5/18-5/20 Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds

(photo c/o Getty Images)

For the first time since 2009, the Yankees kick off their Interleague slate with a team other than the Mets as they welcome the Cincinnati Reds to the Bronx tonight for the first time since 2008.

That Yankee team dropped two of three to the Reds at home, while last year’s squad took two of three at Cincinnati last June. The 2011 series at the Great American Ballpark featured what to this day probably remains Ivan Nova’s finest career start (at 8.0 innings, it’s still his longest-ever outing), as well as a huge outing from Reds ace Johnny Cueto (and two homers from Chris Heisey of all people) in the finale, helping Cincinnati stave off a sweep.

The Reds come into this series at 19-18 and in 2nd place in what appears to be a rather weak NL Central, with a zero run differential largely on the strength of their bullpen, which is 4rd in the Majors in ERA and first in FIP. The bullpen’s stellar performance is almost solely the result of the work of Aroldis Chapman, who’s been the best reliever in the game thus far on the season, having yet to allow an earned run and striking out an outrageous 15.9 men per nine, and nearly 50%(!) of all batters he’s faced — both marks are tops among all relievers in MLB. Closer Sean Marshall is also taking care of business, giving the Reds one of the best end-games in the bigs.

Cincinnati’s starting rotation has been slightly below-average in the aggregate (103 ERA-/108 FIP-), although Cueto is once again killing it (1.89 ERA/3.30 FIP), despite a sub-6.0 K/9. My initial thought was that he was presumably getting it done with groundballs, but he’s only at 45%. What he is doing is limiting the damage like few other starters in the game at the moment, as his 84.8% strand rate ranks ninth among all qualified starters in MLB. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but he’s been tough with runners on (92 sOPS+) and even tougher with runners in scoring position (76 sOPS+). Everyone else in the Reds’ rotation has pitched to mostly mediocre results — aside from Bronson Arroyo, for some reason — but the Yankees will of course see both Cueto and Arroyo this weekend.

One aspect that’s been a hallmark of recent Reds teams that has been largely missing from the 2012 squad is a robust offense — the team currently boasts a Seattle Mariners-esque 85 wRC+. Joey Votto (184 wRC+) and Jay Bruce (149 wRC+) are monsters, but outside of those two Cincinnati’s lineup only features two other above-average hitters, second-year third baseman Todd Frazier (170 wRC+) and catcher Ryan Hanigan (101 wRC+) and so the Yankees would do well to avoid Votto and Bruce like the plague and challenge the remainder of a rather unimpressive lineup.

Of course, the Yankees have had their own unique and frustrating brand of offensive challenges in the month of May. Last night’s pathetic 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays — their fourth loss in their last five games, with three of those losses coming at the hands of pitchers they should have absolutely obliterated in Kevin Millwood, Kyle Drabek and rookie Drew Hutchison and all four losses featuring the Yankees scoring two runs or less — put the team in rarefied air, as according to ESPN’s Katie Sharp, it was 9th time in 38 games the Yankees scored 1 run or fewer, something that hasn’t happened to the team since 1984(!). The other mind-blowing stat that followed last night’s game came from Jack Curry, who noted that the Yankees are three for their last 41(!) with runners in scoring position. That’s almost impossibly bad, and stands to correct itself in short order.

Still, despite a heaping amount of offensive ineptitude during May, the Yankees have rather surprisingly actually boasted an above-average offense on the month, with a 105 wRC+. As frustrating as the team has been to watch for much of the past two weeks, we know the talent on the roster is better than this. With the starting pitching continuing to improve — although it’s pretty sad that a 5.07 ERA in May constitutes improvement — once the bats wake up we should see a vastly different Yankee team sooner rather than later.

The Pitching Match-Ups

Friday, May 18, at 7:00 p.m. RHP Bronson Arroyo vs. LHP Andy Pettitte

In 39.2 career innings against the Bombers, Arroyo has been tagged for a .294/.358/.479 line. The one thing working in Arroyo’s favor is that the Yankees haven’t seen him in seven(!) years, so don’t be too surprised if he’s able to take advantage of some classic guy-the-Yankees-have-never-faced-before chicanery. The incredibly slow-throwing (86mph four-seamer, 87mph two-seamer) Arroyo makes judicious use (27%) of his slow 76mph slider and complements it with a sinker (20%). Given sinkerballers’ relative success against the Yankees of recent vintage, along with the fact that Arroyo also has a curveball, changeup and cutter, which means he features six pitches at least 10% of the time, this may also spell trouble for the Bombers. But again, given Arroyo’s weak-ish peripherals (6.7 K/9, 35% GB%, .333 BABIP), it would be pretty disappointing if the Yankee offense can’t get to its onetime Boston nemesis.

Saturday, May 19, at 1:00 p.m. RHP Homer Bailey vs. RHP Ivan Nova

Bailey is a righthander the Yankees have never faced before, which has at times been a death knell for the Yankees. However, Bailey has also occasionally been referred to as Cincinnati’s version of Phil Hughes, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your perspective. Bailey has a 93mph fastball he uses 50% of the time, a 93mph two-seamer he uses 16% of the time, an 87mph slider he uses 17% of the time, an 85mph change (9%) and a 78mph curveball (8%), so aside from the mutual disappointment surrounding the respective developments of the one-time can’t-miss young righthanders, they don’t really have anything in common arsenal-wise aside from live fastballs.

Sunday, May 2o, at 1:00 p.m. RHP Johnny Cueto vs. LHP CC Sabathia

Cueto relies primarily on his 92mph two-seamer (38%), complementing it with an 82mph slider (28%), 92mph four-seamer (17%) and 84mph changeup (16%). Cueto’s repertoire doesn’t exactly scream overpowering, but I’d gather the mix of two-seamer/slider as opposed to the more traditional four-seamer/slider has had something to do with his success. Cueto got roughed up in his previous outing against the Braves, only going four and giving up six runs (five earned). Sabathia himself will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing start in Baltimore, and is facing the Reds for the first time since he was a member of the Brewers in 2008.

Prediction

Between the Yankees’ significantly superior offensive unit — at least, on paper — along with the fact that the Reds have been even worse during May (88 wRC+) than the Bombers have plus seemingly favorable matchups in both the Friday and Saturday games, the Yankees should probably take two of three from the Reds. Though that may be asking a lot of a team that just dropped three straight winnable games to division rivals.

If they can take the first two obviously there’s a lot to like about their chances for a sweep with Sabathia on the hill on Sunday, although Cueto is just the kind of tough hard-throwing righthander that’s given the Yankees a lot of trouble this season, and I don’t know that I feel confident enough in the current feast-or-famine iteration of the Yankee offense to topple Cueto.

RAB Tickets

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Mailbag: Robertson, Nunez, Banuelos, Lefties

Five questions and four answers this week, and I tried to keep it short but mostly failed. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you want to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Shaun asks: Do you guys think David Robertson will automatically get the closer’s job when he returns? I hope Rafael Soriano flourishes in the role he is most comfortable and we can have Robertson back to Houdini!

That’s exactly what I hope happens. I want Soriano to pitch well regardless of inning, but I hope he really takes to the closer role and dominates so they can use Robertson a little more liberally in the seventh and eighth innings. The Yankees did bump Soriano back to the seventh inning following his DL stint last season because Robertson was dominant, so I hope history kinda sorta repeats itself.

Jay asks: What team has a need for 2nd base? I would think Eduardo Nunez could start on a lot of teams and contribute; just as the Yankees are thinking, putting him in one position could help his defense.

Middle infielders around baseball are just awful these days, so I’m sure a number of clubs would have interest in Nunez as an everyday guy despite his complete lack of defensive value. I know I’d rather take a chance on him than sign someone like the recently released Orlando Hudson.

Nunez has a 95 wRC+ in 450 career big league plate appearances, so he’s fallen just short of league average offensive production. His career Triple-A performance is similar and that’s basically the guy you’re going to get. Nunez will hit for a average but not power, make a ton of contact, and steal a bunch of bases. That’s what most middle infielders do, though at least he offers a chance at improvement at 25 years old. He’s still two years why of his peak, in theory.

The problem with trading Nunez right now is that his value is way down. The Yankees had to send him down because his defense was unplayable and that dropped his stock. We know other clubs — specifically the Mariners and Braves — have had interest in him in the past and I’m sure they’ve love to buy low now. Unless we’re talking about a multi-player package to acquire a star-caliber player, the Yankees are probably better off holding on to Nunez rather than take whatever uninteresting prospects clubs offer in a trade.

(Danny Wild/MLB.com)

Tim asks: Chances or what do you think of the inconsistent Ivan Nova being sent down and Banuelos put in the NYY rotation in his place?

Jeff asks: Is it insane to think that Manny Banuelos can pitch his way into the big league rotation sometime this year?

Gonna lump these two together and will start with the Banuelos part. Yes, I think he could pitch his way into the rotation later this season. I thought there was a chance he would do it last year, but then he had to pull a Dellin Betances impression with the walk rate. Banuelos’ performance has been very encouraging following his return from the lat injury — 15 strikeouts an zero walks in 14.2 IP — but he’s not out of the woods yet. Three starts don’t erase the last year’s worth of command problems. He’s got to continue to show improvement and if he keeps looking like the Banuelos of old (meaning 2008-2010), then I could definitely see him cracking the rotation in the second half.

As for Nova, I also think there’s a chance he could be sent down at some point. Heck, they send him down for less last summer. Obviously this right foot and ankle injury complicates things a bit, but he had a very obvious problem leaving pitches up and thus getting hammered for extra-base hits before the injury. Nova leads the league extra-base hits allowed (32) and has allowed eleven (!) more than any other pitcher who’s made no more than seven starts. Hopefully he shakes off the ankle problem and starts getting pitches down, but if he doesn’t improve and we’re in the middle of June or something, an assignment to Triple-A has to be a consideration. If Banuelos happens to keep pitching well and shows improved command, he’d be the obvious candidate to take Nova’s spot.

Shai asks: Why are good lefty starters worth more than good righty starters? Aren’t there more (good) righty hitters in baseball? I understand the value of a LOOGY but shouldn’t righty starters be worth more?

It’s just a supply and demand thing. There’s roughly a 75-25 split between righties and lefties around the league these days (both starters and reliever), so there are just fewer quality left-handers to be had. Lefties are an even higher prior for the Yankees than other teams because of the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium. That’s really all there is to it. There are fewer great lefties around than great righties, so the southpaws are more valuable. Same reason great shortstops are more valuable than great first baseman.

Yankees can’t muster any offense again, lose to Blue Jays again

Can I just take the easy way out and re-publish Wednesday night’s recap? I mean, there’s not much different between the two games. The Yankees lost (again) because they gave up booming homers to Jose Bautista and J.P. Arencibia (again), and also because they did absolutely nothing on offense (again). The 4-1 loss dropped New York to 20-18 with a measly +7 run differential on the season.

(REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

LMAOffense

Here’s a fun fact: the Yankees have now been held to one run or less nine times this season. That’s the same number of times as both the Mariners and Twins. All I know is that if you’re tied with those two teams in any offensive category, it’s bad. Real bad. The Yankees scored no more than two runs for the third straight game and ninth time in their last 17 games. They don’t make starting pitching good enough to overcome that kind of ineptitude.

The Yankees plated their only run of Thursday’s game in the very first inning, when Robinson Cano doubled home Curtis Granderson following his one-out walk. They left men on first and second in the third, a man on third in the fourth, men on first and second in the fifth, and a man on second in the sixth. The final ten men they sent to the plate made outs. The Yankees went a flawful (yes, flawful) 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, including a big fat 0-for-3 by still hitting in the middle of the order Mark Teixeira. It’s just horrible, the offense has been borderline noncompetitive in recent weeks.

(REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

St. Philbert of Hughes

It wasn’t the greatest performance in the history of pitching, but Phil Hughes certainly gave his team a chance to win and then some. He showed some fight by striking out both Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to escape the first inning after the first two hitters reached base, and overall he struck out five in 5.1 IP. Ten of his eleven non-strikeout outs were fly balls, as expected.

Phil’s only mistake was hanging cutter to Bautista, who clobbered it for a two-run homer in the third. It was just an awful pitch, but I can’t give the guy grief for allowing a dinger to the best homerun hitter in baseball. Hughes did have some pitch efficiency issues — 107 pitches for 16 outs — but his defense made an error behind him that extended an inning. I gave up on Hughes as a starter following his disaster start in Texas and I’m glad he’s making me look like an idiot.

(REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

Leftovers

Cory Wade’s ridiculously effective season hit a speed bump when he allowed a two-run homer to Arencibia that all but put the game away. He gets a pass because like I said, he’s been ridiculously effective. Freddy Garcia needed just eight pitches to retire all three batters he faced, continued his nice little run of solid pitching out of the bullpen. Joe Girardi said before the game that if Ivan Nova is unable to make Saturday’s start for whatever reason, Garcia would get the ball. I think that means David Phelps is going to take on a more important relief role in the absence of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees only had five hits but three of them were doubles by Cano, Granderson, and Eric Chavez. Granderson and Derek Jeter chipped in singles while Granderson, Cano, Raul Ibanez, and Nick Swisher drew walks. They tallied eight hits in 18 offensive innings during this two-game series. Gross.

Just a quick side note: Hughes has allowed at least one homer in each of his eight starts this season, the longest such streak to start a season in Yankees history. So, uh, welcome to the record books.

The loss dropped the Yankees into fourth place in the AL East, so they’re lucky it’s only May 17th. There’s a lot to fix at the moment. I don’t think there’s anything more you can say after another loss like this.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some additional stats, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

It’s time for interleague play. The Yankees will welcome former Yankee Miguel Cairo and the rest of the Reds to the Bronx for a three-game series starting Friday night. It’ll be Andy Pettitte and Balki Arroyo in the opener.

Mitchell strikes out ten in Charleston win

Eduardo Nunez left yesterday’s game with a sore thumb and Brian Cashman confirmed that he’s going to miss three or four days. That’s good, I don’t want him sitting out and dwelling on his defensive problems for two weeks or something. Right-hander Jose Ramirez was placed on the DL for the an unknown reason and that sucks. He’s been pitching quite well of late.

Anyway, based on his Twitter feed, left-hander Evan Rutckyj has been promoted to Low-A Charleston and will presumably join their rotation.

Update: Caleb Cotham is on his way to join High-A Tampa according to his Twitter feed. Yep, it’s officially promotion season.

Triple-A Empire State (4-1 win over Toledo)
2B Kevin Russo: 1-5, 1 K
CF Colin Curtis: 3-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 CS — had been in a nasty 3-for-34 slump (.088)
1B Steve Pearce: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI
DH Jack Cust: 0-2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K
LF Ronnie Mustelier: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI — seventh homer in 37 games this year after hitting just three in 36 games last year
3B Brandon Laird, C Frankie Cervelli, RF Cole Garner & SS Ramiro Pena: all 0-4 — Laird and Cervelli each struck out twice, Gardner and Pena once each
RHP Ramon Ortiz: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 5/5 GB/FB — 62 of 90 pitches were strikes (68.9%) … look at the old man doin’ work
RHP Chase Whitley: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 1/1 GB/FB — 13 of 22 pitches were strikes (59.1%)
RHP Manny Delcarmen: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — just 11 of 23 pitches were strikes (47.8% … filling in at closer after Kevin Whelan had pitched in each of the last two games

[Read more…]

Game 38: How about some runs?

Brett Lawrie dropped his appeal and will not play tonight. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

The Yankees have had some trouble scoring runs these last few days and really for the last two weeks or so, and I think we all need an offensive explosion for sanity’s sake. The Blue Jays are running rookie right-hander Drew Hutchinson out there, a mostly two-pitch guy with good command. Please hit him hard. Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
LF Raul Ibanez
DH Nick Swisher
3B Eric Chavez
RF Andruw Jones
Russell Martin

RHP Phil Hughes

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy.

Nova expected to start Saturday after bullpen session

Via Mark Feinsand, right-hander Ivan Nova is expected to make his next start Saturday after throwing this regular side session today. Nova suffered a right foot contusion and a sprained right ankle against the Orioles on Monday after getting hit by a comebacker and then taking an awkward step fielding a chopper. Glad he’s okay, now he just needs to work on keeping the ball down.

Yankees claim Matt Antonelli off waivers from Orioles

Via Eddie Encina, the Yankees have claimed infielder Matt Antonelli off waivers from the Orioles. Mark Feinsand confirms that he’ll head to Triple-A, and that Cesar Cabral was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot.

Antonelli, 27, was once a top prospect with the Padres and even cracked Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list back in 2008. He owns a .261 wOBA in 65 career big league plate appearances, all coming with San Diego a few years ago. Antonelli is a .234/.347/.361 career hitter in over 1,200 Triple-A plate appearances and posted a .308 wOBA at the level this year. He’s primarily a second baseman so I highly doubt he replaces Jayson Nix or anything. This seems like a move intended to replace depth in the minors for whenever Nix is cut loose, frankly.