! Cano hustled down the line and thought he beat the relay throw, but he was actually out on the catch. Matsui needed to be back to the bag (and not on the infield grass!).

And where was the first base coach during all of this? Why was he not yelling to Matsui to come back to first? Stupid play all around and it goes to show that some ballplayers live on talent, and not on brains.

YANKEE HITTERS

Many times last night the Yankee hitters were consumed with home plate umpires Gerry Davis strike zone. Most of the times the strike zone was too tight as Cliff Lee, Phil Hughes and David Robertson were all severely pinched, but Cano and Melky Cabrera showed displeasure when strike calls were made.

Showing disgust toward the ump will get you no sympathy as the umps usually have long memories. As a hitter you will not get many calls your way after complaining.

Disgust on the field also takes the hitter out of his approach at the plate. While now a hitter is thinking about the SOB calling balls and strikes, the hitter should be concentrating on the pitcher and the count.

Don’t ever let the umpire dictate how you approach the at bat. If the zone is bigger than you thought, don’t swing at bad pitches early, but expand the zone with two strikes.

But players need to feel out the umpire and adjust accordingly. I would much rather see hitters voice displeasure than pitchers get squeezed. A bigger zone puts more balls in play. When I first began umpiring (now doing high school and college level baseball), I was told to start out thinking every pitch will be a strike, then after the ball is thrown find a good reason why it should not be.

WORKING THE COUNT – TAKING TOO MANY PITCHES

Rogers Horsnby was the greatest right handed hitter ever . His 1921-1925 seasons were absolutely sick. His first mantra was to GET A GOOD PITCH TO HIT. Ted Williams stuck to this mantra his entire career.

But now the game has changed to taking good pitches to hit. That is a bad move.

The Yankee hitters were taking too many fastballs down the middle early in the game. Do the Yankees really think they are going to pitch count Lee out of the game? This working the count is the biggest crock in baseball, especially the World Series game one. If the game was tight near the end, Charlie Manuel was NEVER going to pull Lee out of the game. He learned that lesson in the NLCS when he pulled Pedro too early and lost Game Two in Los Angeles.

The way to get Lee out of a game like that is to knock him around by spraying balls all round the field. And you do that by going after good pitches to hit early in the count.

You hear the announcers all the time saying, “So and so should be able to go another inning because he has a good pitch count.” Go another inning?

How about demanding to you manager that you will go nine innings and then shove the ball down the oppositions throat. Intimidate the other lineup by letting your ace dominate. Tell the other team, you can’t beat me and I won’t let you ease your minds by allowing the bullpen to come in this game. Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa made that mistake in the NLDS by removing Adam Wainwright after eight brilliant innings against the Dodgers.

UMPIRES

There was almost another umpire mistake on the Cano infield pop up, but the correct call was eventually made. But the real problem is not the lack of umpire knowledge, but that umpires do not like to break that cardinal rule of overruling another umpire, especially a veteran guy.

After the second base umpire called Cano out on Jimmy Rollins’ catch he should have called Matsui out also when he saw Ryan Howard tag out Hideki. He should have rules on the out at first immediately EVEN IF IT IS NOT HIS CALL. he is the only one who clearly saw the catch made, so he should have the say on the first base call, too.

It appears these umps are too timid to make an immediate call, and replay on everything will only make that worse. Umpires should run the game and not worry about feelings or god forbid, worry about the media.

And in the next TV contract negotiations, Major League baseball should tell the networks that the strike zone F/x garbage shown on every pitch should be outlawed. It leads to too many psuedo-baseball fans complaining about every pitch.

AJ BURNETT

I have read many pieces today that all the pressure is on AJ Burnett to live up to that $80 million contract and pitch the Yankees to victory.

Fans at the game should just let the guy pitch tonight without putting more pressure on him. He gets out of whack quickly and fans jumping down his throat will only aggravate the situation.

That is such garbage. Sports contracts are like investments and those disclaimers at the bottom of the prospectus or spoken really fast at the end of a commercial. These disclaimers say that “past performance is not indicative of future results.”

Burnett was paid that money based upon what he did last season, pure and simple. It does not indicate how he will pitch in “big spots” or “pressure games.”

Big contract’s don’t force players to play better. If that was the case, would giving CC Sabathia another $100 million last winter forced him to pitch better last night?

So, before Yankee fans boo every ball out of the strike zone thrown by AJ and boo every out Alex Rodriguez makes, just remember that these guys will be here many more years and as a fan, you are not making it any better or easier.

Let these guys play and leave them alone.

Yankees win tonight 7-3 as Pedro gets knocked around.


Thoughts from Saturday Night’s Epic 13 Inning ALCS Game 2

October 18, 2009

When Jerry Hairston scored in the bottom of the 13th inning, it ended another improbable New York Yankee win. Improbable because the Angels played a pretty decent game, and had the Yankees down one with three outs to go.

The Angels had so many opportunities to score and win, but their inability to get the big hit really hurt. The Halos had 20 base runners last night, but scored only two runs, and their hitters left 28 runners on base!

I love when people scream about OBP and how that is the most important thing in the game. Tell that to the Angels last Saturday night who had the 20 base runners, several times with bases loaded. They got their guys on base, but could not get them in. Every team gets guys on base every game.* But you need the productive hitters to drive them in.

 And the Angels did not do that in Game 2. And for the most part, the Yankees didn’t get their runners in either.

*Well, runners did not get on base for a single game 17 different times, most recently this past season in Chicago.

PITCHING INSIDE

Have you noticed all the inside pitching going on the ALCS? The Yankees were pounding the fastball inside to Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Torri Hunter and Vlad Guerrero in Games 1 and 2. Basically the entire lineup but primarily those four. And you know what? They were a combined 6 for 36 with one RBI, which was Figgins’ bloop single down the left field line in Game 2’s extra innings.

And a few of those six hits were bloops or bleeders because the Yankees are pitching inside.

There are a variety of reasons why it is important to pitch inside, namely it is the toughest area for a hitter to put the good part of the bat on the ball. Guerrero and Hunter can not catch up with the fastball, espcially Vlad, who looked very slow with the bat. And when he starts to look inside, Joba whiffed him on a slider low and away, the second spot impossible to consistenly hit the ball hard.

Also, about this time of year, hitters are tired, their legs are sore and this slows their swings. Hitting is all in the legs.

So, the Yankees are throwing inside hard stuff to the Angels hitters and daring them to show they can hit the hard fastball inside. Since the Angels have yet to do that look for the Yankees to continue to pound them inside.

It also could be that the Angels are not used to the cold, weather, especially all the Latin players on their team, and getting pitched inside in the cold is not the best feeling in the world.

The Yankees are being pitched inside, too. Alex has had a hard time with the inside pitch. He takes most of the inside fastballs, has popped up others (Saturday night with the bases loaded), but on three big middle to outside pitches, he has powered game tying home runs the other way.

Jeter had his home run to right field, but has struggled most of the time inthe ALCS with the hard inside pitches. Same with Cano, whose only big hit was a breaking pitch AWAY which he pulled for the RBI triple.

Maybe it was the colder weather that played a role in this pitching attack by both sides, but I am postive this method will continue in the warmer climate of Anaheim.

GUERRERO’S STRUGGLES

He can not hit the inside pitch, and since legs are a big part of  a players bat speed, it makes me wonder if Vlad’s numerous leg and back injuries over the years have taken a toll. He hit many weak ground balls Saturday night with AJ Burnett and a crew of relievers pounding him in.

This is not a good time for Guerrero to show weakness as he is a free agent this off season. As his ego will want him to get big dollars, it does not look like the Angels will bring him back, and Vlad might have to settle for a one year deal somewhere with lots of incentives. Maybe the Twins (between Mauer and Morneau) would be interested in this right handed power bat, or maybe the Red Sox if Jason Bay gets away via free agency.

Baseball is a game of adjustments. An idea at the major league level to hit the inside pitch is just to look inside ONLY with less than two strikes, and hit pitches early in the count. Never “work the count” if you are struggling as getting behind early is only going to cause a hitter to think more at the plate. Look for the fastball inside early, and if you get it, rip the pitch.

DEFENISIVE STRUGGLES

It simply amazes me that both team are making serious mistakes in the field. Not just with the physical errors of Jeter and Cano, plus the throw in the 13th by Cesar Izturis, but the mental mistakes too. Physical errors can be overcome, but mental errors are game changers.

Their is no way Izturis should have tried to turn that double play. Fielders have to understand the speed of the runners (including the batter/runner) and Melky Cabrera moves very well down first base line, and he has beaten out several double play relays this season. With one out, the play was to first base. The way the hitters were failing with runenrs in scoring position all night, gettign the secure second out at first base was the right move.

I always teach my second basemen in youth leagues and high school that where the ball is hit usually dictates where you go with the ball. When Melky hit that ball into the seocnd base hole, the only play was to get the out at first.

SAFE CALL AT SECOND BASE

A tremendously gutsy call for the second base umpire. Eric Aybar never even came close to touching the bag, and that was caused by Cabrera’s hustle from first to second in trying to break up the double play. Normally, Aybar would have come forward to the bag, taken the throw then moving still moving forward, touched the base and made the throw.

But when he saw Melky charging into second base like the second coming of Don Baylor, he did not move forward, and never touched second. The hustle of the runner caused this and it was rewarded I can not believe that the two announcers continued to speak how it was a bad call.

McCarver especially. He also mentioned that he did not realize that the speed of the baseball was slower when it reached the plate as opposed to when the pitcher initially releases the ball. This is shown on FOX’s new pitch tracker gadget.

 


A Relentless Yankees Lineup Takes No Prisoners

September 3, 2009

The Yankees bashed their way to another win Tuesday night in Baltimore, pounding six Orioles pitchers for nine runs, 12 hits and eight walks. That is 20 base runners.

The Yankees were behind tonight 1-0, and 6-5 before they tied the game in the 6th inning on an Alex Rodriguez two-out RBI single. Then they rode Nick Swisher’s* two-run homer and Eric Hinske solo shot for a three run 7th. The back to back homers gave the Yankees a lead they wouldn’t again relinquish.

* I wasn’t a big fan of the trade which brought Swisher to New York. Not because of Swisher’s abilities, but mostly I thought the Yankees could get away with using guys from their won system like Juan Miranda and Shelley Duncan in a platoon at first base. Swisher was supposed to be the starting first baseman in 2009, as this was a trade done well before the Yankees signed free agent Mark Teixeira. At least the Yankees did not give up Alfredo Aceves in that Swisher deal.

I was incorrect about the Swisher deal as he is a valuable member of this team, and helps lengthen the lineup more than the Yankees have had in several seasons.

Hinske’s 7th inning blast was especially interesting, as the left fielder for the Orioles, Jeff Fiorentino, tried to catch the ball over the fence but the hoard of Yankee fans in the left field bleachers literally snatched the ball away from his glove.

And on Wednesday night, with Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada both resting the entire game, Swisher hit third (2-4, 2 walks, 2 runs) and played first base, while Hinske played right field.

And even with two of the Yankees’ switch-hitting big boppers out of the lineup, they still put up a 10 spot on the Orioles, including a big seven run 9th inning to ice the game.

Alex Rodriguez had TWO very big two-run singles, the first in the 7th inning gave the Yankees the lead. The second big hit was during the 9th inning, giving the Yankees a big three-run cushion at 5-2 before they continued to pour it on.

It is a lineup that is relentless, never giving in and always confident that they can get the job done, not matter if it is the first inning or the 9th. Many times I have witnessed the Yankees going quietly the first time through the order, but in the 3rd through the 6th innings, score runs in bunches.

There is not a break in the lineup at any of the nine spots, with even Melky Cabrera having a good year, it makes it tough for an opposing pitching staff to work efficiently. Too many of the hitters (Teixeira, Swisher, Posada) work counts, and while I believe they take TOO MANY pitches, including many good to hit first pitch strikes, you can’t argue with their overall success.

The key is that while they get runners on base, they also drive them in. Witness last night’s game, where the Yankees were 7-15 with runners in scoring position (RISP), and the Yankees league all the major leagues in runs scored with 763.

Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon and Robinson Cano are also having great seasons, and A-Rod is in the midst of an 11 game hitting streak to lift his average to .275.

There is always two or three guys on this team who are always red-hot at any given time.

The key to the lineup is the structure. The Yankees have four switch hitters (Tex, Swisher, Posada and Melky), the two big righties in Jeter and A-Rod plus lefties Damon, Matsui and Cano. And when that lineup is in late, it is very difficult (although they try) to mix and match because the Yankee lefty hitters hit lefty pitchers very well. Click on the names above to see their splits.

And I don’t know of another lefty hitter in baseball right now who goes the other way better than Cano.

Many people are talking about how teams don’t want to face certain teams in a short series because their starting pitching (mostly the top two guys) could be so dominating. Those teams include the Red Sox with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester; the Angels with John Lackey and Jered Weaver (now Scott Kazmir); the Cardinals with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright (you could also throw in Joel Pineiro); the Tigers with Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson; and the Giants with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum.

All playoff teams usually have a really good top two, but very few teams have a really strong 1 through 9 lineup like the Yankees have.

This is a lineup which has beaten Beckett, Halladay, Johan Santana, Verlander, Jackson, Matt Garza and even nemesis Cliff Lee this season. And when they get beaten down by a top starter, they can counterpunch with their own dominating pitchers.

If I was part of one of those a pitching staffs, I wouldn’t want to face the Bronx Bombers relentless lineup. It would be a nightmare having to continuously face those nine hitters in a short series.


The revival of the C and C boys? Cabrera and Cano having better seasons

August 3, 2009

In becoming the first New York Yankee player (and 15th overall) since 1994 to hit for the cycle, Melky Cabrera was a big reason why the Yankees avoided a sweep this weekend at the hands of the Chicago White Sox.

Since Brett Gardner went down last week with a broken thumb, the Melk Man has contributed on both sides of the ball, especially on offense. Cabrera has produced a line of .357/.438/.750/1.188 OPS in the eight games since Gardner’s injury, with three doubles, a triple, two homers, four walks and five RBI’s.

Melky this season is at .292/.355/.463/.819 OPS, all considerably higher than his career numbers coming into the season. His 10 HR’s are two more than his career high and his 40 RBI’s are on pace to match his career high of 73.

He has also continued to provide fine defensive work, too.

It is funny how things work sometimes. Gardner won the job out of spring training, and Melky had to make the team as he was out of options, plus he only has about 700 plate appearances above High A.

Melky has actually learned the pro game at the major league level without the proper development progression. But Melky is progressing now pretty well.

After losing the spring center field battle, Melky kept working hard, didn’t complain and with Gardner’s early inconsistency, Cabrera got a second (and third, fourth and final chance because he is out of options) and began to perform. The game of baseball is about performance and unless you are a fully established major leaguer with a track record of success, you will not get a long term shot in New York.

Just ask Ian Kennedy, Shelley Duncan, Chase Wright, Ross Ohlendorf or any other young player who has entered Bronxville station, but after some struggles was sent on the next train out.

Lucky for Robinson Cano that he had some initial success in 2005, or he would have been out of town during the previous off season. Where are those anti-Cano guys now?

In the past I have pointed out that Dustin Pedroia was largely unsuccessful when he first started in the majors, but the Red Sox continued to let him play and he became ROY and an MVP. Cano went through a mediocre year in 2008 and many people wanted the 25 year old run out of town, and he could take his even younger buddy Melky with him.

The C and C boys (Cabrera and Cano) needed to have time to perform. When talented younger players like Cabrera and Cano get adequate time, their production usually improves. It will not improve every year (even Babe Ruth hit fewer than 60 homers in every season after 1927, and his 1925 season was a huge decline off his prior seasons).

What most fans don’t realize or have the patience for is that players like Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia, Cabrera and Cano need time to develop. Where do the New York fans get the arrogance to think these young players need to have HOF type seasons every year from their rookie campaign on?

There are very few Albert Pujols, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio type positional players who dominate from the outset of a career.

Best buddies Cabrera and Cano each had an awakening last season. Cabrera was given the center field job, did not hit up to the expectations of Yankee management (and those great, very patient Yankee fans!) and was shipped down to Triple A Scranton. He performed well there and was brought back up in September.

It’s tough being 24 years of age, out of options already and having most of the Yankee fan base hating your guts because you are not the second coming of Bernie Williams.

If left alone, however, Cabrera could produce 20 homers and 80+ RBI’s per season.

However, Cabrera this season is playing the way everyone wants him to play and he has wrested the CF job away from the struggling Gardner. 

Cano also had his problems last year and his own affirmation. A lack of production at the plate, not a high enough OBP, and a perceived lack of hustle in the field all led to those great Yankee fans calling for his ouster. “He doesn’t take enough pitches; He is so lackadaisical in the field; He doesn’t have Larry Bowa around to kick him in the butt,” is what we heard from fans and media alike.

Joe Girardi couldn’t get through to Cano until he benched Robinson late in the 2008 season.

Since that benching, Cano has been a different player. He was perceived to hit well after the benching, he definitely hustled in the field, had a terrific Winter League season, and has began this year with a bang. Interestingly, except for the terrible April last year, Cano was pretty consistent all year long in 2008.

I guess perception is greater than reality! But in the off season Cano did work hard on his conditioning, and worked extensively with Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long. He also began to be more selective at the plate, actually taking pitches out of the zone (and taking some bad strikes), while swing at good strikes. Not necessarily good pitchers strikes, but good strikes to hit.

It is good to see the C and C boys back playing exciting baseball. Each has had their moments of glory with Melky having walk off homers and games like yesterday.

It is way too early to predict what the C and C boys could accomplish. One could only hope they carry on the tradition of Yankee best friends helping to lead the way to World Series titles like Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada did.

But Yankee fans will take what they have right now, two players who have appeared to become hard workers, looking to improve their games and taking nothing for granted.

Both have seemed to appease the sabermetricians, who always wanted both guys to take more pitches and draw more walks. Each player is on pace to equal or succeed their 162 game walk totals. This is an improvement in patience, although I want to point out that many times each player swings early in the count with much success, like yesterday’s three-run homer by Melky.

Let’s not jump the C and C Hall of Fame bandwagon yet, and Yankee fans should not give up on Gardner yet either. Right before he broke his thumb, Gardner was coming into his own as the type of player the Yankee organization envisioned–speed, defense and the ability to disrupt the game for the opponent.

All three players can do good things on a baseball field to help the Yankees win games.

Yankee fans just have to realize that it won’t be every time in every game.