The Mythical #2 Starter

I don't think CC could beat the chilies. But Burnett was a Cy Young winner back in Toronto, so.... (photo by Stefano A, used under a Creative Commons license)

A few days ago, Mike made some great points about A.J. Burnett’s performance up until now. Even including his total meltdown on Wednesday, he argues that Burnett been a decent back-end option for the strange and wonderful lineup that is the pitching rotation of 2011, and I agree. Yet, it seems there’s no end to the masses of people who have a serious bone to pick with him. Because I’m a really nice person, I will gladly stand up in his defense. And hey, everyone hates me anyway, so why not?

Observe, this frequent complaint which I see posted over comments, threads, chats, tweets, and so forth. I would like to say I hear this in the streets, but I live in the bay, and their failed pitcher, Barry Zito, is making way more than ours. At least A.J.’s not Zito!

Anyway, figure A: A.J. Burnett does not perform up to the standards of a number two starter.

Can I just ask what the hell a number two starter is?

If all you have to do is pitch after CC, then these are the people who have been number two starters this year: A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova. If all that it takes to be “a number two starter” is that you start after the number one starter, then everyone is a number two starter. Burnett is perfectly capable of starting the day after CC. And I’m sure if you asked Hector Noesi, Brian Gordon (when he was in the States) or Manny Banuelos to start after CC, they would have the stuff to be a number two starter as well. If all you have to do to be a number two starter is start the second game of the season, here are some other number twos: Daniel Hudson, Edwin Jackson, Brad Penny, and Paul Maholm. Being or not being a number two starter is a stupid insult. You might as well say A.J. Burnett has bad shirts (which, but he way, he does).

The other option for qualifying as a “number two starter” is that you have to keep certain numbers and Burnett hasn’t done it. Keep in mind other number two starters, such as Jeff Francis and Chris Tillman, would also have to stick to these numbers. If that’s the case, he’s just not a number two starter anymore. That’s okay! Closers get demoted when they struggle, and it can happen to starters too. It’s okay to think that Burnett isn’t as good as we thought he’d be (were you expecting he’d keep the career high in strikeouts?), and it’s okay to demote him mentally based on that. But it seems like there’s a whole lot of extra angst over this fact.

Basically, “a number two starter” means absolutely nothing. The baseball schedule gets crazy enough that starting after CC Sabathia, while it’s cool because the bullpen is usually rested, is something that will happen to everyone. There are pitchers better than Burnett on this staff, I know. If you want to call Colon or Garcia or even Ivan Nova the number two starter, fine, whatever. But it’s a stupid role to assign to anyone. There’s aces like CC, Verlander, Weaver, and so on – and then there’s everyone else. If you’re pitching every five (or six?) days, it shouldn’t matter when. Is Burnett second best? Obviously not. Is he better than last year and a dependable back-of-the-rotation arm? Absolutely. Burnett isn’t going to be winning any Cy Young Awards out there, but he keeps the Yankees in the game most of the time, and that’s what’s important.

Personally, I don’t think he needs anymore hate. Suggesting Burnett is in the same category as Pavano, calling him a total waste, or saying that he should be released immediately seems a bit extreme to me.

Feel free to get on him for terrible outfits though.

Cervelli, a pattern emerging?

I believe it was back in August of 2009, that the mainstream media was trying its hardest to blow the rift between AJ Burnett and Jorge Posada way out of proportion. Although the two players both adamantly denied tension or conflict within the clubhouse, the perception was evidently convincing enough that Jose Molina ultimately wound up doing the majority of the catching for Burnett through the remainder of the year. Then in 2010, Cervelli’s name seemingly popped up on the roster each time Burnett was scheduled to pitch. At the time, many of us pondered the effectiveness of such an arrangement.

This year, Yankeeland has been spoiled by some fine defensive work behind the plate, compliments of Russell Martin. More importantly, the pitching staff has evidently built a solid rapport with the former Dodger backstop. Posada, meanwhile, is no longer contributing as a catcher as his responsibilities continue to be reduced. However, as the season continues to progress, Girardi appears to be assigning personal catchers once again. Except this time, CC Sabathia is the benefactor of Cervelli’s catching services.

By my count, Cervelli has been listed as the starting catcher 26 times this season. Of those 26 instances, he’s caught Sabathia 11 times. This represents roughly 42% of Cervelli’s opportunities. Comparatively, he’s caught Colon five times, Nova five times, Hughes one time, Burnett two times, and Garcia two times. Basically, he’s caught Sabathia almost as much as everyone else combined. Of late, Cervelli has caught the big guy in each of his past four outings (and seven of his past eight starts). From June 25th up until yesterday, the only game Cervelli did not catch Sabathia was on July 10th.

Admittedly, some of this is perfectly explainable I believe, through coincidental circumstance of typical season play. Specifically speaking, Phil Hughes missed substantial time on the disabled list which would of course limit the number of opportunities for Frankie. Similarly, Colon was out of action for about a month with a hamstring injury. Additionally, Nova spent some time on the disabled list and then in the minors. It’s reasonable to expect Cervelli to have worked more with Sabathia as he has simply had the most appearances of anyone in the rotation thus far.

Obviously, I’m certainly not Joe Girardi, nor am I privy to all of the details he contemplates when putting together a roster. While I don’t agree with necessarily assigning a catcher – if that is in fact the reality – I do understand (at least to a degree) why he might choose Sabathia as the designated pitcher for such a plan. Unlike in years past when Cervelli was assigned to work with a particular pitcher out of necessity (i.e. conflict between said pitcher and Jorge), this year the entire staff seems to run smoothly with Martin.

Simply put, perhaps the line of thinking is that Cervelli might as well be paired up with the pitcher most likely to mitigate the other team’s offense. With the offensive depth of the Yankees, Cervelli’s lack of production with the bat becomes a little less pronounced when the opposing team isn’t generating a lot of runs. One other possibility of such a relationship could stem from the mere fact that Sabathia is just a very good pitcher who isn’t particularly reliant on a specific catcher.

A-Rod could begin rehab assignment on Friday

Via George King, Brian Cashman said that Alex Rodriguez could begin a minor league rehab assignment on “the 12th,” which is this coming Friday. A-Rod increased the intensity of his workouts yesterday, running both before and after drills, including side-to-side and backwards. He also took 43 swings in actual batting practice, not just off a tee or soft toss. The number of rehabs games he needs will be determined by how he feels in those games, but based on how these things usually go, three or four games is a fair estimate.

Be cool, fight cancer

As you sip your coffee and read the Sunday paper this morning, thousands of runners, joggers and walkers will be making their way through a 5k course that will take them throughout Yankee Stadium. Participants will queue up on the 100 level and start their race by making two laps around. They’ll then run through the sub-zero level of the stadium, and exit between the bullpen and Monument Park onto the actual warning track on the field. After making two laps around the field, no doubt imagining the roars of the crowd from their diving catches in center field, participants will go through a complex route that will take them up the stadium stairs and around various concourses, back down ramps, back up the stairs, and back down ramps again. They’ll finish in the Great Hall, having run 3.1 miles and climbing over 260 stairs.

The whole point of this 5K, aside from running inside Yankee Stadium, aside from the lovely torture of stadium stair-running on an August morning, is to raise money for cancer research. The beneficiary is the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. This Foundation identifies young, promising scientists in the field of cancer research and provides financial support to allow them to pursue new and creative attempts to cure the disease. Since 1946, the Foundation has invested over $240 million in cancer research. As their website says, “Our alumni include 11 Nobel Laureates and leaders of major cancer centers across the United States.  Many of our 3,300 scientists have gone on to make breakthroughs in the way we prevent, diagnose and treat many forms of cancer.” You can read more about their most notable accomplishments here. As of late this week over $590,000 had been raised for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

It’s too late for readers to join in on the Yankee Stadium 5K, of course. As you read this, I’ll likely have completed my assault on the course and will be receiving oxygen and an IV in the back of an ambulance. It’s not too late to lend your support to the cause of cancer research. Everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer. It’s a nasty, terrible disease. Thanks to the way this Foundation has been set up, 100% of any donation made to the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation goes directly to cancer research. The overhead and operating expenses are paid out of the endowment and their Broadway Tickets program. Pretty cool, huh? It’s good to know that every dollar you give goes directly to stopping cancer.

I’ve paid some of my own money to the Foundation to enter this 5K, and I’ll be out there this morning doing my best in the race. If you’re interested in supporting the Foundation, you can donate via my personal page here. Thanks for considering it, and please wish me luck. I’ll update the post with my results when I’m done.

**UPDATE** By unofficial results I finished 14th overall with a time of 21:40. The winning time was a few seconds over 19 minutes. Thanks to everyone who supported the cause!

Winning streak ends, Sox stomp Yankees

First place was fun while it lasted.

  • For the third time in four starts this year, CC Sabathia got completely pounded by the Red Sox. They hung seven runs on him through the first 3.2 innings, the big blow being a three-run homer by Jacoby Ellsbury. The first three hits Sabathia gave up were off the Green Monster for doubles, and four of the nine hits he gave up were to left-handed batters (two to Carl Crawford and his .208 wOBA vs. LHP). CC dominates lefties (.183/.242/.243 with 61 K and 9 BB in 179 PA off him before this game), he shouldn’t be giving up that many hits to them in one game. The end result was ten baserunners and those seven runs in six innings, so give him some credit for sticking around a little bit and preserving the bullpen.
  • The Yankees actually had more baserunners than the Red Sox (18 to 13), but they just didn’t finish off many rallies. The worst case came in the fifth, right after they fell behind 7-2. Frankie Cervelli singled on John Lackey’s first pitch of the inning, Brett Gardner got hit by the second pitch, and Derek Jeter singled on the third pitch. The Yankees had a run in with runners on first and second just three pitches into the inning, but the 3-4-5 hitters (Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano) went down like wimps to end the threat. The first two guys didn’t even put the ball in play. Terrible.
  • Cervelli, sadly, was the Yankees’ best offensive player in this game, picking up three hits in four trips to the plate. Cano didn’t get a hit but he did get hit by a pitch, while Jorge Posada continued to look absolutely fried with an 0-for-4. Grandy, Tex, and Nick Swisher all had a hit and a walk (Tex’s was a garbage time solo shot off Dan Bard, who he completely owns), whilr Gardner and Jeter had one hit each. Eric Chavez did his best Don Mattingly impression with two hits, including one to the opposite field off the base of the wall. Eighteen baserunners, but two double plays and ill-time strikeouts hamstrung the offense.
  • Luis Ayala and Hector Noesi were pretty terrible in garbage time; Ayala walked two in a scoreless frame before Noesi put four guys on base and allowed three runs in his only inning. At least the core relievers are fresh for the rubber game on Sunday.
  • The loss ends the Yankee’s eight game winning streak and brings them back into a tie with the Red Sox for first place in the AL East. Both teams are (at least) seven games up in the wildcard though. Here’s the box score, here’s the FanGraphs stuff, and here’s the updated standings.

Believe it or not, the finale of the series will mark the last time the Yankees will be on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball this season. Good, I hate night games on the weekend. Freddy Garcia gets the ball against Josh Beckett at 8pm ET. RAB Tickets can get you into the park if you’re making a last minute decision to attend.

Sanchez homers again as each affiliate wins

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. They’ll play two tomorrow with Manny Banuelos going in the first game.

Double-A Trenton (5-3 win over Altoona)
Austin Krum, CF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 K
Jose Pirela, SS: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Corban Joseph, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB – singled in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth
Rob Lyerly, DH: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB – had been hitless in his last 21 at-bats with 14 strikeouts … seriously
Melky Mesa, RF: 3 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 E (fielding) – threw a runner out at first … second straight game with a jack
Zoilo Almonte, LF & Yadil Mujica, 3B: both 1 for 3 – Zoilo walked
Addison Maruszak, 1B: 0 for 3, 1 BB
R.J. Baker, C: 0 for 4, 1 K – tough to stay sharp when you’ve been on and off the phantom DL all season
Craig Heyer, RHP: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 8-3 GB/FB – 62 of 89 pitches were strikes (69.7%)
Chase Whitley, RHP: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 26 of 40 pitches were strikes (65%) … just one earned run allowed in his last 11.2 IP
Ryan Pope, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB – ten of 14 pitches were strikes (71.4%)

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Saturday Night Open Thread

Sucks the Yankees lost. Sucks Jesus Montero is still stuck in Triple-A. Sucks it’s raining out. Sucks that the new Alec Baldwin/Jim from The Office commercial sucks. Everything sucks. Except being alive, that’s pretty awesome. So go out and live a little, but use this thread if you need to kill some time while the better half gets ready or while you wait for some plans to develop. Anything goes, have at it.