Getting our hopes up for Rivera’s return in 2012

The headline of Joel Sherman’s latest column says it all. “Doc: Rivera could pitch in 2012.” Surely this is just the NY Post headline writers making too much of an innocuous quote, right? After all, not only did Rivera tear his ACL, but he also had to wait a month before undergoing surgery to repair it. How could he possibly pitch this year?

As it turns out, delaying the surgery might have actually accelerated Rivera’s recovery time. His rehab doctor, Dr. Keith Pyne, says that the work Rivera put in prior to the surgery has made a difference. That preparation has put him in a better position during his rehab.

Another revelation: Rivera didn’t fully tear his ACL. He’ll have a shorter recovery time from a partial tear than a full one, so it’s tough to make comparisons to others who have experienced full tears. And, apparently, Rivera tore the ACL on the “correct” knee. Since there’s more torque on the landing leg in a pitching delivery, recovery can be quicker for push leg injuries.

At this point I have little original to add. The idea of Mo coming back to pitch in 2012 was unfathomable just yesterday. But now we have Rivera’s rehab doctor extensively on the record talking about his advanced recovery and how he could actually throw a baseball for the Yankees this year. It certainly feels like a tease, but with Rivera you never know.

As Pyne himself says: “I would put my money on Mo.”

Phelps strikes out 11 in return to Double-A

RHP John Brebbia was named the Low-A South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week after throwing six scoreless innings of relief.

Double-A Trenton (3-0 win over Portland)
LF Jose Pirela: 3-3, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 1 CS, 1 HBP — seven homers in 49 games this year after hitting just eight in 128 games last year … he’s up to .324/.395/.511 with nearly as many walks (17) as strikeouts (24) on the season
2B David Adams, RF Zoilo Almonte & CF Melky Mesa: all 1-4 — Zoilo doubled, stole two bases, and struck out … Mesa whiffed twice
1B Luke Murton, DH Neil Medchill & SS Yadil Mujica: all 0-3 — Murton walked and whiffed … Mujica struck out
C J.R. Murphy: 0-4, 2 K — still hitless with Trenton, though it’s only been four games
3B Rob Segedin: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI — the solo homer was his first hit for the Thunder
RHP David Phelps: 6.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, 7/1 GB/FB — 62 of 94 pitches were strikes (66%) … that’s what happens when you stick a big leaguer in Double-A … the most important thing is the pitch count, he’s fully stretched out now and ready to start whenever the team needs him
RHP Danny Farquhar: 2.1 IP, zeroes, 3 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 20 of 31 pitches were strikes (65%) … pretty stellar relief work right there

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2012 Homerun Derby Open Thread

Is the Homerun Derby getting stale? Yeah, it has been for years. It’s just too long, that’s all really. It’s not boring though. It’s still fun to watch, especially when you’ve got a horse in the race.

Robinson Cano, captain of the AL Squad, will defend his crown after walking off with last year’s Derby win against Adrian Gonzalez. He has a chance to become the first player since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1998 and 1999 to repeat as champ. Robbie selected his three teammates — David Ortiz reportedly declined an invitation — and brought his father Jose to Kansas City to pitch to him again. Here are the participants in no particular order, I have no idea who is hitting when tonight…

American League
Robinson Cano¬† (20 HR) — captain
Mark Trumbo (22)
Prince Fielder (15)
Jose Bautista (27)

National League
Matt Kemp (12 HR) — captain, just off the DL
Andrew McCutchen (18) — replaced the injured Giancarlo Stanton
Carlos Beltran (20)
Carlos Gonzalez (17)

As for my official prediction, I’m going with Cano to repeat. It’s not about raw power, it’s about endurance. Between the screen drill with Kevin Long and his daily batting practice sessions, I feel like Robbie could stand at home plate and hit dingers for hours in a setting like this. Either way, the Derby starts at 8pm ET and can be seen on ESPN. Feel free to talk about that or anything else you want right here. Have at it.

Yankees tell Reggie Jackson to stay away from team indefinitely

Via Buster Olney, the Yankees have told Reggie Jackson to stay away from the team until informed otherwise. Reggie made some disparaging comments about Alex Rodriguez and his past PED use — as well as others like the late Gary Carter and Kirby Puckett — to Sports Illustrated last week. He has spoken to A-Rod and apologized, but the team still asked him to stay away. Jackson, 66, is a special advisor for the Yankees and hangs around the team all the time, though for now he’ll have to sit on the sidelines.

This isn’t rocket science. The Yankees employ Reggie and when an employee makes comments like that, you have to take action. Normal schmucks like you and I would have been fired. It’s all damage control, they’re just avoiding a potential distraction. Olney says Jackson’s return to the organization at some point has not been ruled out, but I would be surprised if he’s back anytime soon.

2012 Draft: Negotiations between Yankees and Hensley are complete

Via K. Levine-Flandrup, contract talks between the Yankees and first round pick Ty Hensley are complete. Now they’re just waiting on Hensley to decide whether he wants to turn pro for millions of dollars or follow through on his commitment to Ole Miss. The deadline to sign draft picks is 5pm ET this Friday.

Hensley, the 30th overall selection, is slotted for $1.6M but the Yankees can afford to pay him up to $1,815,910 without surrendering a pick in next year’s draft. That would represent the fifth largest bonus New York has ever given to a drafted player. Hensley has reportedly taken his physical already, which must be completed before the deadline. He said he hoped to sign quickly soon after the draft, but I’m guessing his agent/advisor got a hold of him and told him to wait it out. You can see all of the team’s picks at Baseball America and keep tabs on the draft pool situation with our Draft Pool page.

Scouting The Trade Market: George Kottaras

The Yankees have gotten no offense out of their catchers this season and it’s hard to think the glovework of Russell Martin and Chris Stewart have made up for the lack of production at the plate. An upgrade at the position should be on the trade deadline shopping list — though certainly not atop it — even though quality catching is hard to find. We’ve already looked at Ramon Hernandez of the Rockies, but now let’s look at the backstop of another non-contender: George Kottaras of the Brewers.

The 29-year-old Kottaras broke into the big leagues with the Red Sox back in 2008 — they acquired him from the Padres in 2006 in exchange for David Wells (!) — but moved on to Milwaukee via waivers a few days after the Yankees won the 2009 World Series. He’s been the club’s backup since then, first behind Gregg Zaun and now behind the (injured) Jonathan Lucroy. Youngster Martin Maldonado has done a solid job during Lucroy’s absence, meaning Kottaras could become trade bait if the 40-45 Brewers decided to sell in the coming weeks. Let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees…

The Pros

  • For one, Kottaras is a left-handed hitter and that’s rare for a catcher. He’s a .239/.330/.436 career hitter against right-handers in 460 big league plate appearances against them.
  • Kottaras excels at drawing walks, earning a free pass in 13.8% of his career plate appearances in the show. Over the last three seasons it’s a 14.8% walk rate. Kottaras doesn’t strikeout a ton despite all the deep counts, owning a 19.3% strikeout rate over the last three years.
  • It’s tough to quantify catcher defense, but Beyond The Box Score’s catcher defense rankings rated Kottaras as an above-average defender last season. Click through the full analysis.
  • Kottaras will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, he remains under team control through 2015. He’s making six figures this season after missing the Super Two cutoff by a few weeks.

The Cons

  • Kottaras struggles against lefties, with a career .178/.326/.308 line against southpaws in 133 plate appearances. It’s a small sample, but his minor league history backs it up. He’s a platoon hitter.
  • Despite the solid defensive ranking last year, Kottaras can not throw. He’s gunned down just 21 (!) of 128 attempted base-stealers in his big league career, an unfathomably bad 16.4%. For what it’s worth, the 2010 catcher defense rankings rated him as below average.
  • Kottaras is out of minor league options and can not be send down to Triple-A without first clearing waivers.

As bad as his numbers are overall, Russell Martin has handled southpaws well — .275/.383/.549 this year and .230/.337/.424 as a Yankee — and it makes sense to seek a platoon partner. It’s hard not to love Kottaras’ on-base ability and you dream about the short Yankee Stadium porch unlocking some power, though the inability to control the running game is a major issue. I mean, Jorge Posada threw runners out at a 21.8% clip during his defensive disaster years from 2008-2010. Kottaras is at 16.4% during his peak years. It’s a major concern.

Obviously the years of team control is desirable because the Yankees don’t really have a catcher beyond this season. Kottaras would allow them to let Martin walk as a free agent this winter before stepping in as the heavy side of a platoon with a youngster like Austin Romine. But again, that throwing is a problem that will get exposed in steal-happy AL East. I’m not exactly one to be hard on players who play below average defense, but there is a minimum standard here and I don’t think Kottaras meets it. He’s an ideal pickup on the offensive side of the ball, but unfortunately the game extends beyond the batter’s box.

Midseason Review: Meeting Expectations

During the next few days we’ll take some time to review the first half of the season and look at which Yankees are meeting expectations, exceeding expectations, and falling short of expectations. What else is the All-Star break good for?

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

The Yankees head into the All-Star break with the best record in baseball at 52-33 despite having only played 14 games against teams with a losing record. I guess that’s what happens when all but three AL teams have a .500+ record, including every club in the AL East. Despite that win-loss record, the Yankees don’t seem to have clicked on all cylinders yet. The bullpen carried them in April, the rotation carried them in May and June, and the offense has shown flashes of being dominant but hasn’t really 100% clicked yet. That means there is still room for improvement. Here are the players who have been performing in line with preseason expectations…

Derek Jeter
At this time last year, the Cap’n was really just starting to get going. He hit a weak .270/.340/.370 in 2010 and was sitting on a .260/.324/.324 batting line when a calf injury forced him to the disabled list last June. The injury proved to be a blessing in disguise for Jeter, who worked with hitting coordinator Gary Denbo at staying back on the ball. He hit .331/.384/.447 after returning on Independence Day and he’s carried that success over into 2012.

Now, obviously the 38-year-old shortstop wasn’t going to hit that well all season, but Jeter has posted a rock solid .308/.354/.411 batting line in the first half this year. He had a huge April, a so-so May, and a poor June before picking things back up in early-July. Derek has already hit more homers this season (seven) than he did last season (six), and he’s on a similar stolen base pace (seven in nine chances so far). As you’d expect, most of his damage is coming against lefties (.381/.405/.552) but at least he’s putting up more of a fight against righties (.278/.333/.353) than he did in 2010 and the first half of 2011.

(AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Curtis Granderson & Robinson Cano
The Yankees two best offensive players last year have continued to be just that in 2012. Cano is right in the mix for the AL MVP award at this point thanks to his .313/.378/.578 line and 20 homers, exactly what we’ve come to expect from Robbie over the last few years. He’s unquestionably the best player on the best team in baseball and is in the middle of a career year, both at the plate and in the field. Despite a slow start in April, Cano continues to be brilliant.

Granderson has shown that last season’s power spike was no fluke, carrying a team leading 23 dingers into the break. He ranks fourth in the AL in long balls and is just a touch behind last season’s pace, when he went deep 25 times in the team’s first 85 games. Granderson’s .248/.352/.502 batting line is second only to Cano in its gaudiness, and he’s currently walking in a career best 13.1% of his plate appearances, the eighth best walk rate in the league. His strikeout rate (25.9%, eighth in the AL) is also a career high, but you take the bad with the good. When Curtis stops hitting the ball out of the park and getting on-base, the whiffs will become more of an issue.

CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda & Ivan Nova
Given the uncertainty surrounding Phil Hughes, these three came into the season as the guys Joe Girardi would rely on for quality outings once every five days. Sabathia has battled his fastball command all season long but he still carries a 3.45 ERA and 3.21 FIP into the All-Star break. His strikeout (8.83 K/9 and 23.1 K%), walk (2.44 BB/9 and 6.4 BB%), and ground ball (49.8%) rates are right in line with last season, his best in New York. A minor groin strain landed Sabathia on the DL for the first time in pinstripes but he’s expected back right after the break.

Kuroda got tagged with the inconsistent label early on but has been a rock since late-April, allowing no more than two earned runs in ten of his last 14 starts. His 3.50 ERA is the 13th best in the junior circuit and the peripherals are solid as well: 4.07 FIP, 6.92 K/9 (18.4 K%), 2.67 BB/9 (7.1 BB%), and 47.4% grounders. Kuroda’s given the team exactly the kind of stability they expected when they signed him to that one-year, $10M pact last offseason.

Following last night’s grind-it-out win, Nova has already struck out more batters this season (100) than he did a year ago (98) in 55.1 fewer innings (232 fewer batters faced). An early-season bout of homeritis — 12 homers in his first nine starts but just five in his last eight — has his ERA at 3.92 (4.32 FIP), but that has been coming down steadily over the last two months. Nova is missing bats (8.16 K/9 and ), limiting walks (2.69 BB/9 ), getting ground balls (48.3%), and soaking up innings (110.1 IP, 11th in the AL). He’s taken a nice big step forward in his second full season.

Have yourself a weekend, Andruw. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Andruw Jones, Jayson Nix & Chris Stewart
The Yankees aren’t usually known for their bench players, but this season they’ve gotten some fantastic work out of their reserves. No one is having a truly awful year off the bench, especially after Andruw Jones clubbed four homers in the two-day span this weekend. He’s hitting .244/.326/.535 with 11 homers overall, including .253/.305/.529 with seven homers against lefties.

Nix took over once Eduardo Nunez‘s defense landed him back in Triple-A, and although his .221/.284/.412 line is nothing to write home about, he’s done most of his damage against lefties .256/.293/.436 in sort of a platoon/rest the regulars role. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by his defense, particularly at short. He’s not great, but he’s not an embarrassment. Offensive expectations for Stewart were so low that his empty .256/.276/.293 batting line feels like a win. His defense hasn’t been as great as advertised but overall, he’s a solid backup that has probably gotten a little too much playing time in the first half (has started 30% of the team’s games).

David Robertson, Boone Logan & Clay Rapada
The bullpen has continued to be a strength for the Yankees, just as it has been for the last three or four years now. They’ve pitched to a 3.20 ERA (3.37 FIP) as a unit, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that Mariano Rivera threw only 8.1 innings before blowing out his knee shagging fly balls in May. Robertson missed a month with an oblique strain but his strikeout (14.59 K/9 and 38.1 K%) and walk (4.38 BB/9 and 11.4 BB%) rates have actually been better than his breakout campaign a year ago. He’s run into more trouble than usual lately, but he wasn’t going to sustain what he did last year anyway. Robertson remains highly effective and one of the game’s most dominant late-inning relievers.

Logan stepped up in a huge way when Robertson hit the DL and the workload has been catching up to him of late; he’s pitched in 43 of the team’s 85 games, the most appearances in baseball. His 3.77 ERA (3.55 FIP) is backed up by a sky-high strikeout rate (11.90 K/9 and 30.6 K%) and he’s held left-handed hitters to a .235/.293/.397 batting line. His lefty specialist counterpart has been effective since being plucked off the scrap heap, as Rapada has held same-side hitters to a .150/.246/.217 line that is essentially identical to his .152/.250/.219 career performance. If anything, you can probably make a strong argument that he’s exceeded expectations, same with Nova, Cano, and Kuroda (considering the league switch).