As the rotation turns…

(REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

Starting pitching was supposed to be a strength coming into the season, or at least starting pitching depth was supposed to be a stretch. The Yankees have already used seven different starters this season after using just nine starters last year, and one of those nine was Dellin Betances in the utterly meaningless Game 162. Andy Pettitte‘s return will hopefully solidify things, but Ivan Nova‘s right foot/ankle injury looms and could make things a little hairy in the coming days and weeks.

The starting staff currently ranks 25th in baseball in both ERA (4.93) and FIP (4.55) through 36 team games, reflecting the slow starts by CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia and inconsistent performances by Nova and Hiroki Kuroda. Sabathia has pitched much better of late (last night’s start notwithstanding) and Hughes has shown signings of improving, but Garcia has already been banished to the bullpen. As a result, the starters have performed much better as the season has progressed. Here’s a breakdown of each complete turn through the rotation, so not including last night’s start by Sabathia…

Turn IP Runs/9 K% BB% HR%
1 28.0 5.46 19.0% 9.5% 4.8%
2 29.0 5.90 25.6% 6.2% 3.9%
3 24.2 8.03 17.7% 2.7% 4.4%
4 24.1 8.13 20.0% 7.0% 3.5%
5 31.0 4.07 19.7% 6.3% 4.7%
6 30.2 2.93 20.3% 7.0% 3.9%
7 34.1 3.67 15.6% 7.8% 4.3%

Garcia made four starts before being replaced by David Phelps, but his removal from the rotation is just one reason for the improvement. Hughes got his act together to a certain extent and although Kuroda is still hit or miss, he has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last four starts. Getting CC back on track is has obviously been huge as well.

Interestingly enough, the strikeout, walk, and homerun rates really haven’t changed all that much. Sure they fluctuate each turn through the rotation, but they’ve generally sat right around 19%, 7%, and 4%, respectively. The runs (earned and unearned) per nine innings has been way down of late while the innings pitched is up, and that’s not a coincidence. Runs allowed and innings pitched are not mutually exclusive. With an injury-weakened bullpen, the Yankees are going to need as many innings out of their starting staff as possible.

The rotation still has a ways to go before becoming a strength, but at least they’re headed in the right direction. Hughes has to continue doing what he’s done in his last two starts against someone other than the Royals and Mariners, and Nova needs to stop allowing extra-base hits like they’re going out of style. As much as we all love Pettitte, he’s still a big unknown given his age and the long layoff. Progress is definitely being made though, we just need to see some more of it.

Logan could adopt new role amid injuries

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

It might be Rafael Soriano‘s time to shine, but he’s not the only member of the Yankees bullpen whose role will change. With both Mariano Rivera and David Robertson on the shelf, the entire bullpen moves up two pegs. For Boone Logan, that could mean a change in roles from left-handed specialist to setup man.

When Logan debuted for the Yankees in 2010 he was essentially useless against right-handed batters. In 78 PA that season righties hit .279/.372/.471 against him, the virtual equivalent of Mark Teixeira that year. Yet his role was to get out lefties and he did that very well, holding them to 15 hits, and just one for extra bases, in 79 AB. Combined with a 3:1 K/BB ratio, he looked like a pretty solid lefty specialist.

In 2011, however, Logan found more success against righties than lefties. H held them to 16 hits, including just five doubles and no homers, in 61 AB, good for a .262/.328/.344 line — the virtual equivalent of Robert Andino. Lefties hit him a deal better in terms of power, socking 12 of 27 hits for extra bases. That led to the myth that Logan had somehow become better against righties than against lefties.

While Logan’s results against righties were better than those against lefties, his peripherals against lefties remained superior. That is to say, this year we could have reasonably expected him to come down to earth against righties. At the same time, we could have expected his extra base hits against lefties to regress as well, leaving Logan as mostly a lefty specialist.

As expected, this has mostly come true. He has held lefties to a .661 OPS, with a 5:1 K/BB ratio, while righties have a .824 OPS against him. Yet Logan still does have a 3:1 K/BB ratio against righties, and one of those walks was intentional. In fact, he has struck out 34.6 percent of righties faced, while striking out 35.7 percent of lefties. His unintentional walk rates are also similar. Perhaps, given more chances against righties, Logan’s numbers could even out a bit, giving the Yankees another viable late-inning option.

To date we’ve seen a big spike in Logan’s strike out rate — 35.3 percent, against a 20.6 percent career rate. While some of that is small sample noise, there are some indicators that he’s changing his approach. For instance, he’s throwing far more sliders than ever before: 48.9 percent against 32.8 percent for his career. It has clearly been his most effective pitch, fooling both righties and lefties into swinging wildly. He has also used a two-seamer, which breaks away from righties, with some success this year.

Having a lefty setup man does provide the Yankees with some advantages. Logan is still superior against lefties, so Joe Girardi could choose to deploy him in either the seventh or the eighth, when the opponent has two or three lefties due up in the next four batters. He could also, as we’ve seen a few times this season, deploy him to get outs at the end of the seventh and the beginning of the eighth. That allows Girardi to emphasize his strengths while using him to cover multiple batters in late innings. A LOOGY he is not.

It’s difficult to tell now what’s real and what’s just sample size noise. But given his results over the last season-plus, combined with the recent injuries, Logan seems in line for a much more significant role in 2012. He clearly has the weapons to succeed. If Girardi deploys him in a way that emphasizes his strengths, the Yankees just might have another late-inning reliever on their hands.

5/16-5/17 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Brett Lawrie is going to get suspended and the Yankees are arriving in Toronto just in time for him to a miss a few games. The tirade you see above was the result of two questionable called strikes last night, and they just so happened to result in the game-ending strikeout a strikeout that was the second out of the ninth inning. That’s pretty bad. Lawrie might appeal the suspension and be able to play in this two-game set, but … yeah, that’s really bad. Inexcusably bad.

What Have They Done Lately?

Like the Yankees, the Blue Jays just wrapped up a two-game series with a division rival. They lost both games to the Rays and are currently riding a three-game losing streak. They’ve also lost four of five and seven of their last ten games. Toronto is 19-18 with a +15 run differential, sitting in fourth place in the AL East with the fifth best record in the AL. It’s a tough division, you know.

Offense

(REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

With an average of 4.51 runs per game that just barely ranks as a top-ten mark in baseball, the Blue Jays’ offensive attack revolves around Jose Bautista. He’s off to a slow start (100 wRC+) but has still hit eight homers with as many walks (23) as strikeouts (23). Blame the .171 BABIP. Edwin Encarnacion (150 wRC+) has hit a dozen homers already and is in the middle of a breakout year that really started in the middle of last season. They’re easy to overlook when talking about the best lineup tandems in the game, but these two are incredibly dangerous.

Personal fave Kelly Johnson (123 wRC+) sets the table from the leadoff spot and is actually the only other player on the team that qualifies as a better than league average hitter. Adam Lind (62 wRC+) has been terrible for more than two years now, meaning Johnson, Colby Rasmus (68 wRC+), and Eric Thames (90 wRC+) are Toronto’s only left-handed hitters of note. Catcher J.P. Arencibia (72 wRC+) got off to a brutally slow start but has started to rebound in recent weeks. Yunel Escobar (63 wRC+) hasn’t done much damage despite hitting second between Johnson and Bautista.

The Jays have some useful pieces on the bench, though I’m sure they’d like Ben Francisco to do more against left-handers (73 wRC+ vs. LHP). Rajai Davis provides some speed (105 wRC+ and six steals in limited action) and Omar Vizquel (-20 wRC+) gives some of the best veteran presents in all of baseball. Assuming Lawrie’s little hissy fit keeps him and his 101 wRC+ off the field, Vizquel figures to man the hot corner. Backup catcher Jeff Mathis (126 wRC+ in limited action) has been hammering the Yankees for years and I’m hopeful we won’t see him at all after playing in yesterday’s game.

Pitching Matchups

Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Kyle Drabek
The centerpiece of the Roy Halladay trade, Doug’s son has struggled in his various big league auditions and this season is no different. He owns a shiny 3.66 ERA but his FIP (5.12), strikeout (7.55 K/9 and 19.5 BB%), walk (5.49 BB/9 and 14.2 BB%) and homer (1.37 HR/9) rate portend bad things. Drabek’s ground ball rate (56.4%) is pretty awesome, however. The 24-year-old right-hander is very fastball heavy, throwing his mid-90s two-seamer, mid-90s four-seamer, and low-90s cutter a combined ~75% of this time. His mid-80s changeup is his primary offspeed pitch, but Drabek will throw low-80s sliders and curveballs on rare occasions. The Yankees have seen Drabek a few times over the last few years, so they should know that patience is the key.

(Abelimages/Getty Images)

Thursday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Drew Hutchinson
Toronto’s ninth best prospect coming into the season, Hutchinson has pitched to a 5.53 ERA (4.07 FIP) in his five starts, becoming the only man to allow a homer to Albert Pujols this season along the way. The 21-year-old righty has a pretty typical rookie statistical profile — 6.83 K/9 (16.9 K%), 3.25 BB/9 (8.1 BB%), 0.98 HR/9, and 42.2% grounders — after skipping right over Triple-A and making just six career starts at Double-A. His minor league track record (26.0 K% and 6.0 BB%) suggest improvement may be coming. Hutchinson is primarily a low-90s four-seamer/low-80s slider pitcher, but he will mix in the occasional two-seamer and changeup.

Bullpen Status

Like the Yankees, the Blue Jays are currently on their backup backup closer. Sergio Santos has been on the DL for most of the season with a shoulder injury and replacement Francisco Cordero (7.16 FIP) has already lost the job to Casey Janssen (4.01 FIP). The setup tandem of right-hander Jason Frasor (2.67 FIP) and left-hander Darren Oliver (2.61 FIP) have been really, really good in the early going. Multi-inning lefty Luis Perez (3.07 FIP) has been solid but multi-inning righty Carlos Villanueva (5.39 FIP) has not. Rookie right-hander Evan Crawford has allowed two runs in five innings since being called up.

Frasor, Oliver, and Janssen each appeared in last night’s game but threw no more than 11 pitches. The entire bullpen is rested, really. The Yankees are in good shape as well after Freddy Garcia soaked up two innings last night. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for each reliever’s exact recent workload. There are a bunch of great Blue Jays’ blogs out there, including The Tao of Stieb and Drunk Jays Fans.

Injuries give Soriano a chance to shine

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Rafael Soriano‘s tenure in New York hasn’t exactly been a pleasant experience. First Brian Cashman stood at the introductory press conference and made sure everyone knew he didn’t want to sign the guy, then Soriano struggled for the first few weeks of 2011 before hitting the DL with the latest elbow injury in a career full of them. Through his first 16 or so months in pinstripes, Soriano has pitched to a 3.71 ERA (3.67 FIP) in 53.1 innings as the fourth highest paid reliever in baseball.

In the span of two weeks, Soriano has gone from seventh inning guy to one of the most important players on the Yankees’ roster. Mariano Rivera‘s season is over thanks to this torn right ACL and yesterday we learned that David Robertson will miss at least 15 days with a left oblique strain. The seventh inning guy is now the closer, the same role that landed him that much-criticized contract after a stellar 2010 season with the Rays.

“I put everything away, came back this year, and whatever inning I’ll try to be there and try to be comfortable,” said Soriano on Monday. “They give me the opportunity, and to me, I’ll try to do the best I can.”

The Yankees need Soriano to be the best he can be right now. With all due respect to Cory Wade, Boone Logan, and the team’s other relievers, bridging the gap between starter and closer will be much more difficult with Mo and Robertson on shelf. Soriano has to be that rock in the ninth inning, nailing down wins with the leads he is given regardless of size. Frankly, he needs to elevate his performance a bit and actually have a 1-2-3 inning every once in a while (still zero of those in 2012). No one’s asking for miracles, just a stress-free appearance every so often.

“You know, to me, I don’t think nothing changed,” said Soriano prior to last night’s game. “Sometimes, something happens like that and you got to keep going, because we lost Mariano first and the bullpen tried to do whatever it had to do. Now, with two guys down, it’s not going to be easy for us. We’re trying to be together, the bullpen and the team, and win.”

Robertson has reportedly been told that he’ll be able to return after the minimum 15 days, but Soriano can’t look at it like that. He has an opportunity to seize the closer’s job for the rest of the season and into the playoffs, and he also has a chance to change the fans’ perception of him. Soriano has the ability to be an elite reliever but hasn’t performed up to that level in New York and I think there’s a lot of disdain for him because of it, fair or not. The injuries give him a chance to step up and truly become an integral part of the roster, not just another overpaid under-performer.

Yanks have no answer for Chen in loss to O’s

What’s the old saying, every team is going to win 50 games and lose 50 games so it comes down to the other 62 games? This feels like one of those 50 losses. It just wasn’t happenin’ for the Yankees on Tuesday and they split their two-gamer with the Orioles.

(REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

Double Trouble

The Yankees have a bit of a double play problem at the moment, grounding into three twin-killings in this game and eight (!) in their last three games. That’s pretty frustrating. The first double play came with a man on first and one out in the third, the second with men on the corners and one out in the eighth, and the third with a man on first with one out in the ninth. All three ended the inning, and that’s pretty much the worst way to make the second and third outs.

The double plays snuffed out rallies, but the Yankees also couldn’t get Alex Rodriguez home after he led off the second inning with a single and immediately stole second base. Robinson Cano was nearly stranded after his leadoff double in the seventh, but Curtis Granderson hit a two-run opposite field homer to save us all from a horrible RISPFAIL death. Replays showed that a fan in Yankees’ garb may have reached up and caught the ball before Xavier Avery could get a glove on it. I hope that’s what happened, anyway. They had no answer for Wei-Yin Chen, who has now allowed two earned runs or less in six of his seven starts this season.

No Control

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

CC Sabathia has been on a pretty dominant run of late, but he labored against the Orioles on Tuesday and the result was four runs allowed in six innings. He walked a season-high four, including free passes to noted hackers Wilson Betemit and Bill Hall. Avery also drew a walk, and I’m pretty sure the walk to Adam Jones was unintentionally intentional after his solo homer earlier int he game. Sabathia allowed eight hits, seven to right-handed batters. The one exception was dinky little bunt single by Avery.

Every so often CC’s going to be off his game and it seemed pretty obvious that his fastball was giving him trouble in this game. He went to the slider whenever he needed to make a pitch, which is exactly what he was doing when he struggled in his first two starts of the year. Hopefully it’s just a blip on the radar and he’ll get back to dominating next time out. It happens.

Leftovers

The Orioles tacked on a pair of insurance runs because of Yankees’ mistakes. Sabathia induced what was supposed to be a routine inning-ending ground ball in the sixth, but Cano bobbled the ball and rushed the flip to second base for the force. Derek Jeter had to slow down to receive the ball and Robert Andino slid in safe to simultaneously extend the inning and allow a run to cross the plate. Chris Stewart’s second passed ball — following a missed caught stealing call at second — allowed Jones to trot home in the eighth. Grumble grumble.

Jeter (single, walk), Cano (double), Mark Teixeira (single), Granderson (homer), Andruw Jones (walk), Jayson Nix (single), and pinch-hitter Russell Martin (walk) were all the offense on the night. Nick Swisher smoked the ball four times and only has a fielder’s choice to show for it. His inning-ending line drive at Chen’s face in the sixth was a pretty good indication things weren’t going the Yankees’ way.

Freddy Garcia threw two innings late, allowing just that one run on the botched caught stealing call/passed ball thing. He struck out three and I thought he looked pretty good actually. Better than he looked earlier in the season, anyway.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the advanced stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees are heading off to Toronto for another quick two-game series. Hiroki Kuroda will get things started against Kyle Drabek on Wednesday night.

Betances wild again in AAA loss

Check out this David Driver article on Brett Marshall, who spoke about the time he’s spent with Andy Pettitte and also about his brother Chris, who just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. Oh, and apparently the Low-A South Atlantic League will hold their Homerun Derby on an aircraft carrier this summer, which is awesome. The game is in Charleston and figures to feature a lot of hometown River Dogs.

In other news, Craig Heyer was placed on the DL after leaving a start with arm stiffness over the weekend. Double-A Trenton added Adam Miller in his place and also activated Walt Ibarra from the DL. Jose Toussen was send back to High-A Tampa in a corresponding move. The recently claimed Justin Thomas took Cody Eppley’s Triple-A roster spot.

Update: Mikey O’Brien has been promoted to Double-A, which is well-deserved.

Triple-A Scranton (8-2 loss to Toledo)
SS Eduardo Nunez: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 SB
LF Kevin Russo: 1-4, 2 K
1B Steve Pearce: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K
DH Jack Cust: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — 13 walks in his last ten games
3B Brandon Laird: 2-4, 1 K — two straight two-hit games
CF Colin Curtis, C Frankie Cervelli & 2B Ramiro Pena: all 0-4 — Pena struck out … Curtis made one throwing error while Cervelli made two … Cervelli allowed a passed ball
RF Cole Garner: 1-4, 1 R, 2 K
RHP Dellin Betances: 3.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 6 BB, 7 K, 1/2 GB/FB — only 50 of 104 pitches were strikes (48.1%), but at least he hit 97 on the gun … at least six walks in four of his last seven starts, which is just awful
RHP Jason Bulger: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 2/0 GB/FB — only eight of 19 pitches were strikes (42.1%)
LHP Juan Cedeno: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 R, 1 BB, 3 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 27 of 45 pitches were strikes (60%)
RHP Kevin Whelan: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 18 of 26 pitches were strikes (69.2%)

[Read more…]

2012 Draft: Keith Law’s Mock Draft v1.0

Keith Law posted his first mock draft of the spring, though you need Insider to read the entire thing. He has the Astros taking Stanford RHP Mark Appel with the top pick and the Yankees taking Florida high school shortstop Addison Russell with their first rounder (#30 overall). Russell’s a bat-first prospect who can hit breaking balls and shows big raw power, but he’s likely to wind up a third base despite fine defensive skills and a strong arm. He’s just a big boy — listed at 6-foot-0 and 215 lbs. — who will likely outgrow the position.

Law also hears that the Yankees have interest in high school outfielders D.J. Davis (Mississippi) and Mitch Gueller (Washington). I wrote up Davis a few weeks ago, and Gueller is a two-way prospect who’s probably drawn more attention for his work on the mound. The consensus indicates that he might be a bit of a reach in the first round, but who really knows. The Yankees love their high school position players though, and Law’s info is consistent with their track record.