A-Rod will have hip checked out during homestand

Via Brian Costello, Alex Rodriguez will have his surgically repaired hip examined during the Yankees’ next homestand, beginning Friday. “That was something that came from Kevin [Long],” said A-Rod. “Kevin’s been working with me a long time. He just felt that we want to make sure that we dot our I’s and cross our T’s and are diligent about it and think big picture.”

Alex made it clear that the hip is nothing bothering him, and that he’ll have the joint checked out regularly for the rest of his career. “It’s not an excuse for poor performance,” said the third baseman. “It has nothing to do with a bad feeling or aching or anything. I’ve been actually working my tail off with Kevin and feeling better each and every day. Finally yesterday I got a little result.”

Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Don't squish Brian Roberts' head like that, that's not nice. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

The six-game losing streak is in the rear-view mirror, but not far enough that we can forget about it. Five games against the Red Sox and Rays are always tough, but things get a little easier for the Yankees tonight when they kick off a two-game set against the Orioles in Yankee Stadium South, a.k.a. Camden Yards.

What Have The Orioles Done Lately?

Believe it or not, the O’s come into this series having won five of their last seven games, sweeping the Mariners and taking two of three from the Rays over the last week. They blew a big early league against the Sox on Monday before getting rained out last night, so they’re rested. Baltimore is still 13-20 since their 6-1 start, and their -21 run differential is the worst in the division and the fourth worst in the AL

Orioles On Offense

Yes, lots of this. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

When we last saw the Orioles, they were a bottom five offense in terms of OBP and wOBA. They’ve improved somewhat, but still only sport a .314 OBP and .312 wOBA as a team. No longer bottom five, but still bottom half in the game. Derrek Lee will be placed on the disabled list before tonight’s game with a strained oblique, but that might be a good thing for the O’s since he was hitting just .174/.273/.370 over the last two weeks and has a .295 wOBA on the season.

Baltimore’s offense is being carried by four players at the moment. Adam Jones (.422 wOBA in May) and Vlad Guerrero (.398) have been monsters this month while Mark Reynolds (.364) and Nick Markakis (.363) have contributed at an above-average rate as well. Brian Roberts (.167) and Matt Wieters (.295) have cooled off this month, and Luke Scott is kind of moseying along with a .329 wOBA this month. Good, not great. J.J. Hardy came off the disabled list about a week ago and already has two homers in seven games since. That means no more Robert Andino or Cesar Izturis, for shame.

Orioles’ hitters have the highest walk rate (10.3%) and fifth lowest strikeout rate (19.0%) in the AL, which makes it hard to believe they rank so low on the team OBP leaderboard. They won’t get themselves out on pitches out of the zone as much as you might expect, but there are some definite holes that allow pitchers to work around guys and pick their spots in the lineup.

Orioles On The Mound

Just a kid. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Wednesday, LHP Zach Britton: Oh no, a rookie starter the Yankees haven’t seen before, and Britton’s no slouch either; Baseball America ranked him as the 28th best prospect in the game before the season. The 23-year-old southpaw has made eight starts since being called up, and he’s getting away with striking out just over five batters per nine (5.02 K/9, to be exact) thanks to a 2.77 BB/9 and a 54.4% ground ball rate. Britton is the rare true sinker-changeup pitcher, with the fastball coming in around 91-93 and the changeup in the mid-80’s. He’ll also break off a few sliders, but we’re talking one out of 20 pitches or so. He’s very good, trust me. The Yankees are going to have their hands full with this one.

Thursday, RHP Jeremy Guthrie: The Yankees got lucky and missed Baltimore’s two best starting pitchers the other two times these clubs have played, but they won’t be so fortunate this time. We’ve seen so much of Guthrie over the last few years that I don’t need to tell you too much about him, though I want to mention that he constantly outperforms his peripherals and is doing so again this year (3.98 ERA, 4.64 FIP). He’s like Matt Cain in that sense, it’s been so long that I don’t think we can call a mid-to-upper 4.00’s FIP his true talent level. The ERA is closer to what he really is. Anyway, wooo Jeremy Guthrie. Hopefully he doesn’t hit anyone tomorrow.

Bullpen: Kevin Gregg is perpetually shaky in the ninth and blew Monday’s game against the Red Sox, his second blown in his last three chances. Koji Uehara (3.87 FIP) and Jim Johnson (3.56) have been very good in setup roles while Mike Gonzalez has been questionable (5.29 FIP) from the left side. Jason Berken (5.08) crashed back to Earth after the great start, and then you have Jeremy Accardo (5.57) and lefty specialist Clay Rapada (6.93) doing forgettable work in low-leverage spots.

The Orioles bullpen is pretty well rested, they had last night (rain), Saturday (Brad Bergesen complete game), and Friday (Guthrie complete game) off. Hopefully we’ll see lots of them over the next two days because Mo knows the Yankees could use some games in which they score a ton of runs and force the starter out of the game early. Some blowout wins sure would be nice right about now.

Recommended Orioles Reading: Camden Crazies

Jeter not getting on base (and how it makes the Yanks offense more remarkable)

(Kathy Kmonicek/AP)

We were prepared for a slow start from Derek Jeter. Given the new swing mechanics he worked on this spring, it seemed like an inevitability. Through the season’s first month we didn’t make any mention of Jeter’s performance outside of game recaps. In fact, the only post we’ve made all year that involved Jeter’s performance is this whimsical one by Mike. Unfortunately, this is the first of them.

Joe Girardi has said that they have to wait a while, specifically until 150 PA, until they start making judgments. Jeter is now at 175, and his numbers don’t look anything like a leadoff man’s should. Forget the batting average and slugging percentage. The most important number for a leadoff man is his OBP, and Jeter’s downright stinks. At .309 it ranks 133rd out of 192 qualified players. It also ranks eighth out of the nine Yankees who have 100 or more PA. That Jeter has more PA than anyone on the team further compounds the issue.

While the guy getting the most appearances making the most outs is a problem itself, it also causes problems for the rest of the lineup. Mark Teixeira is the biggest loser in all of this. He’s tied for fourth on the team with 22 RBI despite having the second most extra base hits. That’s because he’s not coming to bat with men on base. In 61.63 percent of his plate appearances he has seen a bases empty situation. That ranks 37th out of the 225 players who have 100 or more PA. The only Yankee who has seen more bases empty situations is the leadoff hitter himself.

(To be clear, he has seen the 37th fewest PA with runners on base.)

Part of that, of course, is that Curtis Granderson has done a good job of clearing the bases. But he’s hit only 10 homers in the two hole. Let’s be generous and turn all 10 of those homers into doubles. That would still put him at 109th in the league at 55.81 percent of his PA with the bases empty. This is not something you want to see for your No. 3 hitter. Even Alex Rodriguez at No. 4 hasn’t seen a ton of bases on PA. He has had the bases empty in 52.29 percent of his PA — and that’s with the benefit of Teixeira’s .378 OBP.

While the main issue here is of how ineffective Jeter has been atop the lineup, the secondary issue is of how highly this speaks of the Yankees offense. Despite the recent slump they’re still second in the AL in runs per game at 5.03. That they can do that while their leadoff man OBPs around .300, and while their second best hitter (performance-wise this season) has seen a great majority of his plate appearances with the bases empty, is a testament to the lineup’s depth. The Yankees can afford to continue the Jeter experiment, because they’ve scored runs. But as they showed during the winless skid, during which Jeter got on base in just five of 30 PA (.200 OBP), his presence at the top can hurt at times.

While Jeter can turn things around, even if it seems unlikely, he should have to do it from a lower spot in the order. If the Yankees want the most effective offense possible they need to have men on base when Teixeira and A-Rod come to the plate. To date they have not seen that. In fact, Nick Swisher has seen the most opportunities with men on base. (Which only makes matters worse, as things stand.) The No. 6 guys should see those opportunities, but not more than the Nos. 3 and 4 guys. That’s the inefficiency in the Yankees’ lineup. Make a change, and they could be even better. Unfortunately, I don’t get the sense that one is coming.

The RAB Radio Show: May 18, 2011

A win! It’s amazing how much more enjoyable the day is when the Yankees did something good. Last night was not just a skid-breaking win, but it was also representative of almost everything the Yankees do well. Mike and I muse on the joys of winning well, and on the Orioles.

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

2011 Draft: Kevin Goldstein’s Top 20 Prospects

In a free Baseball Prospectus piece, Kevin Goldstein posted his list of the top 20 draft prospects with pros and cons for each. He has HS RHP Dylan Bundy ranked first overall, UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole second, Virginia LHP Danny Hultzen third, and Rice 3B Anthony Rendon fourth. This is the first time I’ve seen someone besides Cole or Rendon ranked first. Make sure you check it out, it’s not often you get a free look at 20 of the best available prospects.

Elsewhere in draft news, Jim Callis weighed in bonus demands made by Bundy and HS RHP Archie Bradley, Rendon’s long-term prospects at the hot corner, and the top catching prospects. It’s all free, and it’s all worth reading.

Taking on the Sweater

Former WFAN radio personality and current My9 sports host Russ Salzberg, who is a client of my dad’s and a good family friend, has a new weekly web show. Every Wednesday from from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m., Salzberg is taking calls and discussing sports right here on the Fox 5 website. Give him a listen and a call and tell him RAB sent you. The number’s 201-330-3466.

And Now Comes The Hard Part…

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

We all slept a little easier last night following the Yankees’ win over the Rays, but that’s all it was: a win. Singular. One win in a season that’s nowhere close to being over with a long stretch of terrible play not far enough away in the rear view mirror to rest easy. The Yankees have still lost ten of their last 14 games and are just as close to last place as first place (two games), so they’re not out of the woods yet. Last night’s win was a positive first step, but that’s it, nothing more.

Tonight’s series opener in Baltimore will be a tough challenge in more ways that one. First of all, the Yankees will definitely be without the services of Joba Chamberlain, who Joe Girardi said will sit tonight no matter what after pitching in each of the last three days as well as in four of the last five. David Robertson is probably a no-go as well; he threw 27 pitches last night and has thrown 119 pitches in five appearances over the last eight days. If the Yankees have a smallish lead late, there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to see Boone Logan and Luis Ayala do the heavy lifting. Furthermore, the Orioles are starting rookie lefty Zach Britton (who got pushed back after they got rained out last night), a sinkerballer that the Yankees have never seen before. We know how that usually goes.

The good news is that Camden Yards always seems to brings out the best in the Yankees’ offense. They scored 21 runs in two games there earlier this season, and last year this same cast of characters (give or take a catcher) hit a collective .289/.371/.446 in Baltimore, a 118 OPS+. It won’t hurt that the Orioles’ pitching staff has the fifth worst ERA (4.37) and fourth worst FIP (4.43) in baseball in 2011, the Yankees could certainly use all the help they can get at the moment. An offensive explosion, I’m talking double-digit runs and an unmerciful amount of homeruns, is what I’m hoping for this evening. I want them to Amaury Sanit-proof tonight’s game and early, we can all do without a nail-biter or hair-puller-outer for once.

Like I said, tonight’s game is just the next step in getting out of this slump. There are still some big time questions about the pitching staff and a whole lot of hitters still trying to right the ship, and it’s not all going happen at once. The Yankee have a favorable schedule coming up – eight of their next eleven games come against losing teams – but then again they didn’t exactly take care of business against the White Sox and Royals recently either. It can be very easy to overstate that one win, the one that got them off the schneid, but make no mistake about it, the Yankees still have a long way to go before they’re out of the hole they dug themselves this month. The process continues tonight.