Mapping out a plan for Pettitte

Credit: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

When Andy Pettitte left his July 18th start with a groin injury, the team hoped he would return within five weeks. Now, nearly two months later and with the Minor League season dwindling away, Pettitte is on the verge of his first rehab start.

Still, he and the team do not know when the lefty will make his triumphant return to the Bronx. In fact, according to Pete Caldera from The Record, the Yankees may ask Pettitte to make another minor league rehab start. “We’ll just wait and see,” Joe Girardi said. “What I want to see is command of all his pitches, and for him to come out of that start feeling really good.”

Besides Pettitte’s groin, the Yanks’ biggest concerns focus around the Minor League schedule. Pettitte takes the ball for the AA Trenton Thunder tonight in the second game of the Eastern League semifinals. The Yanks’ farmhands have a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five set, and if the Thunder advance, Pettitte’s second rehab start would be Game 1 of the EL finals on September 14. He would then line up to start in Baltimore on September 19. If all goes according to that plan, Pettitte would enjoy four Major League starts before the playoffs.

The problems arise if Trenton cannot advance. Then, the Yankees would have to turn to their other Minor League teams in the playoffs. The AAA club in Scranton is currently playing in the International League postseason tournament. They lost the first game of their best-of-five set, and they too would play on September 14 if they can take three of the next four games from the Columbus Clippers. The Single A Tampa Yankees have advanced to the Florida State League best-of-five finals but play on September 14th only in the event of a full series. Trenton remains Pettitte’s best hope.

If Trenton doesn’t advance, the team’s plans for Pettitte could be up in the air. They could have him throw some intense sim games or work out in Tampa. They seem hesitant to bring Pettitte back after just one rehab outing and then against the Rays in Tampa Bay for a key AL East showdown.

As the Yanks enjoy an off-day and hope to get back their 11-2 lefty with his 2.88 ERA as soon as possible, all eyes will be on Trenton tonight. “I’m going crazy. I want to go pitch,” Number 46 said to Caldera yesterday. “I’ve been out almost two months. I want to go pitch and get going here. I feel like I haven’t done anything in so long, like I haven’t even pitched this year yet. I’m just excited to get back out there.” So are we, Andy. So are we.

Montero undergoes minor surgery, will miss remainder of the year

Jesus Montero, the Yankees’ number one prospect, will miss the rest of the season after undergoing minor surgery to on his ankle yesterday, General Manager Brian Cashman said on ESPN 1050 today. While George A. King of The Post initially reported that Montero could return if Scranton advances in the playoffs, the Yankees will hold out their catching prospect no matter what. Montero underwent surgery to have an infection on his right ankle cleaned out last night, and the injury is not considered serious. This news, however, should put to rest talk of a September call-up for Montero.

The 20-year-old hit .289/.353/.517 with 21 home runs and 34 doubles after a very slow start at AAA, and he will be in the mix for a Big League job come Spring Training 2011.

The Boone Logan appreciation thread

Once upon a time, the thought of Boone Logan’s pitching meaningful innings in high-leverage situations filled me with dread. Through the first two months of the season, Joe Girardi kept deploying the 26-year-old lefty in match-up situations, often in close games, and the results were enough to condemn the process. When he was finally sent down to AAA at the end of May, Logan had accrued 10.2 innings while walking more than he had struck out. Opponents were hitting .310.408/.452 against him. The spare part in the Javier Vazquez deal seemed nothing more than that, and the icing on the cake was, of course, the No More Boone Logan jpeg.

Since Logan’s return to the Majors in late June, though, something has clicked, and yesterday, as I sat in the Grandstand and watched Logan strike out Luke Scott and Felix Pie in the top of the 8th of a one-run game, I marveled at the turnaround. Over his past 27 games spanning 24 innings, Logan has been nothing short of spectacular. He sports a 1.13 ERA with a 26:9 K:BB rate. Opponents are hitting just .195/.278/.264 against him, and his two strike outs yesterday gave him 22 scoreless straight appearances, the third longest streak in Yankee bullpen history. Only some guy named Mariano and Steve Farr have topped that.

Praise for Logan has become the norm amongst Yankee writers and baseball analysts. The guys at The Yankee U highlight just how good the bullpen has been of late, and Mark Simon at ESPN profiles the rise of Boone Logan. Simon explores the differences in pre-demotion Logan and the new and improved Boone Logan 2.0:

The biggest positive to come out of this stretch for Logan is that he’s not walking hitters anywhere near as frequently as he was earlier this season. In his last 14 2/3 innings, Logan has issued just four walks. He was averaging 5.4 walks per nine innings prior to this streak.

Key to that: The effectiveness of Logan’s breaking ball, the one he used to strike Luke Scott out on Wednesday. Inside Edge, which tracks every pitch thrown, by type, has 20 of Logan’s 30 strikeouts this season coming on breaking balls.

Of the 63 breaking pitches that Logan has gotten opponents to swing at, they’ve missed on 35 of them, including 3-of-3 Wednesday. That miss rate (55.6 percent) rates third-best in the majors.

Confidence in a breaking ball plus the ability to throw swing-and-miss pitches are, obviously, paramount to a reliever’s success, and Logan has used his ability to throw in the upper 90s along with his breaking pitches to dominate hitters. While relievers may be a volatile bunch, for the last few months, Logan has been able to harness the stuff that has followed him around since he made his Major League debut in 2006.

For the Yankees, Logan’s emergence as an effective bullpen piece couldn’t have come at a better time. With Damaso Marte shelved, as Joe wrote in July, the left-handed spotlight turned to Logan and shine he did. Filling in for the injured Marte, Logan has limited lefties to a .188 /.278/.219, and he has struck out a third of all left-handed batters. Right now, Joe Girardi has enough confidence in Logan to have him face lefties in any situation and at any point in the game, and the stuff and numbers would back up that match-up.

Still, Logan’s biggest tests are still to come. As the Yankees get their ducks in a row for another playoff run, they won’t have Damaso Marte. Today at the Pinstriped Bible, Cliff Corcoran dispatches the idea that Marte was a revelation last year in the playoffs. He got only one out with the tying or winning run at the plate, and five of his 12 outs recorded came in losing games. Four others came with four-run leads in the 8th inning, and seemingly his biggest out — a Game 4 Ryan Howard K — came with a two-run lead and seven outs left in the game.

Yet, the playoff teams the Yanks could face this year have lefties in key spots in their lineups. Josh Hamilton remains a feared hitter for the Rangers. Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel and Justin Morneau fill out the Twins’ order, and Carl Crawford, Carlos Peña are formidable foes within the Rays’ order. Boone Logan will inevitably be called upon to face these lefties late in the game.

A few months ago, Boone Logan was the throw-in piece in a five-player trade. Today, he could be the better and more important player as the Yanks stare down 22 games and 11 more wins before they can claim a 28th World Series championship trophy. No more No Boone Logan.

The long, short road ahead

Thankfully, the Yankees aren't chasing anyone in the standings. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The Yankees have been playing for more than five long months now, and there’s just 22 games left in their season. Believe it or not, they have just a single homestand remaining, a seven gamer that starts on September 20th with the Rays and ends on the 26th with Boston. Sandwiched around that homestand are a nine game road trip and a six game road trip that feature just three games (total) against a club with a losing record, and that’s the same Orioles team that just took two of the three in the Bronx.

Ben’s written about it ad nauseum over the last few weeks, so we all know that the Yanks have a tough schedule over the season’s final weeks. The good news is that they’ve basically locked up a playoff spot already, so even if they were to go 8-14 the rest of the way, the Soxes (White and Red) would need to go at least 18-5 and 17-5, respectively, just to tie. But the Yanks aren’t the kind of team to settle for just getting in, we want the biggest and the best.

Winning the division will bring really just one key benefit because, for all intents and purposes, it will guarantee not just the best record in the American League, but the best record in baseball overall. That benefit is obvious: homefield advantage in both the ALDS and ALCS regardless of opponent. While it’s nice to have that comfort, it’s really not critical. The Yanks have one of the best road records in baseball at 38-28, and as R.J. Anderson explained, the team with homefield advantage in a given series typically only benefits if it goes the full five (ALDS) or seven (ALCS) games. Not having homefield advantage shouldn’t be enough to derail a team of this caliber.

Capturing the AL East crown is a nice feather in the cap and a great accomplishment, but in the Wild Card Era it’s hardly imperative. There’s really not much of a difference between facing the Twins or Rangers in the Division Series, because facing Francisco Liriano twice in a five game stretch is just as bad as facing Cliff Lee. Given the playoff schedule, the Yanks will only need three starters in the ALDS, something that should put everyone’s mind at ease. CC Sabathia obviously goes in Game One, presumably Andy Pettitte in Game Two, then either Phil Hughes or (more likely) A.J. Burnett in Game Three. If Game Four is needed, Sabathia can go on three days’ rest, then Pettitte lines up perfectly to start a potential Game Five on normal rest.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. If the Yankees plan on winning the division, they first have to navigate this final 22-game stretch. The biggest games are obviously the seven with Tampa, particularly the four game set at the New Stadium in two weeks. There’s a chance the division race will be decided by the end of that series, but at the very least the Yanks should have a playoff spot locked up by then. It’s pretty cool to think that even though the Yanks and Red Sox play six times in the final nine games of the season, those games are essentially meaningless and will have no bearing on either team’s playoff hopes, but only if you’re not a Red Sox fan.

Even though Nick Swisher sent everyone home happy yesterday, let’s not forget that the Yanks played some awful looking baseball over the last four days. They need the rotation to sort itself out, and really all that entails is a healthy return from Andy Pettitte and someone from the Hughes, Burnett, and Javy Vazquez trio to step up and establish themselves as that third guy. Derek Jeter‘s not going to magically turn back into the .334/.406/.465 hitter he was last season, but he needs to step up and do better than the .233/.300/.322 crap he’s pulled over the last two months. Robbie Cano needs to snap out of his slump and get back to being the best player on the team. Nick Swisher needs to get healthy, ditto Austin Kearns and Jorge Posada.

At the moment, the Yanks have a 99.2% chance of making the playoffs according to CoolStandings.com, so Joe Girardi can afford to rest his regulars and core bullpen guys over these final 22 games no matter how much it frustrates us. The big picture should always trump the here and now. The season is almost over, but the Yanks still have a long way to go to get where they want to be, and that’s firing on as many cylinders as possible.

Yanks killing themselves with double plays

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Of the many things that irk me during the course of a baseball game, none stings worse than a double play. Fielding errors might induce teeth grinding and passed balls might make me yell at the TV. But nothing makes my blood temperature rise like the ol’ 4-6-3. Can’t the batter have the common courtesy to just strike out in that situation?

This season, for the most part, the Yankees have avoided the double play. They’ve hit into 105 of them, fourth fewest in the AL, despite putting more men on base than any other AL team. Only Tampa Bay has a better men on base to double play ratio. It might seem like they hit into a lot; Derek Jeter, after all, seems to hit a grounder to second or short every time there’s a man on first with less than two outs. But that’s just confirmation bias at work. The Yankees do not hit into a lot of double plays.

Lately, though, the problem has seemed worse than ever. That’s what got me looking at the data. I was pleased to find the team’s overall success in avoiding the double play, but I wondered if that was something that had changed lately. Looking at the game log, it appears as though the GIDP trend started on August 20, when the team hit into two of them. Since then they have had eight multi-GIDP games, including four straight at the end of August. Because of this, I’ll use August 20 as the line of demarcation.

From the start of the season through August 19 the Yankees grounded into 81 double plays, or one every 58.4 PA. In that period they put 1,532 men on base via hit, walk, hit by pitch, or error, minus home runs. That means they hit into a double play once every 19 times a man reached base. It’s an inexact measure of GIDP efficiency, since we don’t know how many times exactly they were in double play situations. But for our purposes it will work just fine.

Beginning with the Seattle series, the Yankees have grounded into 24 double plays in 721 PA, or once every 30 PA. They’ve put 240 men on base during that period, so they’ve grounded into a double play once every 10 times a man reaches base. So yes, they have certainly hit into more double plays lately. It makes me want to lob a brick through my TV. It seems like they’ve killed so many run-scoring opportunities. Only, they really haven’t.

In the 19 games since August 20, the Yankees have a team .359 OBP, which is a bit better than the .349 mark that they had produced through August 19. Yet despite putting more men on base, they’ve scored fewer runs. Of the 268 men who reached base since August 20, 107 have scored, or 40 percent. From April 4 through August 19 they put 1,678 men on base and had 644 of them score, or 38.4 percent. That seems a bit off, right? If they’re killing more of their base runners via the GIDP, would they be getting fewer of those runners around to score?

Much to our delight, the Yankees have hit more home runs during this GIDP skid. Before August 19 they hit a homer every 32.4 PA. Since then they’ve hit one every 25.75 PA. Double plays might be frustrating, but home runs are pure joy. So while we’ve seen the Yankees kill more of their base runners than before, we’ve also seen them sock some dingers. So shouldn’t the corresponding trends even out and leave us with relatively equal happiness?

To those who can look past their petty emotions, sure. But most of us can’t do that. We live and die by this team. We watch them 162 times a year, and even though we know they’re going to lose 60, 65 games those losses still sting. Included in the emotions we feel during the game is loss aversion. People prefer to avoid losses rather than acquire gains. So while the homers have helped the team score a larger percentage of its base runners, we still react with greater intensity to the double play, because we can’t stand the loss. So while the homers and double plays might balance out in reality, they do not in most of our minds.

Thankfully, the double play thing is most likely a blip on the radar. We are, after all, talking about just 13.2 percent of the team’s plate appearances this season. There will be hills and there will be valleys. I imagine that as September wears on we’ll see fewer GIDPs. If the Yanks can also sustain their current HR pace, that’s going to be all the better for the offense. In the meantime, though, I’ll remain frustrated every time there’s a runner on first with less than two outs and someone hits an easy grounder to second or short. Makes me tear my freaking hair out.

Swisher’s walk-off blast ends homestand on high note

On the heels of three rather ugly, often unwatchably bad losses, the Yankees showed up to the park on Wednesday afternoon with a chance to turn things around and avoid a sweep at the hands of the lowly Orioles. Things certainly didn’t look good for the first, oh eight-and-a-half innings or so, but one swing by Nick Swisher was enough to erase all the frustration of the game and really the series.

Happy Swish is happy. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Biggest Hit: Swish Makes Up For It All

The 2009 season spoiled us all. Not a homestand went by last year that the Yanks’ didn’t win at least one game thanks to a walk-off homer/hit/dropped pop-up, but so far this season they’ve only enjoyed four such wins. Marcus Thames was responsible for the first two, Swisher the third and now the fourth.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Down 2-1 against Orioles’ closer Koji Uehara, Alex Rodriguez led off the bottom of the ninth with a solid single to rightfield, the fourth time he hit the ball hard in as many trips to the plate. He was immediately pinch run for by Eduardo Nunez, but Robbie Cano flew out to deep center for the first out of the inning to end his day. Swish, already 1-for-3 and still noticeably favoring his sore left knee, worked himself into a hitter-friendly 2-0 count by taking two straight fastballs off the outside corner. He took the third pitch, just not for a ball. He took the pitch and turned it around towards left-centerfield. Nunez was running on contact, so even if the ball landed in the gap, Swish’s hit likely would’ve tied things up. He did one better though, as the ball carried up and over the wall and into the visitor’s bullpen for a walk-off two-run homer.

The Yanks haven’t had many huge WPA swings this season, but Swish’s homer ranks among the largest. It accounted for 77.3% of the win, a win the team sorely needed.

Biggest Out(s): Nova Gets Wigginton & Izturis

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Things started off very well for Ivan Nova, but the O’s started to get to him the second and third time through the order. Matt Wieters hit a two-run opposite field homer on a 3-0 count two batters into the fifth inning, but Baltimore’s threat didn’t end there. Brian Roberts – 6-for-14 in the series – doubled to right with two outs before Nick Markakis was intentionally walked. Nova escaped the jam by striking out Ty Wigginton on four pitches, three of which were swings and misses on curveballs. Wiggy just couldn’t lay off it.

Things again got a little hairy in the very next inning, when Adam Jones reached base on an 0-2 single with two outs and no one on. Weary of Wieters following the homer, Nova seemed to pitch around the catcher and put him on with a walk. Cesar Izturis, he of the .249 wOBA, worked a 3-0 count before Nova managed to run it back full. The seventh pitch of the encounter yielded a line drive, thankfully right at a slightly leaping Derek Jeter. The O’s had failed in their second chance in as many innings to tack on some insurance runs, and sure enough it came back to bite them.

Rallies For Nothing

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Like the Orioles, the Yanks had themselves plenty of opportunities to get back in this game before Swish did the honors in the ninth. Lance Berkman led off the fifth with a walk, and two batters later Frankie Cervelli pushed him into scoring position when he took a pitch to the left butt cheek. O’s starter Brad Bergesen fed Brett Gardner a diet of upper-80’s fastballs with the two men on, but the Yanks’ speed demon ripped a hard grounder right to Roberts at second for an inning ending 4-6-3 double play. It was actually the biggest negative WPA swing of the game at -13.2%.

Two innings later the Yanks again threatened, except this time it was Cervelli who came up with men on the corners and two outs. His at-bat lasted all of one pitch, a routine grounder to third that ended the inning and what seemed to be their last chance at the time. This inning was such a mess, it gets its own section.

The WTF Inning

Like I said, that seventh inning was a disaster for the Yanks. Cano did well to reach base with a leadoff single to the opposite field, but Swish struck out looking on a pitch that was probably too close to take. That’s when things got a little crazy.

Buck Showalter lifted Bergesen with his pitch count at 101 following the Swisher strikeout, handing the ball to former New Jersey Net Mark Hendrickson with Lance Berkman and Curtis Granderson coming up. Berkman, as we all know, is part of a designated hitter platoon with Marcus Thames because of his .252 wOBA against lefthanded hitters, and yet he was left in to face the southpaw Hendrickson. Predictably, the former Astro was caught flailing at a changeup for strike three and the second out of the inning. Not pinch hitting for Berkman is the first WTF.

Now with two outs and Cano still at first and Hendrickson still in the game, Joe Girardi finally sent Thames to the plate for Granderson. We know Grandy struggles against lefties, but he’s got something like an 1.100 OPS against them with his new swing. But fine, you have to give Thames a chance against the lefty, that’s what he’s here for. Except Showalter would have none of that, lifting Hendrickson for the righty Jim Johnson after Thames was announced. The platoon advantage was lost for two straight batters late in a one run game. That’s the second WTF.

Girardi lucked out because Thames singled and sent Cano to third, but then the inning ended one pitch later on Cervelli’s ground out. Letting Cervelli hit for himself was the mother of all WTF’s, but it turns out that Jorge Posada was unavailable due to concussion-like symptoms. There’s still an argument to be made that someone like Colin Curtis was a better option at that spot. Either way, fine, Girardi gets a pass for letting Frankie bat since Posada’s hurt. The Thames thing though, sheesh. Not getting him in there for Berkman and essentially sacrificing the platoon advantage for two batters late in a close game is rather stupid. You have to utilize your personnel better than that, have to.

Leftovers

Derek Jeter took a big fat 0-for-4 and is down to .262/.328/.369 on the season and .233/.311/.327 since June 2nd (395 plate appearances). He also muffed a throw on a routine grounder that pulled Berkman off the bag. I want to see him sit at the negotiating table this winter and say he deserves three or four years at $18-20M per with a straight face.

A-Rod continues to crush the ball, picking up two hits and two loud, hard hit outs. He’s pretty clearly the team’s most dangerous hitter right now. Mark Teixeira, meanwhile, was at the mercy of Bergesen all afternoon, striking out three times in four trips to the plate.

I liked Gardner’s aggressiveness in the third inning, when he doubled in a run but got thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. Felix Pie completely misread the ball in left and let it roll to the wall, and it took a set of perfect relay throws to nail Gardy. The O’s executed, so give them credit.

Nova was pretty good, especially in the first three innings before having to really battle his way through the next three. David Robertson, Boone Logan, and Joba Chamberlain combined for three innings of perfect relief with a pair of strikeouts each. As for Baltimore’s bullpen, well, the Yanks had zero hits off of that crew in the series until Thames’ single with two outs in the seventh inning of this game.

The Yanks are still the only team in baseball to not have a losing streak longer than three games this season, and they also avoided getting swept in a three game series at home for the first time at the New Stadium. I mean ever. The division lead is back up to two-and-a-half games because the Red Sox beat the Rays, and the magic number for a playoff spot is down to 14 thanks to the White Sox loss.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Hooray for late comebacks! MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs the other, nerdier stuff.

Up Next

The Yanks went 7-3 on the longest homestand of the season, and will get to enjoy a day off on Thursday before moving on to Texas to take on the scuffling Rangers. Javy Vazquez and his nothingball will face C.J. Wilson.

Trenton grabs Game One behind Betances (UPDATE: Tampa advances to Florida State League Championship Series)

Triple-A Scranton (6-4 loss to Columbus in 10 innings, walk-off style) Columbus leads the best-of-series 1-0 … David Phelps gets the ball tomorrow against old buddy Zach McAllisterJesus Montero is out with some kind of lower leg infection, hopefully nothing serious
Reid Gorecki, CF: 1 for 5, 2 K
Kevin Russo, 2B: 0 for 3, 1 BB
Juan Miranda, 1B & Brandon Laird, 3B: both 0 for 4 – Laird struck out twice
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 K – hit a game tying homer in the top of the ninth
Chad Huffman, RF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Eric Bruntlett, SS & P.J. Pilittere, C: both 1 for 4 – P.J. doubled and scored a run, so he did a decent job of approximately Montero’s production
Justin Christian, LF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (fielding) – he apparently had an adventure in the outfield that led to some Columbus runs
D.J. Mitchell: 5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 6-4 GB/FB – 65 of 102 pitches were strikes (63.7%)
Zack Segovia: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 3-1 GB/FB – 18 of 27 pitches were strikes (66.7%) … dude came in with the bases loaded and no outs, and escaped without allowing a run thanks to a strikeout, force at the plate, and a routine grounder … that’s huge
Eric Wordekemper: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 2-1 GB/FB - just 18 of 38 pitches were strikes (47.4%), but it’s worth noting that two of the walks were intentional
Amaury Sanit: 0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K - all four pitches were strikes … served up a walk-off homer to a guy that hit .238/.332/.336 this season

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