The RAB Radio Show: April 20, 2011

The Yanks took a tough loss last night, but plenty did go right. Mike and I talk about how the executed the game plan against Kyle Drabek, how David Robertson did his job marvelously, and every other silver lining we could find. If they execute the game plan tonight against Cecil, who has been struggling, they could walk away with a split series.

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

This is not how to use a 41-year-old closer

(Kathy Willens/AP)

What do you do if you have one reliable starter and a bunch of question marks behind him? Build a better bullpen. Heading into the season, it appeared that the Yankees had assembled its best group of relief arms, at least to start a season, in many years. With a closer in the setup role, two setup men in lesser roles, two lefties, and a flexible long man spot, the Yankees had created a backup plan should some of their starters falter. Yet something did not seem right about it.

In his Expanded Horizons column last week, Baseball Prospectus’s Tommy Bennett tackled the issue (subscriber only, sorry). Teams that hand a lot of innings to their bullpens, even good bullpens, don’t have a long track record of success. This makes plenty of sense. Using the Yankees as an example, they have four reliable relievers: Rivera, Soriano, Robertson, Chamberlain. If their starters are going six or fewer innings most starts, that leaves them with three innings to cover. Eventually one of two things will happen. Either Girardi has to start using the other guys in the pen, or else those four get burned out. Last night we might have seen a bit of the latter.

The off-days early in the season have helped lessen the workloads on the Yanks relievers. Though they’ve played 15 games, that has covered 20 days, giving the bullpen some free rest. But that doesn’t make them immune from overuse. In fact, it appears that overuse is just what is currently happening.

Mariano Rivera might seem superhuman at times, but behind the myth is a 41-year-old man. He has kept himself in pristine physical condition, and so can do things that other 41-year-olds cannot. But even he has limitations. WIth last night’s appearance he has now thrown in five of the team’s last six games, which is five of the last seven days. That’s a heavy workload for any reliever, never mind one who is busy fending off the ravages of age. Yes, he has been in a position to get a save or a win in each of his 10 appearances — 10 in 15 games — but that doesn’t excuse the overuse. Girardi simply cannot let something like that happen to such an important pitcher.

The overuse doesn’t end with Rivera. Joba Chamberlain has also appeared in 10 of 15 games and has pitched in four of the last six. Soriano has appeared in just eight of 15 games, though even that seems like a lot. That’s an 86-game pace, which would be nine more than Soriano’s previous career high. David Robertson has seven appearances, but as Mike wrote yesterday, he has warmed up in just about every game. We can’t be sure what kind of physical toll this takes on him, but it can’t be good for him to be taking some to the mitt every single game.

Eventually this will have to change. The Yankees will not have the advantage of five days off in a 20-day span. They are, in fact, headed for a 17-game streak from late April into early May, and things don’t get easier from there. The top four relievers will need to sit out sometimes when the team has a small lead late in a game. This could come into play as early as tonight. Maybe Girardi would go back to Soriano, and there’s a chance he’d use Chamberlain. But can he really justify using Mo yet again — for the sixth time in eight days, for the 11th time in 16 games? That would be quite irresponsible.

Unless the starters can start pitching into the seventh inning, this is going to be a year-long issue. No bullpen is stocked with reliable relievers. Even the best in the league has its weak points. Eventually, the Yankees will have to use those weaker arms in relatively tight spots. If they don’t, they’re going to burn out the reliable ones — which, in turn, means they’ll have to rely on those weaker arms in relatively tight spots. It’s a tough spot for the team, but eventually something will have to change. This usage pattern simply cannot last all season.

2011 Draft: Damaged Goods

Injury concerns in 2006 are the only reason Joba's a Yankee. (AP Photo/Jerry Laizure)

With the amateur draft becoming more and more competitive each year, teams are continually looking for advantages and inefficiencies. For a while it was just money, pay the players more money and you’ll get better talent. While that still holds true, basically every team goes over slot now, so it’s not as easy as it once was to build a strong draft haul that way.

One thing we’ve seen the Yankees try is drafting players with injury concerns, or players who are healthy at the time but had down years due to an earlier injury. Think Andrew Brackman (elbow) or Caleb Cotham (knee) or Mark Melancon (elbow) or Joba Chamberlain (triceps), all those guys had some kind of medical question heading into the draft, and the Yankees took advantage by selecting each at a spot lower than their talent dictated. It’s a risky approach but the draft itself is inherently risky, a few extra rolls of the dice won’t aren’t the end of the world. Here’s three players dealing with injuries and/or ineffectiveness this spring that could prove to a coup at various points of the draft…

[Read more…]

Jays rally back for walk-off win over Yankees

It’s never any fun when it happens to your team. The Yankees had pretty firm control of this game for the first eight-and-a-half innings, using a combination of the long ball and bent but don’t break pitching to hand Mariano Rivera a two-run lead in the ninth. That’s a situation we’d all take every day of the week, but it was just not meant to be on Tuesday.

Blown Opportunities

As with any loss of this nature, we have to take a look back at the checks the Yankees didn’t cash. The first came in the fifth inning, when Russell Martin muscled a ball to the opposite field for a leadoff double. Brett Gardner, mired in a 1-for-23, tried to bunt him over to third, but the ball went right back to the pitcher who cut Martin down between second and third. A couple of pitches later, Gardner was thrown out trying to steal, the third time that’s happened in six tries this year.

One inning later, the Yankees had men at first and second with one out, but they moved over on a Jorge Posada Baltimore chop to essentially take the bat out of Martin’s hands. He was unintentionally intentionally walked to get to Gardner, who managed to work the count full before popping out to end the threat and the inning. Two men were also left on base in the tenth inning with Eric Chavez flied out to right.

Overall, the Yankees stranded seven runners and went 1-for-7 with men in scoring position. Three other potential rallies were killed with a double plays. It’s easy to pile on Gardner, and his -.181 WPA was far an away the worst but any New York hitter in the game. If it wasn’t for his defense in left, he’d be completely and utterly useless to this team. Why he wasn’t pinch-hit for in the sixth, I’ll never quite understand.

The Rare Meltdown

It happens a few times a season, but you never expect it. Rivera had his first bad outing of the year in this game, blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning on four hits and a walk. The tying run scored on a perfect squeeze play by John MacDonald, which is pretty much what it takes to beat Mo. He was pitching for the fifth time in eight days and clearly wasn’t sharp, which isn’t a total surprise for the 41-year-old. Every so often Rivera will remind us that he’s human, which is what happened here. I have a hard time getting worked up over it, just sucks is all.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

Ugly A.J.

After three encouraging starts, A.J. Burnett reverted back to his old ways on Tuesday, and he has his bullpen to thank for the fact that his ERA actually went down. Burnett allowed a first inning homer to Jose Bautista, another run on a sacrifice fly in the third inning after he botched a rundown, and then another run on a double down the line in the sixth. He walked five guys, and four of those free passes went to players hitting in the bottom third of the lineup. You just can’t walk Jose Molina, Corey Patterson, and Jayson Nix (twice) and live to tell about it.

After walking the bases loaded in the sixth, Burnett gave way to David Robertson who was easily the star of the game for New York. With zero margin for error and a one-run lead, Robertson struck out Yunel Escobar and Travis Snider to strand the bases loaded and preserve the lead. If it wasn’t for that masterful work, Burnett would have allowed a lot more than three runs in 5.1 innings. I suppose the silver lining is that A.J. struck out six batters and got 17 swings-and-misses out of 105 pitches (which is a freaking ton), but he did not pitch well tonight at all. Leaving the game with the lead had far more to do with Robertson and his offense than anything else. Hopefully this is just a hiccup, but who knows with Burnett.


I have no idea what the hell is going on in this picture. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

The game was predictably lost when Ivan Nova marched out of the bullpen in the tenth inning for reasons unknown. Why keep guys like Hector Noesi and Lance Pendleton around as long men if they’re not going to be used in long man spots? Nova gave up a leadoff single to Edwin Encarnacion, then retired Nix and Escobar on a pair of fly balls to the warning track before Snider ended things with a double into the gap. The Toronto left fielder was the worst player on the field (0-for-5, three strikeouts) before Nova left a 1-0 fastball out over the plate. In his last 6.1 innings, the Yankees’ supposed number four starter has allowed nine runs on ten hits, six walks, and a hit batter. The blush is well off the rose by now.

I’m not sure what the point of having Boone Logan warm up in the tenth was if he wasn’t going to be used to face Snider. Robertson and Joba Chamberlain threw a combined 22 pitches, but hey, at least they know what inning they’re going to work when they’re both available for tomorrow. This is part of what I was talking about yesterday; why couldn’t Robertson stay in for the seventh after throwing 11 pitches in the sixth? Bullpen specialization really jumped the shark when Girardi married a reliever to seventh (!!!) inning.

Every batter not named Brett Gardner reached base at least once in this game, including multiple times for Curtis Granderson (two-run homer and a single), Mark Teixeira (two-run homer and a walk), Nick Swisher (single and three walks), Chavez (two walks), and Martin (double and a walk). The Yankees drew seven walks as a team and struck out just three times, and over their last four games they’ve struck out fewer times (12) than they walked (16). That’s a span of 145 batters, which is phenomenal.

Oh, and man, Martin was in Beast Mode behind the plate. Dude was blocking all those 55-foot breaking balls like nobody’s business. It’s already been established that he’s far exceeded expectations in the first few weeks, but his athleticism and defensive prowess was on full display in this one. It won’t show up in the box score, but he really did a masterful job behind the dish.

Obvious statement is obvious: The Yankees have to start getting some more length out of their starting pitchers to take some heat off the bullpen. We knew the starting rotation was going to be a problem coming into the season, and that has proven to be very true over the last three weeks.

Very nice having the old David Cone-Ken Singleton announcer duo back, ain’t it? They’re the best combo YES can put together, in my opinion.

WPA Graph & Box Score

That sucks. has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Alright, enough complaining for one game. It’s baseball, and every team is going to have nights like this one. Time to just suck it up and move on. These same two teams will wrap up this short little two game series tomorrow night when Bartolo Colon makes his first start of the season. Brett Cecil goes for Toronto.

A fine night of pitching on the farm

In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees announced that Kevin Millwood’s next start will be in Triple-A, plus Cito Culver also sat down for an interview with Jonathan Mayo. Old pal Eric Duncan has caught on with the Double-A affiliate of the Cardinals after being released by the Rockies in Spring Training, so good for him. Kei Igawa moved up to Triple-A Scranton and will start for them later in the week. They’re still short some arms with Lance Pendleton and Hector Noesi in the big leagues.

Triple-A Scranton (5-2 win over Lehigh Valley)
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 5, 2 K, 1 SB
Kevin Russo, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 BB, 3 K – four for his last 11 (.364) after that horrible start
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 5, 1 K – just his second hitless game of the year … still hitting .404 though
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 0 for 4, 1 R, 1 K
Chris Dickerson, RF: 3 for 4, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K – six for his last 11 (.545)
Justin Maxwell, LF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K – eight for his last 18 (.444) with two doubles and three homers
Brandon Laird, 3B: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 K
Dan Brewer, DH: 2 for 3, 1 R, 2 SB – six for 13 (.462) with three steals in limited playing time
Ramiro Pena, SS: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
David Phelps, RHP: 6.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HB, 7-2 GB/FB – 61 of 95 pitches were strikes (64.2%) … best start by a SWB pitcher this year? probably
Andy Sisco, LHP: 0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K – all three pitches were strikes
Buddy Carlyle, RHP: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-1 GB/FB  – 18 of 25 pitches were strikes (72%)
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – eight of 13 pitches were strikes (61.5%)

[Read more…]

Game 15: Coney’s Back

Look alive, fellas.

After a year-long hiatus from the YES Network, David Cone returns to the booth to call tonight’s game in Toronto. I don’t know about you, but Cone was easily my favorite YES announcer during his time here, and I welcome him back with open arms. I look forward to many FanGraphs references, occasional inappropriate language, and better insight than any of the other color guys. No offense to those guys, but today is a great day for Yankees’ fan. Welcome back, Coney.

Here’s the lineup, which is still lacking a certain third baseman…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, CF

A.J. Burnett, SP

Ready for the curveball? Tonight’s game is not on YES, it’s on My9 instead. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET. Enjoy, I know I will.

Injury Updates: Although he’s not in the lineup, Alex Rodriguez did take batting practice before the game, which is obviously a good sign. If his oblique issue was that bad, he wouldn’t be swinging a bat … Frankie Cervelli has been playing in Extended Spring Training and could begin an official minor league rehab assignment by the weekend … Colin Curtis is expected to miss the rest of the season after having surgery to repair his injured shoulder. That sucks. He hurt it diving for a ball in Spring Training.

Shameless Plug: Make sure you check out Russ Salzberg’s call-in show that airs live on the web every Wednesday from 11am-2pm. Click the link to find the phone number and the rest of the info.

The plan for Kevin Millwood

Via Brian Costello, Brian Cashman confirmed that Kevin Millwood will make his next start for Triple-A Scranton sometime this week. He just threw seven one-hit innings for Double-A Trenton on Sunday, so sometime this weekend is a safe bet. The Yankees have 11 days left to evaluate Millwood before the opt-out clause in his contract kicks in, so it looks like they’ll get to see him make two starts for Scranton before the decision needs to be made.

Carlos Silva, on the other hand, is not scheduled to pitch anytime soon. He’s in Extended Spring Training right now and is undergoing a conditioning program.