Has CC been subpar?

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CC SabathiaOver the weekend Tom Boorstein of SNY penned a piece about CC Sabathia’s supposed dropoff, saying that he’s pitching more like a good number two than the ace the Yankees are paying him to be. It’s an interesting read and worth your time, far better than the usual drivel you’d expect to find on such a topic. Boorstein cites plenty of evidence that Sabathia’s performance has taken a step back, but also notes that the Yanks were never going to see the CC Sabathia from last year.

One of the main points of the article is that Sabathia’s walk rate has climbed while his strikeout rate has dropped this year. Over the last two seasons with Cleveland (not going to count his stats with the Brewers at all, different league all together) he struck out 8.22 batters and walked just 1.86 batters for every nine innings pitched. This year those totals have declined to 6.51 and 2.59, respectively, Sabathia’s worst totals in nearly five years. I’m sure some will point to the difference between the AL East and pretty much everyone else, but last year non-Cleveland AL Central clubs hit .270-.332-.424, and this year non-Yankee AL East teams are hitting .266-.338-.433, a difference of just 15 OPS points.

Other than the strikeout and walk rates, the only other significant statistical difference between Sabathia now and Sabathia as an Indian is the percentage of first pitch strikes he’s throwing. Last year he threw 64.3% first pitch strikes with Cleveland, but this year it’s just 58.2%, his lowest mark since 2004 (57.1%). Overall, CC’s putting almost exactly the same percentage of pitches in the strike zone and hitters are making almost exactly the same amount of contact off of him that they had over the first eight years of his career.

The most important thing is that Sabathia’s stuff is perfectly fine. His fastball velocity is still up there and is actually a tick higher than it has been the last few years. According to the Pitch F/X data he’s getting the same kind of movement on his pitches and throwing them in roughly the same proportions, so there should be no pitch selection issues. Hell, CC’s got a 3.61 FIP this year, and last year with the Indians it was 3.41. Steve, aka The Artist, notes that Sabathia has typically been better in the second half, something that should scare the rest of the American League.

Remember what we’re doing here. We’re trying to figure out why Sabathia has only been merely very, very good this year instead of amazingly great like he was in 2007 and 2008. He’s still one of the very best starters in the game and projects to be worth approximately 5.5 wins over the full season. Last year only eight pitchers in the game were that valuable, and it translates to about $24.7M in production. Would I like to see a few more strikeouts out of Sabathia? Sure, but that’s like picking on the Mona Lisa because of her smile.

Photo Credit: Flickr user zaner2

Categories : Pitching
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Welcome to the week leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline, a typically crazy week for baseball. Rumors fly, and most of them either don’t happen or are unfounded in the first place. Many reports filed this week will feature the Yankees, since not only are they perennial buyers, but are also used in many instances to drive up prices for other teams. They do have a couple of weaknesses to shore up, all in the pitching department. It’s not a requirement, but it sure would be nice to add another arm, whether a starter or reliever, in the next five days.

Do they have to necessarily make a move this week? According to Brian Cashman, there will be increased activity after July 31 this year because many teams will not be willing to put in waiver claims. For the uninitiated, after July 31 teams can still trade, but the players in question must either clear waivers or be claimed by their destination team. For example, if the Yankees want Jarrod Washburn, he’d either have to go unclaimed by all 29 teams, or else be claimed by the Yankees. The Yankees and Mariners could then talk trade, but only for players who either clear waivers or are not on the 40-man roster.

The reason Cashman believes there will be more post-July 31 action is that teams will be less willing to risk putting in a claim. The team placing the player on waivers can opt to foist a player and his contract on a claiming team. This is how the Yankees got stuck with Jose Canseco in 2000. They put in a claim to block other teams, and the Rays said, “you can take him and what remains of his $3 million salary.” There was nothing the Yankees can do. Cashman believes that fewer teams will make waiver claims with the intent to block, fearing a similar maneuver.

In the Yankees case, that might be of little consolation. Their list of targets is concentrated to a few high-profile starting pitchers and a number of relief pitchers, all of whom could be claimed before they make it to the Yankees. This is mostly a product of the standings. Because the Yankees are ahead of the Red Sox, the Sox will get first dibs. Their payroll is relatively low, so they could risk taking on payroll, especially if it means keeping certain players from the Yankees.

Let’s take a quick look at the Yankees potential targets and see which ones, if any, could possibly pass through waivers.

Jarrod Washburn: He has about $3.5 million left on his contract for 2009. That might scare some teams away, but there are enough teams looking for pitching help that they might risk a claim. Plus, the Mariners know they have a valuable asset in Washburn. He can fetch them a decent prospect before the deadline, and chances are if they want to move him they will prior to Friday. Still, he could clear. The biggest threat, the Red Sox, might not want to take on a fly ball lefty. Those usually don’t go over well in Fenway.

Cliff Lee: There is no chance that Lee and his team-friendly contract makes it through waivers. Not even close. If the Yanks want him they’ll have to get it done this week. Chances are, though, that they’ll continue to balk at the asking price.

Roy Halladay: His contract might be prohibitive to some teams, but the Red Sox are not one of them. If placed on waivers, the Sox would certainly put in a claim. The Phillies would, too, but the AL gets first crack. The Tigers could even put in a claim, too, as could the Angels. Zero percent chance of the Yankees acquiring him after July 31.

Ian Snell: He’s been dominating AAA, but there are still concerns about him. After his career year in 2007 he signed an extension, and has bombed ever since. The problem, it seems, is his control, as the walks have jumped. In any case, Snell is owed about $1 million for the remainder of this season, $4.25 million in 2010, and has two team options for 2011 and 2012 ($6.75 and $9.25 million). The Yankees have been scouting Snell, though there’s little urgency to get a deal done. Considering his major league performance over the past two seasons, he’d likely clear waivers.

Scott Downs: Questionable whether he passes through. He has about $1.25 million on his contract for this year, plus $4 million last year. He’s lights out, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sox and Angels put in a claim before the Yanks have a chance. Detroit and the ChiSox could also put in a claim.

Chad Qualls: Almost certainly would be claimed. He has under a million left on his contract this season, and has one arbitration year left before free agency. Even if a team didn’t want to take on his potential 2010 salary, they could dish him or non-tender him. Little to no chance he makes it to the Yanks.

Jon Rauch: Tough to say on Rauch. He has under a million left on his deal this season (about $660,000), and has a $2.9 million club option for 2010. That could lead to a few claims ahead of the Yankees, especially by a bullpen-starved team like the Angels. Again, don’t count out the Tigers. In fact, because of bullpen needs, I wouldn’t expect many, if any, decent relievers to be available to the Yankees after July 31.

Surely there are at least a few more names the Yankees are targeting, but these are the guys we’ve talked about for the past few weeks. And while it’s true that more players will pass through waivers this year than in the past, the players the Yankees are targeting right now most likely will not. This could put a greater onus on getting a deal done this week. Afterward, they might not have the same number of players available.

Just to spin this on its head, it could also open up new possibilities, players who pass through waivers who aren’t really being mentioned in trade talks right now. But chances are that the Yankees will lose out on unacquired targets on Friday at 4 p.m. EDT.

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During the Yanks’ victory over the A’s yesterday, Michael Kay dropped an interesting, if largely meaningless, statistic. Derek Jeter is 13 for 23 when facing a pitcher for the fourth time in the game. His hit on Sunday against Dallas Braden gave the Yanks a lead they wouldn’t surrender.

For Jeter, the two-RBI hit capped off a weekend to remember. On Friday night, he passed Ted Williams on the all-time hit list. Following the weekend set against the A’s, Jeter now has 121 hits on the season and 2658 career hits. Three thousand, here he comes.

During the post-game show, the YES Network hosts were praising Jeter. On the month, he his now hitting .367 with 15 runs scored and 11 RBI. He has hits in 19 of this month’s 22 games, and he has taken to the lead-off spot as a moth does to a light. Quietly, confidently, Derek Jeter, at age 35, is having one of the best seasons of his career.

On the season, Jeter is hitting .321 — a full .005 points above his career average — with a .398 OBP and a .457 slugging. While the slugging mark is in line with his career average, his OBP is well above his career .387 mark. He’s on pace for 19 home runs and 31 stolen bases.

Defensively, he has shown marked improvement as well. While his numbers aren’t as gaudy as they were in June, his UZR is a positive 1.8 and his UZR/150 is 4.5. For his career, those marks are at -38 and -5.5 respectively. If a 35-year-old short stop known more his bat than his glove can improve, Jeter is doing so.

During the TV broadcast, Michael Kay and Paul O’Neill were talking about Derek Jeter’s MVP-like campaign this year. In 2006, Jeter should have won the MVP when he hit .343/.417/.483. While Mark Teixeira has been an utter beast at the plate, Jeter in the leadoff spot has been a revelation for the Yanks. He’s hitting as well as he ever has, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

At some point, we’ll start to have some very serious discussions about Jeter’s future. He is after all making over $20 million and nearly playing to his salary this season, but he’s a free agent after next year. The Yankees are going to have to figure out how much to offer a 36-year-old who has been the face of the franchise since 1996. It is not a decision for which I envy the Steinbrenners and Cashman.

For now, though, we should just sit back and watch a master professional at work. At various points in his Yankee career, Jeter has been either underrated or overrated. No matter everyone else’s opinion, Jeter has just always been there, and this year, he’s doing it at a high level. To that, we offer up a tip of the cap to the Yankee captain. Keep it up, DJ.

Categories : Musings
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Record Last Week: 6-1 (39 RS, 26 RA)
Season Record: 60-38 (543 RS, 466 RA), 2.5 GB
Opponents This Week: @ Tampa Bay (3 games), @ White Sox (4 games)

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With Brett Gardner shelved until at least mid-August with a broken thumb, the Yankees will need another outfielder. They do have three players on the active roster — Cody Ransom, Eric Hinske, and Hideki Matsui — to spell their three starters, but each is questionable enough defensively to merit an alternative solution. Foremost among the concerns is that it would force Johnny Damon or Nick Swisher into center field to give Melky Cabrera a rest, an option the Yankees don’t seem comfortable with, and rightly so. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be many alternatives to back up Melky in center.

Every mildly curious Yankees fan has pondered the option of promoting Austin Jackson from AAA Scranton to temporarily fill in. He’s one of the Yankees most promising prospects, and he’s one of the few players in the system who could play center field in the majors. It’s understandable that fans would want to see him get a shot in the majors, especially considering his successful season so far: .311/.375/.429 with 17 steals in 19 attempts.

The rules also favor the Yankees. By adding Jackson to the 40-man roster the Yankees will start his service time clock, but that’s of little concern at this point in the season. The more pressing concern is the use of a minor league option. There wouldn’t seem to be room on the roster for Jackson once Gardner returns, so they would have to burn an option by returning him to Scranton. But Gardner’s best case return time is 25 days, which would be August 19. Rosters expand on September 1, so if the Yankees optioned Jackson then he’d be in the minors for fewer than 20 days. Thus, the option would not be used.

(The Yankees did this with Brian Bruney in 2007, though they recalled him before rosters expanded. He went down on August 7 when Joba came up, and was recalled a bit later in the month. But because he wasn’t in the minors for 20 days the Yankees did not burn an option.)

The problem with adding Jackson is that they’d have to play him nearly every day. Is that something they should be committed to at this point? There is a little over two months left in the season and the AL East is anything but decided. Committing to Jackson might mean putting a black hole in the nine spot regularly. Since they’ll be playing against other American League teams, they need not hamper themselves with a pitcher’s spot — and worse on days that Jose Molina plays.

Not playing Jackson would be a complete waste. He’d be better off getting regular at bats in Scranton, and the team wouldn’t be that much better with him in reserve. They could always option him if the experiment failed, but then they would not only possibly trigger an option year, depending on when they pull the plug, but would also have to clear another 40-man spot to add a replacement outfielder. Those are considerably costs, and perhaps ones the Yankees should not be willing to risk.

There are legitimate concerns about Jackson’s ability to handle major league pitching right now. Two major points of debate over Jackson are his strikeouts and his batting average on balls in play. Of the former, he has 89 strikeouts in 347 at bats this season. How will he handle major league pitchers if AAA pitchers set him down frequently via the swing and miss? Of the latter, his BABIP is .407, which he certainly will not be able to replicate at the big league level. That could cause a massive drop-off in all of his numbers.

Jackson has also struggled lately, as he’s mired in a .167/.244/.194 slump over the past 14 days (not counting Sunday’s 0 for 3 performance). The Yankees did promote Jackson back in 2007 while he was hitting just .260/.336/.374 in Charleston, and he responded by tearing the Florida State League to shreds in the second half, hitting .345/.398/.556 over the final 67 games. But the Yankees can’t expect that to happen again. The expectations for immediate performance, given Jackson’s recent struggles, his general strikeout tendencies, and his high BABIP, would have to be rather low.

Few doubt Austin Jackson’s talent and potential to be a solid major leaguer in the future. He’s handled each promotion since 2007 relatively well, and has continued to perform over the course of the 2009 season. The Yankees might be attracted by the prospect of adding him to their outfield, but there is enough working against the move that they shouldn’t make it at this point. This could mean having to see Johnny Damon in center field once or twice over the next 30 or so days while Melky mans the position full-time. Those costs would seem to be less than those of promoting Austin Jackson and having the experiment fail.

What should the Yankees do, then? There are a few internal options, though few could play a passable center field. It looks like John Rodriguez, Shelley Duncan, Ramiro Pena, or a trade for a player who can man center. In any case, I wouldn’t bet on it being Austin Jackson. As much as I’d love to see the kid in the Bronx, it doesn’t seem like the right move for the Yankees right now.

Categories : Minors
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One year ago today on DotF, High-A Tampa rallied for six runs in the final inning for a walk-off win over Dunedin.

Yes, I know Austin Jackson didn’t play tonight. And no, I don’t think it’s because he’s being called up. The kid is 7 for his last 38 (.184) with eight strikeouts in his last 21 at bats. It’s most likely just a day off to regroup.

Triple-A Scranton (10-2 loss to Toledo)
Kevin Russo, Shelley Duncan & Yurendell DeCaster: all 1 for 4 – Russo scored a run & K’ed … DeCaster doubled
Ramiro Pena: 3 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB – played CF as well
Colin Curtis & Frankie Cervelli: both 0 for 4 - Curtis was caught stealing … Cervelli K’ed twice
Juan Miranda: 1 for 3, 1 BB
The Ghost of Kei Igawa: 5 IP, 11 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 1-9 GB/FB – 75 of 119 pitches were strikes (63%) … SWB’s staff is stretched real thin, so they had to keep sending him back out there to take the beating
Amaury Sanit: 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2-3 GB/FB – 22 of 36 pitches were strikes (61.1%)
Edwar Ramirez: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 10 of 15 pitches were strikes

Read More→

Categories : Down on the Farm
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As we head into Sunday night, we have a piece of news on a Yankee pitcher and a day of celebration up in Cooperstown.

After the game, the Yankees revealed that injured hurler Chien-Ming Wang will head to Alabama on Monday to meet Dr. James Andrews. The baseball medical expert performed surgery on Wang in 2001, and his diagnosis will determine if Wang needs rest or surgery. No matter the outcome, Wang is pretty much finished for 2009.

Meanwhile, up in Cooperstown today, Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice headlined the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Despite his arrival in Cooperstown, Jim Rice will never really belong in my mind. Nothing has changed between this year and the 14 other times he didn’t make it. Also on the slate was Joe Gordon, a one-time Yankee middle infielder. Fack Youk profiled this forgotten Yankee. Check it out.

On another note, I’m heading out of town for ten days tomorrow afternoon. I’ll have a few more posts up over the next few days, but for the most part, Mike and Joe along with a few guests will take you through the Yankee road trip and the trade deadline. It’ll be a fun ride, and I’m sorry to miss it. I will, however, be back in time for game two of the Boston series.

Anyway, here’s your open thread. You know the drill. Anything goes. Just be nice.

Categories : Open Thread
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When the All Star Break ended, the Yanks found themselves three games behind Red Sox. After a humiliating three-game sweep at the hands of the Angels in Anaheim before the break, the Bombers were looking for a hot start to the second half.

Ten days later, they have delivered. The beat the A’s 7-5 this afternoon on five two-out RBIs, and in doing so, they wrapped up a 9-1 homestand. They have also gained 5.5 games on the Red Sox since the break and head south to Tampa with a 2.5-game lead in the AL East. If not for a bad 0-2 pitch from Alfredo Aceves yesterday, they could have gone 10-0 to start the second half. Still, I’ll take 9-1.

Today’s game started off inauspiciously. Before the Yanks had an at-bat, Sergio Mitre had given up four hits and two runs. That would be a short-lived deficit. Single, walk, strike out, pop out, single, walk, double. 4-2 Yanks.

The big blow in the bottom of the first came off the bat of Robinson Cano. Struggling mightily with runners in scoring position this year, Cano lined a bases-clearing double into deep center field to give the Yanks their lead. It was a key hit in the game.

As the innings wore on, Mitre pitched a decent enough game. His final line was fairly mediocre — 5 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 1 K — but he benefited from three double plays and didn’t walk anyone. He’ll continue to make starts out of the fifth spot in the rotation until and unless the Yanks make a move. I’d rather see Phil Hughes transition back into the rotation, but Mitre is giving the Yanks a chance to win. The team is 2-0 in his first two starts.

Briefly, in the sixth, the Yanks ran into a spot of trouble. In the fourth, Derek Jeter had failed to get a runner in from third with less than two outs, and it nearly came back to haunt them. After Mitre surrendered a lead-off single to Kurt Suzuki, Phil Coke came in to face the A’s lefties. Ryan Sweeney flew out to left, and Daric Barton just beat out a relay throw to avoid a double play. With two outs, Mark Ellis lined a ball off of his shoe tops into the left field seats to give the A’s a 5-4 lead.

Again, this lead would prove short-lived. In the bottom of the 6th, Jeter again came to the plate with runners on second and third and one out. This time, an RBI single plated two runs to give the Yanks a lead they would not surrender. Mark Teixeira would, two batters later, give the Yanks a two-run lead.

Things got a bit hairy in the 8th though. After a 1-2-3 seventh and a K to start the 8th, Phil Hughes ran into a spot of trouble. He allowed a walk to Ryan Sweeney and a double to Daric Barton after a long AB. In came Brian Bruney, and we all held our breaths. Bruney, shakey of late, got a huge K, and then the Sandman came in for a four-out save. Nomar Garciaparra tapped back weakly to Mariano, and Rivera ran through the A’s in the ninth. Game, set, match.

The Red Sox and John Smoltz had just lost to the Orioles. The Rays had just lost to the Blue Jays. As Michael Kay said to end the broadcast, “All is right in the pinstriped world for Joe Girardi and his clan.”

Categories : Game Stories
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Can Hughes go three? Maybe the question should be: will they let him?

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