Rangers will attempt Death By LOOGY in ALCS

Earlier today the Rangers made a pair of small changes to their playoff roster, dropping righty Dustin Nippert and infielder Esteban German in favor of lefty relievers Michael Kirkman and Clay Rapada. Their bullpen is now seven men deep, with four lefties (Kirkman, Rapada, Darren Oliver, and Derek Holland) and just three righties (Neftali Feliz, Darren O’Day, and Alexi Ogando). Apparently Ron Washington’s plan is to LOOGY the Yankees to death in the ALCS.

Have a shutdown lefty reliever or two is a great weapon in postseason play, but four? It would make sense if the Yanks had a lefty lineup, but on most days they’re split up evenly with three righties, three lefties, and three switch hitters. When Lance Berkman starts at designated hitter, then it’s four switch hitters and two righties. Still, Robbie Cano and Brett Gardner don’t have significant platoon splits, and while Curtis Granderson does, he has improved in that area over the last few months. I’m not sure I get it, but hey, if four of their seven best relievers are lefties, so be it.

More than anything, I’m guess I’m just preemptively annoyed at all the inevitable pitching changes and additional commercial breaks. Grumble grumble.

Hello, Texas. We’ve met before, haven’t we?

Ben Shpigel doesn’t think we should remember the eight games the Yankees and Rangers played against each other this season. Because three of them were in April and three were in September when the Yanks’ regulars weren’t playing, the games, he said in The Times earlier this week, don’t tell us much about the impending ALCS match-up.

As Shpigel notes of the September series, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes did not make a start while Nick Swisher had a bum knee, Jorge Posada a concussion and Brett Gardner a sore hand. The Yankees were left short-handed, and Joe Girardi kept giving the ball, infuriatingly enough, to Chad Gaudin. Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera managed to blow a game by hitting Jeff Francoeur with a pitch. It was Bizarro Baseball down in Arlington.

Yet, here we are on the precipice of the ALCS, and these two teams did indeed face each other eight times this year. The Yankees won four out of the first five match-ups before the Rangers subjected the Bombers to the club’s first three-game sweep on the road this year. The clubs played four consecutive one-run games in August and September, and although the players don’t want to read too much into the season series, we’ll take a look at it anyway.

In April, CC shut down the Rangers. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

April 16, 2010: Yankees 5, Rangers 1 (in 6 innings) (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: CC Sabathia
LP: C.J. Wilson
HR: None

The season series started out with a whimper as the Yankees rolled over the Rangers in a rain-shortened game. The best part about this game was a gem Mike penned in our recap: “It’s so easy to like Cervelli with his big doofy helmet and all out hustle and infectious energy, so it was fun to see him single in a run after Granderson’s fielder’s choice.” Fun note: At the time, Nelson Cruz was the AL leader in HR, RBI, slugging and OPS, and little did we realize that these two pitchers would eventually match up against each other in the first game of the American League Championship Series.

April 17, 2010: Yankees 7, Rangers 3 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: A.J. Burnett
LP: Scott Feldman
HR: Nelson Cruz, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez

The second game saw the Yanks behind a solid A.J. Burnett leap out to a quick 5-0 lead they would never give up. After a few weeks of futility, Alex Rodriguez launched his first home run of the season against his former team, and the only bad part of this game was Alfredo Aceves‘ 0.1-inning, three-earned run appearance. The Yankees were rolling.

April 18, 2010: Yankees 5, Rangers 2 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Andy Pettitte
LP: Rich Harden
SV: Mariano Rivera
HR: Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada

Entering this game, Mark Teixeira was batting .100 with an OPS barely above .400, but he took advantage of an ineffective Rich Harden in the third inning. His solo shot was also his first of the season, and it took came against his former teammates. Andy Pettitte went eight strong for his second win of the season as the Yanks wrapped up a tidy three-game sweep of the Rangers in the Bronx. Texas would, of course, return the favor in Arlington a few months later, but these two teams would go nearly four months between meetings.

August 10, 2010: Rangers 4, Yankees 3 (in 10 innings) (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Neftali Feliz
LP: Mariano Rivera
HR: Alex Rodriguez, David Murphy

This game marked a string of five games against the Rangers that were, by and large, not very much fun. A.J. Burnett, mired in a terrible slump, threw seven innings of three-run ball, but C.J. Wilson held his own. The Yanks rallied off of Frank Francisco to tie the game on an a-bomb from A-Rod, but Mariano Rivera gave up the game in the 10th. The Yanks went just 3 for 11 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on.

August 11, 2010: Yankees 7, Rangers 6 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Kerry Wood
LP: Neftali Feliz
SV: Mariano Rivera
HR: Marcus Thames, Michael Young

The Bombers rebounding from their extra-inning loss with a thrilling game against Cliff Lee. While the southpaw struck out 11, the Yanks touched him up for four runs in just 6.1 innings. Staked to a 6-1 lead, Lee and the Rangers bullpen coughed it up. The Yanks scored twice in the seventh, once in the eight and twice in the ninth against closer Neftali Feliz to grab the game. Rivera made it exciting when Elvis Andrus tripled to lead off the inning, but Mo retired Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Vlad to escape that jam.

Yuck. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

September 10, 2010: Rangers 6, Yankees 5 (in 13 innings) (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Scott Feldman
LP: Chad Gaudin
HR: Nelson Cruz (2)

September 11, 2010: Rangers 7, Yankees 6 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Alexi Ogando
LP: Mariano Rivera
HR: None

It’s quite possible that no two games over the course of the Yankee season were as irksome as this pair. The Yanks went 25 for 87 with 18 walks over 21 innings. That’s the equivalent of a .287 batting average and a whopping .421 on-base percentage. But just five of their 25 hits went for extra bases, and the Bombers left a whopping 32 men on base. On Friday night, the Yanks went 3 for 17 with runners in scoring position and left 18 men on base. On Saturday, the team went 3 for 13 with 14 runners on base. Somehow, Chad Gaudin managed to pitch poorly in both games. No one wants to see that happen again.

September 12, 2010: Rangers 4, Yankees 1 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Cliff Lee
LP: Dustin Moseley
SV: Neftali Feliz
HR: None

Cliff Lee faced Dustin Moseley, and the Yanks managed just two hits. No one was surprised.

Banuelos solid in first AzFL start

Apologies for the lack of DotF the last two nights, somehow the Desert Dogs got sucked into two night games this early in the Arizona Fall League season. So late games plus different time zones, yadda yadda yadda, you get the point, the games ended very late. Let’s get you caught up…

Phoenix Desert Dogs (6-3 win over Mesa on Wednesday)
Manny Banuelos: 2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2-2 GB/FB – 29 of 49 pitches were strikes (59.2%) … these starts are short by design, so don’t worry about … starters are limited to five innings max, and something like 75 pitches … they do that just to make sure there’s enough innings to go around

Keith Law was on hand for Banuelos’ start, and posted his take on the lefty yesterday. It’s Insider only, but here’s the good stuff …

… showed a good combination of above-average stuff and command and an easy delivery. He worked at 90-93 mph, locating the pitch to both sides of the plate, with a straight change at 79-81 with very good arm speed. His curveball has an 11/5 break and good depth, and he commanded the pitch about as well as he did the fastball, throwing it for quality strikes and putting it below the zone as needed. He throws from a three-quarters slot and the ball comes out of his hand very easily and deceptively quickly. He’s 5-foot-11 but well-built, certainly strong enough to be a starter; the only concern I’d have off this look was that hitters did square up his fastball when he came toward the middle of the zone, as the pitch has some downhill plane but not much lateral movement.

Banuelos is the Yankees’ best pitching prospect in my opinion, but really we’re just splitting hairs between him, Andrew Brackman, and Dellin Betances. I give Manny the edge because he’s the only one without a major arm injury in his recent past. As for yesterday’s game…

Phoenix Desert Dogs (5-1 win over Scottsdale on Thursday)
Austin Romine, C: 3 for 5, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 SB – he even stole a base, look at that
Brandon Laird, LF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K - I’d love to know how the outfield experiment is going, but it’s still too early to say much of anything … he might not have even had a ball hit his way yet
Jose Pirela, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
Ryan Pope: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB, 1 WP – 13 of his 20 pitches were strikes … he’s got a lot on the line in the AzFL, basically a 40-man roster spot and a shot at a big league job next spring, whether it’s with the Yankees or not

Some (all?) of the AzFL parks are equipped with the PitchFX cameras and what not, so now it’s just a matter of pulling the data. Brooks had it last year, but he’s away getting married and might not have it for a while, if it all. I could pull it myself, but I’d rather do it all in one shot at the end of the season. We’ll see.

ALC Preview Chat

Rangers hitters against CC Sabathia

The Rangers team that hit .276/.338/.419 this season are not who the Yankees will face tonight. Many of the players who contributed to their 90-win regular season will not be in the lineup — some of them aren’t even with the team any more. What even further changes the situation is Texas’s platoon tendency. As we saw when comparing the Rangers and Twins, the Rangers employ a platoon at catcher and in the outfield, as to keep their hitters facing opposite-handed pitchers. Given each player’s numbers, it appears to be a sound strategy.

In order to break down tonight’s match-ups we’ll look at Sabathia and the Rays pitchers in three ways. First we’ll look at overall numbers, and then we’ll dive into the splits. It’s not going to be precisely predictive — nothing is in the microcosm that is a playoff series. But it will give us a better idea of what to expect than the team’s season numbers will.

Overall

The average opponent CC Sabathia faced this season hit .254/.324/.395 and held them to a .239/.301/.355 line. That’s what aces do. But the Rangers will trot out hitters far better than the average ones CC has faced. The nine players who will start for the Rangers hit a collective .290/.350/.454. Yet not even that tells the whole story. There are players whose production weighs more heavily into that aggregate number.

Matt Treanor, for instance, is underrepresented in this sample. He came to the plate just 272 times for the Rangers, so his pathetic .211/.287/.308 line doesn’t bring down the season average as much. Yet he will still be one of nine hitters in the lineup tonight. That does work the other way, though, as Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, and Mitch Moreland also don’t factor prominently into the equation. Moreland’s struggles against lefties change his numbers, but if we had a large sampling of Cruz and, to a lesser extent, Kinsler, we’d have a different situation.

In the same way, there are some hitters that are overrepresented in the sample. Elvis Andrus, Michael Young, Vlad Guerrero, and Josh Hamilton have far more PA than anyone else on the team, so their numbers count for more when we take the average Rangers’ lineup. Yet, in the same way as Molina, they will bat in just one of the nine spots. Averaged equally the lineup has hit .284/.349/.449, which is not that different at all.

Vs. LHP

Part of the Rangers’ advantage is that they’ll trot out a righty-heavy lineup. The only exception is Mitch Moreland, who will likely get the start at first given that Jorge Cantu is terrible. Here’s how I’d guess Ron Washington will fill out the lineup card tonight:

1. Elvis Andrus, SS
2. Mike Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, CF
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, LF
6. Ian Kinsler, 2B
7. Jeff Francoeur, RF
8. Matt Treanor, C
9. Mitch Moreland, 1B

For splits we’ll look at career numbers, just because we get a lot of noise when looking at single-season splits. We’ll toss out Treanor’s numbers because he has just 20 AB against LHP. The rest of the team has hit .286/.350/.472 against lefties, though again that’s subject to bias. Young and Guerrero have far more AB against lefties than anyone else on the team. Weighing them equally, they’ve hit .273/.339/.436. That’s a bit better than opponents have hit against CC this season, but not greatly so.

Miscellany

Each player in the lineup is prone to streaks and slumps, which is why this data isn’t necessarily predictive. For the purposes of analysis it’s the best we can do, but there are always little things that throw off the equation. The Rangers have a few of them in their lineup.

For instance, we can say that Andrus isn’t much of a stolen base threat because he was successful in just 68 percent of his attempts, which falls below the break-even point. But he won’t be running on an average catcher in the series. He’ll be running against Jorge Posada, so keeping him off base will be an important task. Francoeur has hit lefties extremely well since coming over, so he might continue his hot streak.

On the other end there’s Josh Hamilton. As I detailed on FanGraphs yesterday, Hamilton had a rough time in the ALDS. The Rays pitchers threw him few fastballs, leaving him to flail at off-speed and breaking stuff. If Sabathia continues doing that he might hold Hamilton in check, which changes the entire Rangers offense.

The Rangers offense could certainly pose a problem for Sabathia tonight. They have a core of quality hitters who are supplemented with good platoon options. They do have weaknesses at catcher and first base, but other than that they feature good hitters, either overall or against lefties, throughout the rest of the order. But Sabathia is used to facing tough hitters. If anyone can get the job done, it’s him.

The Ties That Bind Us

(AP Photo/Linda Kaye)

In the age of free agency and mass player movement, every regular season series feels a reunion with ex-Yankees and former teammates. Every so often an ex-Yank will do something to beat his old team and we’ll shake our fist, but for the most part that player’s service to the Yankee cause is much appreciated. When Hideki Matsui took Chan Ho Park deep in June, the South Bronx erupted in cheers for a Los Angeles Angel for the first time in history. Same deal with David Wells when he returned as a Padre in 2004. Tino Martinez with the Cardinals, El Duque with the White Sox, Johnny Damon with the Tigers … the list goes on and on.

The Yankees are the most well known free agent spenders, but the Rangers topped everyone in December 2000 when they inked former Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez to a then-record ten year, $252M contract. Three All Star appearances, one MVP award, and three seasons of financial disarray later, they were looking for a trade partner to take the game’s best player off their hands … along with the $180M or so left on his contract. After a potential deal with the Red Sox feel through, the Yankees stepped in acquired Alex for All Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano and prospect Joaquin Arias. New York also received close to $46M from the Rangers through 2007 to offset A-Rod‘s salary.

One year before the trade, the Rangers broke in a young minor league third baseman named Mark Teixeira. The fifth overall pick of the 2001 draft eventually shifted over to first in deference to top prospect Hank Blalock, and once Alex was moved Teixeira took over as the face of the franchise. He hit 38 homers with a .281/.370/.560 batting line as a sophomore, then topped that with a 43 homer, .301/.379/.575 season in 2005. The Rangers had their new superstar, but like A-Rod money eventually got in the way.

As Tex got closer and closer to free agency, the Rangers didn’t want to lose their star for nothing (or, well, two draft picks), so they did what they did with Alex and traded him. There was a different general manager in charge this time, and Jon Daniels wanted to acquire players just like himself: young. He eventually settled on a five prospect package from the Braves, one that literally change the course of the franchise and set them up for this playoff run that the Yanks are trying to stop.

Now the corner infielders for the defending World Champion Yankees, the fingerprints of A-Rod and Teixeira are still all over the Rangers. Three of the five players they received for Tex – closer Neftali Felix, shortstop Elvis Andrus, and lefty reliever Matt Harrison – are on the playoff roster, and the money they saved by dealing Alex allowed them to not only sign Michael Young long-term, but also invest in a farm system that has produced players like Justin Smoak, Julio Borbon, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Mitch Moreland, and Alexi Ogando, all of whom are either on their playoff roster or were traded for players who are.

The Yankees and Twins had a loose connection when they met in the ALDS; the only significant common player between the two clubs was Carl Pavano, arguably the worst free agent signing in Yankee history. The connection between the Yanks and Rangers is much deeper however. A-Rod and Teixeira will surely be booed this weekend, but the Texas faithful should not discount their impact on the current Rangers team. They wouldn’t have gotten where they are without them.

The Cliff Lee connection

Cliff Lee pitches in the 2002 AA All Star Game as a member of the Akron Arrows. Credit: AP Photo John Spivey

Since the Rangers downed the Tampa Bay Rays to earn the right to face the Yankees in the ALCS, most of the coverage has focused around Cliff Lee. The Yanks had to beat Lee’s team last year to win the World Series; they almost traded for him three months ago; and they plan to go hard after him this winter when the southpaw hits free agency. It’s a tailor-made situation for a compelling story, and Lee’s story has led sports sections from Arlington to Armonk.

In response to the over-the-top Cliff Lee-Mania, RAB reader Richard Iurilli launched a Twitter phenomenon. “Cliff Lee throws so hard, he can throw a baseball around the world and strike himself out,” he said. The kicker though was was the hashtag: #cliffleefacts. Said Joe Auriemma, “Cliff Lee can win a game of Connect Four in only three moves.” Said Kelsey O’Donnell, “The apocalypse would come if Cliff Lee EVER loses a game.” And on and on it went.

Yet, it’s impossible to talk about the impending American League Championship Series without revisiting July 8, the day Cliff Lee maybe, kinda, sorta almost became a Yankee. In The Post today, Joel Sherman, seemingly the most connected of New York reporters, goes back inside the Cliff Lee negotiations, and for the most part, it’s a story we know well. The Mariners were desperate to pry Justin Smoak from the Rangers, and they either wanted Eduardo Nuñez or Ivan Nova to join Jesus Montero instead of David Adams or were willing to use the Yanks to put the pressure on Texas GM Jon Daniels. Depending upon who you ask, a deal with the Yanks was on the verge of completion. “We had him,” Brian Cashman said to Sherman. “We had a deal in principle pending physicals.”

Sherman sheds some light on the process:

Around 9 p.m. Eastern Time on July 8, Seattle agreed with the Yankeees to accept Montero, Adams and righty Zach McAllister for Lee, and the sides swapped medical info. Around 3 a.m. Zduriencik called Cashman to say Seattle team doctors were concerned about Adams’ right ankle. This confused the Yankees. Adams had been out since injuring his ankle sliding May 23, yet the Mariners kept insisting he had to be included and the Yankees only relented that night.

Seattle’s concerns proved valid, as subsequent tests weeks later revealed a fracture and not a sprain for Adams.
Over the next several hours Seattle asked the Yankees to replace Adams. The Yankees offered touted righty Adam Warren. The Mariners said either Nova or Nunez must be the replacement, which was their initial position a week earlier. Cashman refused, stating the Yankees would not yield significantly more to get Lee for half a season than Philadelphia had given Cleveland to obtain Lee for a season and a half or Seattle had given Philadelphia to get Lee for a season.

Also, the Yankees came to believe Seattle had not shut down conversations with Texas. There are no written rules, but general protocol is that once a deal in principle is reached, then the trading teams go silent with other clubs.

Yankee fans spent the day waiting for the trade to become official on the 9th, and it never did. Now, instead of pitching Game 2 of the ALCS for the Yankees, Lee will face them in Game 3 on Monday night in the Bronx. “So be it,” Cashman said. “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. We will find out in who has the best team. I have no regrets. I am comfortable with not [completing the trade]. In time we will learn if that was the right thing to do.”

In his 3UP post today, Sherman discussed Lee at length and compared it to the Johan Santana situation. A few years ago, we lobbied hard against a trade that would have sent Phil Hughes along with at least Ian Kennedy and one or two other pieces to the Twins for Johan Santana, but this time around, I was more comfortable with the Lee trade. I can’t speak for Joe or Mike here, but I worried about the Yanks’ blown opportunity. I worried about Lee’s future with another team, and I worried that Jesus Montero might just be a little bit overhyped. After all, even though the magazine ranked him the fourth-best International League prospect this year, Baseball America says his defense is highly suspect. If Montero is only a bat but not a catcher, his future value declines.

Of course, the Yankees have a plan, and they’re going to stick to it. Brian Cashman knows that, as Tyler Kepner noted, when it comes to free agency, the Yanks get their guy. They got Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. To the Yankees, money isn’t an obstacle, and if the only thing that separates them from Cliff Lee is two weeks of the playoffs and a $110-million contract, so be it.

Still, even though Lee won’t take the mound for another four days, his presence looms over this ALCS. He is Texas’ savior, an ace they haven’t had in decades, if ever, and he’s the almost-was for the Yankees. Nearly a member of the team in July, Cliff Lee will once again try to stop the Yankees from winning a World Series for what hopefully will be the last time before he joins them.