Mailbag: Johnny Damon

Still insane. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Cory asks: Word is Johnny Damon cleared waivers, is he worth looking at to fill the DH role? It seems like he would be at the least a slight upgrade over Chavez/Jones, but would pretty much close the door on Montero being any more than a bench option this season.

Damon did clear waivers, at least according to Jayson Stark. That means the Rays are now able to trade him to any team for a player that a) also cleared waivers, b) was claimed off waivers by the Rays, or c) is not on the 40-man roster. Money really isn’t an issue here, there’s less than $1.5M left on Damon’s contract this season. He does have some weird incentives tied to attendance, but I think those go away if traded since they’re dependent on Tampa’s attendance. Either way, it’s only another $750k at most.

So the real question is this: Is Johnny actually better than what the Yankees already have at DH? Even with his Friday homer off CC Sabathia, he’s still hitting jut .261/.315/.395 with ten homers in 481 plate appearances. The Trop is one of the more extreme pitchers’ parks in the game, so it’s not a surprise that Damon has a .356 wOBA on the road and a .270 wOBA at home. The current cast of DH’s for the Yankees is Eric Chavez (.323 wOBA vs. RHP in 81 PA) and Andruw Jones (.380 wOBA vs. LHP in 103 PA), though we should also include Jorge Posada in that mix (.351 wOBA vs. RHP in 228 PA). Damon’s platoon split is basically non-existent (.315 wOBA vs. RHP and .309 vs. LHP), and based on just this season’s numbers, he’s not an upgrade anywhere. Unless you believe he’ll hit like he has on the road for the rest of the season.

There’s also the roster space issue. Someone would have to get the axe to make room for Damon, and frankly both Chavez and Jones have proven to be very useful in their prescribed roles. Eduardo Nunez can’t go anywhere because he’s the backup middle infielder, and they’re not going to cut ties with Posada. They’re just not. The Yankees could get a little creative and swing a trade for Damon on the night of August 31st, so they wouldn’t need to play with a wonky roster for an extended period of time because of September call-ups the next day. Of course, there’s basically no chance the Rays will go along with that, and they’ve already shown an unwillingness to trade within the division.

Johnny’s still a good player, but he’s no longer great or even very good. He’s basically an average hitter these days, which is an upgrade over what the Yankees were getting out of their DH’s for most of the year. I think I’d rather have the Chavez-Jones tandem going forward, unless they can finagle something on the 31st and use him as an extra bat in September. There’s a pretty good chance that if he wasn’t a former Yankee, we probably wouldn’t even consider Johnny a viable option. There’s some nostalgia afoot.

Betances promoted to AAA after a rainy day

Dellin Betances was promoted to Triple-A Scranton, which was expected. Congrats to him.

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. Doubleheader tomorrow.

Double-A Trenton (4-2 loss to Harrisburg)
Austin Krum, LF & Ray Kruml, DH: both 1 for 4, 1 K, 1 SB – Kruml drove in a run
Jose Pirela, 2B, Rob Lyerly, 1B & Melky Mesa, CF: all 0 for 4, 2 K – Pirela scored a run … Lyerly committed an error on a missed catch
Zoilo Almonte, RF: 0 for 3, 1 K
Yadil Mujica, SS: 1 for 3, 1 K, 2 E (fielding, throwing)
Addison Maruszak, 3B: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K
R.J. Baker, C: 0 for 2, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) – Corban Joseph pinch-hit for him late and drove in a run with a single
Graham Stoneburner, RHP: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 9-1 GB/FB – 58 of 105 pitches were strikes (55.2%) … he’s getting ground balls, but still seems a little off since being activated off the DL
Brad Halsey, LHP: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1-3 GB/FB – 23 of 33 pitches were strikes (69.7%)
Pat Venditte, SwP: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 3-0 GB/FB – 17 pitches, and 16 were strikes … wow

[Read more…]

Sunday Night Open Thread

Summer Sundays without the Yankees are just weird. I slept in, headed out for a late breakfast, then settled in for a game that was never played. I had no idea what to do with myself. I had this four hour block of … nothing. Oh well, at least I managed to actually be productive around the house during the downtime. The Yankees, meanwhile, are off to Kansas City, and there’s a decent chance they’re already there. Alex Rodriguez won’t be in the lineup, but hey, we can always re-live his three homer game in Kauffman from last season.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The ESPN Sunday Night Game is in St. Louis for Rockies-Cardinals (Esmil Rogers vs. Edwin Jackson), but feel free to talk about anything here. You all know what to do, so have at it.

The Forgotten Reliever

Jeter, Teixeira...... Wade, Nunez. (copyright Amanda Rykoff)

There are lots of cool things about Yankees pitching, AJ Burnett’s terrible hair notwithstanding. Mariano Rivera. Bartolo Colon. CC Sabathia. But you know what? These are all pretty big names in the scale of baseball, and especially when talking about general Yankee successes. When you consider the good fortune that Yankees pitching has had so far, there also needs to be some consideration given to some slightly smaller pitching names as well. I’m not even talking about strikeout/leverage machine (and 2011 All-Star) David Robertson or never-a-top-100 prospect (but 10-game winner) Ivan Nova.

How about Cory Wade? On the scale of successful ballplayers on the Yankees that no one talks about, he’s gotta be up at the top or near it. Wade was drafted in the 10th round by the Dodgers in 2004 and pitched a full reliever’s season in 2008 in the bigs, posting a pretty 2.27 ERA in 71 IP. However, after a slightly less impressive 2009, he spent the year bouncing between the Dodgers (where he posted a 5.53 ERA in 27.2 IP) and AAA Albuquerque. He was granted free agency after that and signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in November of last year, then was assigned to AAA Durham. There, he worked in relief, posting a sparkling 1.23 ERA and a pretty nice 3.34 FIP, to go alone with a K/BB ratio over 5. He did all of this in about 40 innings, and then used a clause in his contract to opt out on July 11th. This is where it gets good.

Let me set the scene for you. Rafael Soriano has just gone on the DL with elbow soreness and is not expected back until the All-Star Break. Joba Chamberlain has just gone on the DL two days before, with a strained flexor. Currently taking their places are the ever famous Jeff Marquez (minor league ERA: 3.97, FIP: 4.37) who has just been claimed off waivers from the White Sox, and Amauri Sanit (ERA: 5.21, FIP: 4.73) from AAA. Meanwhile, you are Brian Cashman, and your arch-enemies, the Rays, have just released a really good reliever from their system. That’s exactly what you need! Excellent! The Yankees signed Wade two days later, had him pitch 1.2 innings in SWB and then called him up to the big leagues.

Since then, Wade’s been nothing short of awesome. He’s a perfectly solid middle-reliever and has handled both high-leverage situations and garbage time equally well. In fact, out of his 21 appearances, he’s only posted a negative WPA in 4 of them, and has gone 2-0. His other numbers are similarly impressive, albeit the small sample of only 23.1 IP is worth nothing: 2.31 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 3.32 xFIP, 6 ER, 18 Ks. His 1.5 BB/9 and 6.9 K/9 are good for a healthy 4.5 K/BB ratio. His 79.2 LOB% is a bit high, but certainly within reason, and his .254 BABIP is the highest he’s ever had. 40.6% groundballs contributes.

Part of it is mental: as a Yankees fan, I feel comfortable watching Cory Wade pitch the sixth or the seventh in a one-run game. I feel like he is a safe guy to give the ball to despite the fact that I’ve never heard his name before this. But part of it is in the numbers: those are legitimately strong stats. He’s racked up about half a win in fWAR, which is nice to have in only 23 innings. He’s given up only six earned runs in that span. Plus, he’s not yet valuable enough to where Girardi is considering him a one-inning guy only: he’s had three outings where he threw two innings, and one more outing when he threw three. He also isn’t constrained to a particular role, such as an eight-inning guy or a closer. In a way, his namelessness contributes even more to his success.

As has been mentioned before, the Yankees have been extremely successful and extremely lucky when it comes to pitching this year, and this makes for endless words for us bloggers looking for something to talk about. As the season winds down, we’ll see more and more of how these players shape up come September and eventual October/playoff baseball. Cool thing is, your name doesn’t have any correlation to have could you can be. Throw strikes, get batters out, win. It all works the same no matter who you are: Mariano, Sabathia, or a castoff from the Rays.

(Yankees Baseball Daily helped me think this up. Check it out.)

A-Rod continues rehab with simulated game

After asking to DH yesterday, Alex Rodriguez continued his road back from knee surgery in a simulated game today. He got 13 at-bats, then did some situational work at third base and more extensive defensive drills after that. The plan is for Alex to get Monday off, then travel north and join Triple-A Scranton to continue his rehab on Tuesday. The Yankees still want him to play two full nine inning games before activating him, and there’s still a chance A-Rod will be activated in time for Thursday’s opener at Target Field.

Game rained out, will be made up in September

As you probably know by now, this afternoon’s game against the Rays has been postponed due to rain. Joe Girardi indicated that the game will be made up as part of a doubleheader sometime in September. Tampa doesn’t come back to New York until the third to last series of the year, so hopefully the Yankees will have a playoff spot wrapped up by then and can let the kids do most of the work in the second game. As an added benefit, Jamie Shields will now pitch against the Red Sox tomorrow instead of against the Yankees today. Hooray for that.

Phil Hughes to the bullpen, for the right reasons

Earlier this week, Joe spent some time discussing the possibility of  sending A.J. Burnett to the bullpen, and how it may be a good idea so long as it’s done for the appropriate reasons.  The basic gist of the article was that if Burnett was to be transitioned the bullpen, it shouldn’t simply be resultant of a reactive angst-induced fit from his recent performance implosions, but rather because it may actually be more conducive to A.J.’s stamina and abilities going forward.

It became fairly obvious after watching yesterday’s match against the Rays, that the same discussion will have to be had regarding Phil Hughes.  As a result of of Phil’s past few starts (in addition to Nova’s rather surprising overall production), the Yankees have found themselves in a rather envious plight, that is to say they have too many starting pitching options.  Hughe’s role with the team for the remainder of the season will have to be defined, and I suspect this decision will occur in the next couple days (if it hasn’t already).

However, just as there are correct and incorrect reasons for transitioning A.J., so are there correct and incorrect reasons for shuffling Phil.  I have heard plenty of comments along the lines of, “Phil should be in the starting rotation because he’s not a sporadic pitcher with issues stemming from a lack of mental fortitude’ named A.J.”  Similarly, there’s the topic of Burnett’s contract, as Joe astutely notes.

With more than two years left on his deal, Burnett is not going anywhere. The Yankees are not DFAing him, nor are they trading him. That leaves them with limited options. They’ve taken the path of least resistance, which is to continue trotting him out there and hoping for the best. But as has become apparent in the past two seasons, his best might not be enough. He’s been good at times, but he hasn’t sustained his success for any long stretch.

Putting superficial diagnoses of A.J.’s makeup aside, in an ideal world, Hughes would not have his role determined merely by the fact that A.J. is an expensive (albeit ineffective) member of the rotation.  Although Burnett is paid as “a number two guy,” this does not mean does not mean he should be treated as such if performance dictates otherwise (which is the case, I believe, given A.J.’s role on the playoff roster).  Conversely Hughes should not, by default, have his responsibilities influenced by A.J.’s production; rather, whatever path is chosen or Phil should be merited by his own results and ability.

Now, for all intents and purposes, Hughes has shown relatively steady improvement since coming back from the disabled list (although that Oakland start is a bit of an eyesore).  Consider Phil’s game log since returning.  Note: the table excludes yesterday’s results.

Rk Gcar Gtm Date Tm Opp Rslt Inngs Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA BF Pit Str StL StS GB FB LD Exited
1 104 3 Apr 3 NYY DET L,7-10 GS-4 L(0-1) 4.0 5 5 5 2 1 2 0 11.25 19 90 58 15 2 3 13 1 4t 3 out d1
2 105 7 Apr 8 NYY @ BOS L,6-9 GS-2 2.0 7 6 6 2 0 1 0 16.50 14 47 29 8 1 5 7 3 2b 3 out d3
3 106 11 Apr 14 NYY BAL W,6-5 GS-5 4.1 7 5 5 0 2 1 0 13.94 20 70 51 14 4 4 14 4 5t -2- 1 out d4
July Tm Opp Rslt Inngs Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA BF Pit Str StL StS GB FB LD Exited
4 107 85 Jul 6 NYY @ CLE L,3-5 GS-5 L(0-2) 5.0 6 2 2 2 2 0 2 10.57 25 87 57 14 2 7 12 6 5b 3 out d2
5 108 92 Jul 17 NYY @ TOR W,7-2 GS-6 W(1-2) 6.0 4 2 2 2 5 0 0 8.44 24 80 51 13 8 3 14 3 6b 3 out a3
6 109 97 Jul 22 NYY OAK W,17-7 GS-5 4.1 9 7 7 4 3 1 1 9.47 27 98 66 29 4 9 10 5 5t 123 1 out a9
7 110 102 Jul 27 NYY SEA L,2-9 GS-6 L(1-3) 6.0 9 2 2 1 3 0 0 8.24 26 101 65 11 9 7 15 5 6t 3 out d1
August Tm Opp Rslt Inngs Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA BF Pit Str StL StS GB FB LD Exited
8 111 108 Aug 2 NYY @ CHW W,6-0 SHO(6) W(2-3) 6.0 3 0 0 0 4 0 0 6.93 20 65 48 16 5 9 7 0 6b 3 out a4
9 112 113 Aug 7 NYY @ BOS L,2-3 10-GF(10) L(2-4) 0.1 2 1 1 1 0 0 0 7.11 4 13 6 3 0 0 3 1 10b end d 1
NYY 38.0 52 30 30 14 20 5 3 7.11 179
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/14/2011.

Phil had a decent start against Toronto (who probably posed the biggest challenge offensively in terms of opponents faced). The outcome against Seattle (two ER) was good although he did surrender nine hits in the process.  As for Chicago and Tampa Bay, the overall performance was much more satisfactory in all regards.  Hughes’ strikeout and walk ratios were heading in the right direction, his pitch selection was sufficiently mixed, and he was showing better efficiency with his “out pitch.”  Of course, one could certainly make the argument that neither of these clubs are particularly potent.

Yet, is a handful of games enough to warrant a starting rotation spot?  If Yankee Brass feels that Hughes has fully recovered and can sustain these performances going forward, than the answer is unequivocally yes.  A productive starting pitcher is just more valuable to the team.  There’s also the argument to be made that this gives the team the best chance of winning every fifth day.

Realistically speaking however, there’s a very real chance that Hughes will head back to the bullpen for the remainder of the season.  We can pretty much predict the reason for such a shift; well, at least we can predict the reason that will be publicly provided.  Either Cashman or Girardi will say something along the lines that Phil’s stuff will be more effective in the bullpen for the remainder of the season (as proven by his prior experience there).  If we’re “lucky,” we may even hear that an expected uptick in velocity will occur.

This is not the correct reason for this outcome though (at least in my eyes).  I won’t mind Hughes being sent to relief if the team’s rationale is that the postseason is rapidly approaching and the starting rotation for the playoffs doesn’t include Hughes anyway.  Because of the “win now” nature of the organization, I can somewhat rationalize beefing up the bullpen and prolonging Hughes development if it means another potential World Series championship. Also, given Hughes’ shoulder fatigue, it may make sense to limit him down the stretch for the sake of preserving his arm for next year and beyond.