Yanks win; Proctor struggles

Short post from me tonight on the game. We’ll have the WPA graph in the morning. Good work all around tonight. Alex Rodriguez is in the Zone with a big, fat capital Z. It’s something special when a player of his caliber enters this other-wordly hitting zone. I would think that no one will pitch to him soon.

Nice to see Andy Pettitte step up tonight. His success tonight and the Yanks’ overall play leads me to believe that the bad, cold weather had something to do with the Yanks’ lethargic opening week. Baseball is a warm weather sport. No team should play in 35-degree weather or the snow. Just as Indian fans.

Finally, a quick note about one of my favorite relievers. I’ve always loved Scott Proctor’s Stuff. His mid- to upper-90s fastball and complimentary breaking pitches made me a believer, and last year, he delivered on the goods. He also appeared in over half of the Yankees’ games and threw a career-high 102.1 innings.

But tonight, he threw 11 of his 17 pitches out the strike zone. He was pulled after 0.2 innings of work in what was then a seven-run game. On the short season, he has just 4.1 innings under his belt — small sample size, I know — but has given up four hits and three earned runs. His K:BB ratio, nearly 3:1 last year, is actually 1:2 this year. I just hope he wasn’t ran into the ground last year.

Yanks 8, Twins 2

Player WPA pLI Pitcher WPA pLI
Abreu .198 0.55 Pavano .155 0.53
Posada .126 0.56 Bruney .009 0.12
Damon .075 0.35 Farnsworth .004 0.11
Jeter .041 0.49
Giambi .030 0.45
Alex .021 0.43
Melky -.031 0.30
Minky -.060 0.50
Cano -.068 0.36

I won’t lie: I was afraid that this was going to be one of those games against an unknown or otherwise crappy pitcher where the Yanks can’t manage more than one or two runs. However, not even Sidney Ponson is that bad, apparently. The Yanks hit him hard and early, ending up with an 8-2 win.

Ben summed up the game well, so there’s no need to repeat material here. The only Pavano-related tidbit I can offer is that he was letting a lot of pitches sail early in the game. I suppose it’s one of those side effects of being out for a year and a half, and it did subside a bit as the game moved along.

Posada’s ground rule double was the biggest WPA shift in the game, moving the Yanks 13.2% closer to victory. It also came along with the game’s highest Leverage Index, so I suppose that was the most important at bat of the game.

For a different perspective, check out Aaron Gleeman’s recap. For the most part, I agree: the Twins played terrible defense and made some costly errors (Mike Cuddyer trying to advance from second on a grounder to short comes to mind, as well as Kubel’s misplay of Jorge’s aforementioned double). I initially took issue with his claim that the ump was squeezing Ponson, particularly on the walk to Giambi, but then I realized that the losing team’s fans tend to think they’re being squeezed. I do it all the time when the Yanks are down. When they’re up like last night, though, I tend not notice less and less.

Pettitte gets his shot at redemption tonight against Boof Bonser. Please, no jokes about his name.

Pavano delivers for the first time since May 22, 2005

A-Rod, right, sure can hit the ball. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

May 22 fell on a Sunday in 2005. I was a week away from my college graduation, and Carl Pavano stiffled the Mets for 7 innings en route to his fourth win of the year. At 4-2 and with a nifty 3.69 ERA, things were looking up for Pavano who had throw a complete game five-hit shut-out against the Mariners five days earlier.

Little did we know that Carl Pavano would not win his fifth game as a Yankee until April 9, 2007. But that’s the way the cookie — or elbow — crumbles sometimes.

Tonight, Carl Pavano became the first Yankee starter of 2007 to pitch into the sixth, and then he became the first Yankee starter to pitch into the 7th. When he came out after the 7th, the Yanks, powered by home runs off the bats of Bob Kelly Abreu and Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez, had an insurmountable 8-2 lead. Two innings later, the Yanks would make a winner out of Carl Pavano

It took Pavano 687 days or 1 year, 10 months and 18 days to record that win, but it was well worth it for those of us watching at home. Pavano was stingy with his pitchers. He faced 25 batters and threw just 79 pitches. That’s just 3.16 pitchers per plate appearance. Hew threw 48 strikes and generally kept the ball down as is his wont.

With some nifty fielding and timely two-out hitting by Abreu and Rodriguez, Pavano’s effort was more than enough to start the Yanks off on the right foot on the road. And hopefully, his next win is just five days away instead of 687.

While you await Joe’s WPA recap of the game, Tyler Kepner at The Times notes how Sydne Ponson and Carl Pavano are forever linked in Yankee history. It certainly made me wonder what a healthy Pavano would have meant for the Yanks over the last two seasons.

Same old story in loss to Orioles

Player WPA pLI Pitcher WPA pLI
Alex .136 1.08 Henn .072 1.70
Damon .122 1.15 Pettitte .042 0.58
Giambi .010 1.41 Myers .029 0.25
Jeter -.002 1.16 Vizcaino .010 0.34
Abreu -.031 0.88 Proctor -.056 0.83
Cairo -.045 1.33 Rasner -.330 0.92
Cano -.051 1.39
Nieves -.059 1.04
Posada -.067 1.23
Cabrera -.134 1.37
Phelps -.145 1.90

The offense can’t be counted on to come back from deficits like this every game. The Yanks have played this game five times so far this year, and it’s only going to result in a win every so often. Hopefully, a move to a climate-controlled environment helps out.

Ben sums up the woes very well here and here. The only thing I have to add is that Melky should not be batting leadoff for any reason until he starts taking pitches — ones in the dirt don’t count.

Pavano vs. Fat Ass Ponson tonight. If we don’t pound the crap out of this guy, I’m going to be very disappointed.

Clutch

Player WPA pLI Pitcher WPA pLI
Alex .937 2.76 Rivera .044 0.87
Giambi .169 0.85 Bruney .018 0.23
Abreu .099 1.77 Myers .014 0.20
Jeter .040 1.14 Vizcaino .010 0.12
Posada -.015 0.93 Igawa -.419 0.92
Cano -.017 0.92
Matsui -.023 0.89
Cairo -.041 0.85
Damon -.049 1.92
Cabrera -.108 1.20
Minky -.159 1.48

Revel for a moment, if you will, in the glory that was Alex’s 9th inning bomb. There’s simply no more dramatic way to win a game, and it couldn’t have been delivered by a better player. End hyperbole.

Let’s get to the real concern, though: starting pitching. Some people looked Igawa’s numbers and thought he had a crappy game. Others, thinking that their observation skills could shine a brighter light on the game, pointed out that three of the runs scored on Melvin Mora’s dinky pop that miraculously found the grass. So, in essence, he didn’t pitch as badly as his line suggests. I find much fault in that argument.

Over five innings, Igawa gave us eight hits, walked three, struck out just two, and gave up two taters. Mora hit or no Mora hit, that’s still a line that’s going to kill you most games. He threw just 53 of his 97 pitches for strikes, and was continuously up in the zone. Against a team more disciplined than the Orioles (say, like the Red Sox), that’s a line that will get you slaughtered.

Now, that said, his working out of a jam was quite impressive. Regardless of the outcome, it’s discouraging to see a guy load the bases with none outs. But when you can induce an infield fly, strikeout, and pop up behind first base to follow, it shows at least a bit of poise. And yeah, it was bad luck that the Mora dinker touched down.

So you have to luck factors playing into the game’s outcome. He was unlucky to have the bloop single, and he was lucky that his walks, hits, and homers didn’t lead to more runs otherwise.

The bullpen was spectacular again. I know we’re only four games into the season, but this bullpen looks like the best in the league. Whether that holds up over the next 157 games we don’t know, but it’s tough not to like what we’ve seen so far.

An unsung highlight from yesterday’s bullpen team was Mike Myers. A lot of us don’t agree with the decision to use (or waste) a roster spot on a true LOOGY; they could probably get more value from a more versatile reliever or a fifth outfielder. However, Myers pitched a full inning and didn’t allow Baltimore to expand the lead. If he can be a LOOGY and come into situations like that and not surrender runs, he may just prove worthy of his roster spot. Him going a full inning yesterday allows more bullpen flexibility over the next few days, as the Yanks weren’t forced to use anyone for two innings, and let Proctor and Farnsworth (not to mention Henn, who did his duty on Friday) take the day off.

Rasner, looking to be the first starter to surpass the five-inning mark, takes on Erik Bedard, who we hope pitches like he did Monday in Minnesota. If Rasner can give us seven — hell, even six — innings, I’ll be more than happy. Despite the starters’ woes last week, the bullpen still seems to be in decent shape, with Proctor, Farnsworth, and Mo ready to go, the former two with some rest. Is it too much to ask for 12 runs and a complete game by Rasner?

A painful, painful game

Yesterday’s WPA chart has been deemed too ugly to display on this site. Instead, we bring you: Rocky Dennis!

Okay, okay. Here’s the WPA chart.

Player WPA pLI Pitcher WPA pLI
Matsui .076 1.80 Henn .063 0.30
Posada .066 1.82 Proctor .037 0.34
Abreu .026 1.29 Myers .018 0.43
Cano .018 1.88 Mussina -.389 1.03
Alex .003 1.58
Phelps -.041 1.29
Minky -.047 1.80
Jeter -.057 1.13
Melky -.083 1.22
Giambi -.190 1.59

Really, what can you say about a loss like that? Moose looked like shit right from the beginning, and didn’t get better as time went on. Even after it looked like he might have been settling in after finishing the first, he opened the second with a walk to Millar. At least Dave Roberts didn’t pinch run for him.

We (or at least I) always enter panic mode when we’re scored on in the first and don’t answer. I can’t really explain it, but it every inning just feels longer. So a big thanks to Moose for making the second inning seem even longer. And you knew during the second that he was only going five innings max. Then you pray for the bullpen.

The good news was that I just purchased a monthly pass to MiLB.tv, and Phil Hughes was pitching for Scranton. Chris Basak hit a bomb during the second, which was followed almost immediately by a Moose strikeout. That helped ease the burden…a little.

The next great coincidence came in the second half of the frame. About a minute after Alex smacked a double, Phil Hughes retired his third batter in order: 1-3, K, 4-3. And then Alex scored, and I was a bit happier. Too bad it didn’t last longer.

Seriously, by the time the fourth rolled around, my attention was almost completely on the Scranton game. Hughes was rolling, and Eric Duncan hit a shot towards State College to give Hughes a 5-2 lead.

Even after Moose left the game, little good could be taken from it. Yeah, Henn went three scoreless innings and gave Bruney, Farnsworth, and Vizcaino a day off, which will be nice for the weekend. If Moose had gone four innings in an April game last year, the bullpen would have been toast. I’m not sure how Henn’s going to hold up over the course of the year, but he sure helped us a ton in the early going. It still makes me cringe to think that it would have been Tanyon Sturtze in that spot last year.

A couple of final notes:

  • Melky looks like shit. Seriously. The reason I really took to him early last year was that he didn’t look over-anxious and would actually take a walk. This year, he’s hacking at everything. Meanwhile, even though he doesn’t have any walks to show for it, his buddy Robby has been much more selective at the plate. He even takes the first pitch the majority of the time. Can Damon play today?
  • Alex looked absolutely clueless against Chad Bradford. I don’t understand why he didn’t just take the first pitch from him. He seems like the kinda guy you don’t mind falling behind 0-2, as long as you got a good look at his delivery during those two pitches.
  • Rob Neyer, who has been railing against Jeter’s defense for some time now, makes an astute observation from last night’s game (registration required).
  • I make no mirage of my hatred for Miguel Tejada. So it was quite gratifying to see him make two dumb errors on the same play. The first error — his booting a grounder — was great, but then the over throw (when he shouldn’t have been throwing at all) was just gravy.
  • At least the weather wasn’t like it was in Cleveland:

    (Hat tip to Lookout Landing)

If Kei Igawa goes six innings today, I promise I’ll try to be easy on him, even if he kinda stinks.

Devil Rays 7, Yanks 6

Player WPA pLI Pitcher WPA pLI
Matsui .208 2.30 Farnsworth .044 0.61
Jeter .201 1.83 Bruney 0.39 0.87
Minky .156 1.89 Myers -.036 1.56
Cano .104 1.90 Pettitte -.156 1.24
Posada .051 1.67 Vizcaino -.177 1.82
Giambi -.047 1.54 Proctor -.206 1.51
Phelps -.095 3.60
Abreu -.123 2.56
Melky -.161 2.27
Alex -.303 3.05

(What’s this?)
(Stats and graph courtesy FanGraphs)

Eek. Alex didn’t help himself much in the Leverage Index experiment. I suppose Abreu hitting a dinker the at bat prior didn’t help much, either. Anyway.

The viewer fatigue started kicking in during the top of the second. After a quick, eight-pitch first, Pettitte labored…and labored…and labored. I’d have blamed it on the cold, but Jae Seo didn’t seem to be having the same control problems on his end.

By the third, we were in “pull your hair out” territory. The Yanks were playing so sloppy, and the only reason they weren’t getting killed was because it was the freakin’ Devil Rays. Wild pitches, errors, passed balls (three, three, and one for the game, respectively). The inning did get a bit better, though, as Pettitte snuck in strike three on Jonny Gomes (decent acting job; I’d put him on par with Keanu Reeves). But then he blundered again by throwing to second on a pickoff play. Come on, Andy. Getcha head in the game!

I felt really bad for Matsui in the fourth. Poor guy couldn’t buy a hit, and when he finally hits one hard, Wiggington snags it. Yeah, I know he reached base and that it was officially scored a hit, but that was the Official Scorekeeper feeling bad for him. It was a hit, then immediately changed to an error. About three minutes later, it’s a hit again. Such a move should be illegal; OS’s should only be able to flip-flop once. Unless, of course, he goes by the name of John Kerry.

So after the Matsui “single,” Minky pops one up to center, but Elijah Dukes must have misjudged it, because he sprinted, then jogged, and the ball feel about five feet in front of him. Gotta catch those, rook! Anyway, at this point, Girardi suggests a bunt, since there are men on first and second with none out. So I whip out the trusty WPA calculator, and lo and behold, the current WPA with runners on first and second and none out in a tie game is .695. With men on second and third with one out, the WPA is .733. Sac bunt validated.

(For the record, I understand that more goes into the sac bunt than just the WPA outcome of one. It’s just that most objective evidence shows that the sac bunt normally amounts to merely a wasted out. It can be used effectively on occasion, as shown here.)

Despite him letting both inherited runners score, I thought that using Proctor in the fifth was an excellent idea. With Vizcaino and Farnsworth capable of handling the seventh and eighth, might as well use arguably your second or third best reliever to get out of a jam. Had he just let in the runner on third, I would have called it a success. Now I’m just calling it an experiment that will work more often than not, despite the sole sample we got last night. That’s the kind of flexibility this bullpen has — though you’d like to see that kind of situation in the seventh or eighth rather than the fifth, if for no other reason than starter longevity.

I made three notes during the top of the sixth inning:

  • Holy shiiiiiite
  • Jeter/defense
  • These are just long innings

The first was in reference to Duke’s tater, and the last is self-explanatory. The second I’ll allow the guys at NoMaas explain:

On defense, no one has looked worse than Derek Jeter. He committed two more errors to bring his total to three in just two games. In addition to his errors, Jeter has shown the range of a 75-year old woman. There were several balls on Thursday night which Jeter could have made a play on, but his lousy first step prevented him from doing so. How he wins Gold Glove awards is beyond our comprehension.

Speaking of Jeter’s defense, anyone catch Zobrist in the seventh? He made the Jeter-esque backhanded pick, leaped, and decided against making the throw. Smart man that Zobrist is. It looked like he realized mid-jump that he simply is not Derek Jeter — though he’s probably a better all-around defender. Okay, I promise not to bash Jeter’s defense…until they play another game.

The eighth is where the whole damn thing got frustrating. First, Stokes hands the Yanks a bases loaded situation by trying to get the lead runner instead of getting the sure out. So then we have this scrub against Abreu, and Bobby nearly gets doubled up. Okay, so now Alex is up. He took this chump deep on Monday, so things were looking bright. That is, until he popped one up to end the inning. It’s one of those moments where go from being so tense to basically losing all muscular tension and collapse on the couch.

Even after all that, though, I had one gasp of hope left as the ball left Jorge’s bat in the ninth. It looked good, and I tried to fool myself into thinking it had a chance, but the crack of the bat never lies. He just missed it, and the Yanks lost a close one.

Normally, I’m livid when the Yanks lose a game like this. It was a one-run affair, and they had more than their share of chances to take the lead at various points in the game. You can’t lose the winnable games. However, they played so damn sloppily that I can’t even get pissed at the loss. I’d like to blame it on the cold, but I’ll hold off on that, since tonight’s weather doesn’t look much better.

Moose vs. Cy Loewen. Let’s see if Phelps can figure this guy out. Lord knows the rest of the team hasn’t.