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Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

(From Flickr user ztil301 via Creative Commons.)

After playing a pair of four-game series against division rivals, the Yankees head back home to take on some of the lesser teams in baseball. In the next 10 games they’ll play Oakland, Seattle, and Baltimore, taking them right into August. First up is Oakland, against whom the Yankees are 19-3 in the last three seasons.

What the A’s Have Done Lately

Surprisingly enough, Oakland has played pretty well since the All-Star break. They came out swinging against the Angels, taking three of four, before splitting a pair with the Tigers. They averaged five runs per game in that stretch, which is just slightly better than their 3.52 runs per game this season. It’s actually far more surprising that they beat up on Anaheim, since Anaheim has one of the best, if not the best pitching staff in the league.

A’s on Offense

(From Flickr user Dinur via Creative Commons.)

Despite the recent outburst, the A’s still have one of the league’s worst offenses. As mentioned, they’ve scored just 3.52 runs per game, which is 13th in the AL, with only Seattle trailing. It’s also about 0.8 runs per game below the league average. Of course, they play in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the league, so it’s expected that their hitters are a certain degree worse than they would be if they played elsewhere. Yet even when we adjust for their park in Batting Runs Above Average, they’re still at -59.4, which is — you guessed it — 29th in the majors, with only Seattle trailing. (Though they trail by 30 runs.)

It’s no surprise that Josh Willingham’s name has come up often in trade talks. He’s been Oakland’s best hitter this year, putting up 4.3 runs above average. While that number is park-adjusted, I’m not quite sure it adequately compensates a player for a park as poor as the Oakland Coliseum. He’s hitting .240/.315/.427 right now, which is below his career numbers in every regard. Coco Crisp has been the other veteran who has provided positive run value. His .265/.315/.385 line might not look like much, but compared to his teammates it’s golden.

(From Flickr user Dinur via Creative Commons.)

Two youngsters have stepped up for Oakland this season and have provided positive run values despite having fewer PA then other starters. Jemile Weeks has stormed onto the scene, hitting .308/.342/.406 in his first 153 big league plate appearances. He’s never really hit for power, even in the minors, but he did have a good walk rate down there, which could help him maintain his value as his BABIP regresses a bit.

Earlier this season the A’s acquired Scott Sizemore from the Tigers for a song, and he’s actually produced positive value as an Athletic. In 125 PA he’s hit .261/.328/.414, which, again, would translate to much better numbers elsewhere. He’s part of the A’s MO, which is to acquire decent on-base guys who have no semblance of power. I get it, in a way. Their stadium suppresses power, so you might as well try to build clubs in different ways. Not that it has worked, really.

The rest of the A’s hitters are having years ranging from pretty bad to completely crappy. They have gotten rid of two of their worst offensive detractors, Mark Ellis, traded to the Rockies, and Daric Barton, optioned to the minors. While the A’s have replaced Ellis with Weeks, they haven’t gotten much out of Barton’s replacement, Chris Carter. He has tons of potential to hit with power, but he’s managed just four extra bases in 110 career PA, all of them coming last year.

A’s on the Mound

While the A’s have the second worst offense in the league, their pitching staff has allowed the third fewest runs in the league. Again, this is greatly an effect of their ballpark, and a trip to the Stadium could be a humbling experience. They’re without one of their best, Brett Anderson, who recently underwent Tommy John Surgery. But the Yanks will still run into two of their very good young starters.

(From Flickr user Dinur via Creative Commons.)

Friday: RHP Trevor Cahill. His year hasn’t gone as well as his first few starts might have indicated, but Cahill is on his way to another fine year in the majors. It’s pretty impressive for a 23-year-old who broke in at age 21. His strikeouts are up, but so are his walks. It leads to a slightly worse ERA and slightly better peripherals than last year, which is good on the whole. But for this year it can still come back to haunt him. It certainly did earlier in the year against the Yankees, when he walked five and gave up four runs. Last year he faced the Yanks twice and gave up 15 runs in 10 innings. He’s been very good lately, giving up three or fewer runs in four of his last five stars, including one 7.2-inning, 2-run start against the scorching Texas Rangers.

Saturday: RHP Rich Harden. It will be around 100 degrees in an afternoon affair, so of course Harden is going against A.J. Burnett. Harden has made just three starts this year, and while he has avoided the walk, issuing just four in 18 innings, he has also allowed four homers in that span. He can still strike ’em out, but it appears he’s lost most of his arsenal, which doesn’t play well against a dynamic lineup such as the Yankees. Which, of course, means he’ll below through them and we’ll be in for a short afternoon. Which means, in turn, that both he and Burnett will walks six and an equal number of people at the Stadium will spontaneously combust. In all seriousness, it’s hard to get a read on Harden. He’s been so injured lately that no one really knows what’s going to come next.

Sunday: LHP Gio Gonzalez. It’s been quite a year for Gonzalez, whose ERA is is a full run lower than it was last year. His peripherals are a measure better, too, because he’s striking out more hitters. But he’s still walking batters, giving up homers, and getting ground balls at similar rates, which are the only aspects that hold him back. Still, it’s hard to argue with a 2.33 ERA. He’s had a few clunkers along the way, including a four-inning, seven-run performance against the Rangers in early July (though only three runs were earned). He’s allowed four or more runs just five times in 19 starts this season, though one of those was to the Yankees back in June. In four of his last five starts he’s gone at least seven innings and has allowed zero or one run.

Bullpen: The A’s have had some turnover in their bullpen, but overall it’s a quality unit, with an AL-leading 2.93 ERA. They also have the second-lowest bullpen FIP in the AL at 3.28. (Guess who’s in first?) The only drawback is that they’ve had 38 meltdowns, which ranges closer to the middle of the pack. Brad Ziegler leads the way with a 1.80 ERA andd 2.42 FIP, while Andrew Bailey has been awesome in his limited time (2.00 ERA, 2.35 FIP). Grand Balfour, Craig Breslow, and Joey Devine have also done a good job keeping other teams at bay in the later innings.

Recommended A’s Reading: Friend of RAB Jason Wojciechowski’s Beaneball.

Mailbag: Karstens, Hughes, Lamb, Betances

Seven questions this week, most focusing on trades (past, present, or future). The Submit A Tip Box in the sidebar is the way to go if you want to send questions in.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user afagen via Creative Commons license)

Ben asks: What’s the deal with Jeff Karstens? It seems like the year he’s having came out of nowhere. I don’t know that any talent evaluator could have seen this coming (2.28 ERA!). Or did the Yankees just miss something with him?

Karsten is almost exact same guy this year as he has been his entire career. Here, look…

(click for larger)

His walks are trending in the right direction, so credit him for that, but the shiny ERA comes from that comically low BABIP and super high strand rate. Leaving runners on base isn’t a skill, though strikeout pitchers do fare a little better in that department than pitch-to-contact guys. Karstens is most certainly not a strikeout guy. He’s throwing some more two-seamers this year, but otherwise his pitch selection is relatively unchanged. His fastball velocity has actually dropped a touch this year as well. The Yankees didn’t miss anything with Karstens, he’s the same guy he’s always been, just with a few fewer walks and some better luck. I’m 100% confident in saying he wouldn’t stand a chance in the AL East.

Ryan asks: Would you make Phil Hughes available as part of a package for a front line pitcher (Felix, Ubaldo, Etc) if it meant holding on to Banuelos? I guess I am asking do you think Banuelos will end up being a better pitcher than Hughes?

I’d be willing to trade just about anyone in the right deal, especially for a high end starter. Hell, I’d give up Hughes and Manny Banuelos in a deal for Felix Hernandez. Anyway, Phil’s trade value is down now not just because of the injury and crappy second half last year, but because he’s not cheap anymore. He’s making $2.7M this season, his first time through arbitration. Two more years of arbitration-eligibility are coming, then he can be a free agent.

I do think Banuelos has the potential to be a better pitcher than Hughes, mostly because Phil hasn’t developed that reliable third pitch and hasn’t shown he can stay healthy for two years in a row. Banuelos hasn’t be all that healthy either the last two years, but I’m not going to hold an appendectomy and a blister against him. His third pitch (the curveball) is far, far more usable than Hughes’ changeup. Like I said, I’d give up anyone in the right trade, but at this point in time I think I’d keep Hughes over Banuelos. At least we know he can do something at the big league level, we don’t know that about Manny.

John asks: Just a question about trades. I know most GMs don’t like trading intra-division. But say the Yankees wanted a pitcher from the Rays and their GM won’t bite on a trade. Could they theoretically get another team from outside the division to trade for that player and then trade that player to the Yankees in another deal? I know it’s frowned upon but is there any specific rule that says you can’t do that?

I don’t know of any rule that prevents this, but it would be very tough to pull off. First of all, the middle man wouldn’t participate out of the kindness of their heart, they’ll mark up the price and try to make a profit. Plus they have to agree to a trade to the original team, and who knows what those terms will be. I’m sure it could be done, but it I think it’s easy to see why it never happens.

(Photo Credit: The Detroit News)

Mike asks: I see we have Mike Lamb, can he help? It seems he was always a clutch hitter.

It’s funny, when they signed (former short-term Yankee) Mike Lamb I just assumed it was a move to fill out the Triple-A roster. Jorge Vazquez, Kevin Russo, and Jesus Montero were on the disabled list at the time and Chris Dickerson was in the big leagues, so they brought him and Terry Tiffee aboard. But you know what? I think Lamb is Eric Chavez insurance to a certain extent. They’re the same player on the surface, left-handed hitting first and third base types.

Of course it’s been a while since Lamb was successful in the big leagues, he had a .218 wOBA in 40 PA for the Marlins last year and a .254 wOBA in 272 PA for the Twins and Brewers in 2008 (didn’t play in the bigs in 2009). He was pretty good before that though, posting a .351+ wOBA in three of the four seasons from 2004-2007. Lamb has always hit righties better than lefties, though his defense isn’t nearly as good as Chavez’s. I’m not going to hold it against him though, fewer are that good. Anyway, I don’t think he’d offer much help to the Yankees down the stretch, but we could see him get the call if Chavez can’t get healthy, which is always possible.

E.J. asks: It looks like that the Yankees have stalled in signing any of their most recent draft picks. When compared to other teams the Yankees have the lowest amount signed and one of the lowest percentages signed. Is that because most of the unsigned players are from High School and that they have more leverage and thus it takes longer to negotiate? Are do you believe that there are many players that will sign over-slot and they need to wait closer to August 15th so that they don’t get their hand slapped too much by MLB?

I think it’s a little of both. They took a ton of high school guys and are probably evaluating most of them in various summer leagues before deciding what to offer, if anything. I’m pretty sure they have some agreements in place as well, but are just holding off on the announcements so MLB doesn’t bitch and moan. I’m sure that come the morning of August 16th, they’ll again have 30 or so players signed, just like every year.

Karl asks: Would somebody at RAB be willing to talk about, in any format, their interpretation of “paying twice?” It seems that Cashman has rebuilt the system by erring on the side of keeping top prospects, knowing that if a team is willing to wait the big FAs will only cost money. Thanks.

There’s two ways you can “pay twice” for a player. One is in a trade, when you have to give up players to get the guy and then sign him to an extension. The Johan Santana trade is the perfect example. Forget about what you know now, at the time the Mets were giving up four young players and giving Santana a contract that paid him like a free agent on top of that. They paid once in prospects, then again in the form of the contract. They didn’t acquire the contract from Minnesota, that’s something they did on their own as a separate transaction.

The other way to pay twice involves giving up draft picks to sign a free agent. You’re paying the player whatever amount of dollars and surrendering a draft pick as well. No agent gives a discount for the pick, so it’s two separate costs. Sometimes it’s worth it (ace starters, elite position players), most of the time it’s not (relievers and part-time players).

Nick asks: Hey guys! I was curious about something. This is all “what if” and speculation but let’s say Dellin Betances went to Vanderbilt and pitched for them until the 2010 Draft (or through it figuring they would’ve been in the CWS). If he would’ve put up his AA numbers from last season at Vandy, what would his draft stock have been? A solid 1st rounder? Top 20, 10, 5? Thanks!

That’s a pretty good question. Betances signed in 2006 so he would have been draft eligible in 2009, not 2010. That’s unless he stayed for his senior season, I mean, but not many players do that. He had a pretty crummy season in 2009, walking 5.5 men per nine while striking out “just” 8.9 batters per nine innings. Those are career worsts for him (min. 30 IP), and on top of that, he missed the second half of the season due to his elbow injury. That said, Betances’ frame and stuff would have gotten him drafted high, not his stats.

Looking back on that draft class, he would have been outside the top 20 or so on talent, probably in that 20-30 range. Maybe even a little behind that. I get a feeling that he would have been a little like Andrew Brackman was in 2007. Huge stuff but raw with some some health concerns. He would have been a candidate to fall a few rounds in that case.

Yankees getting the band back together, re-sign Marcus Thames

Via George King, the Yankees have signed Marcus Thames to a minor league contract. He’ll work out in Tampa at the minor league complex before being assigned to Triple-A Scranton. The Dodgers released Thames earlier this week after he’d hit just .197/.243/.333 with two homers in 70 plate appearances this year, plus he missed a bunch of time due to a calf strain. Welcome back, Marcus.

Timing is everything: Yanks outplay Tampa but lose anyway

Thursday’s game was a good ol’ fashioned pitcher’s duel. CC Sabathia and Jamie Shields squared off in a 1-0 Yankees win last week, but this time the tables were turned and it was Tampa walking away  with the one-run win.

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

A Bad Birthday Gift

Sabathia turned 31 years old on Thursday, but the offense didn’t back him with any runs. At 7.69 runs per game, only seven other AL pitchers have enjoyed more run support than the Yankees ace this year, so surrendering two runs in eight innings should have equaled a win. Evan Longoria took CC deep in the very first inning, the first homer he’s given up since the Cubs series in Wrigley. The second run came across because of a walk to Elliot Johnson and a triple by Sam Fuld. Sabathia’s earned a pretty long leash, but that just can’t happen. That run was the difference in the game, and a pair of AAAA scrubs manufactured it. It just shouldn’t happen.

All told, Sabathia threw a complete game loss, striking out eight in eight innings while walking four (one intentionally). Good to see the high strikeout ways are still very much in effect. CC did his part in this game.

Runners … But No Runs

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

Shields was on point all game, but it’s not like he was invincible. The Yankees had at least one baserunner in every inning but the third, though it wasn’t until the eighth inning that they started to make some noise. It took a miracle Derek Jeter double and a Robinson Cano double to produce the team’s only run, and Nick Swisher just missed his pitch when he flew out to the end the inning. It was a fastball right down the middle and he hit it hard, just to the wrong part of the park. Shields’ pitching line (7.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 6-7 GB/FB) isn’t as good as Sabathia’s (8 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 8 K 6-6GB/FB), but timing is everything and he spaced the runners out. Such is life.

Leftovers

There’s really not much more to say about a game like this, is there? Brett Gardner had a hit, Jeter a hit and a walk, Cano two hits and a walk, Jorge Posada a hit, Russell Martin a hit and a walk, and Eduardo Nunez a hit. Mark Texeira took another 0-for-4 and the duo of Chris Dickerson (0-for-2 with two strikeouts) and pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson (0-for-2 with a game-ending strikeout) did nothing offensively. No stolen bases, no errors, and the Yankees only had four at-bats with runners on second and/or third. Cano’s double was the only hit in those situations.

Sabathia saved the bullpen, so that’s always a plus. This was the 700th (!!!) consecutive game in which the Rays’ starting pitcher was younger than 30. That kinda blows my mind. Anyway, that’s about it for the notes. The Yankees split the series but could have easily won three of four or lost three of four. It was that kind of week.

WPA Graph, Box Score & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs has some other stuff, and ESPN the up to the minute standings.

Up Next

Hooray for no more artificial surface. It’s back home for the beginning of the very cushy part of the schedule, beginning with a weekend series against the Athletics. Phil Hughes will make his first start in the Bronx since the 11th game of the season. Trevor Cahill goes for Oakland. If you want to head up to the game, RAB Tickets can get you there on the cheap.

Soriano, Chavez make rehab appearances in Tampa win

Zoilo Almonte got a nice little write-up in Kevin Goldstein’s Minor League Update today. You don’t need a subscription to see this one, so check it out. Meanwhile, both Michael Recchia and Shane Brown have been promoted from Short Season Staten Island to Low-A Charleston. Kyle Higashioka was placed on the DL while Steve Evarts was banished to parts unknown. The transactions say Extended Spring Training, but that should have ended weeks ago, before the short season leagues start up.

Here’s a video of Jesus Montero‘s two-run single from yesterday. As you can see, it’s a single in name only. Stupid power the other way. Watch the side view halfway through the video, he just flicked his wrists.

High-A Tampa (5-1 win over Bradenton)
Rafael Soriano, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-1 GB/FB – he threw 16 pitches and is going to make at least two more rehab appearances … gave up a double and a single, then got a GIDP
Eric Chavez, 3B: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K – first time playing the field … played six innings and didn’t have to field any grounders
Abe Almonte, CF: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
Emerson Landoni, 3B: 0 for 1 – took over for Chavez
Ronnier Mustelier, 2B & J.R. Murphy, C & Kelvin Castro, SS: all 0 for 3 – Mustelier walked, stole a base, whiffed, and committed a throwing error … Murphy struck out and left the game for an unknown reason in the seventh
Kyle Roller, 1B: 0 for 4, 1 K
Rob Segedin, RF: 0 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB
Neil Medchill, LF: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K – second straight day with a homer, third in his last six games
Luke Murton, DH: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K
Brett Marshall, RHP: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 4-2 GB/FB – one shy of his career high in strikeouts
Dan Burawa, RHP: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 4-1 GB/FB

[Read more…]

Torrisi-run Parm to make Great Hall debut

When Yankee fans return to the stadium tomorrow after nearly two weeks away, they will be greeted by a new set of sandwiches in the Great Hall. As The Post reported, Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, the braintrust behind Mulberry St. hot spot Torrisi Italian Specialities will be opening a branch of their new sandwich shop Parm tomorrow in the Great Hall. The branch of the sandwich shop will sell the Torrisi and a new meatball parm offering. No word yet on the prices, but the turkey sandwich goes for $11 at the downtown restaurant.

One of the investment partners, Jeff Zalaznick, spoke about the challenges facing the team as they prepare to expand their business. Usually, they sell 200-300 sandwiches per day, but with over 40,000 fans per game heading to the Bronx, their volume will increase. “For a small restaurant group, we have a lot on our plates,” Zalaznick said to The Post. “We’re probably the first restaurant of our size to do something like this. It’s a totally new market, who we hope will have an equal appreciation for our sandwiches.” Having a Torrisi sandwich outlet in Yankee Stadium greatly improves what I believe are lackluster food options in the new stadium; these sandwiches should be quite good. The bricks-and-mortar version of Parm will open later this summer.