Seventy-seventh game of the year and the Yanks have a chance to win their seventh in a row. Andy Pettitte takes the mound against Jarrod Washburn, who was almost a Yankee last year. Washburn’s actually been pretty good in 2009, mostly because he’s allowed fewer hits than he ever has in the past. His BABIP is a steady .276 and he’s reportedly added a two seamer this year, so there’s tangible evidence to backup the improvements. To make matters worse, he has a 2.67 ERA in his career against the Yankees, 2.82 in the Bronx. Of course that was at the old place.
Eric Hinske, wearing Hideki Irabu’s and Angel Berro’s 14, is in the house, but he won’t start tonight with the lefthander on the mound. I suspect we’ll see him pinch hit and take a crack at the short porch at some point tonight.
Here’s the lineup:
And on the mound, the artist formerly known as Andy Pettitte.
All-Star teams for the Double-A Eastern League were announced today, and Zach McAllister, Josh Schmidt, Reegie Corona, Eduardo Nunez and Jorge Vazquez will represent Trenton with the Northern Division club. McAllister and Vazquez were voted in by the fans. Here’s the Southern Division squad. Double-A Trenton manager Tony Franklin and the rest of his coaching staff will run the team since they won the league title last year.
The game is being played at Trenton’s Waterfront Park on Wednesday, July 15th, so if you’re nearby or just want to check out some of the very best young players in the game, here’s a chance to do so without too much hastle. · (19) ·
In many regards, the Yankees had a frustrating month of June. They went 15-11, their second-best monthly total of the season, but with tough losses against the Nationals and Marlins as well as another sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, June seemed almost to be a disappointment. As we turn the calendar over to July and the dog days of summer, let’s see how the Yanks performed last month.
We start on the mound. For the month, the Yanks’ hurlers were outstanding. The pitchers sported a combine ERA of 3.55 and a WHIP of 1.228. Both figures are season lows. The staff also supported a K/9 IP of 8.5 and K/BB ratio of 2.47. The bullpen, an Achilles’ Heel early on, sported a 2.46 ERA. The breakdown is as follows:
What really jumps out at me are the walks. After issuing 112 free passes in 254.1 May innings — or nearly 4 per 9 IP — the staff held the walks to 3.44 per 9 IP. The strike outs go up, the walks go down, and everyone is happy.
On an individual level, the Phil’s and Al Aceves led the charge from the bullpen. The three of them combined for 39.1 innings, 40 strike outs and just five earned runs. Mariano nailed down nine saves, and outside of one bad start in Boston, A.J. Burnett dominated June.
How then did the Yankees managed to finish just four games over .500 for the month? The offense wasn’t nearly as good as the pitching. For June, the Yanks hit just .253/.354/.433, and their OPS was nearly .060 lower than it was in May. They may have allowed just 102 runs in June, but they scored only 140. They also ran into some bad luck as their Pythagorean expectation pegged them for 17 wins this month.
The main cause of this offensive malaise were a series of slumps. A-Rod, Hideki, Jorge, Robbie and Melky all had sub-par months, and A-Rod with a .190 BABIP really struggled until the final week.
But now June is over, and July is upon us. The Yankees have won six in a row and a primed for a run at first place. If the pitching can replicate its June success and the bats resembled the last six June games instead of the first 20, this team should be in the driver’s seat until the All Star Break and beyond.
ESPN’s Jorge Arangure Jr. has a post up (behind the Insider wall, unfortunately) updating us on all of the recent international free agent stuff. He says the Yanks have been linked to more players than any other team, mostly because they invite pretty much everyone to work out at their Dominican academy. We know they’ve already come to an agreement with catcher Gary Sanchez for $2.5M, but they’re also interested in outfielders Leonardo Fuentes and Jose Alberto Pena, righthander Cristopher Cabrera and shortstop Daimian Arredondo. The Yanks have also been connected to Cuban defectors Jose Iglesias and Noel Arguelles, a second baseman and a lefty pitcher, respectively. And, of course, they’re in on megaprospect Miguel Sano.
Teams can sign amateurs at least 16 years of age starting tomorrow. Don’t miss my talk with Baseball America’s Ben Badler about what he thinks the Yanks could do. Here’s Ben’s list of the top 25 prospects available this year. · (88) ·
The Pitch F/X chart of Joba’s fastball velocity over time. (Click to enlarge in a new window)
As Joba Chamberlain skyrocketed his way through the Yankee organization as a starter, the book on him was velocity. During his 2006 appearance in the Hawaiian leagues, Joba was, according to Baseball America’s 2007 prospect list, sitting at 94-97 with his fastball.
The following year, John Manuel had even more glowing praise to offer the Yanks’ youngster. “He reached 100 mph with his fastball as a reliever,” Manuel wrote as he anointed Joba as the Yanks’ top prospect in 2008, “and more impressively can sit at 96-97 mph when he starts.”
Last season, as the Yanks transitioned Joba from Major League reliever to a Major League starter, we saw the velocity and the stuff with our own eyes. Pitching out of the rotation from June until August 4, Joba lived in the upper 90s. His fastball would range from around 94 mph to 100, occasionally dipping lower but not by much. His average was always at 95 or above.
As we all know, on August 4, disaster struck. Joba had to leave a start in Texas — the same mound upon which Phil Hughes ruptured his hamstring in 2007 — with a sore shoulder. He would miss much of August and would return to the bullpen in September. Outside of one or two appearances, his velocity in September was far lower than it had been as a starter in 2008 or as a reliever in 2007 and 2008. He was sitting in the low 90s with peaks at around 97 and an average of around 92. On the season, his final fastball average was 95.2.
This year has seen Joba pick up where he left off in September. Early on in the season, I raised an eyebrow at Joba’s velocity but chalked it up to April. Power pitchers can take a few starts to warm up, and as April turned to May, Joba’s fastball creeped up past those 95- and 96-mph marks. And then it didn’t.
Two back-to-back starts at the end of May and beginning of June highlighted the velocity discrepancies. Against the Rangers in May, Joba’s fastball averaged just over 90 mph, and he peaked around 93. Against the Indians five days later, he had the best fastball of the year, averaging just under 95 and peaking at just over 97. He hasn’t really reached that level yet.
Last night, as the game wore on, Michael Kay, Kenny Singleton and Paul O’Neill noted that Joba’s velocity just wasn’t there. While Joba dialed it up to 95.3 at one point, the velocity histogram from Pitch F/X shows that he was sitting mostly below 91. On the night, his average velocity was again at 92 mph.
At this point, I don’t know what to make of this, and I don’t know why Joba has seemingly lost three miles per hour on his fastball following a shoulder injury last August. If he were hurt, the Yanks wouldn’t be sending him out there every five days, and the team has to be aware of this dip in velocity as well.
For now, it’s not hurting the Yanks. They’re 10-5 in games Joba starts, and while he’s not giving them distance, he’s still striking out better than eight men per nine innings pitched. It’s worth noting too that his breaking pitches haven’t seen a concurrent drop in velocity either. In fact, his curveball is a bit faster this year than it was last year. That’s a different topic altogether but one that could explain Joba’s problems putting hitters away.
Furthermore, moving Joba to the bullpen simply isn’t the answer. If his velocity is lower now as a starter than it was last year also as a starter, it is illogical to assume that he would magically rediscover six or eight miles per hour as a reliever.
As I said, I have no answers. I don’t even know if we should worry about it, per se. It’s something to watch as the season drags on, and if, by the end of the year, the velocity hasn’t returned, then we can start to wonder about the long-term implications of Joba Chamberlain’s Amazing Disappearing Fastball.
The matchup looked electric. Joba Chamberlain vs. Brandon Morrow. 2006 first round pick vs. 2006 first round pick. Electric arm vs. Electric arm. It did not meet expectations. Both had troubles throwing strikes. Neither lasted six innings. The disappointment in the matchup set the tone for the game.
The Yanks got a bit lucky in the early goings. After two straight singles, Hideki hit a tapper to third. Chris Woodward not only bobbled the ball, but threw it past Russ Branyan at first, allowing Robinson Cano to score. That also put Jorge Posada on third, and he scored on a deep fly ball to center field. Melky laid into one, but Franklin Gutierrez is quite adept in center. That’s two runs on the two mistakes by Woodward.
The M’s got one of them back when Gutierrez blooped one to where no one could get it. That’s baseball for you. That doesn’t mitigate the game Joba Chamberlain pitched, though. Ronny Cedeno’s jack certainly wasn’t a cheapie, after all.
Joba was a bit frustrating last night, as we’ve seen a in a number of his starts this season. Not only were the end results — 5.1 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K — disappointing, but in the process was as well: only 55 of his 96 pitches were for strikes. There was plenty wrong with Joba’s game, and all considered he might have been lucky to escape with those results.
One question I kept asking during the game is, why isn’t Joba throwing strikes? This is a guy who early in his pro career was known as someone who didn’t issue many walks. So why now? Why is he, like Hughes and Kennedy before him, having trouble finding the zone? All three had excellent K/BB ratios in the minors (5:1 for Joba, 4.59:1 for Hughes, 3.55:1 for Kennedy), but have all struggled in the majors (1.86:1 for Joba this year, 2.05:1 career for Hughes, 1.20 for Kennedy). Is there a connection here?
While you ponder that, back to the why question. Why isn’t Joba throwing more strikes? Is he trying to fool hitters and failing? Is worried about hitters making solid contact if he throws in the zone? These are, unfortunately, questions to which I have no answers. There’s nothing more I’d like to know right now, short of what color and type of panties Emmanuelle Chriqui is wearing right now, than why Joba isn’t throwing strikes. It’s frustrating, because we know just how good he is. It’s just going to take some more patience, I suppose.
After the game, Girardi mentioned that in long counts Joba slows down, which further messes him up. Is it really that simple? Pitch quicker? If so, can we beat Joba with a cudgel when he takes more than a few seconds to set up for a pitch? Something tells me, though, that it’s a bit more complex than Girardi is willing to admit to the press.
Once Joba left the game, the Yanks turned it on. Phil Coke came on with one out in the sixth and finished it with just seven pitches, including a strikeout. Phil Hughes followed with a nine-pitch seventh, also including a strikeout. In the bottom of the inning Alex Rodriguez foiled the Mariners plans to pitch him up and in, turning on one and parking it near the left field bleachers. It was 5-3 Yanks, and it felt like they were about to ride that lead to victory.
Brian Bruney had other plans. It’s easy to fault Girardi here. Not only had Hughes just dominated the M’s in the seventh, but he’s been generally awesome since his move to the pen. He’s capable of going multiple innings, so why not let him hand the ball to Mo? As Girardi explained after the game, the plan was to go to Bruney, the official 8th inning guy, the whole way if they had the lead. With this I take issue. Then again, I believe that bullpen roles in general have gone far beyond the point of ridiculousness, so my ire for this move is a biased one.
Still, it’s a chance for Hughes to pick up an inning. It’s a chance for him to face more hitters. It’s a chance for him to pitch in a close game in the 8th. Girardi said he wanted to get Bruney going, but tonight did not seem like the situation. With the offense generally sputtering at that point, why not stick with what’s working? Plus, the more guys you go to in the pen, the more of a chance you have of running into someone who’s having a bad night. That’s what Girardi did last night.
The six, seven, and eight guys singled off Bruney, bringing the game within one run. After a Cedeno sacrifice, the Yanks walked Ichiro to get to Russ Branyan. He’s cooled down a bit lately, but he’s still a dangerous hitter. He did his job though, hitting one deep to left. Johnny Damon had no chance of throwing out Woodward, and the game was tied. The second guessing became much, much easier at this point.
Something awakened the Yanks bats at this point. Maybe A-Rod‘s homer jacked them up. Maybe they sacrificed a live chicken. Who knows? What we do know is that they came out firing in the eighth. Matsui doubled, and then Nick Swisher, with Brett Gardner running, laid down a pretty bunt that Sean White just couldn’t handle. Melky and Jeter followed with a double and single, giving the Yanks all they’d need to lock this one down.
It wasn’t the prettiest game, and for the first six innings it wasn’t the most fun to watch. It changed once the starters left, though, and in the end the Yanks came away with their sixth straight win. To make things even sweeter, the Red Sox and their indefatigable bullpen blew a 10-1 lead, losing to the Orioles 11-10. That puts the Yanks just two games back, even though that shouldn’t matter right now. All that matters is that the Yanks keep winning. They did just that, which means we can all be in chipper moods tomorrow. Andy Pettitte vs. Jarrod Washburn. I did not pick a good matchup to take my parents to.
*Chris Jakubauskas. I messed up at first by writing that Chris Jakubauskas fielded Swisher’s bunt. Just wanted to make sure Chris Jakubauskas’s name got into the recap. Chris Jakubauskas.
Chad Jennings reports that George Kontos will likely need Tommy John surgery after feeling tightness in his forearm. This could end up being a blessing in disguise for the Yanks, because Kontos is now likely to slide through the Rule 5 Draft untouched in the offseason if they decide to leave him off the 40-man roster. Still sucks though.
Triple-A Scranton was rained out. They’re going to make this one up when they play Rochester at the end of the season.
Double-A Trenton (5-3 loss to Erie)
Austin Krum: 0 for 5, 1 K – 0 for his last 11
Reegie Corona & Chris Malec: both 1 for 5 - Corona K’ed once, Malec twice
Jorge Vazquez & Justin Snyder: both 0 for 3, 1 BB – Vazquez was hit by a pitch & scored a run … Snyder K’ed & committed a pair of fielding errors
Jesus Montero: 2 for 3, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB – 11 for his last 30 (.367) with three homers & three doubles
Jack Rye: 0 for 2, 2 BB – up from Tampa to fill out a thin roster
Marcos Vechioacci: 1 for 3, 1 BB
Jeremy Bleich: 5.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 4-8 GB/FB – AA debut
Kevin Whelan: 2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 3-1 GB/FB
Girardi is one lucky som’ bitch, I’ll tell ya.
Dinky little hits really grind my gears.