Mark Teixeira’s Kansas City Turnaround

This baseball has left the yard. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

If anyone needed a hot start to the year, it was Mark Teixeira. After coming off a second straight season in which he fell short of expectations, everyone was expecting more. Yet Teixeira turned in yet another dismal April performance, hitting .244/.290/.395. Of course, when looking at Teixeira, April is hardly an indicator of things to come.

Last season Teixeira had the best April of his career, hitting .256/.392/.549, but we all saw how that ended. From May through September he hit .247/.332/.485, ending with a 119 OPS+ — his worst mark since his rookie season. In 2010 he got off to the worst April of his career, hitting .136/.300/.259, but hit .275/.376/.515 from May through September to finish the season with a 124 OPS+. He also started slowly in 2007, hitting .231/.346/.341, but ended the season with a 149 OPS+, which was the best of his career at that point (and is still the second best of his career).

What stood out about Teixeira’s April 2012 was his lack of walks and his lack of power. His ISO of .151 wasn’t the worst April of his career power-wise, but it ranks down there. More startling was his walk rate, just 5.4 percent, by far and wide the lowest rate of his career in April. Yet he’s turned things around on both fronts. And it all seemed to come together during the Kansas City series.

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As you can see, both his walk rate and his extra base hit rate (XBH/AB) took a nosedive early on, recovering around the same time. The XBH% stopped diving in Game 24, the first game against Kansas City, when he doubled. Three games later he drew two walks, ending the walk rate nose dive. Since then everything has trended upward, and he’s hitting .333/.425/.683 in 73 PA since they left Kansas City.

There’s another Kansas City connection, too. Teixeira sat during the Cincinnati series on the weekend of May 19th, to help alleviate the cough that has pestered him all season. Kansas City came to town right after Cincinnati, and Teixeira was back in the starting lineup. Since then he’s gone 12 for 25 with four doubles, four homers, and six walks. It’s a small stretch to be sure, but clearly something has changed with Teixeira. He’s gradually improving, and his numbers are starting to round into form.

The last two seasons have been tough for Teixeira, especially since they weren’t quite expected. When the Yankees signed him he was a proven producer who was right in the middle of his prime. Not only did he own a 134 OPS+, but he had just averaged a 150 OPS+ in his previous two seasons. A career .290/.378/.541 hitter who played a slick first base, he didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would drop off a cliff. He’s since admitted his issues, which is the first step to recovery. If this really is Teixeira’s hard work finally coming to fruition, the Yankees will have added a weapon that they mostly missed the last two years. For a team struggling to bring home runners on base, that could make a huge difference for the next 114 games.

Yankees claim Ryota Igarashi off waivers from Blue Jays

Via Dan Barbarisi, the Yankees have claimed right-handed reliever Ryota Igarashi off waivers from the Blue Jays. He’s been optioned to Triple-A Empire State and Brad Meyers was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot.

Igarashi, 33, owns a 6.17 ERA and a 4.42 FIP in 70 big league innings with the Mets and Blue Jays. He can strike guys out with a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s splitter (8.87 K/9 and 20.6 K%), but he’s also walk prone (6.17 BB/9 and 14.3 BB%). Seems like a move designed to add a little up-and-down bullpen depth due to David Robertson‘s injury.

2012 Draft: Nick Wittgren

The 2012 amateur draft is less than one week away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some prospects individually rather than lump them together into larger posts.

Nick Wittgren | RHP

Wittgren was raised in Lafayette, Indiana and attended Parkland Community College (Illinois) for one year before transferring to Purdue. He was a shortstop in high school and didn’t begin pitching full-time until arriving at Parkland.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 205 lbs., Wittgren is a career reliever and owns an 88/19 K/BB with 21 saves in 84 innings for the Boilermakers over the last two springs. Although his fastball only sits at 89-91 and touches 93 on most days, the pitch plays up and generates swings and misses because of the deception in his delivery. His power curveball in the upper-70s/low-80s gives Wittgren a legitimate put-away offering. He throws both pitches for strikes despite his relative inexperience.

Considered a 7th-10th round type of talent, Wittgren starred on the Cape Cod League last summer is exactly the type of prospect the Yankees usually target in the later rounds — a strike-throwing reliever with two good pitches and a track record of success. Slot money for the post-fifth round is under $160k and that won’t net you any future stars, but it’s a solid investment for a potentially quick-moving bullpen arm. The expected return on a pick that late is basically zero anyway.

Injury Updates: Gardner, Aardsma, Robertson

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Got a few updates on the walking wounded down in Florida…

  • Brett Gardner took some dry swings in Tampa yesterday and didn’t report any problems with his strained right elbow. Soon enough he’ll hit in the cage, then in batting practice, then in minor league rehab games. Joe Girardi said he’s at least ten days away from rejoining the team. [George King]
  • David Aardsma is going to face hitters this Friday for the first time in over a year. He had hip surgery then Tommy John surgery last season. Aardsma threw breaking balls for the first time as part of his rehab just two weeks ago, so it’s pretty surprising to see him on track to face hitters so soon. Usually guys will throw breaking balls on the side for a few weeks before taking another step forward in their rehab. [Aardsma on Twitter]
  • As I mentioned earlier this morning, David Robertson played catch in Tampa yesterday and reported no problems with his left oblique strain. He’ll do the same again today and hopefully be able to get back up on the mound later this week. Robertson’s going to need some minor league rehab appearances before returning to the bullpen, so his return is not imminent. [Chad Jennings]

Boone Logan, Relief Ace

A smile! (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Boone Logan is the Yankees’ relief ace right now. A year ago that would have been pretty scary, but a new emphasis on his slider has morphed the 27-year-old left-hander into a strikeout machine — 36.3% of all batters this season (38.8% vs. LHB and 32.2% vs. RHB) — and the team’s most consistently reliable reliever in 2012. Rafael Soriano has been solid in the late innings and Cory Wade continues to get outs with his finesse approach, but Logan has emerged as the team’s best reliever in the wake of Mariano Rivera‘s and David Robertson‘s injuries.

Along with increased effectiveness comes increased responsibility, and Boone has assumed a prominent late-inning role this month. So prominent that Joe Girardi didn’t use him in obvious matchup situation last night because it was still too early in the game. With the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning of a one-run game, Girardi used right-hander David Phelps to pitch to Kendrys Morales despite the switch-hitter’s massive platoon split: .352 wOBA vs. RHP and .214 wOBA (with a .000 ISO!) vs. LHP. Sure enough, Morales doubled in two costly runs.

“If I was going to turn (Kendrys) around I was going to do it with Boonie, and Boonie’s one of the guys I use in the seventh and the eighth now,” said Girardi after the game. “So I just felt it was too early.”

Logan eventually did face Morales, with two outs and the bases empty in the eighth inning, after the Yankees scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie. He faced only the one batter. That’s the double-edged sword of having a reliever emerge as a bullpen force, they get pigeon-holed into specific innings. Using Phelps to face Morales in the sixth inning didn’t cost the Yankees the game last night but it didn’t exactly help their cause either. When Robertson gets healthy, it’ll be nice to see Logan used a little more liberally in the middle innings.

The majority of the voters in this morning’s poll want to see Soriano on the mound when the game is on the line but I couldn’t disagree more. With all due to respect to the fill-in closer — who has been very good following the injuries despite his knack for baserunners — Logan has been more effective this season and he’s the guy I want out there in big spots, even if there’s a right-hander at the plate. Of course using your best reliever in the biggest spot of the game is far easier said than done, but sometimes, like last night, the situation is staring you right in the face.

Poll: With the game on the line…

(REUTERS/Alex Gallardo)

The Yankees lost their two best late-game relievers to injury this month, forcing everyone in the bullpen to jump up two notches in responsibility. The eighth and ninth innings have been fine, but we saw the trickle down effect of not having Mariano Rivera and David Robertson last night when David Phelps was brought into the game with the bases loaded in the sixth and was later allowed to pitch through a bases loaded jam in the seventh. It’s trial by fire.

Robertson played catch yesterday for the second time since injuring his oblique about three weeks ago and reported no problems. He still needs to throw off a mound and in a few minor league rehab games before rejoining the team, but the good news is that he doesn’t seem to be too far off. Until he returns, the Yankees and Joe Girardi are going to have to get what they can out of this crop of relievers and ask some guys to pitch in big spots. Phelps allowed a two-run double in that sixth inning but otherwise did okay.

Last night’s game got me thinking about the current state of the bullpen sans Robertson and Mo, specifically about the most reliable arm out there right now. The Yankees are forced to use guys like Phelps in familiar roles due to injury, but they still have some really effective late-game relievers at their disposal. The question is, who do you think is the most reliable? Who is the team’s relief ace at the moment? I’m going to expand on this a little later, but I wanted to get your thoughts first.

Who do you want on the mound with the game on the line?
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Eight runs not enough, Angels walk-off with win

Source: FanGraphs

When you score eight runs and the other team has to get a full 27 outs from their bullpen, you really need to win. The Yankees didn’t on Monday, instead losing a 9-8 game to the Angels on a walk-off homer by Mark Trumbo. Pretty gross. Let’s recap…

  • Stranded: The Yankees left eleven men on-base and went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position, kinda hard to believe when they still managed eight runs. Blame the Angels and some hilarious errors. The most glaring RISPFAIL came in the top of the ninth, when Derek Jeter grounded out with the bases loaded and two outs on the first pitch he saw from Jordan Walden, the right-hander’s 32nd pitch in his second inning of work. The Yankees wouldn’t bat again.
  • Hughesless: Phil Hughes was just awful, giving up four runs in the bottom of the first after the offense spotted him three runs in the top half and Jered Weaver left the game with a back injury. The Angels were hitting rockets all over the field all night, including one that caused Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher to collide in right-center. They were both fine. Hughes of course gave up the obligatory homer — at least one in all ten starts this season — to go along with seven runs and a career-high eleven hits allowed in 5.1 innings. After four strong starts, you hope this is just a blip on the radar. Phil’s not getting the benefit of the doubt from me though. The sooner the Yankees come up with a better starter, the better.
  • The Russ Bus: As bad as Russell Martin has been this season, he came up with a huge hit with two outs in the seventh. His two-strike, two-run double down the left field line tied the game just one inning after the Angels stretched their lead to three runs. Eight runs is supposed to be enough, especially against a bad offensive team like the Halos.
  • Leftovers: Granderson hit a solo homer, his first dinger outside of Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards this season … Mark Teixeira also hit a solo homer, his fourth homer of the road trip and one of five times he reached base (single, homer, three walks) … Swisher (sac fly) and Eric Chavez (two walks) were the only starters without a hit … David Phelps was pretty shaky, but he did the job in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings with Cody Eppley and Boone Logan before Cory Wade allowed the walk-off homer to start the ninth. has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the advances stats, and ESPN the updated standings. Anaheim needed nine innings and 164 pitches out of its bullpen but neither Ernesto Frieri nor Scott Downs pitched, and those two will likely be enough behind Dan Haren on Tuesday given his reputation for soaking up innings. Andy Pettitte will look to get his team back on track after their five-game winning streak came to an end.