The Five Biggest Yankees Hits of 2011

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Yesterday afternoon I looked at the five longest homers of the Yankees season, but that was more for fun than anything else. A homerun counts the same whether it goes 315 ft. or 550 ft., but the timing of the homer can increase its impact on the game. This morning I’m going to look at the five biggest hits of the Yankees season in terms of Win Probability Added, or WPA. Hannah did something very similar a few weeks ago, looking at the biggest hits by Leverage Index, or LI. If you don’t understand the difference between WPA and LI, Joe’s got you covered right here. There is some overlap between my list and Hannah’s list, but not much.

A little later today I’m going to have something on what I think was the biggest single hit of the season from an emotional/intangible/fanboy point of view, a hit that doesn’t crack the top five of my list or Hannah’s. With some help from the Baseball-Reference Play Index (subs. req’d), here are the five biggest hits of the season by WPA…

May 11th: Curtis Granderson vs. Joakim Soria (video) (WPA Graph)

The fifth biggest hit of the year came not only in a game the Yankees lost, but it was the also the first game of that ugly six-game losing streak in mid-May. A.J. Burnett went seven strong against the Royals, but David Robertson (of all people) allowed Kansas City to tie it in the eighth. Buddy Carlyle (remember him?) gave up a go-ahead double to Jeff Francoeur in the top of the tenth, and a few minutes later Soria was brought in to protect the one-run lead.

Soria was having a rough start to the season, and that showed when he walked Russell Martin on four pitches to open the inning. Brett Gardner bunted him over to second, then Derek Jeter moved him to third with a ground out. That brought Granderson to the plate with two outs, seven innings after he hit a solo homer off Vin Mazzaro. The Royals closer fed him a 2-2 curveball, but that sucker hung like crazy (watch the video, total hanger) and Curtis lined it to right for a game-tying single. It was the biggest hit of the game at +0.40 WPA, but unfortunately Carlyle allowed the Royals to retake the lead in the 11th, leading to the eventual loss.

May 24th: Curtis Granderson vs. Frank Francisco (video) (WPA Graph)

The Grandyman was in full blown beast mode at this point of the season, coming into this game with a .260/.335/.607 batting line with 16 homers in just 46 team games. He beefed up that batting line with three hits in his first four at-bats, but it was his fourth hit that did the most damage.

CC Sabathia struggled through the first 3.1 IP of the game, allowing four runs on eight hits, but he settled down and retired 17 of the final 18 men he faced, including the last 16 in a row. The Blue Jays were up one heading into the bottom of the ninth, and it was Jorge Posada who started the comeback rally with a one-out double to right-center as a pinch-hitter replacement for Eduardo Nunez. Chris Dickerson pinch-ran, then moved to third on another Jeter ground out. Frankie Frank came after Curtis with a 2-1 breaking ball (another hanger), and the Yanks’ center fielder grounded it past the first baseman for a game-tying single. He then proceeded to steal second and score the winning run on Mark Teixeira‘s walk-off ground ball single, but it was his +0.40 WPA game-tying knock that takes home the title of fourth biggest hit of the season.

Sept. 3rd: Robinson Cano vs. Casey Janssen (video) (WPA Graph)

The Yankees had just moved past the Red Sox in the standings and taken hold of first place in the AL East, and now they were trying to hang onto it for dear life. Starters Bartolo Colon and Ricky Romero had given up a bunch of runs early, but Toronto nursed a 4-3 lead into the seventh inning. Romero got the first two outs on line drives to dead center, but then started to unravel by hitting Granderson with a pitch and walking Alex Rodriguez on four straight.

Janssen, who came into the game with a 1.99 ERA and a 43-13 K/BB in 45.1 IP, jumped ahead of Cano 0-2 before the Yankees second baseman worked it back to 2-2. The sixth pitch of the at-bat, a cutter, was left right out over the plate, and Robinson smoked it into the gap to score both Granderson and A-Rod, turning a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead. Nick Swisher tacked on an insurance run with a single one batter later, and Robertson made the lead stand up with a two-inning save while filling in for the overworked Mariano Rivera. This game will probably be better remembered for Jesus Montero‘s first career hit, but it’s Cano’s +0.41 WPA double that had the most impact. The Yankees maintained their lead over the Sox and didn’t look back.

April 14th: Jorge Posada vs. Kevin Gregg (video) (WPA Graph)

Posada had a great start to the season and a great ALDS, but he didn’t do much of anything in between. The Yankees trailed the Orioles 5-4 heading into the ninth inning of their 11th game of the season, with newly signed closer Kevin Gregg coming on to nail things down for the Fightin’ Showalters. Posada, 0-for-3 on the day to that point, wasted no time tying things up, jumping all over a first pitch fastball for a game-tying solo homer into the Yankees bullpen to knot the game up at five. Swisher would give his team the walk-off win one inning later, but it was Jorge’s solo shot that made it all possible. At +0.43 WPA, it was the second biggest hit of the season.

August 25th: Russell Martin vs. Fautino De Los Santos (video) (WPA Graph)

Seems kinda weird that the biggest hit of the season comes in a game the Yankees won 22-9, doesn’t it? The game wasn’t always that lopsided though, the Yankees scored a dozen runs in their last two offensive innings to put things out of reach. The A’s smacked Phil Hughes around early before Cano hit a grand slam off Rich Harden to turn a 7-2 game into a 7-6 game. The big hit came one inning later.

Craig Breslow took over for Harden in the middle of the fifth, and stayed in the game to start the sixth. He plunked Granderson with the first pitch of the inning, but got the first out when Teixeira lined out to left. In came De Los Santos, who immediately walked A-Rod on five pitches and allowed the two runners to move up to second and third on a wild pitch. Cano went down hacking for the second out of the inning, and Oakland chose to intentionally walk Swisher to load the bases for Martin.

Santos, and extremely hard-thrower, jumped ahead with a first pitch fastball before throwing a pitch in the dirt for ball one. The intentional walk seemed curious because Martin had been 2-for-2 with a walk and a homer already in the game, and he made it 3-for-3 with a walk and two homers when he drove the 1-1 fastball over the right-center field wall to turn a 7-6 deficit into a 10-7 lead. This game will forever be remembered as The Three Grand Slam Game (capital letters are important), but it was Martin’s salami that registered as the biggest Yankees hit of the 2011 season at +0.45 WPA.

Open Thread: The Old Bullpen

That doesn’t look very welcoming, does it? That’s a picture of the bullpen (presumably the home bullpen) at the Old Yankee Stadium, a grimy place that looks more like a Penn Station bathroom than a place where million dollar athletes spend the big chunk of their day. I’m certain the New Stadium has state-of-the-art bullpen quarters, or at least I hope it does for the relievers’ sake. Yuck. The picture comes courtesy of Andy Gray, by the way.

Anyway, here is your open thread for this baseball-less night. The Rangers are playing, but they’re on the west coast and don’t start until 10pm ET. That’s it for local sports. What a depressing weekday evening. Talk about whatever you want here, have at it.

Jesus Montero will not play winter ball

Via Chad Jennings, the Yankees have decided to have Jesus Montero skip winter ball this year. Montero is on the roster of the Navegantes del Magallanes in his native Venezuela, but it’s just a placeholder spot. The plan is to put him on a strength and conditioning program, but nothing more.

In other winter ball news, the Yankees will allow Eduardo Nunez to play this offseason, presumably back home in the Dominican Republic. They would like him to get reps in the outfield, but because he has so little service time, the Yankees are unable to control how he’s used. It’s up to his winter ball team. Hector Noesi will be starting in the winter ball, and Brian Cashman confirmed to Jennings that the right-hander will be held to a strict pitch count.

An unlikely tandem in right field

Look, guys: Mike started it. Me? I love Nick Swisher. I want him patrolling right field in Yankee Stadium next year, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the Yankees ink him to a three-year extension afterward. But no. Mike had to be all like, they should pick up his option and trade him and they should totally trade him for Shaun Marcum. Thanks, Mike. Thanks a lot. So now in the hypothetical world of RAB the Yankees are without a right fielder. Oh, and guess what? Brian Sabean just gave Carlos Beltran four years at $60 million. So where’s the hypothetical RAB right fielder now?

The Yankees do have a few guys in the system who could tag team in right field. Chris Dickerson spent plenty of time with the big league club this year, and has about a season’s worth of MLB at-bats under his belt. He has been almost perfectly league average in that span, a 103 wRC+, so he could probably hold his own in a platoon situation. Think Karim Garcia in the second half of 2003. Not an ideal solution, but you could do worse with half a platoon.

The right-handed side gets a little trickier. The Yankees clearly have little regard for Greg Golson. Unless they plan to go with Nunez as the primary backup at 2B, SS, 3B, RF, and LF — thus freeing up a few bench spots — chances are Golson, who is out of options, won’t be with the team come April. The alternative is Justin Maxwell, whom the Yankees claimed off waivers from the Nationals last spring. Like Dickerson, Maxwell has major league experience, producing a 91 wRC+ in 260 PA. He’s clearly a flawed player, but he does have some pop. Perhaps limiting his appearances to just lefties would help prod him along. He’s been quite a deal better against them in limited major league duty, and he absolutely crushed them in the minors.

Really? A Chris Dickerson/Justin Maxwell platoon in right field? As if. While they’re certainly an unlikely tandem, especially for the Yankees, they’re not the pair to whom I refer in the post title. But they are on the 40-man roster, which makes them a bit more likely than, say, two players who aren’t on the roster. Or, to be more accurate, one who is on the roster but will not be once the World Series ends, and one whom most Yankees fans would probably decry before the ink dried on his contract. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a platoon alternative to Nick Swisher:

Andruw Jones and J.D. Drew. Please, hold your rotten vegetables until the end.

Jones we all know from his time with the Yankees this season. After a slow start he really came around, punishing baseballs delivered from left hands. It’s clear that he’s no longer a full-time player, nor is he in any way an elite defender. But he can hold his own, especially in the relatively small right field of Yankee Stadium. A few people would rather see him depart, I’m sure, but given what’s on the market and what’s in the Yankees system, if they were to trade Swisher it’s hard to argue that the Yankees would be better off with anyone else, within reason, as the right-handed half of a RF platoon.

It’s Drew that will make many fans cringe. To those who have followed his career only in passing he’s an oft-injured softie who, given the opportunity, will make like Jason Giambi in the 2003 World Series. But that ignores the massive good Drew has done throughout his career. Sure, his .222/.315/.302 line from 2011 is fresh in everyone’s minds, but someone with his career resume probably has something left in the tank. He did hit .264/.370/.455 during his five years with the Red Sox, and was .275/.382/.478 against right-handed pitching. The right-field porch could help add some pop, leaving him as a decent one-year stopgap solution in a platoon role.

Convinced? Good, because I’m not, either. Yet this is an example of what the Yankees could have in right field if they opt to move Swisher. The only other alternative is to explore the trade market, but that’s never a sound primary strategy. It’s tough to determine what teams will trade a quality player at any given position, and even tougher to determine what they want in return. You can try to figure out a trade that would net the Yankees a right fielder, but may I remind you that your trade proposal sucks.

The Yankees have a fine right fielder in Nick Swisher. If you don’t believe me, check out Larry Koestler’s post on the matter. Given the alternatives in right field, the Yankees are pretty clearly best served by picking up Swisher’s option and returning him to the position he’s manned for the past three seasons. Unless, you know, you want a Jones/Drew or a Dickerson/Maxwell platoon in his stead.

The Five Longest Yankees Homers of 2011

For the second time in three years, the Yankees led the majors in homeruns in 2011, whacking 222 balls over the fence during the 162-game regular season. It was just about a 55-45 split between home (122 homers) and road (100), probably not as extreme as you might expect given Yankee Stadium‘s cozy right field porch. Unsurprisingly, a number of those 222 homers were absolute moonshots, traveling well beyond the MLB average of 396.3 ft.

With some help from Hit Tracker, let’s look at the five longest homers hit by a Yankee this season. Surprisingly, that Andruw Jones blast you see above did not make the cut.

May 6th: Curtis Granderson vs. Matt Harrison (video)

The Yankees were in the middle of a stretch to forget in early-May, coming into this Friday night game in Texas having lost three straight and six of their last ten games. Thankfully, the Grandyman gave his team some breathing room with a first inning homer off the lefty Harrison, a two-run shot thanks to Derek Jeter‘s leadoff single. The 1-1 fastball traveled 443 ft., and landed in the second deck in right-center field, well beyond (and above) the Rangers bullpen. For good measure, Granderson hit another homer later in the game, but that one only traveled 411 ft.

August 16th: Robinson Cano vs. Danny Duffy (video)

Not only was this the fourth longest homer of the Yankees season, it was also their third longest plate appearance. The Yanks and Royals had been trading blows for the first three innings of this game, and Mark Teixeira had just singled in a run to make it 5-5 when Cano stepped to the plate. Duffy appeared to be running on fumes, and sure enough he fell behind in the count 3-1. That’s when Robbie started hacking. He fouled off seven straight pitches – fastballs, sliders, you name it – before the rookie southpaw hung a breaking ball on the 12th pitch of the at-bat. The no-doubt shot landed just shy of the fountains in right-center, 449 ft. from home plate. The homer gave the Yankees an 8-5 lead in a game they would eventually win 9-7.

August 24th: Mark Teixeira vs. Grant Balfour (video)

One week after Cano’s shot, Tex one-upped him with a game-tying, eighth inning solo shot. The Yankees were down 3-2 when Balfour grooved a 3-1 fastball belt-high and right over the plate to the first batter he faced. It was long gone off the bat, a mammoth 450 ft. blast that landed halfway up the bleachers in right-center. The Yankees went on to lose the game in extra innings, but they only got that far because of Teixeira.

April 9th: Robinson Cano vs. Al Aceves (video)

The Yankees didn’t win very many games against the Red Sox early in the season, but the one time they did beat them in April, they did so on the strength of four homers. The third of those four homers came with the good guys up 7-4 in the sixth inning with Aceves, the former Yankee, on the bump. The Mexican Gangster quickly got ahead of Cano, but the 0-2 fastball was too far up in the zone and Robbie tomahawked it into deep right field for a solo homer. The ball landed in an exit ramp about halfway up the stands, and like Teixeira’s shot off Balfour, it traveled 450 ft.

June 10th: Alex Rodriguez vs. Fausto Carmona (video)

Coming out of a stretch in which he went deep just five times in 182 plate appearances, A-Rod was in the middle of a homer binge in early-June. He’d hit two balls out of the park in the five games prior to this one, and he hit one out the next day as well. This sixth inning solo homer traveled further than them all though. The Yankees had jumped all over Carmona for an early 5-0 lead, but he was left in the game to take one for the team and spare the bullpen. The 2-0 sinker ran right back over the plate, and Alex launched the pitch to dead center field. It landed just to the left of the restaurant and in the first row of the left field bleachers, beyond Monument Park. At 460 ft., it was a) the longest homerun hit by a Yankee in 2011, b) the 29th longest homer hit by any player in 2011, and c) the second longer homer in the history of New Yankee Stadium.

What Went Wrong: Phil Hughes

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The 2010 season was something of a breakout for Phil Hughes. The right-hander stayed healthy all year and performed just a touch better than league average in terms of ERA (4.19), FIP (4.25), and xFIP (4.13) across 176.1 IP, and the Yankees counted on him to solidify a patchwork rotation coming out of Spring Training a few months ago. The problem was that his velocity had vanished in March, and it never did pick up as the team expected it would after a few starts.

Miguel Cabrera and the rest of the Tigers smacked Hughes around for five runs in four innings in his first start of the season, in what would eventually become the Yankees first loss of 2011. The Red Sox battered him for six runs in two innings five days later, and through two starts, Phil had generated just three swings and misses out of 137 pitches. He had walked four and struck out just one, and the fastball was sitting in the danger zone of 87-88 mph.

The Yankees finally pulled the plug after Hughes’ third start, in which the Orioles hung five runs on him in 4.1 IP. They put him on the disabled list with what was termed a “dead arm” after originally planning to send him to the minors, and they starting pumping him with anti-inflammatories. “After 30 pitches, there was nothing there,” said Hughes. “I felt like a reliever who had thrown four straight days. Something had to be done. My velocity’s just not there. My arm feels dead. This will able me to build arm strength and get this right.”

The plan was to put Hughes on a throwing program after a few days of rest, and things went well at first. He was ready to start a minor league rehab assignment about two weeks after his start against the Orioles, but the team cut short a bullpen session after just a dozen pitches and called it a “setback.” Hughes was sent for an MRI the next day, and after some concerns about low-level thoracic outlet syndrome, it was announced that he’d miss another six-to-eight weeks with shoulder inflammation that was bad enough to require a cortisone shot. While all that was going on, a report came out that Hughes showed up to camp out of shape, leading to speculation about how it may have contributed to his arm troubles.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

More rest and more rehab followed. The Yankees put their right-hander on a Spring Training-esque throwing program, which stretched him out over an extended period of time. A simulated inning soon followed, and then a few more after that. After throwing 49 pitches in one of those simulated games, Hughes was deemed ready for a minor league rehab assignment. He made a total of three rehab starts, striking out eight and holding his velocity deep into the game the final time out. Ready to return to the rotation, the team made the decision to demote Ivan Nova to Triple-A in favor of Hughes in early-July.

The first start back was okay at best; Phil allowed two runs in five innings against the Indians, striking out two and getting just a pair of swings and misses out of 87 pitches. He looked better in his next start (two runs in six innings against the Jays) eleven days later (with the All-Star break in between), then got completely shellacked by the punchless Athletics next time out (seven runs in 4.1 IP). Hughes’ velocity had returned to the 91-92 range, and he rattled off four straight quality starts after that (five runs in 25.2 IP), but Oakland again hit him around in late-August (six runs in 2.2 IP) and the Red Sox did the same a few days later (six runs in 5.2 IP).

Hughes started September with a pair of strong starts against the Orioles and Mariners (three runs in 12 IP), but back inflammation flared up and kept him out of action for two weeks (rain contributed to that a bit as well). The Yankees brought him back strictly as a reliever and kept him in that role through the postseason. In four relief outings at the end of September and in the ALDS, Phil did not allow a run in five innings (three hits, three walks, six strikeouts). As expected, his velocity jumped into the 94-95 range in relief, and he generated eleven swings and misses with 90 pitches.

All told, Hughes pitched to 5.79 ERA with a 4.58 FIP in 74.2 IP in 2011. Even if you disregard his first three starts, when he clearly wasn’t right, he still had a 4.48 ERA with a ~3.90 ERA in 64.1 post-DL innings. His strikeout and swing and miss rates dipped to 5.67 K/9 and 6.2%, respectively, well-below-average and down considerably from 2010. Was the decline the result of poor conditioning? Poor mechanics? The 80.1 IP jump from 2009 to 2010? All of the above? Something else all together? We all have our theories, but the only thing we know for sure is that Hughes heads into the 2012 season as a giant question mark.

Yankees ties to the World Series

(Photo via CBS Sports)

For the second consecutive year, the Yankees are not playing in the World Series this fall (oh what a horrible drought!), but that doesn’t mean they’re an afterthought. There are Yankees ties to both the Cardinals and Rangers, thanks in part due to the age of free agency and non-stop transactions. Texas knocking the New York out of the playoffs last year is another connection as well, but that’s not really the angle I was planning to take.

Two players on the Cardinals once suited up for the Yankees, and two current Yankees helped get the Rangers to the Fall Classic in consecutive years by virtue of their departures. Let’s dig in…

Lance Berkman

More than anything, Berkman is the reason why I’m pulling for the Cardinals in the World Series. A platoon DH for the Yankees late last year, Puma hit a respectable .255/.358/.349 in 123 regular season plate appearances (.298/.404/.417 in his final 99 PA) before emerging as the team’s third best hitter in the postseason (.313/.368/.688). He became far more important than expected in the ALCS thanks to Mark Teixeira‘s hamstring injury in Game Four.

One of the conditions of the trade that brought Berkman to New York was that the Yankees could not exercise his $15M option for 2011, which was perfectly fine because he had all the look of a declining and increasingly injury-prone player. Fat Elvis signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals, had a monster season (.402 wOBA) that won him Comeback Player of the Year honors, and will bat cleanup behind Albert Pujols in the Fall Classic. Go Puma go.

Mark Teixeira

There’s not a direct Yankees-Rangers relationship here, but there’s no doubt that current Yankee Mark Teixeira helped the Rangers get to where they are today. Less than a month after reportedly turning down an eight-year, $140M extension offer, Tex was traded by Texas to the Braves (along with Ron Mahay) for a five-player package that included starting shortstop Elvis Andrus, closer Neftali Feliz, and likely Game Four starter Matt Harrison. That’s some haul, the gold standard when it comes to trading elite hitters.

Alex Rodriguez

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

A-Rod‘s connection to the Rangers and their success is a bit more concrete than Teixeira’s, at least from the Yankees point of view. When the Yankees acquired Alex in exchange for Alfonso Soriano and Robinson Cano Joaquin Arias in 2004, Texas gained more than $112M worth of financial flexibility through the 2010 season. That money was redistributed in a multitude of ways; some of it went to Michael Young and his long-term deal, and some was invested in prospects via the draft and international free agency (Derek Holland, Mitch Moreland, Alexi Ogando). Who knows how they rest was spent. That money wouldn’t have been available to the team if the Yankees hadn’t taken A-Rod off the Rangers’ hands.

Octavio Dotel

There’s not much connection here, especially since Dotel has seemingly played for all 30 teams at one time or another, but the right-hander did appear in 14 games (10 IP, 18 H, 13 R, 11 BB, 7 K) for the 2006 Yankees. They signed him off the scrap heap following his Tommy John surgery, rehabbed him for the first half of the season, then stuck him in the bullpen for the stretch run. It didn’t work out. Five years later, Dotel is still slinging it at age 37, this time in middle relief for the Cardinals.

* * *

There are a few other very loose ties (Cards backup catcher Gerald Laird is Brandon’s brother), but those four up there cover most of it. Berkman is the most obvious connection, but I think it’s clear that the Tex and A-Rod stuff will have more impact in this World Series in the grand scheme of things.