We’ve been rolling out our organizational rankings at FanGraphs over the last two weeks, and today the Yankees officially topped the list for the third straight year. These aren’t just farm system rankings, it’s the entire organization from the majors through the minors and into the front office. I wrote the post, so you should definitely check it out because it’s really awesome.
Got a few quick updates on some injured and returning hurlers…
- Michael Pineda played catch yesterday for the first time since being diagnosed with shoulder tendinitis last week, and the good news is that he played catch again today. Joe Girardi said it’s “safe to say” he won’t be back in the bigs this month, however. [Erik Boland & Bryan Hoch]
- Andy Pettitte is not injured, and in fact it’s quite the opposite. He threw 45 pitches in a bullpen session today and is still on track to throw two innings in a minor league game on Monday. [Boland]
- David Aardsma threw a bullpen session today, his first since having Tommy John surgery last July. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a significant step in the rehab process. [Aardsma]
This offseason seemed to be a little longer than usual, perhaps because the Yankees got knocked out of the playoffs a little earlier than expected. Or maybe it’s because they didn’t get down to any serious hot stove business until the middle of January. Either way, it’s all in the past now. Baseball’s back.
The Yankees open the 2012 regular season at their home away from home today: Tampa, Florida. They didn’t even have to travel after Spring Training ended two days ago. The lineup is relatively unchanged but the pitching staff certainly is, we’re just not going to get to see it this afternoon. CC Sabathia is on the bump for his seventh consecutive Opening Day start and fourth as a Yankee. Here is your lineup…
LHP CC Sabathia
Today’s game starts at 3:10pm ET and can be seen on YES locally or MLB Network nationally. We’re going to chat for the first few innings, so join in the fun after the jump.
Baseball’s back, baby! The Yanks will start shortly, but before they take the field for the first time in 2012 we have a little podcast action for y’all. We’re talking about the 25-man roster, so it goes a little something like this:
- Pineda’s injury and it’s effects on the rotation and him personally.
- The rest of the rotation, including some optimism for Phil Hughes.
- The bench, on which we note one questionable but understandable decision.
- The bullpen, which underwent a few changes in the last week.
- And, of course, the odd, odd lineup that Tampa Bay will trot out today.
Podcast run time 39:59
Here’s how you can listen to podcast:
- Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
- Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
- Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.
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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.
Phelps — who made the Opening Day roster as the long man — obviously wasn’t going to happen for an all-glove backup catcher, and I still feel like even Kontos was a bit too much. Stewart is out of options and San Fran’s hands were tied, they either had to trade him or lose him on waivers for nothing. Did Austin Romine‘s injury really take that much of a bite out of the catching depth?
This season starts right where last season ended. The last time these two clubs met, the Rays swept the Yankees and leapfrogged the Red Sox on the final day of the season to secure a playoff berth. I’m sure you remember that. The Yankees had already clinched everything they could have possibly clinched, so we were all able to sit back and enjoy The Collapse without having to worry about its impact on our beloved Bombers.
That’s all in the past now, and it’s time to look forward to 2012. Both clubs added some new players this offseason — in Tampa’s case a familiar face — and figure to again contend for the AL East crown. Winning the division is much more important now with the new playoff system, so right off the bat this is an important series. Every intra-division game will mean that much more this summer.
With the exception of Raul Ibanez, the Yankees return the same offense that finished second in baseball with a 113 wRC+ in 2011. Any improvement will come in the form of Alex Rodriguez staying healthy, Mark Teixeira pounding the ball the other way as a left-handed hitter, and Nick Swisher avoiding another two-month long slump to open the season. I wouldn’t expect Curtis Granderson to hit 40+ homers again, but that’s only because back-to-back 40+ homer seasons are very rare. He should still whack 30 dingers or so.
The Rays made some more substantial changes to their lineup. Their DHs have posted an unfathomable 94 wRC+ over the last three seasons, easily the lowest among the AL clubs during that time. They tried to rectify that by bringing in Luke Scott, who is coming off shoulder surgery but posted a 140 wRC+ in 2010, his last healthy season. I wouldn’t expect a repeat performance at age 33, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be anything but an upgrade at the DH spot if the shoulder is sound. Carlos Pena (119 wRC+ in 2011) replaced Casey Kotchman (125 wRC+) at first, meaning they’ll actually get some homers out of the position. A full year of Desmond Jennings (131 wRC+) will help as well.
The rest of the Rays offense is the same as it has been for the last few seasons. Evan Longoria (134 wRC+) and Ben Zobrist (131 wRC+) do the heavy lifting while Matt Joyce (129 wRC+) does most of his damage against righties. B.J. Upton (115 wRC+) is widely considered a disappointment, but he’s a productive player who is just entering his peak years and will again threaten 20-30. The shortstop and catcher positions are black holes. Tampa has some power and a lot of speed, and they managed to add some of the former this past winter without really sacrificing much of the latter.
Friday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jamie Shields
Sabathia and Shields split a pair of head-to-head matchups last season, and both guys were brilliant. They each allowed two runs total across 17 and 15.2 innings, respectively. Sabathia is making his ninth career Opening Day start, including his fourth straight in pinstripes. This is Shields’ fourth Opening Day assignment in the last five years. The crafty right-hander likes to pitch backwards, specifically by using his curveball early in the count to batters on both sides of the plate. His put away pitch is that world-class changeup, which he’ll throw in any count. Shields is always a tough assignment, so let’s hope he’s still a little rusty from the offseason.
Saturday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP David Price
The Yankees haven’t been very kind to Mr. Price over the last few years. They roughed him up for six runs in four innings in last year’s season finale, and of course Derek Jeter took him keep for his 3,000th career hit back in July. Price is my Cy Young pick, however. His strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates all improved last year even though it didn’t show up in his ERA. I expect him to take another step forward this year and become that dominant, unquestioned ace. Price uses multiple mid-90s fastballs (four-seamer and two-seamer) and an array of offspeed stuff (changeup, curve, slider). Kuroda has never pitched against the Rays franchise in the regular season, though they did get a look at him in Spring Training a few weeks ago.
Sunday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
Both Hughes and Hellickson have something to prove this year. Hughes has to show that his dreadful 2011 season is a thing of the past and that he’s back to his 2010 form. Hellickson, despite winning the Rookie of the Year award, has to show that his ability to keep runs off the board despite underwhelming peripherals is a skill and not just dumb luck. A 1.49 run difference between ERA and FIP begs for a bigger sample. He could be the rare Matt Cain-esque exception, or he could be due for a huge regression. Hellickson is a changeup specialist like Shields, throwing the pitch nearly 33% of the time last season. He’ll mix in a curveball and two low-90s fastballs. The Yankees had mixed results against him in 2011, a few good games and a few bad ones.
Since this is the first series of the year, both teams have a pretty fresh bullpen. David Robertson is still rounding into form after missing close to three weeks with a bone bruise in his foot, so don’t be surprised if Joe Girardi takes it a little easy on him this first week. Boone Logan is dealing with some back spasms and might not be available right out of the chute. Everyone else is a-okay as far as we know.
The Rays could be without closer Kyle Farnsworth, who is battling an elbow strain that is likely to send him to the DL. They have until game time to make a decision. Righty Joel Peralta and lefty J.P. Howell figure to serve as platoon closers in Farnsworth’s stead. Former Tigers closer Fernando Rodney could also see some ninth inning work. Ground ball specialist Burke Badenhop and hard-throwing lefty Jake McGee fill the middle innings while displaced starter Wade Davis will handle long-man duties. Of course, we have to mention that Tampa’s pitching staff plays up because their defense is so good. Jennings and Upton are fantastic in the outfield while Longoria, Zobrist, and Pena are no worse than rock solid on the infield.
For all the latest info on the Rays, we recommend checking out DRays Bay.
As soon as the Yankees traded Jesus Montero, we knew they were going to have some sort of platoon at DH this year. Andruw Jones was the obvious choice against left-handers, and after a few weeks of rumors, the Yankees settled on Raul Ibanez against right-handers. He’ll be in the lineup this afternoon against Jamie Shields. The DH platoon isn’t that straight-forward, however. Eduardo Nunez is going to be a factor as well.
Joe Girardi confirmed yesterday that Nunez will start Saturday’s game either at shortstop or third base against the left-hander David Price. Either Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez will then serve as the DH, and Andruw figures to step into left field while Brett Gardner rides the bench. Girardi also said that this will be his regular alignment against southpaws. We discussed a similar setup at various points this offseason, but now we know the team is putting the plan in place.
Since last summer, the Yankees have insisted on giving Nunez more playing time this season and this is probably the most logical way to do it. Jeter and especially A-Rod could use the regular rest, and although Gardner’s defense will be missed, his bat won’t be (career 84 wRC+ vs. LHP). Besides, it’s only for a few innings. He’ll surely replace Jones in the later innings of a tie game. Nunez’s bat against southpaws isn’t much better (94 wRC+), but we’re only talking 147 big league plate appearances. His minor league numbers suggest he could be a little better than that going forward.
I’m not Eduardo’s biggest fan, but the Yankees are going to play him whether we like it or not. There’s no harm in seeing what the kid could do given semi-regular at-bats, especially with all this talk about the 2014 payroll and the need to inject some youth into the lineup at some point relatively soon. If it doesn’t work out, then so be it. The Yankees can adjust and figure out a new arrangement. Nothing’s permanent. I do like that they’re being somewhat creative and aren’t employing a straight platoon though, this could yield some big results if it means a healthier A-Rod and Nunez proves useful.