When the Yankees surged early in the year, they did it largely on the backs of the pitching staff. Hiroki Kuroda was pitching like an ace, CC Sabathia hadn’t fallen apart, David Phelps came on strong, and Phil Hughes pitched very well in a number of his starts (though got creamed in others). Even Andy Pettite had pitched well, and when he got hurt the Yankees got pretty competent performances in his absence.
This is no longer the case. Since the Yankees tumbled out of first the pitching staff has performed considerably worse, leaving the Yankees in fourth place and six games back of the Wild Card. Worse, they have no games remaining against five of the eight teams ahead of them in the AL standings. If they’re going to fight their ways back into this they need a 1995-esque run, which means running the board against AL East opponents.
The Yankees have addressed one area of weakness, finding a platoon partner for Lyle Overbay in Mark Reynolds. That should give them some additional firepower against lefties, which they sorely need. Yet it won’t be enough on its own. They need plenty of other help to leapfrog four teams and slide into the second Wild Card slot. The pitching staff represents one area where they could make a solid improvement.
Earlier today we learned that Phil Hughes is willing to pitch out of the bullpen next year. My only question is, why wait? Hughes’s 4.97 ERA ranks 43rd out of 46 qualified AL starters. He’s averaging a hair more than 5.1 innings per start. His woes also didn’t start this year. Since his return to the rotation in 2010 he ranks 49th out of 63 qualified starters in ERA. Things have gone downhill since then, as he ranks 39th out of 42 since 2011.
The problem is that the Yankees don’t have a viable replacement at the moment. Adam Warren could perhaps fit the bill, but he’s still an unknown at this point. Brett Marshall hasn’t exactly earned a spot with his AAA performances. Vidal Nuno is on the DL, as is David Phelps. Michael Pineda would have been nice here, but chances are we won’t see him pitch again this year. If the Yankees want to make such a transition, they’d have to look outside the organization.
A couple of well-known pitchers have cleared waivers in the last few days. First is left-hander Erik Bedard, the last remaining Astro earning more than $1 million. His overall season doesn’t look much better than Hughes’s, so that could be an exercise in futility. The other name is quite a bit more interesting: Dan Haren.
Like Bedard, Haren has struggled this year. His 4.82 ERA is actually higher than Hughes’s. Yet that doesn’t tell the whole story. Haren actually had a 6.15 ERA through his first 15 starts, but then went on the DL with right shoulder inflammation. That must have been truly bothering him, because he has been downright phenomenal since his return on July 8th: 2.30 ERA in 43 innings, meaning he’s averaging over six innings per start. Opponents are hitting .191/.250/.283 off him, and he’s struck out 42 while walking just 10.
For their part, the Nats are in a much worse position than the Yankees. They might have fewer teams between them and the second Wild Card (just two), but they’re also 9.5 games back of it with 42 games left to play. Their only chances against teams ahead of them (Atlanta notwithstanding, because that’s simply not happening) come with the last two series of the year, against St. Louis and Arizona. Oh, and they’re under .500 120 games into the season. If they can get even a C prospect and salary relief for Haren, they might as well try.
For the Yanks, the time has come to grasp at straws. That’s exactly what the Mark Reynolds acquisition represents. They’re looking at what’s available and adding where they can. Adding Haren, and moving Hughes to the bullpen, should help shore up both aspects of the pitching staff. They could jettison its weakest member, Joba Chamberlain, in hopes that Hughes not only performs better, but can become a reliable part of the setup crew, as he was in 2009.
(As an added bonus, if the Yanks get this done before the doubleheader Tuesday, both Haren and Hughes are lined up to pitch. That would work out better than having to call up Marshall [assuming David Huff gets DFA'd to make room for Reynolds today].)
Late-season Yankees-Red Sox series are usually rather important, and these three games this weekend are no different. Boston is fighting for the top spot in the AL East while the Bombers are trying to scratch their way back in the wildcard race, so these two clubs really aren’t in direct competition with each other in the standings. The Sawx have won two of three in each the three previous times these two teams have played this year.
What Have They Done Lately?
Manager John Farrell’s team lost their last two games, three of their last four, and five of their last seven. Despite that recent slide, Boston has gone 14-12 in the second half and they still atop the AL East with a 72-51 record and +103 run differential. Those are both the second best marks in the AL behind the Tigers.
At 5.0 runs per game with a team 111 wRC+, the Red Sox have one of the three best offenses in baseball. Aside from backup C David Ross (81 wRC+), who is out long-term with a concussion, and UTIL Brandon Snyder (68 wRC+), Farrell’s team is perfectly healthy on offense.
I think we’re all familiar with this lineup by now. CF Jacoby Ellsbury (112 wRC+) leads off, RF Shane Victorino (98 wRC+) bats second, 2B Dustin Pedroia (113 wRC+) bats third, and DH David Ortiz (160 wRC+) cleans up. 1B Mike Napoli (109 wRC+) typically bats fifth, but OF Jonny Gomes (109 wRC+) has been mashing of late and is seeing some time higher in the order. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (112 wRC+) is the everyday backstop.
Beyond those seven, they’ve got 3B Will Middlebrooks (70 wRC+), OF Daniel Nava (119 wRC+), 1B/OF Mike Carp (151 wRC+ in limited time), and SS Stephen Drew (105 wRC+). C Ryan Lavarnway (90 wRC+) and IF Brock Holt (34 wRC+) fill out the bench at the moment. Boston’s offense is deep and powerful, there isn’t a single soft spot in the regular lineup outside of Middlebrooks.
Starting Pitching Matchups
If these pitching matchups look familiar, it’s because they’re exactly the same as the last time the Yankees visited Fenway Park, right after the All-Star break. Baseball is weird sometimes. You are forewarned: some of the following may have been copied and pasted.
Friday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. LHP Felix Doubront
Doubront, 25, has a 3.66 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 21 starts and one relief appearance this year. His strikeout rate (8.09 K/9 and 20.8 K%) is down a touch from last year and his walk rate (3.87 BB/9 and 9.9 BB%) is unchanged, so his improvement is the result of more grounders (47.6%) and fewer homers (0.56 HR/9 and 6.7% HR/FB). That homer rate is perhaps unsustainably low given his home ballpark. Doubront will use low-90s two and four-seamers as well as a mid-to-upper-80s cutter to set up his mid-70 curveball and low-80s changeup. He doesn’t have much of a platoon split because his arsenal is so deep. The Yankees haven’t been able to touch Doubront since the start of the last season, and that includes two starts of at least six innings and no more than two runs earlier this year.
Saturday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP John Lackey
The 34-year-old Lackey has a brand new elbow following Tommy John surgery and the improvement is drastic. He’s got a 3.32 ERA (3.70 FIP) in 21 starts with strong peripherals: 8.32 K/9 (22.2 K%), 1.96 BB/9 (5.2 BB%), 1.22 HR/9 (14.3% HR/FB), and 49.5% grounders. The homers are an eyesore, but everything else looks good. Lackey is primarily a three-pitch pitcher, using his low-90s four-seamer, mid-to-upper-80s cutter, and upper-70s curveball more than 90% of the time combined. He will, however, mix in the rare low-90s two-seamer, mid-80s slider, and low-80s changeup. Like, one or two of each per start. Lackey has been around a while; the Yankees have seen him plenty over the years. They got to him for four runs in 6.1 innings last month.
Sunday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Ryan Dempster
Dempster, 36, has performed about as well as you’d expect an older, career NL pitcher moving into a hitter-friendly AL East park to perform. They can’t all be Kuroda. Dempster has a 4.50 ERA (4.68 FIP) in 24 starts with a real good strikeout rate (8.29 K/9 and 20.9 K%), but his walk (4.05 BB/9 and 10.2 BB%), homer (1.41 HR/9 and 13.8% HR/FB) , and ground ball (40.5%) numbers are all uninspiring. An upper-80s four-seamer and low-to-mid-80s slider are his top two pitches, but he’ll also mix in some upper-70s/low-80s splitters and mid-to-upper-80s cutters. The four-seamer and slider are clearly his go-to weapons, however. The Yankees seem to rough Dempster up each time they meet, and sure enough they got to him for five runs in 5.1 innings in July.
Farrell & Co. have had to overhaul most of their bullpen these last few weeks. RHP Koji Uehara (2.04 FIP) is still closing and both RHP Junichi Tazawa (3.33 FIP) and LHP Craig Breslow (3.50 FIP) are setting up, but otherwise there are a lot of new faces. LHP Drake Britton (3.27 FIP in limited time) and RHP Rubby De La Rosa (12.47 FIP in very limited time) are two live but young and inexperienced arms, as is de facto long man RHP Brandon Workman (5.31 FIP). He threw three innings on Wednesday and probably isn’t available tonight. LHP Franklin Morales (5.63 FIP in very limited time) just came off the DL to round out the seven-man relief crew.
Both Mariano Rivera and David Robertson are well-rested, but the rest of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen has been taxed of late. I suspect Adam Warren will be sent down to clear a 25-man roster spot for Mark Reynolds if his agreed-to deal is finalized today, leaving David Huff as the long man. Warren will be back as soon as rosters expand in two weeks. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for reliever usage details, then check out Over The Monster for the latest and greatest on the Sawx.
Via Andy Martino: Impending free agent Phil Hughes indicated a willingness to pitch out of the bullpen next year. “I feel like pitching at this level is a blessing in any way,” he said. “So if teams value me as a starter, that’s great. If not, and that’s their opinion, we’ll see what happens. We will see how it shakes out.”
Hughes, 27, has an ugly 4.97 ERA (4.71 FIP) in 125 innings across 23 starts this season. He’s never not be awesome in relief — 1.44 ERA (1.93 WHIP) in 56.1 innings, most coming in 2009 — and at this point it’s clear he’s best suited for a bullpen role. The Yankees are losing Mariano Rivera to retirement and Joba Chamberlain (and Boone Logan?) to free agency this winter, so they will need to dig up some replacement relief arms. I’m guessing the team will cut ties completely, but there would definitely be a place for Hughes in the bullpen going forward. · (39) ·
If ballplayers had a problem with Alex Rodriguez following the Biogenesis revelations, they’re going to downright hate the man if the latest report proves true. According to a 60 Minutes report, it was A-Rod‘s camp that provided un-redacted versions of the Biogenesis documents to Yahoo! Sports last February. This is quite a big deal, considering the un-redacted version of the documents added many names to the list of known Biogenesis clients.
If you search the original Miami New Times article, you will see no mention of Ryan Braun, among others (including Francisco Cervelli). It was only when the Yahoo! Sports report ran, almost a week later, that we saw Braun and others appear. Nearly all of the players on that un-redacted list have since been suspended, with the exceptions of Gio Gonzalez and Danny Valencia, who were cleared, and Melky Cabrera, Yasmani Grandal, and Bartolo Colon, who had previously served suspensions.
Given the deluge of leaks from MLB leading up to the Biogenesis suspensions, and their continuing case against A-Rod, it’s fair to assume that this leak also came from them. MLB has accused Rodriguez of attempting to obstruct their investigation into the players involved with Biogenesis, yet this seems to be the exact opposite. Whoever leaked the un-redacted documents did MLB a favor, since it exposed more players. Yet that might not be the biggest implication of this matter.
Craig Calcaterra of HardballTalk notes that if A-Rod did leak these documents, he might have violated the confidentiality clause in the CBA.
Like any report from anonymous sources (especially when signs point to MLB as the source), we shouldn’t take it as fact. Like any report involving Alex Rodriguez, we will anyway. I do have to say, if this does prove true it feels quite a bit worse than using PEDs.
Got five questions for you this week. The best way to send us anything is the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
John asks: Looking ahead to next year (because that’s sort of all we have at this point) the Yankees clearly need another outfielder (or two). As such, being purely hypothetical here, would you rather have Curtis Granderson at 1/$14M, Carlos Beltran at 2/$30M or Shin-Soo Choo at 4/$60M?
Of those three choices, I’m definitely taking Granderson on a one-year, $14M deal. Beltran would be my second choice and Choo a distant third. Choo sure gets a lot of attention for an injury prone platoon player who isn’t all that good on defense, doesn’t he? He’s awesome against right-handed pitchers, among the best in the world, but there’s much more to life than that.
Anyway, Beltran is still a really good hitter, the the big drop in walk rate and overall rise in swing-and-miss rate are major red flags for a 36-year-old hitter. I’ve explained this before. Add in his injury history and the overall risk that comes with guys closer to 40 than 30, and I’m very skeptical about giving him a multi-year pact. I don’t think it would be a disaster if the Yankee signed Beltran to a two-year, $30M contract (that would be a nice raise from his current two-year, $26M deal), but it’s not a slam dunk at this point.
Granderson, even at a premium salary, on a one-year contract is a pretty great deal. All of his injuries this year were flukes, he’s shown his old power, and he’s not at the point where you’d expect him fall of a cliff at age 32 (33 in March). The Yankees have enough really old veteran players on multi-year pacts and I really don’t want to see them add another to the pile at this point. Granderson for one year limits the risk and gives them a productive player. He’s the lesser of three evils, in this scenario.
Nick asks: Suggested post (motivated mainly by Jon Morosi’s column): Hiroki Kuroda‘s chances of winning the Cy Young. Consider the contenders and say what Hiroki realistically needs to do between now and season end to be in with any kind of shot.
I looked at the AL Cy Young race a little more in depth at CBS last week, so I’ll point you to that rather than regurgitate it all here. Long story short: there are a lot of legitimate candidates in the AL but Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer stand out from the pack right now. Chris Sale deserves to be in that group as well, but he won’t get much love thanks to his crummy teammates.
Kuroda has the great 2.33 ERA and AL-best 174 ERA+, but his record (11-7) isn’t anything special, his strikeout rate (6.40 K/9 and 18.1 K%) is below-average, and his FIP (3.25) is very good but not on par with the other Cy Young candidates. To make a serious push for the award, pretty much one thing has to happen: the Yankees need to win his starts. A lot of them. He’ll have to maintain that ERA/FIP and finish the year with an 18-8 record or something to have a serious shot. That’s the easiest way to do it.
Even then, it’s probably not enough. Remember, for a Yankee to win a major award, they need to have an insanely great year that is far better than the other candidates. Think 2007 Alex Rodriguez. There’s definitely a Yankee bias at work in the voting. Kuroda’s been awesome, but his performance this year is still a notch between Felix, Scherzer, and Sale for me. Those guys have been outrageously good.
Brian asks: I saw a little blurb on MLBTR regarding Mike Trout and the Angels. Trout is obviously worth far more than his current league minimum contract, but if the Angels sit back and decide to continue to paying him league minimum, could Trout theoretically hold out like they do in football? Is there any baseball precedent to that?
There is no precedent for that in baseball as far as I know, certainly not recently. If he were the hold out, I imagine the team would suspend him without pay, which would do some damage to his image. It happens. At this point of his career, Trout is stuck making whatever the Angels are willing to pay him. Is it fair? Of course not. But that’s the salary system that was collectively bargained.
Trout has one more year at (or near) the league minimum before becoming eligible for arbitration, when he’ll at least have some say in his salary. He can’t become a free agent until after the 2017 campaign. I don’t know if Trout will hold enough of a grudge to pass on a long-term contract if the Halos make an offer, but it would surprise me. He’s already in nine-figure contract extension territory and that’s hard to pass up.
Rosco asks: I know a lot of people are praising MLB for suspending players for PEDs associated with the Miami clinic, but shouldn’t we worry that none of them tested positive? How many other players are using that we do not know about because it seems the testing systems has some holes?
That’s the part going completely unnoticed. Not a single player tested positive and a local newspaper in Miami managed to get wind of the scandal before the league. That’s the nature of the beast though, the drugs will always be ahead of the tests. There’s no doubt the recent suspensions send a strong message — we’re going to go to great lengths to find you if you’ve been cheating! — but that alone won’t be enough of a disincentive for many players. The only thing MLB can do is test and test, that’s all. Sports will never be completely clean.
Lee asks: I saw these stats on defensive shifts a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t seen any commentary on them anywhere, and would love to hear your thoughts. The Yankees are THIRD in the use of defensive shifts? Wow, I guess I’ve been so mesmerized by how bad their offense is that I didn’t notice! But even more incredible, ZERO runs saved???? That’s almost funny — they just can’t get anything right this year.
Yeah, the Yankees definitely seem to suck at shift. Anecdotally, they seem to pitch away from the situation quite a bit, meaning they pitch outside with soft stuff while playing the hitter to pull. That doesn’t make sense. The defense on the left side of the infield has been terrible pretty much all year, which is another factor. I give them credit for trying — it’s interesting that four of the top five shifting teams are from the AL East, no? — but I’m not sure they have the personnel to pull off some fancy shifts at this point. The infield defense is too immobile.
Some roster moves:
- OF Mason Williams has been promoted up to Double-A Trenton, according to his Twitter feed. Not coincidentally, OF Slade Heathcott was placed on the DL with what appears to be a season-ending knee injury earlier this week. Williams, 21, hit a disappointing .261/.327/.350 (94 wRC+) for High-A Tampa this year, but the Thunder need someone to play center.
- OF Ben Gamel and LHP Rigoberto Arrebato were also bumped up from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton, reports Josh Norris. Gamel missed a bunch of time due to an unknown injury but otherwise hit .272/.351/.396 (112 wRC+) with Tampa.
- RHP Cesar Vargas was promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa, the team announced. RHP Kelvin Castro — the former utility infielder — goes from Short Season Staten Island to the River Dogs.
- In other news, LHP Mike Zagurski has opted out of his minor league contract according to Chris Cotillo. The reliever had a 3.08 ERA (2.78 FIP) in 26.1 innings for Triple-A Scranton after signing in June.
Triple-A Scranton (4-0 win over Charlotte)
- C J.R. Murphy: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
- CF Melky Mesa: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K, 1 SB – 16-for-42 (.381) with three doubles and four homers in his last ten games
- 2B David Adams: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K
- LF Ronnie Mustelier: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI
- RHP Chase Whitley: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2/3 GB/FB — 36 of 58 pitches were strikes (62%) … very nice spot start in place of David Huff, who was called up to the big league team
- LHP Cesar Cabral: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K – ten of twelve pitches were strikes … 10/1 K/BB in six innings at this level
Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees have agreed to sign corner infielder Mark Reynolds. Because he was designated for assignment and released by the Indians, they only owe him the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. Heyman says four teams had interest. The deal is not yet official.
Reynolds, 29, hit .205/.307/.373 (93 wRC+) with 15 homers before being cut by the Tribe. As I explained in last week’s mailbag, he was very good for the first 50 games but terrible for the last 49. Reynolds did hit .215/.333/.411 (111 wRC+) against lefties though, and that’s why the Yankees signed him. He’ll presumably platoon with Lyle Overbay at first base and see some time at third base and DH as well.
The Yankees will need to clear both a 25-man and 40-man roster spot to accommodate Reynolds, but that won’t be too difficult. They’re already carrying a 13-man pitching staff and could transfer either Zoilo Almonte (ankle) or Luis Cruz (knee) to the 60-day DL. If he performs well, I suppose the Yankees could look to retain Reynolds for next season as a part-time corner infielder/DH. · (80) ·
Well, sweeping a four-game series is tough to do regardless of opponent, but winning the first three games before dropping the fourth is a tough pill to swallow. The Yankees lost a winnable 8-4 game to the Angels in Thursday’s series finale.
Phil Goes Phive
For the first time in four starts, Phil Hughes actually completed five innings of work on Thursday afternoon. He even tacked on a sixth inning for good measure. Three runs on six hits, a walk, and a hit batsman in six innings represents Phil’s best start since early-July, which is far too long to go between acceptable starts. That’s what this was, acceptable. Not good, not bad. In the middle. Tolerable. Not good enough to feel good about and not bad enough to cost Hughes his job.
The Yankees were in the game until the eighth inning, two innings after Phil had been removed, when the Angels broke things open against an ineffective Boone Logan. I always pay extra attention to what happens after a pitcher stays in the game after issuing an intentional walk, and sure enough Logan followed the free (free) pass to Mark Trumbo with an unintentional walk to the unwalkable (5.4 BB%) Hank Conger and a grand slam to the powerless (.061 ISO) Chris Nelson. I swear, hitters have like a .900 OBP against pitchers who stay in the game immediately after an intentional walk. It seems to throw everything off. Nelson’s slam — his second homer of the game/season — put this one to bed.
Blown Early Chances
After scoring 25 runs in the previous two games combined, the Yankees turned eleven hits and one walk in 6.2 innings against starter C.J. Wilson into just one run. They had two men on-base in the second, the bases loaded in the third, and two on in the fourth, but only got the one run out of it. Vernon Wells made three outs in two plate appearances to help kill the various rallies, including an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.
The good news, despite the lack of runs, is that Alfonso Soriano (4-for-5), Robinson Cano (3-for-5), Alex Rodriguez (2-for-5), and Curtis Granderson (1-for-3 with two walks) continue to perform well in the batters’ box. Brett Gardner tripled to help create the first run, Eduardo Nunez singled twice, and Austin Romine picked up another hit to extend his little hot streak. Four runs on 18 total base-runners kinda sucks, but if they continue getting men on-base like that, the runs will come. Keep up that pace.
The Yankees did make some noise in the ninth inning, scoring three runs thanks to a Cano single and a Wells two-run double. They had the tying run on deck at one point, which is pretty good considering they opened the frame down seven runs. This means The O’Neill Theory is in effect for the next game, right? Too bad we never bothered to keep track of that to see if it holds true.
Shawn Kelley (one inning) and Joba Chamberlain (one-third of an inning) both allowed a run while Adam Warren tossed a scoreless frame. Kelley’s base-runner reached on a bloop double to shallow center when Gardner made a rare bad read and broke back on a ball he should have come in on, then scored on Nelson’s grand slam off Logan. Rough way to get charged with a run, but that’s life.
Isn’t it amazing how, 120 games into the season, the Yankees still don’t have a viable platoon partner for Lyle Overbay? He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and three feeble at-bats against Wilson, lowering his season line against southpaws to .200/.246/.305. Yuck.
Mike Scioscia used four pitchers to get the final four outs with a seven-run lead. Of course, it went from a seven-run lead to a four-run lead during that time. Perhaps the two issues are related.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and video highlights, go to MLB.com. FanGraphs has the other stats and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees are six back of the second wildcard spot in the loss column with four teams still ahead of them. That’s a lot of ground to make up in 42 games. They’ll need a lot of help.
The Yankees are off to Boston for a three-game weekend set against the Red Sox. Left-handers Andy Pettitte and Felix Doubront will start the series off on Friday night.
All good things must come to an end, including relatively brief four-game winning streaks. The important thing is that the Yankees won five of seven games on the homestand, which is something I think we all would have taken at the outset. Shake off the loss and get ready for what is sure to be a hectic weekend in Fenway Park.
Here is your open thread for the night. MLB Network will broadcast a game (who you see depends on where you live) and there’s also an NFL preseason game on ESPN. Talk about that stuff or anything else here. Have at it.