Fan Confidence: July 18th, 2011

Record Last Week: 2-2 (19 RS, 26 RA)
Season Record:
55-37 (474 RS, 360 RA, 58-34 pythag. record), one game back in the loss column
Opponents This Week:
@ Rays (four games, Mon. to Thurs.), vs. Athletics (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

{democracy:168}

Hughes solid as Yanks salvage series in Toronto

The first two games of the series were pretty ugly, but it looked like the Yankees woke up before the third game and continued to play well into the finale today. The 7-2 win salvaged the four-game series with a split, which is pretty good considering how the the games went on Thursday and Friday.

Look, it curved!

Phil Hughes, Actually Not Terrible

Earlier this week we passed along a story about how Hughes and pitching coach Larry Rothschild were working on a new/old curveball grip and refining his mechanics, exactly the kind of story I tend to brush off. I’ll believe it when I see it. A new grip/refined mechanics is the “best shape of his life” for pitchers; it usually means little and is more of an excuse. Well we saw the new curveball on Sunday. I can’t say I saw the change in mechanics, I don’t exactly have the eye for that stuff, but the curveball was noticeably sharper. It didn’t just float and tumble, it had actual bite.

Hughes averaged 91.25 mph with his fastball and topped out at 92.8, and he held it well throughout the game. He could barely go six pitches before his velocity dropped in April. The location was better as well. Toronto batters swung and missed at eight of his 80 pitches, six times at the fastball. Three of those whiffs came in one at-bat against J.P. Arencibia in the fourth, when Hughes fed him three straight fastball for the strikeout. It was the first time all year we saw him actually overpower a hitter. He got better and more efficient as the game went on, throwing 20 pitches in the first and 18 in the second, before 13, 14, six, and nine in his final four frames, respectively. The Blue Jays had four hits off him (two for extra bases) and drew two walks, but the important thing is that they fouled off just 13 pitches. Usually that number is in the 30’s for Phil.

It was an all-around solid performance against a generally mediocre offense missing its best player, but it’s the best Hughes has looked in quite some time. Joe Girardi lifted him after just six innings with those 80 pitches, but he probably could have run him back out there for the seventh. I can understand wanting to take him out on a high note, but at some point they have to start letting Hughes go 100+ pitches if they expect him to stay in the rotation the rest of the year. Looking ahead to the rest of the schedule, Phil’s next two starts will be at home against the punchless Athletics and Mariners. If that’s not a chance to build confidence, nothing is. Hughes took a positive step forward in this game, but nothing more. He’s not out of the woods yet.

I am your worst nightmare.

Brett Gardner, Leadoff Hitter

Yawn, three more hits and a walk for Gardner in this game, this time from the leadoff spot with Derek Jeter getting the day off. Gardner led the game off by falling behind in the count 0-2, working the count back to 2-2, then singling back up the middle after an eight pitch at-bat. He then stole second (his 11th straight successful steal) and scored on Nick Swisher‘s single. Gardner singled to right as part of a four-run fourth inning, coming around to score on Curtis Granderson‘s double. Gardner then beat out an infield single in the seventh (was erased on a fielder’s choice on batter later) and walked in the ninth, scoring on Granderson single after yet another steal (12th straight). He scored three of their seven runs.

All told, Gardner had ten hits and a walk in 17 plate appearances during the series, stealing three bases in three attempts and striking out exactly zero times. They might not let him through customs next time they’re in Toronto. He ran into a little rut in late-June/early-July, but Gardner is up to .286/.364/.418 with 26 steals on the season, and .326/.400/.480 in his last 255 plate appearances. It’s been obvious that he should be leading off for quite some time, and there’s really no reason not to with Alex Rodriguez hurt. Slide everyone down a notch so Derek Jeter bats second, Granderson third, Mark Teixeira fourth, and so on. Give me a valid reason why they shouldn’t. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

A Perfect Bullpen

The first two games of the series really taxed the bullpen, and Mariano Rivera had an uncharacteristically long outing on Saturday, so it was refreshing to see some solid bullpen work. Not just solid, perfect. Nine up, nine down for Cory Wade, David Robertson, and Boone Logan. The first two struck out one batter apiece while Logan fanned the side, including lefties Adam Lind and Travis Snider. Fine way to end the series.

On the base, not tagged. So much wrong on one play.

Leftovers

Gardner drove the offense, but Granderson also had a single and a double, Teixeira a single and a walk, Robinson Cano a single, and Swisher two singles. Russell Martin used the power of the Russtache to double the other way. He saw just six pitches in four plate appearances, though. The Yankees went a combined 5-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Hooray offense.

How bad is Angel Hernandez? He completely botched that play at first to end the third. The throw pulled Jorge Posada off the bag but apparently Yunel Escobar didn’t touch the base either. Posada then stepped on the bag, so Escobar’s out. Except Hernandez didn’t call him out, which prompted Posada to run over to tag Escobar. And Jorge didn’t even apply the tag, he missed, and Hernandez called Escobar out anyway. Brutal.

It doesn’t feel like it, but the Yankees are actually 4-2 in their last six games and 21-10 over the last month or so. They’re 34-18 since the six-game losing streak. That’ll do.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs has the other stuff.

Up Next

From one artificial surface to another. The Yankees are off to Tampa for a four game series, which A.J. Burnett will open against rookie Alex Cobb on Monday night. The bad news: They’ve never faced Cobb before. The good news: Ken Singleton and David Cone will be in the booth all series.

Bad days for Montero, Banuelos in losses

The Astros, Rockies, Royals, and Mets all had scouts at today’s Double-A Trenton game. You’ve heard about the latter three over the last few games, but Houston is new. Remember, it could be nothing. Could just be routine coverage, or (gasp!) they could be there to see the other team.

Triple-A Scranton (7-6 loss to Toledo in 11 innings, walk-off style)
Kevin Russo, 2B-3B: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K – 13 for his last 37 (.352)
Mike Lamb, 3B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI – 11 for his last 33 (.333) with five doubles, two triples, and a homer … poor guy gets lifted for defense in AAA
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 1
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 5, 3 K – ouch
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 0 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 E (fielding)
Terry Tiffee, DH: 2 for 5, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Brandon Laird, RF: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 2 K, 1 E (throwing)
Jordan Parraz, LF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 K
Luis Nunez, SS-2B: 1 for 5
Austin Krum, CF: 2 for 3, 2 R, 2 BB, 1 SB
Adam Warren, RHP: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HB, 2-6 GB/FB – 63 of 100 pitches were strikes … not counting the All-Star Game, that’s 13 runs in his last 15.1 IP
Randy Flores, LHP: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-0 GB/FB – nine of 13 pitches were strikes … gotta imagine he’s feeling the heat with J.C. Romero in the house now
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 2-1 GB/FB – nine of 15 pitches were strikes (60%)
Buddy Carlyle, RHP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2-1 GB/FB – seven of 11 pitches were strikes
Logan Kensing, RHP: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 16 of 27 pitches were strikes (59.3%) … blew the save after I had written up the offense … jerk
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 0-1 GB/FB – just 10 of 21 pitches were strikes (.476) … walked in the winning run after intentionally walking the previous batter to load the bases

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Heyman: Wigginton’s name has come up in Yanks, Rox talks

Via Jon Heyman, Ty Wigginton’s name has popped up in recent talks between the Yankees and Rockies. Earlier today we learned that the two sides have already have multiple discussions about Ubaldo Jimenez. Wigginton’s name gets connected to the Yankees twice a year, every year (trade deadline and offseason), so he’s not some great unknown. He’d be a fine fill-in for Alex Rodriguez, but wouldn’t do much beyond that. Wigginton isn’t cheap ($4M this year, $4M next year, plus an option), certainly not for a bench player. Frankly I don’t see what he offers that Brandon Laird doesn’t, aside from the veteran presents.

Sunday Open Thread

(AP)

First series after the All-Star break, and I’d call it a success. They split the four games the hard way, dropping the first two (in blowout fashion) but rebounding to win the next two. Brett Gardner had a huge series, Eduardo Nunez had a ton of hard contact, Phil Hughes looked something other than awful, lots to take away from that one. The proverbial rust is off, now it’s time to get back to the grind.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The ESPN Sunday Night Game is in Tampa for the Rays and Red Sox (Niemann vs. Beckett), plus Breaking Bad comes back tonight. Yippee. Talk about whatever you want, anything’s game.

Heyman: Yanks, Rox have had multiple discussions about Ubaldo Jimenez

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees and Rockies have had multiple conversations about Ubaldo Jimenez, but they have not yet gotten around to exchanging trade offers. Colorado isn’t sure they want to deal their ace yet, and in fact GM Dan O’Dowd told Jerry Crasnick: “We will listen to anything, but the reality is that [a trade] is not very likely to take place.” That basically means “blow me away,” because the Rockies aren’t exactly under any kind of pressure to move Jimenez. He’s not going to be a free agent after the season and he’s not old.

Anyway, Heyman says New York is willing to part with Jesus Montero, but Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, and Ivan Nova have been deemed untouchable. That’s probably just a negotiating ploy though, those are the kinds of guys you concede later (if need be) rather than offer up front. The Rockies have been scouting the Yankees’ farm system of late, so there’s that. Of course this would be much more than a Ubaldo-for-Montero swap, a three- or four-for-one is likely.

Heyman also notes that while the Yankees are focusing on Ubaldo, they also have interest in Hiroki Kuroda but not much in Wandy Rodriguez. They don’t like the $30M or so left on his contract, which is something I mentioned in last week’s podcast. I liked Wandy better as a rental than a guy you’d be stuck with though 2013. We’ve written up trade candidate posts for all three, so everything you need to know about them is here: Ubaldo, Kuroda, Wandy.

Update: Heyman says the Rockies have named their price for Ubaldo: Montero, Betances, Banuelos, and Nova. They also want tickets to the Metallica/Slayer/Megadeth/Anthrax concert in September, suites on road trips, discounts from W.B. Mason, proceeds from the DJ3K merchandise, and all the bacon and eggs the Yankees have. Seriously though, that’s just a starting point for negotiations. They’d be stupid not to ask for that.

The ambiguous world of “Baseball Gamesmanship”

Over the past few games, the Yankees have been fairly vocal with their feelings regarding Toronto’s alleged stealing/relaying of signs. After being outscored 23-8 through the first two games of the series, Joe Girardi commented, “Sometimes we have inclinations that certain things might be happening in certain ballparks and we are aware of it and we try to protect our signs.” The skipper elaborated, “I’m not accusing anyone. I just said we need to protect our signs. You have to take pride in it, and you have to be smarter than other clubs when you do things, and you have to change things up.”

For what it’s worth, my guess is that the losses endured over the first two games of the series had more to do with the shoddy defensive play and grossly underwhelming pitching than anything else. Perhaps not so coincidentally, CC Sabathia didn’t appear overly affected by any stolen signs as he pitched eight strong innings of one run ball during the third game of the set, which ultimately resulted in a 4-1 Yankees win. The same could probably be said for Phil Hughes and his six inning, two earned run effort today.

Of course, if the Blues Jays were actually using some outside form of monitoring (binoculars, electronic equipment, etc.), than that absolutely would be a problem as that type of action blatantly contradicts the written rules of the game. In the same vein, if the Yankees seriously believed this to be the case — which would constitute a fairly substantial charge against the Jays — I’d suspect MLB would probably be asked to step in. Interestingly enough, the Yankees are not the first team to make this particular type of complaint either.

Assuming no official rules were actually violated though, this situation at the very least, qualifies as one of the many ambiguous circumstances of the game that are not necessarily illegal, but still incensing to some nevertheless. It wasn’t shocking to anyone when Martin commented, “They’re lucky that that’s my mindset, of me wanting to change [the signals] because it’s my fault. But some other teams, guys can get drilled for that. I’ve seen it happen.”

It would appear that popular consensus suggests that if a base runner is clever enough to figure out a pitch sequence, signal the dugout, and focus on base running, more power to him. To me, it speaks more towards overall poor pitch selection or general predictability on behalf of the pitcher and catcher. I completely agree with Russell Martin’s conclusion, “The reason why you put multiple signs down is so they’re not able to relay, and that type of stuff. There’s a reason why you just use one when there’s nobody on, and multiple when there’s people on.”

However, it’s certainly understandable how rationalization of this type of “gamesmanship” treads a fine line. Depending on your stance, other similar aspects of the game become a little trickier to condone or condemn. When does “crafty gamesmanship” become unsportsmanlike shenanigans? Also, do you find your feelings change when the discussion shifts to other topics such framing pitches, sliding especially hard into second, pretending to be hit with a ball during an at bat, or distracting an infielder while running the bases?  I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.