Thanks to two fluke long-ish term hit-by-pitch injuries, Curtis Granderson‘s contract year has been a disaster. Sure, he’s back on the field now with less than two months to play, but that’s not much time for him to showcase himself to prospective employers. If he stinks, is it because of the injuries? If he’s great, is it because he’s well-rested at a time when other players are grinding and dealing with the fatigue of 100+ games already played? It’s a tough spot.
The Yankees, of course, are one of those prospective employers. They know him better than anyone right now. They know his work ethic, his personality, his medical information, pretty much everything you’d want to know about a player before paying them many millions of dollars. They also know their lineup is woefully short on power and figures to remain that way next season even if Robinson Cano re-signs and Mark Teixeira comes back perfectly healthy. Even with all the strikeouts, there’s a place for Granderson in the team’s 2014 lineup.
That said, the Bombers already have four veteran outfielders under contract for next season: Brett Gardner (he qualifies as a veteran by now, right?), Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells, and Alfonso Soriano. There’s also the currently injured Zoilo Almonte, who did enough during his month-long cameo to at least earn a long look in Spring Training. Melky Mesa will also be out of minor league options next year, though he hasn’t exactly forced his way into the team’s long-term picture this season.
That’s a lot of bodies for a few spots, but it really isn’t. Soriano can hide as the DH next year — his right-handed power makes him useful and worth keeping around at this point — and Almonte can go back to Triple-A Scranton as a depth piece. Vernon Wells has already been marginalized this year, starting just four of the team’s last eleven and 24 of their last 43 games. That’s what happens when you’re a sub-replacement level hitter for about three months. The Yankees owe Wells $2.4M in real dollars next year, but thanks to some fancy accounting he has zero impact on the luxury tax. Being “free” might be enough to save his job.
As Matt wrote over the weekend, Granderson is a prime candidate to receive a qualifying offer after the season. They’re expected to be worth $14M this winter, which would be a pay cut from his current $15M salary. If Granderson accepts, great. They’ll make room for his power in the lineup. If he declines, the Yankees will get a supplement first round pick if he signs elsewhere. As it stands right now, making Curtis the qualifying offer is a no-brainer. I know if I was a fan of another team, Granderson would definitely someone I would be focusing on as a potential “buy low” candidate over the winter thanks to the injuries. A qualifying offer would be a no-lose situation for New York.
The question now is how expendable do the Yankees consider Granderson? Do they consider Soriano-Gardner-Ichiro with Wells and maybe Almonte on the bench to be a viable outfield? They shouldn’t, but they might. The team has made some … questionable, roster choices over the last 18 months or so. Dumping Granderson would free up a lot of space under that all-important $189M luxury tax limit, and Hal Steinbrenner has made it very, very clear that getting under the threshold is important to him. Could it be so important they don’t even risk a qualifying offer? That I doubt, at worst they’d be able to trade Granderson and his $14M before next season. We can’t know that for sure, however.
Even though the Yankees have a bunch of warm bodies slated for the outfield next year, only one of those guys (Gardner) is a legitimate above-average player. Everyone else is above-average name value with meh on-field value. If he’s willing to take a one-year pillow contract to rebuild value, Granderson would fit right into their left field picture and the middle of the lineup. If he wants a multi-year deal — it’s very possible he gets offered one, teams have a lot of money to spend but not many places to spend it these days — then chances are he’ll be suiting up elsewhere. That would be a shame, because the Yankees could use his bat next season even though they already have a bunch of warm outfield bodies under contract.
I have something to show you:
That is Chris Stewart‘s spray chart since the All-Star break (via Texas Leaguers). You know how they set up those short little outfield fences behind the infield for charity softball games or whatever? I think Stewart would have hit like two homeruns since the break using those fences. According to the batted ball data at FanGraphs, he hasn’t hit a fly ball since August 3rd (!).
This isn’t much of a surprise, of course. Stewart has never hit in his career and no one expected him to this year, yet he’s still somehow falling short of expectations at .219/.296/.279 (60 wRC+). Among the 33 catchers with at least 200 plate appearances this year, Stewart ranks 30th in offensive output. As an added bonus, he’s stopped throwing out base-runners — opponents are 13-for-15 (87%) in stolen base attempts against him since the All-Star break. He’s worn out. It happens when a guy who hasn’t started more than 85 games behind the plate since 2005 catches 70 of your first 117 games.
Austin Romine, meanwhile, has shown some signs of life since the All-Star break after being completely unplayable in the first half. He’s gone 8-for-23 (.348) with some power (three doubles and a homer) since the break and that’s kinda cool. Romine also had a few nice games at the plate immediately prior to the Midsummer Classic and has actually thrown runners out of late — four steals and four caught stealings since the break. It’s not much, but when you’re talking about a 24-year-old kid who missed basically half of each of the last two seasons with back problems, it’s encouraging. A silver lining in these rough last few weeks.
“He’s been swinging the bat pretty good,” said Joe Girardi to Mark Feinsand last week when asked about upping Romine’s workload down the stretch. “I might give him a little bit more playing time here and there. Stew’s still going to catch a lot, but he’s been swinging the bat pretty good.”
To Girardi’s credit, Romine has started seven of the team’s last 17 games. But that’s not really enough. Stewart is generally bad at this baseball thing and now he’s even worse at it because he’s out of gas. Romine should play more and not just two or three times a week. He should take over as the starter — three-fifths of the rotation has pitched so poorly that they don’t even deserve the luxury of a personal catcher, so that’s not an issue — and that’s it. See what happens. He won’t continue to hit .348 the rest of the way, but he can actually hit the ball in the air and still play pretty good defense.
There’s a pretty good chance Romine might stink at baseball too. Baseball is hard, especially as a young catcher. It took Yadier Molina three years to get his OPS over .700 and seven years to get it over .750, for example. But there’s also a chance Romine might not stink at baseball. It was just last year that Baseball America said his “defense still could make him New York’s long-term future catcher, with the offensive upside of a .270 hitter with 10 homers annually.” That’s pretty good by catcher standards. Certainly better than Stewart, who we know isn’t anything special because he’s 31 and hasn’t been anything special his entire career.
The Yankees are stuck in the unenviable spot of having way too many old players and way too few young players. Their long-term catching outlook is promising with J.R. Murphy in Triple-A and Gary Sanchez in Double-A, but prospects are no sure thing, especially catching prospects. Look at Matt Wieters. Romine has shown actual signs of life at the Major League level these last few weeks and that’s an amazing thing. The Yankees should be thankful for it and they should give him every opportunity to show it isn’t a fluke. As crazy as it sounds, they might even have a long-term building block sitting right under their noses, which is something they desperately need regardless of position.
Outside of a major arm injury, I’m not sure things could be going any worse for CC Sabathia this year. The big left-hander is sitting on a yucky 4.73 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 160 innings across 24 starts, thanks in large part to a sudden Hughesian affinity for the long ball — Sabathia has already allowed a career-high 25 homeruns (1.41 HR/9 and 14.5% HR/FB) this year, and that includes a 1.63 HR/9 (16.9% HR/FB) away from homer happy Yankee Stadium. In the second season of his five-year extension, CC is having the worst year of his 13-year-career.
Early on, back in April, fastball velocity was believed to be the root cause of his problems. Sabathia came out of the gate sitting in the 88-89 mph range, occasionally hitting 91 or 92, but his heater has picked up some oomph as the weather warmed up and the season progressed. Here, look:
Sabathia’s fastball isn’t what it was even two years ago, but it has been trending upward in recent months. In his most recent start, he averaged 92.6 mph and topped out at 94.0 mph. That’s plenty. Velocity, the pure radar gun reading, is not the reason the Yankees nominal ace has been pitching like a number five starter.
One possible (and suddenly popular) explanation has been his weight loss. Sabathia is a big dude with broad shoulders and a big ass, he’s built to carry a lot of weight, but he’s shed upwards of 30 pounds in each of the last two offseasons. Losing weight is a good thing, especially when you’re talking about a pitcher with a twice surgically repairing landing knee. That doesn’t mean pitching with fewer pounds is easy though, it requires an adjustment.
“The weight loss has created a balance problem for him,“ said one evaluator to Nick Cafardo recently. “He’s all over the place. He’s learning how to pitch in that body, a body he’s really never had. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him other than that. Sometimes you pitch at a certain weight all your life and then someone has the brilliant idea that you should lose weight because it’s putting stress on your knees, you do it, and then you’re dealing with something else.”
According to PitchFX, Sabathia’s average release point has dropped 1.68 inches from 2012 to 2013 after dropping 2.04 inches from 2011 to 2012. His release point has also drifted an additional 1.8 inches towards first base from last year to this year. Think about the hands on a clock; his release point was sitting at one o’clock last year but has slid down and further out towards two o’clock. That slight change in arm slot seems small but it can make a huge difference, especially when you’re talking about the bite on a slider or the ability to drive a fastball downhill.
“The consistent problem is the command,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to Andy McCullough two weeks ago. “Even though his strike percentages are okay, it’s what’s going on in the strike zone. A lot of his fastballs and changeups are cutting. Which is a major problem for him.”
That cutting action hasn’t really shown up in PitchFX — Sabathia’s fastball has an extra half-inch or so of horizontal movement this year, which is nothing — but is something Rothschild has mentioned as a problem for several weeks now. It also seems like something that could be attributed to the lower release point. Dropping the arm creates more movement, it’s just the physics of this whole pitching thing. That’s why sidearmers and submariners always have those ridiculous fall off the table sinkers and frisbee sliders.
So the question now is why has his release point (and his arm slot) dropped? Is it because of the weight loss? Is it the toll of over 2,800 career regular season and postseason innings? Is it the result of his offseason elbow surgery? Is Sabathia muscling up in an effort to create the velocity he’s lost over the years? I don’t know. It could be none of those things or it could be all of those things. Pitching mechanics and deliveries are weird like that. They’re these fine-tuned yet never quite perfect unnatural acts, and sometimes stuff goes wrong for no apparent reason.
If the problem is Sabathia’s recent weight loss, then it’s probably a good thing because it should be easily correctable. I’m not talking about gaining the weight back, that’s kinda silly. The weight loss is healthy and he should keep it off. It’s a good thing because it’s something he can adjust to and iron out with enough reps. It’s been a challenge so far, but no one said it would be easy. I suspect Sabathia’s career workload and offseason elbow surgery are playing a part in his awful season though, and although I have faith in the big guy to figure it out, I can’t say for certain that he will.
Two straight wins? Two straight wins! The Yankees have won back-to-back games for the first time since winning three straight exactly one month ago. Yeah, it had been a while. New York took the series opener against the Angels by the score of 2-1.
With eight scoreless and relatively stress-free innings on Monday, Hiroki Kuroda has now allowed a total of five runs in his last seven starts and 48 innings. That’s a 0.94 ERA. In eleven home starts — that’s eleven starts in homer happy and hitter friendly Yankee Stadium — he’s got a 1.54 ERA. That’s the best home ERA by a qualified starter in the AL. Only Felix Hernandez (2.28 ERA) has been better at preventing runs overall in the so-called Junior Circuit this season.
Anyway, Kuroda held the Halos to a single, a walk, and two doubles in those eight innings of work. He struck out seven, got a dozen ground ball outs compared to five in the air, and recorded 22 of his 24 outs on the infield. At one point from the second through eighth innings, Kuroda retired 19 of 22 batters faced. He was marvelous, masterful, impressive, amazing, astounding, distinguished, meritorious, handsome, and all around swell. The Yankees need to hand this guy a blank check after the season. Kuroda can’t go anywhere.
The Second Run Counts As An Insurance Run
It’s become a regular thing to dump on the Yankees offense this year — don’t get me wrong, they do stink — but I thought Angels starter Garrett Richards actually pitched rather well. He had a real sharp slider to pair with his mid-90s fastball, and although he doesn’t miss as many bats as his stuff suggests he should, Richards excels at getting hitters to beat the ball into the ground. Sure enough, 15 of his 24 outs came on the ground in this start.
The Yankees did break through for a pair of runs though, the first on a clutch two-out single by Brett Gardner in the third (Eduardo Nunez scored from second) and the second on a Curtis Granderson solo homer in the seventh. That’s the kind of thing the Bombers couldn’t do pretty much the entire first half of the season, tack on that one extra run with one swing in the late innings. It’s really tough to score when you need to string together three or four hits just to push across one run. The Gardner single and Granderson homer were all the Bombers would get and need on Monday.
No Mo? No Problem … Kinda
It makes for a fun narrative that Mariano Rivera needed a day off to mentally rest after blowing each of his last three save chances, but that’s not why he was unavailable in this game. The team’s 43-year-old closer had thrown 81 stressful pitches over the last five days. That’s all, he needed a breather, which meant the ninth inning belonged to someone else.
With Rivera unavailable, Joe Girardi turned to Boone Logan and David Robertson to preserve the two-run lead. Logan faced two left-handed batters to leadoff the inning and one reached base when a ground ball deflected off the first base bag. Robertson made things difficult by walking Mike Trout to put the tying run on base, and the next batter (Josh Hamilton) dropped the epitome of a bloop double into shallow left to score Anaheim’s first run. If Alex Rodriguez had two good hips instead of two bad hips, he probably catches it over his shoulder like a wide receiver with ease.
That double put the tying run on third and the go-ahead run at second, and naturally the call was to make an even bigger mess by intentionally loading the bases. I hate intentionally loading the bases with a one-run lead. Hate it hate it hate it. Of course, Robertson is not your typical reliever, so he escaped the jam by striking out Mark Trumbo and former Yankee Chris Nelson. He has now retired each of the last 25 (!) batters he’s faced with the bases loaded. Twenty-five! That dates back to 2011 and is the longest such streak since Jeff Brantley retired 30 straight with the bases loaded from 1989-1991. It wasn’t the easiest save in the world, but no one is giving out style points.
Granderson was the only Yankee with two hits, and he saw just six pitches in this three at-bats. That’s very un-Granderson-like, he works the count as well as anyone. In fact, five of the nine hitters in the lineup saw nine or fewer pitches (!) on the night. Seriously, we’re talking about 36 total pitches for 15 at-bats (2.4 per). What’s up with that?
A-Rod had a rough night, going 1-for-3 with a solid single to left-center. He also was thrown out trying to steal second — it looked more like a botched hit-and-run, really — and grounded into two double plays. Three at-bats, five outs. Ouch.
During a discussion about making penalties harsher, Michael Kay compared serving a performance-enhancing drug related suspension to being on death row. Just thought you should know that.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and video highlights, go to MLB.com. FanGraphs has some other stats and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees remain seven games back of the second wildcard spot in the loss column. If you haven’t noticed, it’s real tough to pick up ground when you’re chasing four teams. Cool Standings says New York’s postseason odds have climbed to 3.5%, so … progress!
Same two teams on Tuesday night, when CC Sabathia gets the ball against not Tommy Hanson. The Angels announced left-hander Jason Vargas will be activated off the DL to make the start instead. He’s missed just about two months with a blood clot in his shoulder. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to be like me and attend the game.
Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, Low-A Charleston, and Short Season Staten Island all had scheduled off-days. Weird. The SI Yanks are off until Wednesday for the All-Star break. The actual game will be played tomorrow.
High-A Tampa (5-4 loss to Daytona)
- CF Mason Williams: 1-4, 1 R, 1 BB
- 2B Rob Refsnyder: 4-4, 1 R, 1 B, 1 HBP — had four hits in his previous 20 at-bats
- LF Ben Gamel: 1-5
- RHP Branden Pinder: 3.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 3/2 GB/FB – he walked three batters total in his previous 33 innings
- SwP Pat Venditte: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 HB, 1/0 GB/FB
The Yankees got a monkey off their back by winning their first series in almost six weeks yesterday, but they still haven’t won back-to-back games in exactly one month now — they beat Royals on July 11th and the Twins on July 12th. That was right before the All-Star break. Everything is set up for them to win that elusive second straight game tonight against the woeful Angels, who are starting a pitcher who was recently a short reliever (Garrett Richards) against staff ace Hiroki Kuroda. Here’s the lineup Joe Girardi is running out there:
- CF Brett Gardner
- DH Ichiro Suzuki
- 2B Robinson Cano
- 3B Alex Rodriguez
- 1B Lyle Overbay
- LF Alfonso Soriano
- RF Curtis Granderson
- SS Eduardo Nunez
- C Chris Stewart
And on the mound is Kuroda, who leads the AL with a 165 ERA+. He is coming off his worst start in six weeks and it wasn’t all that bad anyway: three runs in seven innings. Kuroda is like sex — even when he’s bad, he’s still pretty good.
It’s warm and humid in New York, and there might be some showers later on tonight. Hopefully they won’t impact the game at all. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.
- Derek Jeter (calf) played catch over the weekend and will hit off a tee and soft toss today. The Cap’n is still a few days away from running, however. Joe Girardi said he expects Jeter to go down to Tampa to continue his rehab when the Yankees start their quick little three-game road trip on Friday.
- Kevin Youkilis (back) has “been rehabbing away, nothing fun, no baseball things yet.” He is roughly eight weeks out from surgery and was originally expected to start taking dry swings after 8-10 weeks. Youkilis remains unlikely to return this year.
- Travis Hafner (shoulder) is not yet ready to start baseball activities, according to Girardi. “He feels better,” said the skipper while also making it sound like the team’s rehab DH is unlikely to return this season.
- Vidal Nuno (groin) started a throwing program according to his Twitter feed. Brian Cashman recently said they don’t expect him back this year, but I wonder if he’ll progress enough to come back as a short reliever when rosters expand in September.
- Ty Hensley (hip) also started a throwing program according to his Twitter feed. He’s coming off hip surgery and is expected to miss the entire season. Obviously the Yankees will be very conservative with last year’s first round pick. Hensley is unlikely to see a real game until next season.
What was once a great battle between two of baseball’s best teams has devolved into a meeting of broken down fringe contenders. Yankees-Angels doesn’t have the same kind of excitement it once did … or should I say dread? The Angels had New York’s number for the better part of a decade. The two teams will play four games in Yankee Stadium this week, their second and final meeting of the season after the Yankees lost two of three in Anaheim back in June.
What Have They Done Lately?
Despite taking two of three from the Indians this weekend, the Halos have lost five of their last seven games and 14 of their last 21 games. At 53-63 with a -17 run differential, the Angels are in fourth place in the AL West and well out of a playoff spot.
This isn’t a surprise, but Mike Scioscia’s team can score a lot of runs. They average 4.6 runs per game with a team 109 wRC+, both well-above-average marks even though 1B Albert Pujols (111 wRC+) is done for the year with a foot problem. The Angels are also without certified Yankees killer 2B Howie Kendrick (116 wRC+), who just landed on the DL with a knee injury, and OF Peter Bourjos (142 wRC+), who has been out for a while with a broken wrist. That’s three pretty important players right there.
The team’s offense now revolves around Mike Trout (176 wRC+), baseball’s best all-around player. 1B Mark Trumbo (108 wRC+) and C Chris Iannetta (106 wRC+) are Scioscia’s only other healthy above-average regulars at the moment. OF Josh Hamilton (88 wRC+) has been a major disappointment and others like SS Erick Aybar (96 wRC+) and OF J.B. Shuck (97 wRC+) aren’t anything special. Personal fave OF Kole Calhoun (168 wRC+) has torn the cover off the ball in a whopping 51 plate appearances.
IF Grant Green (63 wRC+) came over from the Athletics at the trade deadline and has actually played well for the Halos (194 wRC+ in very limited time). He was awful during his brief time with Oakland, hence the poor overall numbers. OF Colin Cowgill (68 wRC+), IF Tommy Field (-31 wRC+ in very limited time), backup C Hank Conger (98 wRC+), and former Yankee IF Chris Nelson (57 wRC+) round out the rest of the position player crop. Because of their pitching issues, the Angels currently have a 13-man pitching staff and a three-man bench.
Starting Pitching Matchups
Monday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Garrett Richards
Richards, 25, moved into the rotation not too long ago because Joe Blanton was just terrible (5.52 ERA and 4.83 FIP). He’s got a 4.20 ERA (3.41 FIP) in seven starts and 30 relief appearances this year, though he’s more about limiting walks (2.52 BB/9 and 6.7 BB%) and getting grounders (57.5%) than missing bats (6.41 K/9 and 16.9 K%). Richards has done a good job of keeping the ball in the park (0.63 HR/9 and 9.7% HR/FB) by using three mid-90s fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter) to set up his mid-80s slider. He’ll also throw some rare upper-70s curveballs and upper-80s changeups. The Yankees have seen Richards just twice before, one start (six runs in five innings in 2011) and one relief appearance (scoreless inning in 2012).
Tuesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. TBA
This spot is technically listed as TBA, but is it expected to be right-hander Tommy Hanson. This been a really, really rough year for the 26-year-old, who has pitched terribly (5.59 ERA and 4.80 FIP), missed more than a month with a forearm strain, and missed about a month following the death of his stepbrother. Yeah, rough. None of Hanson’s peripherals stand out in a good way — 6.92 K/9 (17.1 K%), 3.72 BB/9 (9.2 BB%), 1.33 HR/9 (10.3% HR/FB), and 32.9% grounders — though his fastball has jumped back into the low-90s in recent starts. He also has three offspeed pitches in a low-80s changeup, upper-70s slider, and low-70s curveball. It’s worth noting lefties have crushed Hanson this year (.380 wOBA), though righties have hit him well too (.340 wOBA). The Yankees have seen him three times with mixed results over the years, including a two-run, 6.1-inning start earlier this season.
Wednesday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Jered Weaver
A fractured left elbow sidelined Weaver for roughly six weeks earlier this season, but when healthy he’s been pretty great (2.87 ERA and 3.56 FIP). The 30-year-old has consistently outpitched his peripherals — 7.14 K/9 (19.4 K%), 2.09 BB/9 (5.8 BB%), 0.87 HR/9 (7.7% HR/FB), and 33.6% grounders — over the years in part because he generates a ton of infield and generally weak pop-ups. Weaver is a legitimate six-pitch pitcher, though he has been using mid-80s cutter less than ever before this season. His mid-to-upper-80s two and four-seam fastballs set up a low-80s slider, upper-80s changeup, and low-80s curveball. Weaver has faced the Yankees plenty of times over the years, and he’s typically had his trouble with them (5.19 ERA in 69.1 innings).
Thursday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP C.J. Wilson
Wilson, 32, had a subpar first season in Anaheim, but he’s been pretty damn good in his follow-up campaign (3.49 ERA and 3.28 FIP). He’s striking guys out (8.45 K/9 and 21.6 K%), limiting homers (0.59 HR/9 and 7.0% HR/FB), and getting grounders (46.0%). Wilson will hand out some free passes (3.49 BB/9 and 8.9 BB%), however. Three fastballs (low-90s two and four-seamers, upper-80s cutters) and three offspeed pitches (mid-80s changeup, low-80s sliders, and upper-70s curveballs) fill out his six-pitch arsenal. It’s worth noting Wilson has had some trouble against righties this year (.314 wOBA), but he’s done the job against lefties (.252 wOBA). The Yankees have faced the former Rangers southpaw a whole bunch of times these last few seasons. No secrets here.
With a 4.37 ERA (4.10 FIP), the Angels have one of the worst bullpens in baseball. Their big free agent signings (RHP Ryan Madson and LHP Sean Burnett) haven’t worked due to injury, and closer RHP Ernesto Frieri (4.11 FIP) has been meltdown-prone. RHP Kevin Jepsen (2.92 FIP) and former Yankees farmhand RHP Dane De La Rosa (3.03 FIP) has been very good in setup roles, but the rest of the bullpen is a skeleton crew: RHP J.C. Gutierrez (4.03 FIP), LHP Nick Maronde (7.55 FIP in very limited time), LHP Buddy Boshers (0.05 FIP in super limited time), RHP Michael Kohn (4.64 FIP), and Blanton.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have a heavily used and worn out bullpen at the moment. Their four best relievers all threw 19+ pitches yesterday and, outside of Adam Warren, their B-squad threw 30+ pitches on Saturday. Dellin Betances was called up yesterday to give the team a fresh arm, but it’s clear Joe Girardi doesn’t trust him in important spots yet — Joba Chamberlain was warming up for the potential tenth inning yesterday after throwing 30 pitches the day before. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for recent reliever usage, then check out True Grich for the best Angels blogginess around.
Mariano Rivera has accomplished an awful lot in his Hall of Fame career, but one thing he had never done prior to these last few days was blow three consecutive save opportunities. I guess that’s not really much of an accomplishment. Anyway, Rivera blew a one-run lead against the White Sox on Wednesday before squandering two-run leads against the Tigers on Friday and Sunday. The Yankees managed to come back to win the two games against Detroit.
“There’s always going to be a first time. I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” said Rivera to Chad Jennings when asked about the three straight blown saves. “It’s not surprising. You’re talking about professional hitters. At the same time, I’m not putting the ball where I want it.”
PitchFX confirms Rivera has not had a dip in velocity recently nor has his trademark cutter lost any bite — the pitch is still sitting in the low-90s with roughly 2-4 inches of horizontal break. Nothing out of the ordinary there. As Rivera indicated, it’s all about location. Here is the game-tying hit he surrendered to Adam Dunn on Wednesday:
Notice where Austin Romine wanted the pitch — down and on the outside corner — compared to where it actually ended up. Thigh high and right down the middle, pretty much. That was an 0-2 pitch, and you probably remember the first two strikes were called on borderline outside cutters. Maybe even pitches that were off the plate. Romine and Rivera went back to that well a third time but Mo didn’t execute.
Dunn slapping a ball the other way for a single is a rarity. That just isn’t his game. Miguel Cabrera hitting homeruns is not; it’s just what he does. Over the weekend, the reigning AL MVP took Rivera deep not once, but twice in the blown saves. Here’s his two-run shot from Friday, which tied the game:
That was a pretty epic at-bat, as you probably remember. Cabrera fouled two balls off his leg and was hobbling around badly between pitches — at one point he was using his bat like a cane — yet he managed to remain in the game. The game-tying homer came in a 2-2 count after Rivera busted him inside repeatedly, hence the two foul balls of the leg. Chris Stewart set up inside one more time but Rivera again missed his spot, this time knee-high and out over the plate. That’s a pitch great hitters like Miggy will crush, and in this instance it left the park.
The homerun Cabrera hit on Sunday did not tie the game, but it did turn a two-run lead into the one-run lead for the Yankees. Again, Rivera missed his spot in a bad way:
Stewart and Rivera mixed things up in this at-bat after getting beat on Friday, pitching to both sides of the plate rather than pounding Cabrera inside. The 2-2 pitch was supposed to be down and away — you can even argue Stewart was set up too far over the plate — and Mo simply missed up. The pitch was on the outer half as intended, but rather than come in at the knees it came in at the belt. Cabrera took advantage of the short porch and drove it out the other way.
The third homer of the weekend, the one that actually tied Sunday’s game and clinched that third blown save, was more good hitting than bad pitching. Unlike the last three pitches in this post, Rivera didn’t miss his spot by all that much:
Stewart wanted the 0-1 pitch up towards the top of the zone and inside, and Rivera wound up coming up-and-in even more than desired. That’s not a bad thing, up-and-in pitches are a great way to induce weak contact. Mo has been breaking left-handed hitter’s bats with that pitch for nearly two decades now. Martinez just pulled his hands in and yanked the ball to right for the game-tying solo homer. Rivera missed his spot but not necessarily in a bad way. This pitch didn’t leak back out into the hitting zone like the others. Martinez is just a really smart hitter.
Missing location is not something we see Mo do all that often. We’re not just talking about a pitcher with great command here. We’re talking about a pitcher with historically great command. That Rivera is blowing these saves because he’s missing his spots rather than losing velocity or movement off his cutter is actually somewhat encouraging because you would expect him to work out the location problems. It’s hard to imagine Mo will struggle with his command for an extended period of time. It’s possible, sure, but tough to expect. If his stuff was disappearing, it would be a much bigger problem.
The weird thing about Rivera’s recent struggles is that they really don’t matter all that much. The Yankees’ odds of making the postseason are microscopic — 2.3% according to Baseball Prospectus, and they’re seven games back with four teams ahead of them — so a blown save here or there isn’t the end of the world regarding the club’s 2013 outlook. Rivera is also retiring after this year, so the long-term concern is nil. Still, no one wants to see him finish his career on a down note, so hopefully Mo will right the ship and soon. Since it’s just a command problem, I’m extremely confident he’ll get things sorted out very quickly.
Via Ben Badler: Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu has successfully defected and will try to sign with an MLB team. He’s in the Caribbean somewhere and it typically takes a few months for players to establish residency, be declared a free agent by MLB, and get cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Abreu, 26, is said to be “an intelligent hitter without a lot of effort in in his swing and the power to hit 30-plus homers in a season … (though) some scouts consider his bat speed only fair.” He has a unorthodox double toe-tap and, like many Cuban hitters, is prone to breaking balls off the plate. Abreu is a big boy — he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 258lbs. — with outrageous numbers in Cuba, including a .382/.525/.735 line this year and .394/.542/.837 last year. There’s plenty of video on YouTube.
Mike Napoli and Kendrys Morales are the best first basemen scheduled to hit the free agent market this winter, so Abreu’s defection came at a good time for him. Speculation is he could get a deal worth upwards of $70M, which strikes me as insane for a bad body, right/right first baseman with no defensive value or big league track record. The Yankees have already met their quota for big money first baseman, so I doubt they’ll get into the mix on Abreu. · (84) ·