‘I’m burning, I’m burning, I’m burning the bench’

I always feel a bit guilty second-guessing the Yankees when they can hand the ball over to Mariano. Joe Girardi had his lead going into the ninth inning last night, and Rivera, unusually oh-so-good with his location, missed with a cutter. Luke Scott made the right kind of contact, and the Yanks’ one-run lead had vanished. Before that pitch, we could come to grips with Joba’s four-pitch outing, and Boone Logan‘s inability to get Corey Patterson out. After that, it all fell apart.

As we know all too well, the Yanks lost in the 11th inning when David Robertson could get an out in his second inning of work. Because Joba threw only four pitches and because the other bullpen options included Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, Jonathan Albaladejo and Romulo Sanchez, Robertson was Girardi’s best choice, and the move just didn’t work out. That’s baseball for you. What happened in the top of the inning though was an illustration in poor roster management.

The sequence went like this: Alex Rodriguez, pinch hitting for Greg Golson who had earlier replaced Austin Kearns, walked. Eduardo Nuñez ran and advanced to third on a throwing error. Ramiro Peña, who had been at the plate with Nuñez on third, was removed for Marcus Thames who struck out. Then, Mark Teixeira pinch hit for Brett Gardner and was immediately intentionally walked. So too was Jeter, and then Lance Berkman had to come to the plate to face a lefty. He bounced into a double play, and the Yanks, 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position, had squandered a prime situation. They had a runner on third with no one out, and the bases loaded with one out only to see the inning end with nary a run.

For someone who usually manages by the book, these moves don’t hold up to a close examination. The first line to consider is Mike Gonzalez’s. The Orioles’ lefty has, for 2010, a reverse split. Leties are 10 for 29 against him while righties are 7 for 46 with 18 strike outs. Even over the last three years, lefties have fared slightly better against Gonzalez than righties have. Yet, Girardi took out his lefty — on-base machine Brett Gardner — who doesn’t exhibit significant splits to use Mark Teixeira. In a vacuum, that’s a defensible move even if the intentional walk was the most obvious of intentional walks.

A game, though, isn’t played in a vacuum. Since Lance Berkman isn’t nearly the same hitter from the right side as he is from the left and because Gonzalez is better against righties, Girardi’s decision to use Teixeira for Gardner and not to save him for Berkman came back to haunt the Yankees in a bad way. Girardi, in other words, managed to burn through seven players for three lineup spots, and the moves simply did not maximize the Yanks’ available resources or deploy them at the right time. We saw Girardi fall victim to this problem in Texas, and to a lesser extent, we saw it again yesterday.

For most of the year, Girardi handles the roster well. He might sacrifice bunt more often than we’d like; he might have leaned a bit too heavily on Francisco Cervelli out of the necessity of it this year. But by and large, he’s a steady manager. Yet, with the expanded rosters, he’s been too clever by half, and he starts to run through bench players with no regard for strategy. In the grand scheme of the season, the Yanks won’t rue losing yesterday’s game; their playoff spot is very secure. But we saw a glimpse of a Joe Girardi who did not have good grasp on the implications of his move and seemed to act without thinking. It was very un-Girardi-like.

Metro-North fire impacting service to Yankee Stadium

A late-morning fire at the 138th St. Lift Bridge that spans the Harlem River had shuttered all Metro-North service to and from Grand Central. As of twenty minutes ago, however, commuter trains are again servicing Manhattan but with 15-minute residual delays. For Yankee Stadium-bound customers, trains will be operating on or close to schedule prior to this evening’s game, but fans are advised to leave extra travel time to and from the game tonight.

RISP FAIL: The Culprits

The one constant through this recent stretch of poor play has been the Yankees’ complete inability to get runners in and tack on those important insurance runs. It burned them yet again yesterday, and since this 4-9 stretch started on Sept. 5th, the Yanks have left 115 runners on base. That’s 8.8 runners per game, or over 1,425 runners per 162 games. Last season they stranded a total of 1,238 runners, and before this stretch they were on pace to strand just 1,198 batters this season. It’s an obvious problem.

It takes a team effort for an offense to struggle this bad with men in scoring position, so we can’t pin it on one or two players no matter how much we want to. Lance Berkman and his pair of GIDP’s yesterday is hardly the root of the problem, it’s just a microcosm of how things have been going. Here’s a quick look at the regulars (sorry, Colin Curtis) and how they’ve performed with men on second and/or third during this stretch of suckiness (click to enlarge) …

As you can see, the only guys pulling their weight in these spots have been A-Rod and Cano. Everyone else has, putting it kindly, come up short. The good news is that if you take out the disaster that is Austin Kearns (who only played regularly because of injury), the regulars have only struck out 11 times in 110 plate appearances with men in scoring position during this stretch, a 10.0% strikeout rate that’s far, far better than the 18.1% league average with RISP.

Putting the ball in play hasn’t been the problem whatsoever, the hits just aren’t dropping in. It’s not a sign of being “unclutch” or anything like that, it’s just dumb luck. Baseball can be cruel like that. At some point things will get back to the way they should be and were for the vast majority of the season and these balls are going to start finding the grass. It’s inevitable.

As a team, the Yanks have hit just .197 with a .315 on-base percentage (somewhat inflated by five intentional walks and two hit by pitches) and a .098 ISO since that magic Sept. 5th date. That’s just an unsustainably bad pace. Even the Mariners, who are in danger of having the worst offensive season in the expansion era (seriously), have hit .230 with a .320 OBP and a .109 ISO with RISP this year.  Before this stretch, Joe Girardi‘s boy hit .265 with a .366 OBP and a .171 ISO with RISP on the season, and it’s only a batter of time before they return to that level. The Yankees are simply too talented to keep performing this poorly for an extended period of time.

And you know what, there’s one other thing to keep in mind here. We’re talking about an incredibly small sample of data. 118 plate appearances is nothing, and neither is 13 games. That’s just about 8% of the season, and no one should be rushing to make conclusions based on that amount of data. But given the time of year and the division race, things have a tendency to get blown out of proportion. Yes, this lack of getting the man in completely sucks and it’s frustrating as hell, but it won’t last and it’s certainly not some fatal flaw that is just now being exposed. It happens, and it’ll pass hopefully sooner rather than later.

* * *

And as far as this squeeze bunt/suicide squeeze stuff, please, just stop it. It’s not a high-percentage play like most make it out to be, in fact it’s quite the opposite. It takes a perfect bunt to execute; not a good bunt, not a very good bunt, a perfect bunt. If it’s too close to the catcher, the runner coming in from third is toast. Same thing if it’s too close to the pitcher, first baseman, or third baseman. And if it happens to go foul, then you’re done, because the element of surprise is gone. Good teams never ever ever pull these kinds of plays, they rely on their players to hit the ball and get the run in. Smallball simply isn’t a long-term winning strategy, plain and simple. Go ahead and tell me the last time a smallball team won a World Championship. I’ll wait.

So far, Red Sox tickets outpacing Rays’ series

As the final homestand of the regular season gets started this evening, ticket prices are on the rise. After a few homestands featuring mediocre opponents, the Yanks end their Yankee Stadium slate against Tampa Bay and the Rays, and RAB Tickets still has some great deals.

As the above chart from our partner TiqIQ shows, seats for the Rays’ games are currently going for less than those against the Red Sox. Only Thursday’s CC Sabathia/David Price rematch is going for above the season average. Meanwhile, even though the Red Sox face an elimination number of seven, the seats for this weekend are still going for a pretty penny. I’d expect the weekend prices to come down by a few bucks before all is said and done, but the Battle for First Place and potential ALCS preview should outpace yet another Yanks/Red Sox series.

Don’t forget to check out RAB Tickets for all of your game needs. We receive a cut of the sales and always appreciate the help. It’s also now possible to get away game tickets via TiqIQ by clicking on the “Other Yankees Games” link at the RAB Tickets home page.

The Jorge Posada Appreciation Thread

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Who has been the most valuable Yankee of the past 15 years? Last month Joe Posnanski wrote about the topic, assuming that it came down to Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. That’s not a poor assumption. Those two have been staples in the Yankees’ lineup during that span, and they’re certainly the two most famous Yankees of that period. But he missed someone who deserves to be in the conversation. In fact, if you run a quick text search on that post you won’t see Jorge Posada‘s name mentioned once.

According to the FanGraphs WAR system, Jorge Posada has been worth 52.8 wins over a replacement catcher in his career, which place him 14th all-time. That list also includes some players, like Joe Torre, who didn’t catch for their entire careers. The Baseball-Reference database has him at 46.4 WAR, 12th all-time among catchers. It’s just so rare to see a catcher be that good for that long. That gives Posada incredible value to the Yankees.

Even as he ages Posada continues to produce for the Yankees. He just turned 39 in August, though this is his age-38 season. Only one catcher in history has produced an OPS+ of more than 100 in his age-38 or later season while playing at least 60 percent of his games at catcher. That would be Carlton Fisk, who had a 136 OPS+ in 419 PA at age 41, and a 134 OPS+ in 521 PA at age 42. This year Posada has a 123 OPS+ in 421 PA. His .478 SLG currently ranks above any catcher in his age-38 or higher season.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Posada takes care of everything for the Yankees. Sometimes that means hitting a gargantuan game-winning home run in Tampa. Other times it means working an 11-pitch at-bat to start the ninth, opening the door for a teammate to drive home the winning runs. He might not hit for that high an average, but he can hit for power and he gets on base at a clip far better than most catchers. He is one player who helps the lineup go ’round.

Chances are Posada will never be a Hall of Famer. He just doesn’t have the sexy numbers. But if he finishes this year strong and puts up a similar season next year, he has to at least cause a Bert Blyleven-like debate. I’ll look forward to that one sometime at the end of this decade. For now I just want to take the time to appreciate all Jorge Posada has been for the Yanks over the years.

Fan Confidence Poll: September 20th, 2010

Record Last Week: 3-3 (29 RS, 22 RA)
Season Record: 90-59 (792 RS, 611 RA, 93-56 Pythag. record), 0.5 games up
Schedule This Week: vs. Rays (four games, Mon. to Thurs.), vs. Red Sox (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

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Orioles come back after rare Mo meltdown

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

There’s nothing like two straight wins and three in four games to help us forget how ugly things were in the last week-and-a-half, but the same problems that doomed the Yankees during their slump reared their ugly heads again on Sunday. Opportunities to tack on runs early weren’t taken advantage of, and another strong pitching performance went to waste.

Scott Ties It Up

Mariano Rivera always has one or two stretches in a season when he suddenly looks human, when he blows a save or two and gives up some homers and can’t seem to hit his spots with his usual precision. That’s what he’s going through right now, and today it manifested itself in the form of a cutter that didn’t cut all the way in on Luke Scott, who did was he was supposed to do and crushed the ball out of the park. The solo homer to lead off the ninth tied the game at three, continuing this recent stretch of unfortunate pitching and tough losses.

Mo now has four blown saves on the season, two of them coming on the road trip. He’ll be fine though, he always is.

Insurance Runs? Like The Yankees Need Those!

Orioles starter Chris Tillman was asking for it. He allowed three hits and walked six batters in just three-and-two-thirds innings of work, but the Yanks just wouldn’t give it to him. They pushed across a first inning run, then two more in the fourth, but that was it. They left a man on first in the first, a man on first in the second, the bases loaded in the fourth, a man on first in the fifth, runners at the corners in the sixth and then again in the ninth, yet none of that represented their biggest blown opportunity.

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

After Scott tied the game up, Alex Rodriguez pinch hit for Greg Golson (who replaced Austin Kearns earlier in the game) and drew a walk to lead off the 11th. Eduardo Nunez came in to pinch run, and before Ramiro Pena could bunt him into scoring position reliever Mike Gonzalez threw a pickoff attempt into the stands, putting Nunez on third automatically. Joe Girardi then subbed in Marcus Thames for Pena in the middle of the at-bat with a 1-1 count, though Thames couldn’t get Nunez home when he swung and missed at a pitch in the dirt for strike three.

Girardi then sent Mark Teixeira in to pinch hit for Brett Gardner (more on that later), but Buck Showalter got all manager-like and intentionally walked not just Tex, but Derek Jeter after to him to load the bases with one out. The Yanks couldn’t possible screw this up, right? Wrong. Lance Berkman, hitting from his weaker side, bounced into a double play that killed the inning, his second GIDP of the game. At -.361 WPA, it was the most costly play of the game for New York.

Andy Was Dandy

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Even though the Yanks dropped this game, it was undeniably positive in the big picture. Andy Pettitte made his first start since July 18th due to a groin injury, and it was like he didn’t miss any time at all. Girardi said he would be thrilled to get six innings out of his starter, but Andy cruised right through those six innings with ease. If he wasn’t limited to 80-85 pitches (he threw 79), he would have been out there for the seventh inning as well, no doubt about it.

Pettitte battled his command early, running three ball counts to four of the first eight men he faced. The O’s tied the game at one on an Adam Jones bunt single with two outs in the first, a play that tested Andy’s groin on the fielding attempt, but after that they had little chance against the southpaw. Pettitte sat down 15 of the final 17 men he faced, including the last 11 consecutively. He was throwing his breaking ball for strikes, his cutter into to righties, and his changeup down and out of the zone for weak grounders. It was vintage Andy, and the Yanks have to be extremely encouraged by what they saw out of him.

Leftovers

Girardi burned through eight players in the span of four plate appearances in that 11th inning, but the only move worth second guessing was pinch hitting Tex for Gardner. Yes, it’s Mark freaking Teixeira, but Gardner had already reached base twice in the game and hasn’t shown enough of a platoon split to worry about the left-on-left matchup. Given Tex’s injured hand (and toe), it’s not hard to make a case that Gardy was a better bet to get the run in right there, especially since Showalter went right to the four-fingers once the first baseman was announced.

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Robbie Cano had two hits and walk, and finished the year with a .444/.487/.694 batting line against the O’s. Unfortunately he was the only Yankee with more than one hit, and was on deck when Berkman hit into that rally killing double play in the 11th.

Not the best day for the bullpen, with Boone Logan and Kerry Wood combining to surrender a run in the eight before Mo blew the save. David Robertson pitched a scoreless tenth before taking the loss in the next inning thanks to a bloop double by Scott and legit gap double by Ty Wigginton. It happens, what can you do.

The Rays lost, so the lead in the division remains at half-a-game. The Red Sox won however, so the lead on the Wild Card shrinks to just seven with 13 to play. I thought the Sox were supposed to back in this thing, what happened? Seem kinda foolish looking back on it, no? I told you not to worry about them.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Gross. MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs the nerd score.

Up Next

The Yankees will dedicate a new monument in Monument Park to George Steinbrenner tomorrow evening, then they’ll take on the Rays in their first game in the Bronx in what feels like an eternity. The final homestand of the season (!!!) will start with Ivan Nova and Matt Garza.