Saturday Night Open Thread

(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

I used to think that Saturday night games were the worst, but it turns out Saturday night games on the West Coast are my own personal baseball hell. I guess the good news is that they give you all day to do whatever, but I’d rather spend the day watching baseball and the night doing social stuff. Eh, one game won’t kill me.

Anyway, now that you’re sufficiently bored, use this as your open thread for the night until the game starts. MLB Network is airing a game tonight but the teams depend on where you live. You can talk about whatever you like here though, have at it.

Getting beat by Yoenis Cespedes

(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

If you didn’t stay up late enough to catch the end of the game last night, the Yankees suffered a walk-off loss to Athletics when Brandon Moss singled off Cody Eppley with runners on first and second in the bottom of the ninth. Yoenis Cespedes scored the winning run and started the rally with a solid line drive single to center, his fourth hit of the game. He also hit a two-run homer off Freddy Garcia in the series opener and so far has gone 6-for-8 during these two games.

Cespedes has been molten hot since coming out of the All-Star break, going 17-for-29 (.586) with two doubles and three homers in the seven games. He’s been terrorizing everyone lately, not just New York. I do want to make a point about how the Yankees have been pitching to him these last two days, however. With some help from Texas Leaguers, here’s a look at the location of the pitches he’s swung at during this series (all plots are from the catcher’s perspective)…

That’s an awful lot of pitches — I unofficially count eight — right out over the plate and down the middle. You don’t need to know much about baseball to understand why he’s mashed against the Yankees when you see where these pitches have been. Furthermore, here are the pitches he didn’t offer at and instead took for a called strike (or ball)…

More pitches in the happy zone, he just didn’t bother to swing at these. Cespedes has seen 31 pitches in his nine plate appearances against the Yankees and approximately a dozen of them have been over the heart of the plate, at the middle of the zone and below. If you’re unconvinced this is a problem, check out his run value heat map courtesy of Baseball Heat Maps

You can read the nuts and bolts of what this graphic means right here, but in English the heat map shows that compared to the league average batter, Cespedes does most of his damage on pitches … wait for it … over the heart of the plate and at the middle of the zone and below. The darker the green (or red), the more damage he does on pitches in that location. Up-and-away is another happy zone. Combine this hitter with the pitches he’s been getting and well, you get a guy who’s gone 6-for-8 in the first two games of a four-game set.

Now I don’t think the Yankees have been intentionally pitching Cespedes over the plate like this; both Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova were pretty shaky with their command these last two nights. Eppley lives down in the zone with his sidearm sinker and he just caught too much of the plate. These guys just have to do a better — much better, really — job of pitching the A’s slugger on the edges of the zone or even outside of it. Cespedes has swung at exactly one-third of the pitches he’s seen outside of the zone this year, the 43rd highest rate among the 203 hitters with 240 plate appearances. He’s a bit of a hacker and will expand the zone, but so far the Yankees haven’t given him anything to chase this series.

The problem now is just the team’s pitching staff and timing. Phil Hughes is pitching tonight and he’s a fastball-curveball guy, not someone who can run a slider away from a righty. Maybe that new 11-to-5 curveball can do the trick. CC Sabathia is starting tomorrow and he’ll have to rely on changeups away to Cespedes. Hiroki Kuroda is probably best equipped to deal with a guy like this, but he’s not scheduled to start this series. Garcia and Nova can bust out sliders to right-handers but they didn’t do a very good job of it in the first two games. Even if the Yankees can’t get Cespedes to chase those breaking balls off the plate, they have to get the ball out of the middle of the zone. They’ve given him entirely too many good pitches to hit.

Yankees have some interest in Rick Ankiel

Via Adam Kilgore, the Yankees have some interest the recently designated for assignment Rick Ankiel. We heard the exact opposite yesterday, that they had no interest in the outfielder, but the dynamic changed a bit after Nick Swisher left last night’s game with a mild left hip flexor. Besides, contradictory reports are the backbone of the rumor mill.

Ankiel, 33, posted a 76 wRC+ in 171 plate appearances for the Nationals this season. He can still hold his own against righties (95 wRC+ since 2010) but not lefties (44), so he’s a platoon guy only. Ankiel can play the two corner outfield spots fine and fake center on occasion, plus he has that rocket arm. The Yankees would assume the remainder of his $1.25M salary by claiming him off waivers. I’m not much of a fan but the Yankees could do worse if Swisher needs his first DL stint since 2005.

Minor League Injury Updates: Banuelos, Campos, Burawa

Via Josh Norris, pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras confirmed that LHP Manny Banuelos (elbow) has been throwing off a mound and recently had a 25-pitch fastball-changeup session. I suppose that means he’s yet to reintroduce the curveball, which makes sense since breaking balls tend to put more stress on the elbow. Contreras indicated that Banuelos is getting close to a return, though “close” is probably a relative term.

Meanwhile, RHP Jose Campos (elbow) is not expected to return this season. Contreras confirmed that there is no structural damage in his elbow. He’s currently on a throwing program but the minor league season ends in about six weeks and he’s unlikely to be ready in time for game action. Campos will instead head to Instructional League in the fall. RHP Dan Burawa (back) has not been cleared by doctors to resume baseball activities and won’t play at all this year. He was impressive in Spring Training and had a chance to sneak into the big league bullpen mix at some point this summer if he stayed healthy. For shame.

Joba could be activated before end of July

Via George King, there’s a chance the Yankees will be able to activate Joba Chamberlain off the DL before the end of July. He’s going to throw a bullpen session on Monday and then be tested in back-to-back games. If he comes through that fine, he’ll rejoin the team.

Joba allowed two runs in two innings in his latest minor league rehab outing yesterday, but was again clocked in the mid-90s with his fastball. His 30-day rehab clock expires on August 9th, but it’s not surprising he may be activated sooner just because he’s a reliever and doesn’t need to be stretched out to throw 100+ pitches. Four of the team’s seven relievers right now are specialists and we saw how problematic that can be when Cody Eppley had to face a left-handed batter with the winning run on second last night. If he manages to come back at some point in the next ten days and be even 90% of the guy he was pre-Tommy John surgery, Chamberlain will be enormous help.

Athletics walk-off with win over Yanks

Source: FanGraphs

The Athletics now have ten walk-off wins this year. Ten! That’s more than one out of every five wins overall and nearly half their home wins. Maybe they’re clutch, maybe they’re just ridiculously fortunate with their timing. Either way, ten is a crazy high number. Let’s recap…

  • Extra Bases: Two runs in 6.2 innings is a pretty good start but man, the Athletics were all over Ivan Nova whenever he missed his spot. They tagged him for five extra-base hits, raising his league-leading total to 64 (!) allowed. Jamie Shields is second with 52 (!!!). It’s been a problem all year; Nova’s mistakes doesn’t just go for singles or well-struck fly balls. He’s young and this is a learning process, but sheesh.
  • Changeups: Tommy Milone is a left-handed changeup specialist with a reverse split, so it’s not much of a surprise that he set a new career-high with ten strikeouts against a lineup stacked with righties. The 6-7-8 hitters went a combined 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts against him. Milone stifled the Yankees with that soft dead fish changeup down and away all night due in part to a lineup that played right into his strength.
  • Tie Game: The Yankees used a pair of solo homers to knot the game up, including an opposite field job from Robinson Cano to lead off the ninth. Russell Martin did the honors in the eighth. Cano had already singled to extend his hitting streak to a career-best 23 games, but that was a cheap little single that short-hopped the shortstop’s glove. The dinger legitimized it a bit.
  • Walk-off: With Rafael Soriano sitting in the bullpen waiting to protect the lead that never came, Cody Eppley surrendered the walk-off rally by allowing three singles (one an infield job) to the three batters he faced. I figured something bad would happen once he had to face a lefty with men on-base, and sure enough Brandon Moss won it. The Yankees really need another non-OOGY reliever and I don’t think waiting around for Joba Chamberlain is the solution.
  • Leftovers: Boone Logan (one out), David Robertson (three outs), and Clay Rapada (one out) were a bit shaky but still recorded their five outs and did the job … ugly night for Andruw Jones, who went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and made an offline throw to the plate on the game-winning hit … the Yankees have yet to draw a walk in the series … this game should have been a blowout, but the Athletics put on a mean RISPFAIL clinic (3-for-14) … the consecutive games with at least three runs is over, finishing at 43 for the second-longest single-season streak in baseball history. has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score, and ESPN the updated standings. Every other team in the AL East won except for the Red Sox (who lost to the Blue Jays), so the lead in the division is down to eight games. The Yankees did pass the Rangers in run differential with an assist from the Angels, so New York now owns both the best record and run differential in all of baseball. Phil Hughes will look to help the Yankees salvage the series against another rookie on Saturday, this time right-hander Jarrod Parker.

Update: Swisher leaves game with mild left hip flexor

1:08am: The Yankees say it’s a mild left hip flexor for Swisher and he’s day-to-day. That’s generally good news, at least in the sense that it’s not a groin strain or something really bad.

12:09am: Nick Swisher left tonight’s game with an apparent left leg injury; he was pointing to his groin and quad in the dugout when talking to trainer Steve Donohue. Swisher pulled up lame while running out a ground ball in the seventh. The last thing the Yankees need right now is another outfield injury, so hopefully it was just a cramp and not something serious. Updates to come.