Examining the RISPFAIL at the break

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Yankees have the best record in baseball right now but you wouldn’t know it based on their performance with runners in scoring position. As a team, the Bombers are hitting .231/.335/.418 in those spots, a .321 wOBA and 97 wRC+. They rank 27th in AVG but 15th in wRC+ because when they connect, they really connect — their .187 ISO with men in scoring position is the second best in the AL. That said, their hitting in those spots has been a problem, which is why they only* rank sixth in runs scored despite having the best wRC+ in baseball (114) by two points.

But you knew all that already, right? It’s no secret that that the Yankees have been having a hard time with runners on second and/or third, we see it game after game. The players were obviously pressing in those spots — especially in mid-May, that was ugly — and it was negatively affecting the quality of their contact. At the same time, they have the second best walk rate (12.9%) and the ninth best strikeout rate (17.8%) with runners in scoring position, so they can’t be pressing too much.

New York bottomed out at .222/.318/.399 with runners in scoring position on May 21st, a total of 419 plate appearances. They went 0-for-13 in those situations that night against the Royals, a 6-0 loss that dropped them into a last place tie with the Red Sox at 21-21 overall. It was ugly and the natives were restless. There’s nothing in baseball more frustrating than leaving men on-base and the Yankees had made it their specialty.

“The beginning of the season, we struggled,” said Andruw Jones over the weekend. “Everybody was saying that we’re old, we’re not getting the job done, but this is not a sprint. This is a marathon. We kept battling and kept playing – plug here, plug that (guy) in – until we got in a groove. We’re on a really good groove right now. We’ll take this break, take the time off, and come back in the second half and get the job done.”

Andruw was right, the Yankees did get in a groove. Dewayne Wise turned the season around (!) with a bunt single to load the bases in the fifth inning on May 22nd, which led to a Derek Jeter single that drove in the game-winning run. Since that game, the Yankees have hit .240/.352/.437 with runners in scoring position, a span of 436 plate appearances. That’s still not great, but it is definite improvement. Not coincidentally, the Yankees are 31-12 and have opened a huge lead in the division during that time. Those few extra knocks with men on-base went a long way.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the Bombers were bound to improve with runners in scoring position just because they were hitting into some bad luck. Don’t get me wrong, they were definitely hitting poorly in those spots, but they were hitting poorly and getting unlucky. In those first 419 plate appearances, they had a measly .238 BABIP. In those last 436 plate appearances, it’s .269. Better but there’s still room for even more improvement. The Yankees aren’t going to stop hitting homers, they’re just going to supplement them with more non-homer hits with men in scoring position as the season continues.

* Spoiled Yankees fan syndrome, activate.

NL shuts out AL in 2012 All-Star Game

The National League wrecked the American League on Tuesday night, winning the 2012 All-Star Game by the score of 8-0. Starter Justin Verlander gets most of the blame after allowing five runs before his teammates even got to hit in the first inning. Former Yankee Melky Cabrera took home the MVP Award thanks to his 2-for-3 showing. He hit a two-run homer off Matt Harrison. It was the NL’s third straight All-Star Game win.

As for the Yankees, captain Derek Jeter went 1-for-2 with an infield single off Matt Cain. Robinson Cano went 1-for-2 with a ground ball single up the middle (off Stephen Strasburg) and Curtis Granderson went 0-for-2 with a fly out and a ground out. All three started the game at their regular positions and played five innings in the field. CC Sabathia was selected to the game but did not pitch due to his groin strain. Cano left his good friend Melky hanging on the above high-five attempt following his homer, so that was pretty funny.

More importantly, the National League has clinched home field advantage in the World Series. That’s pretty unfortunate. The Yankees are legitimate contenders and should they make it to the Fall Classic, it would have been nice to both open the series as well as play a potential Game Seven at home in the Bronx. Oh well, they’ll just have to do it the hard way.

[box score] [WPA graph] [.gif via  @bubbaprog]

Refsnyder debuts in Charleston loss

Small bit of news: RHP Graham Stoneburner will be used out of the bullpen moving forward. He’s coming back from a groin injury (his second of the season) and also missed a bunch of time with a neck problem last year. The bullpen always seemed to be his ultimate destination, hopefully his stuff plays up a grade or two.

Low-A Charleston (6-1 loss to Asheville)
2B Ali Castillo: 2-4, 1 R, 1 CS
CF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 2B, 3 K — 13 hits in his last 42 at-bats (.310)
RF Rob Refsnyder: 1-4 — this year’s fifth rounder was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player a few weeks ago … he skipped right over the two short season leagues, obviously, a rare move for this organization … apparently the plan to convert him to a second baseman is on hold for the time being
C Tyson Blaser: 1-3, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 PB, 1 E (throwing)
3B Dante Bichette Jr.: 1-4, 1 E (throwing)
1B Rey Nunez: 1-3
SS Cito Culver: 0-3, 1 K
DH Kelvin DeLeon: 0-3
LF Eduardo Sosa: 0-2, 1 BB, 1 K — got picked off first
RHP Bryan Mitchell: 4 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 6 K, 3 WP, 1/2 GB/FB — 50 of 86 pitches were strikes (58.1%)
LHP Dan Mahoney: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 18 of 27 pitches were strikes (66.7%) … picked a runner off first
RHP Mariel Checo: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 19 of 37 pitches were strikes (51.3%)
LHP Fred Lewis: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 11 of 18 pitches were strikes (61.1%)

[Read more…]

2012 All-Star Game Open Thread

The Yankees have World Series aspirations every year, which is why the All-Star Game should be a bit more than a midseason exhibition to them and their fans. Home field advantage in the World Series is on the line, and it sure is nice to kick off the Fall Classic at home rather than on the road. The 2009 Yankees had home field advantage against the Phillies thanks to one of their own, just not at the time. Curtis Granderson, then with the Tigers, tripled off Heath Bell in the eighth inning before coming in to score the go-ahead and game-winning run on Adam Jones’ sacrifice fly. Mariano Rivera then nailed it down with a perfect inning for his record fourth All-Star save.

Four Yankees were selected to this year’s game but only three will play since CC Sabathia is currently on the DL with his groin strain. The other three are all in the starting lineup…

National League (roster)
DH Carlos Gonzalez
CF Melky Cabrera
LF Ryan Braun
1B Joey Votto
RF Carlos Beltran
C Buster Posey
3B Pablo Sandoval
2B Dan Uggla
SS Rafael Furcal

RHP Matt Cain

American League (roster)
SS Derek Jeter
2B Robinson Cano
LF Josh Hamilton
RF Jose Bautista
1B Prince Fielder
3B Adrian Beltre
DH David Ortiz
C Mike Napoli
CF Curtis Granderson

RHP Justin Verlander

The broadcast starts at 7:30pm ET and can be seen on FOX, though that’s just the introductions and stuff. The game itself probably won’t start until 8-8:15 or so. Talk about that or anything else you’d like here, it’s all fair game.

Site News: We’re happy to announce that we’ve added a new writer, someone you’re probably familiar with already. His name is Eric Schultz, and you’ve seen him at The Yankee Analysts (archive) and the now defunct Pending Pinstripes. You can follow Eric on Twitter at @Eric_J_S. Welcome him aboard.

Steve Serby’s Q&A with Brian Cashman

Steve Serby’s Q&As are a weekend staple of the NY Post, but today he published an exclusive — and longer than usual — midweek chat with GM Brian Cashman. The two spoke spoke about a number of topics, including the current Yankees team, the Michael Pineda trade, the declining Alex Rodriguez, George Steinbrenner, his relationship with Joe Girardi, and lots more. Make sure you check it out, it’s a quality read.

2012 Draft: Hensley expects decision to come down to the wire

Via David Collier, first rounder Ty Hensley said he expects his decision about whether to sign with the Yankees or attend Ole Miss to come right down to Friday’s 5pm ET deadline. The two sides have already wrapped up negotiations, they’re just waiting on his decision. If Hensley does not sign, the Yankees will receive the 31st overall pick in next year’s draft as compensation, but obviously they’d rather have the player now. One way or another, we’ll have an answer in less than four days.

Scouting The Trade Market: Matt Belisle

The bullpen has been a strength all throughout the Joe Girardi era, but injuries have wreaked havoc on the relief corps in 2012. Mariano Rivera made just nine appearances before suffering a season-ending ACL injury, and then a few days later David Robertson suffered an oblique strain that cost him a month on the DL. With their two best late-game arms out with injury, the Yankees relied heavily on Boone Logan and Cory Wade ahead of backup backup closer Rafael Soriano.

All of that work has thinned out the relief unit even though Robertson has returned. Wade is in Triple-A after allowing 16 runs in his last six innings and Logan leads the league with 43 appearances. He’s allowed a run in each of his last four appearances. The Yankees picked up Chad Qualls to add some depth and until we see Joba Chamberlain and/or David Aardsma on a big league mound, they shouldn’t count on them for anything. New York needs to add a quality reliever to their bullpen, someone to help take the load off Robertson and Soriano. The pace these guys are going at right now puts them at risk for burning out late in the season, something Girardi has done a masterful job of avoiding in recent years.

Trading for relievers is risky business, which is why the Yankees haven’t done much of it in recent years. Kerry Wood worked out well in 2010 and Damaso Marte has his moments in 2008, but otherwise they’ve built their bullpens via internal options and the scrap heap in recent years. Digging up another Wade — last year’s version, not this year’s — is probably not something they count on, so the trade market becomes an undesirable but necessary avenue to add relief depth. Let’s take a look at a personal fave and someone who should be very available since his team is not contending: Matt Belisle of the Rockies.

The Pros

  • A failed starter with the Reds back in the day, the 32-year-old Belisle has quietly become one of the game’s most effective relievers. He’s pitched to a 2.82 ERA and 2.72 FIP since the start of 2010 (1.93 ERA and 2.27 FIP this year) with stellar strikeout (8.07 K/9 and 21.9 K%), walk (1.62 BB/9 and 4.4 BB%), and ground ball (51.7%) rates. Take out the eleven (!) intentional walks and it’s a 3.2% walk rate. That is getting it done.
  • Belisle is a true three-pitch reliever, using a low-90s fastball to setup his mid-80s slider and low-80s curve. The slider is for righties, the curve for both righties and lefties. He’ll also throw a low-90s two-seamer and an upper-80s changeup, but very rarely.
  • Thanks to those two breaking balls, he doesn’t have much of a platoon split. Belisle has held lefties to a .275 wOBA (22.7 K% and 6.9 BB%) and righties to a .294 wOBA (21.4 K% and 2.9 BB%) over the last three years.
  • Belisle is a true workhorse out of the bullpen, throwing 92 innings across 76 appearances in 2010. The Rockies scaled it back to 72 innings across 74 appearances last season, but this year he’s up to 46.2 innings in 43 appearances. He’s tied with Logan (and a few others) for the most appearances in baseball and is third in reliever innings.

The Cons

  • All of those appearances and innings may be catching to Belisle, as his fastball velocity continued to trend downward this season after a slight drop a year ago. He’s also throwing the fastball less frequently than ever before (just 46.9%), perhaps an indication that he’s having trouble getting outs with it.
  • Belisle has a history of knee problems, including a torn ACL back in 2008 and offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus after pitching though it all last season. He’s obviously been healthy enough to rack up all those innings, however.
  • He’s not cheap. Belisle is making $3.775M this year — approximately $1.8M from here on out — and is under contract for $4.1M next season. His contract includes a $4.25M mutual option for 2014 with a $250k buyout. That’s not a ton of money, but he would be the third highest paid reliever on the club behind Rivera and Soriano.

Belisle has a whole lot to offer as a workhorse reliever capable of getting both lefties and righties out. That’s one of the biggest problems with the Yankees bullpen right now, there are so many specialists — Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley, Logan, Qualls — that Girardi has to use two or three of these guys just to get a handful of outs. Belisle’s a guy who has experience pitching in big-time offensive park and won’t require any sort of special treatment as far as matchups go. They could just stick him out there for an inning or two and let him go.

Reports indicate that the Rockies would have to be overwhelmed to trade Belisle, which is unfortunate. Relievers like Matt Capps and Mike Adams were traded at midseason with a year and a half of team control remaining at recent trade deadlines, giving us a pair of decent comparables. Capps fetched Wilson Ramos — an excellent catching prospect at the time — while Adams netted Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin, a pair of Grade-B pitching prospects at Double-A. Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd is probably looking to hit a homerun like the Athletics did when they traded Andrew Bailey for Josh Reddick and others.

The Yankees have the pieces to swing a deal and Belisle appears to be a damn good fit, but again, trading for relievers is always risky because they have a tendency to suck for no apparent reason and without warning. If Belisle comes in and pulls a 2007 Eric Gagne, whoever trades for him will be stuck with him at a team unfriendly salary in 2013. The upside is that he comes in an dominates and is around next year, providing some protection should Soriano opt-out of his deal after the season. There’s an obvious need for another quality reliever in the bullpen, it’s just a question of whether the Yankees want to shore it up via trade or continue to do what they’ve been doing for the last few years and finding answers on the cheap.