Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

The last week hasn't gone so well for the O's. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

For the first time in 2011, the Yankees will be playing a team for the second time when they visit Camden Yards this weekend. CC Sabathia gets the ball in the Friday night opener, then will be followed by Freddy Garcia in a rare Saturday night game and Ivan Nova in the third and final game on Sunday afternoon. We know there’s always a nice turnout by Yankees fans when they visit Baltimore, so it’s like home away from home.

What Have The Orioles Done Lately?

Oh boy, what a tailspin for the O’s. Since their 6-1 start they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games (including two to the Yankees last week) and have been outscored 61-37 in a perfect storm of poor pitching and poor hitting. The Yankees roll into town for the weekend series without having to worry about Jeremy Guthrie or Zach Britton; neither of Baltimore’s two best pitchers is scheduled to start any of the three games.

Orioles on Offense

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

When we last checked in on the Orioles, they were a bottom five team in all of baseball in terms of wOBA and OBP. They’ve managed to up their team wOBA from .281 to .298 since last facing the Yankees, which is no longer bottom five but is still bottom nine. The team OBP climbed a bit from .282 and now sits at .291, but that’s the second worst mark in the game, ahead of only the uber-slumping Twins.

Matt Wieters is coming into the series like a man possessed, picking up seven hits in his last five games, including two doubles and two homers. Brian Roberts is in the middle of a nine-game hitting streak, a stretch that started in the first game against the Yankees last week. He’s hitting .368/.415/.500 during that time. Robert Andino is filling in for the injured J.J. Hardy, and he has eight hits (all singles) in his last five games. Mark Reynolds (two for his last 26), Nick Markakis (three for his last 30), Luke Scott (four for his last 24), and Derrek Lee (six for his last 30) are all slumping. Adam Jones and Vlad Guerrero are neither slumping nor on fire, they’re just kinda going through the motions right now.

Orioles on the Mound

Friday: Brad Bergesen: A high school teammate of Phil Hughes, Bergesen has made two starts and one relief appearance this season, throwing two garbage time innings against the Yankees last week. He’s allowed three homers in just 10.2 IP this year, and he’s never been one to miss bats: just a 4.53 K/9 and 5.8% swing-and-miss rate in his career. Bergesen will make the Yankees put the ball in play with 88-91 mph two- and four-seamers, and every so often he’ll bust out a changeup or slider. The Bombers have put a hurtin’ on him in the past, scoring 11 runs in 17 innings against him. Pitch-to-contact pitchers usually don’t fare well against the Yankees lineup, so expect good things.

The Yankees had their way with Tillman a week ago. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Saturday: Chris Tillman: The Yankees faced Tillman in the series last week, tagging him for six runs and nine hits in just an inning-and-a-third. He held the utterly punchless Twins to three runs in 6.2 IP on Monday, but he was still missing some velocity and the results had more to do with Minnesota’s faults than his strengths. The game plan hasn’t changed one bit, just work the count and let it fly whenever Tillman makes a mistake.

Sunday: Jake Arrieta: After beating the Yankees twice in 2010, Arrieta pitched well against them last week but it was clear the Yankees made adjustments the second and third time through the order. They tagged him for five hits and three runs in the fifth and sixth innings after the young right-hander held New York to just one baserunner (a walk) over the first four innings. The Yankees should be better prepared for his two-seamer and slider heavy approach, hopefully jumping on the board a little earlier than they did last week.

Bullpen: Buck Showalter’s bullpen comes into the series pretty well rested, with only closer Kevin Gregg making as many as two appearances over the last four days. The only new face added to the ‘pen since last week is lefty specialist Clay Rapada, who replaced injured long-man Chris Jakubauskas. The middle relief/setup crew is rock solid with Jason Berken, Jim Johnson, and Koji Uehara from the right side while Mike Gonzalez takes care of business from the left. If the Yankees do what they’re supposed to do against the starters, the relievers should be nothing more than footnotes in the series.

Recommended Orioles Reading: Camden Crazies

Business hits: Peanuts and copyright complaints

For all of you non-chatters out there, we have a pair of small stories relating to the business of baseball on tap. Let’s get started.

Peanut-maker Bazzini heads to Pennsylvania

Nothing goes together quite like peanuts and baseball, but the Yanks’ official peanut company is heading out of the Bronx. As Crain’s Small Business reported earlier in the week, A.L. Bazzini Co. is going to close its Hunts Point plant and move its operations to Allentown, Pennsylvania. The Bronx will lose 57 jobs as this plant becomes the third to close in recent years, but the company will continue to serve as the official peanut of Yankee Stadium.

Woman alleges copyright infringement over Yankee logo

From the Litigation Over Anything Department, a Yonkers woman is suing the Yanks alleging a case of 75-year-old copyright infringement. After spending 15 years researching the issue, Tanit Buday claims that the Yanks stole their famous Top Hat logo from her uncle in the mid-1930s. She alleges that the team, then run by Jacob Ruppert, promised to pay Kenneth Timur for the logo then and when it was redesigned in the early 1950s.

While the history of the Top Hat logo has been in doubt, Buday’s filing alleging unjust enrichment, copyright infringement and breach of contract, among other charges. She says her uncle did not know the Yanks were even using the logo until he arrived in the States in the late 1940s and that the Yanks rebuffed his attempts at getting paid. He did however agree to update the logo in 1952 for the team’s 50th anniversary in New York.

The Yankees haven’t commented, but it’s hard to see how they would lose the case. First, the underlying complaint is based on a cause of action at least 60 years old, and the Yanks can probably get the case dismissed on either a laches-based argument or by appealing to the statute of limitations. Even if this complaint somehow survives a motion to dismiss, the club has every reason to fight for its highly valued intellectual property rights. The full complaint –which seems like a frivolous one to me — is embedded after the jump.

[Read more…]

RAB Live Chat

The RAB Radio Show: April 22, 2011

The Yanks head to Baltimore for a series with the tumbling Orioles. Normally we’d dive into a preview of the series, but the Yankees just played the Orioles last week. Instead, Mike and I take on a topic that made its rounds yesterday: expanded playoffs. Mike’s in favor of it, and I am not. We lay out our reasons and arguments. It gets into issues such as relocation, expansion, and contraction as well.

Podcast run time 30:06

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

Silva set to throw batting practice

Via George King, scrap heap pickup Carlos Silva is scheduled to throw batting practice in Extended Spring Training for the first time since signing with the Yankees a few weeks ago. He had been working under a conditioning program and throwing bullpens so far, but moving on to face live batters is the next step toward minor league games. I’m not sure what Silva will give the Yankees, if anything, but they need the pitching depth and it doesn’t hurt to have him as an option.

Mailbag: C.J. Wilson, Reegie, Martin & Montero

We’ve got just three questions in this week’s edition of the RAB Mailbag, but they all bring something different to the table. Make sure you use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Sean asks: What do you think the chances are of the Yankees pursuing, and signing, CJ Wilson this offseason? He has a shady performance history up until last year, but he did have a good year last year and is off to another good start this year. Three main things make me think he’d be a good fit for the Yankees: 1) obviously, their rotation needs some help; 2) he’s a lefty; 3) this year’s FA SP class will be pretty weak. Thoughts?

After CC Sabathia, Wilson will be the second best starting pitcher on the free agent mark after the season. It’s basically him and Edwin Jackson, which gives you an idea of how crappy the free agent pitching class is. I think those three things you listed are more incidental than proof that he’s a good fit, if you understand what I’m saying. The key fits the hole but it doesn’t unlock the door, you catch my drift? After all, don’t number one and three apply to Jackson as well? Anyway, although Wilson will be the top non-CC hurler on the market, there are a number of reasons I’m very skeptical of signing him. Let’s list ’em…

  1. He’s always walked a ton of guys, 4.10 per nine last year and 4.03 career. Yes, it’s down this season (2.73 BB/9), but it’s too early for that to mean anything.
  2. His swing-and-miss rate is decidedly below average, just 6.7% last year (6.8% this year).
  3. Velocity is nothing special, right around 90 mph as a starter.
  4. Very limited track record as a starter and a history of arm (specifically elbow) trouble.
  5. Will turn 31 during the offseason, so you’re definitely buying decline years and items two and three figure to get worse, not better.
  6. He’s in line for a contract on par with A.J. Burnett‘s and John Lackey’s, five years and $80M or so. That’s a lot of scratch.

I would absolutely love to rent Wilson for half-a-season, but I don’t think a) the Rangers will be falling out of the race anytime soon, or b) would be willing to help the Yankees. He’s a fine pitcher, no doubt about it, but I want no part of paying that guy eight figures a year just because he’s the best of a bad lot. I actually prefer Jackson since he’s younger (by three years), has been crazy durable (180+ IP in the last three years), and is trending upward in the missing bats department (swing-and-miss rate from 2008-2011: 7.6%, 9.8%, 10.4%, 10.8%). But again, imperfect solution, a product of the market more than anything.

Howie asks: Reegie Corona is on the 60 day DL. I think the last I heard was he might be healthy by midseason. So first off, is that still the case? Secondly, he’s not a major leaguer, so if he returns to minor league action, does he still need to be activated from the 60 day DL? Might that be the time he is DFA’d?

As far as I know, yeah, Corona’s still on track to come back from his broken arm around midseason. I assume the team will send him on a minor league rehab assignment before activating him from the disabled list, but ultimately he has to be activated before he can be officially sent to the minors. The Yankees’ 40-man roster currently has 44 players on it, four of whom are on the 60-day DL, so someone has to go whenever Corona is activated. Even before the logjam, he was always on the short list of DFA candidates.

With Frankie Cervelli beginning his rehab last night, it stands to reason that Gus Molina will be the first 40-man roster casualty. Jose Ortegano and Kevin Russo are on the bubble as well, but at least those two have redeeming qualities (Ortegano’s left-handedness, Russo’s versatility). Corona is basically a carbon copy of Ramiro Pena; a no-hit, defense-first middle infielder. I’m not sure why he was added to the 40-man roster in the first place, he was an extreme long shot to stick on a big league 25-man roster at the time. So yes, I would expect Corona to get canned not long after being activated. He’s the definition of a spare part.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Mark asks: Alright, help me out here…..we’ve read all about the defensive shortcomings of Jesus Montero. We know he can hit, we also know he isn’t that good behind the plate. Although we are only 16 games into the season, it sure looks to me like we have a stud behind the plate right now in Russell Martin. Tell me what he hasn’t done right – .292 batting average, .950 OPS, 2 SB, calling good games, blocking balls behind the plate and showing a pretty good arm in throwing runners out. And he’s only 28. Is it ridiculous to ask why Martin cannot be our catcher of the future and that Montero (assuming he isn’t traded away) is our future DH and back-up catcher next year?

Is it ridiculous? No, not at all, but we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. Frankie Cervelli hit .400/.481/.487 in his first 16 games last season and people were asking if his performance made Montero expendable. That sounds silly in hindsight, but trust me, it happened.

Montero really should be in the big leagues right now, he’s absolutely ready and is simply too good for the Triple-A level, but the Yankees don’t have an obvious spot for him. I guess in a perfect world, the plan would involve trading Cervelli as part of a package for a starting pitcher come June or July and calling Montero up to serve as the backup and occasional DH, an apprenticeship under Martin that would continue in 2012. Then once Martin hits free agency as a 30-year-old after the 2012 season, Montero is inserted as the starting backstop. That’s a perfect case scenario though.

Part of me thinks the Yankees should at least try Montero in the outfield at some point, just to see if he could fake a corner outfield spot while he’s young and work him into the lineup that way. Brett Gardner‘s not exactly lighting the world on fire in left right now, plus he really isn’t much of an obstacle for a guy with Montero’s offensive prowess anyway. That’s just me thinking about loud though, I’d hate to waste to see Montero waste some of those hits in Triple-A when he could be helping the big league team.

The overweight, out of shape, but now underweight, Phil Hughes

It seems we all have our pet theories on why Phil Hughes lost velocity on his fastball. But as outsiders, our knowledge ends there. Few of us have connections to people who know the facts of the matter, and without the facts we cannot proceed beyond speculation. Newspaper writers are degrees closer to the situation, in that they know people within the organization that possess the facts, or some of the facts. But that doesn’t mean it always adds up.

Joel Sherman dropped a curious tidbit on his Hardball blog yesterday. Apparently Hughes showed up to camp overweight, but the media was so focused on Joba’s gut that they overlooked, to borrow a term from Sherman, the doughy Hughes. The team knew, and sent him to what they call “The Fat Farm,” which conjures all sorts of images. The problem, according to Sherman’s source, was that Hughes needs that extra bulk to be effective, and that his trips to The Fat Farm cause him to lose too much weight. Hence, lost velocity.

It’s an odd theory, sure, and it doesn’t sound much different than many of the pet theories I’ve heard during the past few weeks. Brian Cashman scoffed at the notion, which is to be expected. But he also offered up that Hughes was “just a little out of shape.” That’s a bit more damning than “lost too much weight,” which lends it a little more credibility. Then again, “in shape” is such an ambiguous term that I really have no idea what someone means when they say “just a little out of shape.” If the definition of in shape varies from person to person, the degrees of shape vary even more.

Anyway, Sherman then dropped a line that he’s dropped before, and so far as I can tell he’s the only one who has dropped it: “there has been worry about [Hughes’s] work ethic in the past.” I did a quick search for this, and the only negative mention I found was from Sherman himself, in a column from December, 2007. In discussing a potential Johan Santana trade, Sherman cut to the chase: “Hughes is the surest thing, and he has a questionable work ethic and more of an injury history at 21 than Santana at 28.” Through a few queries and pages of results, I didn’t find any other first-hand mentions of Hughes having a poor or questionable work ethic.

(Admittedly, that might be because most newspaper sites rank lowly in Google results, because they do things like move article URLs after a period of time. Let me tell you that one of the most annoying things is trying to Google a story from a few years ago, finding a link on a blog, and then getting an article not found message on the newspaper’s website. If they kept the articles in the same place all the time, maybe I’d have found the newspaper article itself in the search results and not the blog linking to it. End rant.)

What turned up were two mentions of Hughes having a strong work ethic. In a column from early spring training 2008,’s Bryan Hoch wrote a short feature on Hughes, in which Joe Girardi praised his work ethic. “He’s in great shape,” said Girardi. One year later John Harper wrote that, “The Yankees don’t have issues with Hughes’s work ethic, but privately they worry they haven’t seen the same dominating stuff he showed a couple of years ago.” Sherman’s statement did come first, so perhaps Hughes had slacked off at one point in the past. But he clearly had righted that by early 2008.

(And, if I remember correctly, though I can’t find it, there was some attribution to Hughes’s poor start in 2008 to his showing up to camp lighter than normal.)

There is definitely disappointment in Hughes. It’s pretty clear that he showed up to camp out of shape — why would Cashman say that if it weren’t true? — in a year when the Yankees really needed him. But beyond that we just have pet theories. Maybe one of them is right. Maybe he’s undertrained, or overtrained, or improperly trained. Maybe he needs to be heavier in order to pitch effectively. Maybe he just needs to be in proper physical shape. Whatever it is, he and the Yankees have put together a plan to help him recover, and things appear to be going well. He threw 30 pitches in the bullpen on Wednesday, and will throw another today. When he comes back is anyone’s guess. I’m just a little disappointed it got to this point in the first place.