Open Thread: All about A-Rod

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Let’s talk about Alex Rodriguez a little bit. He hit his 30th homerun of the season last night, a total most of us thought he had no chance of reaching just two weeks ago. A five homeruns in six days binge helped get him there, and he’s now posted the most consecutive 30+ HR, 100+ RBI seasons in baseball history (13, and 14 overall). Alex has only been with the Yankees for seven years now, not much in the grand scheme of things, but let’s see how he stacks up in the team’s record books…

bWAR: 40.9, should jump into the top ten sometime in 2012
OBP: .394, outside the top ten by .001
SLG: .560, fourth best behind Babe Ruth (.711), Lou Gehrig (.632), and Joe DiMaggio (.579)
OPS: .954, fifth best behind Ruth (1.195), Gehrig (1.080), DiMaggio (.977), and Mickey Mantle (.977)
HR: 268, seventh best but could finish as high as third behind Ruth (659) and Mantle (536)
K: 838, sixth most with everyone above him well over 1,000
OPS+: 147, one point behind Reggie Jackson for sixth best
HBP: 80, fifth most and he should eventually settle in behind Derek Jeter (152) for second most all-time
AB per HR: 14.3, second best behind Ruth (11.0) and … wait for it … Jason Giambi (14.0)
WPA: +26.0, fifth best and within shouting distance of Yogi Berra (+32.4) for second
WPA/LI: +28.3, third most behind Mantle (+94.4 (!!!)) and Jeter (+32.7)

At $168,389,252 in salary, I’m willing to bet A-Rod‘s second only to Derek in that department as well. Here’s the link to the full leaderboards if you’re interested. It’s pretty amazing to see where he ranks among the all-time great Yankees despite being in pinstripes for just seven years. I’m glad he got to 30 bombs this season, but I’d be even happier if he manages to find those 40 missing points of on-base percentage next season.

* * *

Anyway, here’s your open thread for this wet, rainy evening in the Tri-State Area. The Mets are playing the Brewers, and according to my guide there will be another game on the MLB Network, but the teams are TBA. With any luck it’ll be the Padres-Cubs, the only game going on tonight with any playoff implications. I suppose it could be Royals-Rays, which would obviously impact the Yankees, but meh. Chat about whatever, just don’t be a dick.

Oh, and I need some mailbag questions, so send them in using the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar. I’ve gotten one so far this week, and it’s not even about the Yankees.

For the right price, earlier World Series starting times

For years, baseball fans have urged Fox to start the World Series earlier, and the network has mainly turned a deaf ear to those calls. This year, though, Fox has finally agreed to push back the start of the Fall Classic to times more conducive to East Coast viewing because they have the money to do so.

The network announced today new start times for the World Series. The schedule looks a little something like this:

Game Date Host First Pitch
1 Wed. 10/27 NL 7:57 p.m.
2 Thur. 10/28 NL 7:57 p.m.
3 Sat. 10/30 AL 6:57 p.m.
4 Sun. 10/31 AL 8:20 p.m.
5 Mon. 11/1 AL 7:57 p.m.
6 Tue. 11/3 NL 7:57 p.m.
7 Wed. 11/4 NL 7:57 p.m.

Only one game — the Sunday night match-up — will air at 8:20 while most will start just before 8 p.m. and one begins at the perfectly reasonable hour of 7 p.m. That Game 3 start time is the earliest first pitch since Game 6 of 1987 World Series.

So why the early start time? Well, last year, baseball tried the 7:57 p.m. starts and found they not-so-shockingly increased viewership. “The changes we made with Fox last year to start the World Series games earlier helped increase viewership including more young fans, and we are optimistic that the earlier start time for Saturday’s Game Three will keep us moving in the same direction,” Bud Selig, baseball’s commissioner, said.

Fox execs had another reason behind the switch. Fox Sports President Eric Shanks explained: “We’ve said over the years that if advertisers were willing to support earlier starts at prime time levels, we’d be able to begin games earlier.”

We’re not blind to the fact that baseball is a business and that Fox and MLB want to cash on the game’s jewel event at the end of the season. Make no mistake about it though: This timeshift, while better for fans, is all the money.

Requiem for a risky trade

Javy wasn't having too many nice days in pinstripes this year. (Photo by Amanda Rykoff)

Yankee fans went to sleep on the night of December 21, 2009 with rumors swirling. We knew that the Yanks were on the verge of acquiring a starting pitcher, but we didn’t know, until the next morning at least, that Javier Vazquez would return to the Bronx. Even though our last meeting with Vazquez was an infamous one and we knew Brian Cashman was rolling the dice on a risky trade, we liked the deal.

And how could we not? For Melky Cabrera, an overrated player on the verge of making more money than he’s worth, the replaceable Michael Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino, a live arm years away from making his Major League debut, the Yanks landed a lefty reliever and one of the top National League hurlers. Lest we forget with the bad taste of 2010 still in our mouths, Javier Vazquez won 15 games with a 2.87 ERA in 2009 with a 9.8 K/9 IP, a 1.8 BB/9 IP and just 20 home runs allowed in 219.1 innings. He deservedly finished fourth in the Cy Young voting.

What a difference a year makes. If last night was Javier Vazquez’s final appearance as a member of the New York Yankees, his season totals are abysmal. He’s 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA and a FIP even higher than that. In 157.1 innings, he struck out 121, walked 65 and gave up 32 home runs. His home run rate more than doubled over 2009 while he lost over three strike outs and walked two more batters over nine innings. He hasn’t won a start since July 26.

Vazquez couldn’t have been much worse for the Yanks, and few pitchers have. In two seasons six years apart, Vazquez has gone 24-20 with a 5.09 ERA. His rate stats — strike outs, walks and home runs per 9 innings pitched — than compared with his career totals, and he again seems to have lost the ability to get men out. No pitcher in Yankee history has made as many starts as Vazquez while being so prolific at giving up the long ball, and only Sterling Hitchcock, Tim Leary and Andy Hawkins have as many innings pitched with higher ERAs than Javy.

For a brief spell in the middle of the season, it appeared as though Javy had figured it all out. After starting the season 1-4 with an 8.10 ERA in his first six games, Javy went 8-5 over his next 16 games with a 3.39 ERA. He allowed just 13 home runs over those 95.2 innings and kept runners off base. His last 10 appearances though have seen him allow 11 home runs in 38.2 innings while opponents are hitting a Robinson Cano-like .302/.387/.549 against him while walking 4.5 times per nine innings. Somewhere it all went wrong.

Maybe it’s Javy’s head or maybe it’s something else. Maybe he can’t pitch in New York as many would have you believe or maybe he’s just not physically up to the task any longer. It’s not unheard of for 34-year-olds with 2500 innings under their belt to fall off a clip, and I think Javy’s problem can be summed up in graph form.

His velocity, as we can see, has dipped significantly this year. During his time with the Braves, he threw in the low-to-mid 90s; with the Yankees, he’s barely cracked 89, let alone 90. He stopped being able to blow hitters away, and he stopped being able to mix his pitches effectively. It was a long hard fall.

So as Javy has likely thrown his last pitch in a Yankee uniform, Joel Sherman threw an obvious pitch into the mix this morning. The Yankees, he says, will not offer Javy arbitration. The Yanks swallowed hard and traded Arodys Vizcaino last winter because they hoped to turn Javy into a first-round draft pick. Now that Javy’s been worth below replacement level according to Fangraphs’ WAR, the team won’t be offering him and his $11.5 million salary arbitration, and they won’t recoup some of the cost it took to acquire him.

The inevitable question then concerns the trade. Was it a good one? Without the luxury of hindsight or a crystal ball, there’s no way to know that Javier Vazquez’s 2010 would be this bad, and the cost to acquire him is high only if Arodys pans out. I can’t fault the Yanks for trying in December, but no one should whitewash Javy’s poor finish. One thing is certain: I’ll be calling this the Boone Logan trade from now on.

Could Cervelli’s playing time be a good thing?

(AP Photo/Ralph Lauer)

For much of the summer, we lamented every time Frankie Cervelli‘s name was written into the lineup. He started the season off in glorious fashion, hitting .354/.426/.451 in his first hundred or so plate appearances through mid-May. As Jorge Posada‘s backup it was fantastic, but then things started to go south once Cervelli received more and more playing time. From May 23rd through August 25th, a period during which Posada missed time due to a broken foot, a bruised ring finger, a sore knee, and a sore shoulder, Cervelli hit just .174/.248/.208 in 164 plate appearances.

Production at the bottom of the order was compromised, and oftentimes it was painful to watch. No one really expected Frankie to hit much this year, so it wasn’t his impotent bat that bothered people (okay, yes it was), it was all the playing time he received. When Posada wasn’t injured he often started at designated hitter, giving Cervelli even more at-bats. In fact, his 714.2 innings caught this year are the most on the team, about six games more than Posada’s total of 660.1. Of course that gap closed significantly down the stretch in September, but it still may have some impact down the road.

At 39-years-old, Posada remains a catching marvel. He’s hitting .253/.361/.464 in between all those nagging injuries this year, a .361 wOBA that ranks ahead of Victor Martinez and is bested only by Joe Mauer’s .376 mark among AL catchers. Sure, his defense is as bad as ever, but Cervelli hasn’t exactly made anyone forget Jose Molina. Posada is clearly the best catcher on the team and should start behind the plate every day in the postseason, and the lessened workload during the season just might help him do it.

Aside from 2008, when Jorge missed most of the season with a major shoulder injury, the 660.1 innings in 2010 are the fewest he’s caught in a single season since 1999. He was well over 1,000 innings caught annually from 2000-2007, and it wasn’t until injuries set in later in his career that Posada’s workload started to decrease. Of course all that extra rest this summer hasn’t helped lately; he’s hitting just .179/.304/.282 since September 10th, but we’re not going to get worked up over 46 plate appearances, especially during a period when the entire team struggled offensively.

This is completely subjective obviously, as there’s no concrete way to determine whether or not the decreased workload during the hot summer months will help keep Posada fresh for the playoffs. It sounds logical, but I’m constantly amazed at how often logic loses out. A productive Jorge Posada is the best thing for the Yankees, and if all of those plate appearances wasted on Cervelli this season help Posada remain productive when the games really man something, then I take back all of the bad things I ever said about Frankie. Well, not all of it, but some of it.

Aside: Remember when there was that big debate last season/postseason about Cervelli being a better game caller and better with the pitchers and what not? Well this year Yankee pitchers have a 4.03 ERA and a .252/.325/.397 batting line against with Frankie behind the dish and a 4.06 ERA with a .246/.317/.399 line against with Posada. The whole thing seems silly now, doesn’t it?

Baseball America’s Top 20 South Atlantic League Prospects

Chugging along with their annual prospect ranking series, Baseball America posted their list of the top 20 prospects in the Low-A South Atlantic League today. Just one Yankee farmhand made the cut, 2009 first rounder Slade Heathcott at #18. Former Yankee prospect Arodys Vizcaino came it at number six. I’m kinda disappointed that Jose Ramirez didn’t make it, but that’s life.

In the subscriber only scouting report, BA raved about Heathcott’s raw ability, noting his impressive speed, fast-twitch athleticism, patience at the plate, and “unrealized power potential.” They mentioned that his swing needs refinement to help him make more contact (duh), and that he could stand to improve his instincts to take advantage of his speed in center and on the bases. Slade was also compared to Lenny Dykstra for his all-out style of play. “I think he learned what kind of player he is this year,” said a rival league manager. “He needs a lot of polish, but there’s a lot to work with there.”

The next list that Yankee fans have to worry about involves the High-A Florida State League, but that won’t come out until next Wednesday. Dellin Betances is a lock for that one, while Bradley Suttle, Melky Mesa, Adam Warren, and Graham Stoneburner should garner consideration as well. Andrew Brackman might not have thrown innings with Tampa to qualify for the list.

The Unexpected Heroes

It happens every year. Injuries and/or ineffectiveness force each and every team to call up players from the minors, sometimes minor league lifers and other times rookies. Inevitably one of two or those players comes up big in some way, whether it be in one at-bat or over a prolonged stretch of time. The Yankees have enjoyed quite  bit of success from unexpected sources this season, and they ultimately needed every little bit of it en route to clinching a playoff spot.

Some call-ups obviously did more than others, but these five moments really stand out from the pack. Presented in chronological order, let’s relieve the magic by the unexpected heroes…

May 21st: Kevin Russo buries the Mets (video)

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Yankees were dealing with a plethora of injury issues in May, with everyone from Curtis Granderson (hamstring) to Nick Swisher (biceps) to Robbie Cano (knee) to Jorge Posada (foot) battling ailments and needing various degrees of rest. Russo was recalled because he provided enough versatility to sub for any of the walking wounded, but even the staunchest of Russo backers expected little with the bat.

With the Yanks coming off three straight losses and heading across town to take on the Mets, Russo drew his first career start, an assignment in leftfield. The two New York clubs played to a scoreless tie through six, but the Yanks threatened to break things open when Elmer Dessens relieved Hisanori Takahashi. Nick Swisher led the seventh inning off with a solid single to center, though Frankie Cervelli tried to kill the rally with a tailor made double play to ball to second. Unfortunately for the Mets, it was not meant to be. Alex Cora airmailed the flip to Jose Reyes, throwing the ball into leftfield and allowing Swish to move to third and Cervelli to second, all with no outs.

That brought Russo to the plate with a chance to give the Yanks a lead even if he made an out. He had picked up his first career hit in his first at-bat, but on Dessens’ second offering he picked up his first career extra base hit, poking a double down the rightfield line and into the corner. Both Swisher and Cervelli came around the score, and those two runs were all the Yanks needed on the day. Mariano Rivera nailed things down in the ninth, and the losing streak was kaput.

June 27th: Chad Huffman & Colin Curtis break Jonathan Broxton (video and video)

When Granderson and Marcus Thames hit the disabled list earlier in the season, the Yankees were stretched a little thin in the outfield. Huffman did a poor but still admirable job filling in, and during interleague play he found himself substituting for another injured outfielder: Brett Gardner, who left this game against the Dodgers after Clayton Kershaw hit him on the wrist with a fastball in the third inning. Huffman singled in his first at-bat, but his moment to shine didn’t come until the ninth inning.

Down four runs coming into the frame, the Yankees were already mounting a rally off Broxton when Huffman came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Broxton challenged the rookie, giving him three straight fastballs at 96. After taking the first two for a ball and a strike, Huffman lined a single to the opposite field to drive in a pair of runs and bring the Yanks to within one. The next batter was Curtis, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the previous inning and remained in to play defense. Again, Broxton came right at him, and the kid who made his big league debut less than a week earlier in his home state of Arizona fouled off the first two pitches for a quick 0-2 count.

At this point, against a reliever of Broxton’s caliber, most kids with six big league plate appearances to their credit are toast. But not Curtis, he hung in there and then some. The third pitch was a fastball down for a ball, the fourth was a slider in the dirt for a ball, and the fifth a fastball well of the plate for another ball and a foul count. Just working the count back full was impressive, but then Lil’ CC went ahead and fouled off the next four pitches. The tenth pitch of the confrontation was Broxton’s 40th of the inning, a fastball at the knees that Curtis grounded sharply to first. James Loney fielded it cleanly and stepped on first for the force, but Grandy slid in safely and beat the throw home to tie the game.

The Yankees, as you know, went on to win the game in extras, thanks in large part to the efforts of these two young outfielders. Too date, those are Huffman’s only two big league RBI and his last hit before being sent back down. Curtis eventually went back to Scranton but has since resurfaced as a September call-up. Before this game, Broxton had a 0.83 ERA with a 48-5 K/BB ratio in 32.2 innings. Since then though, he’s got a 6.59 ERA with 24 strikeouts and 21 walks in 28.2 innings. The Yanks straight up broke him that night.

August 8th: Dustin Moseley tames the Red Sox (video)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The common themes in this post seem to be injuries and losing streaks, and sure enough this moment features a little of both. Moseley was starting every fifth day in place of the injured Andy Pettitte, and made his third start of the season against the Red Sox on a nationally televised Sunday night game. It was a recipe for disaster, something the Yanks could ill afford after losing five of their previous eight games.

Instead of wilting, Moseley thrived. One-two-three went the Sox in the first, then again in the second. They didn’t put a runner on base until Bill Hall singled on a ground ball through the left side with one out in the third, but Moseley quickly recovered. He sat the next two men down without incident, and then worked himself out of a bases loaded, two out jam in the next frame with yet another groundout. Hall led off the fifth inning with a solo homer, but Moseley sat five of the next six men down in order (with a 3-6-1 double play mixed in) and took the ball into the seventh.

That’s when things got a little dicey thanks to an Adrian Beltre double and a single by (of course) Hall, putting runners on the corners with one out. Joe Girardi pulled the righthander from the game after that even though he had thrown just 87 pitches, but Joba Chamberlain allowed Beltre to score and hang another run on Moseley. His final line couldn’t have been much better considering the circumstances: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 13 GB, 6 FB. The Yanks took the screws to Josh Beckett a few innings earlier to take the pressure off, but Moseley came up big in a spot where his team really needed a win. He’s not a traditional prospect like the other guys in this post, but he certainly wasn’t someone that the Bombers expected to rely on this season. For at least this one night, he justified their faith in him.

Sept. 14th: Greg Golson is unimpressed by Carl Crawford (video)

With the Yankees in the middle of a four game losing streak and in Tampa to take on the division rival Rays earlier this month, Jorge Posada hit a go-ahead homerun in the top of the tenth inning that had the potential to made things all right in Yankeeland, at least for one night. Mariano Rivera came in for the save opportunity in the bottom half, and Golson had already taken over in rightfield after Juan Miranda pinch hit for Curtis in the eighth inning.

Mo was in the middle of his recent rough patch, and things looked ominous when Crawford led off the frame with a single. He eventually stole second with one out, and all it would take was a single to knot things up. Matt Joyce, with a hit and a run driven in already to his name on the evening, came to the plate and managed to work the count full. He lifted the seventh pitch of the at-bat moderately deep to right, deep enough to move Crawford over to third on a sacrifice. Or at least he thought it was.

Golson settled in under the fly ball close to the line and caught it flat-footed when Crawford broke for third. It wasn’t until he heard Granderson yelling from center that he realized the Rays’ leftfielder was going, and that’s when he he uncorked an absolutely beauty of the throw. It reached A-Rod at third on a single bounce and in plenty of time for him to apply the tag for the rarely seen 9-5 game ending double play. For at least one night, the win and the throw put the Yanks back on top in the AL East.

Sept. 26th: Juan Miranda takes a walk (video)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Just a dozen days after Golson’s throw ended a four game losing streak, Miranda’s batting eye did the same. The Yanks and Red Sox played to a rather suspenseful two-all tie through nine innings and headed to extras. Miranda entered the game in the top of the tenth as a defensive replacement for Mark Teixeira, who had to be pinch run for in the ninth. Hideki Okajima made things very interesting in the bottom half of the tenth, loaded the bases on two singles and an intentional walk with none out. Thames nearly ended things when he hit a screamer to third, but Beltre made a play on it and got the force at the plate for first out.

A career .237/.313/.393 hitter against southpaws in the minors, Miranda stepped to the plate with a chance to give the Yanks arguably their most important win of the season. Okajima fed him nothing but soft stuff, feeding him a curveball off the plate for a ball before getting a swing-and-miss on a changeup in the dirt. The third and fourth pitches of the at-bat were more curveballs off the outer half, and Miranda laid off both to work himself into a favorable 3-1 count. It’s a big time hitter’s count, one where the batter looks to do some serious damage, but the fill-in first baseball remained disciplined. Victor Martinez called for a changeup down in the zone to try to induce the inning ending double play, but Okajima missed inside and Miranda simply took the pitch for ball four and the walk-off walk. The losing streak was over, and more importantly the win reduced the Yanks’ magic number for a playoff spot to just one.

Pettitte dealing with ‘stiff’ back problems

As the Yankees gear up for another October run, they’re doing so with major question marks surrounding their pitching staff. A.J. Burnett has lost the ability to pitch consistently or effectively, Javier Vazquez is a nonentity at this point and Phil Hughes is bumping up against an innings limit of sorts. So it is with more than a bit of dismay that we learn about an new injury: Andy Pettitte, reports Mark Feinsand, is battling through a minor back injury the team believes to be muscular.

According to the Daily News scribe, Pettitte felt his back stiffen up during his 3.1-inning start against the Red Sox on Friday, and he attributed this injury to his inability to command his pitches. When the Yanks clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday, the team immediately postponed Pettitte’s outing to give his back a few days of rest. “The next day, I knew I was going to be fine,” Pettitte. “But you don’t want to have anything going on, especially after what I’ve been through with my groin.”

Yanks’ skipper Joe Girardi downplayed the injury. “It’s always a concern whenever a guy is dealing with something,” Girardi said to Feinsand. “But it was muscular, so you have to believe he’ll bounce back. It’s a little concern.” Pettitte is still slated to start on Friday, and Yankees fans will be holding their collective breaths in the meantime. It’s not a stretch to say that the Yanks’ championship hopes rest on Pettitte’s back holding up for four or five more starts.