Game 133: Back to Boston

This was in our image uploads under "Red Sox," and I couldn't not use it. Remember that? Insane. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Biggest series of the season? Eh, I don’t thinks so, not at all really. The Yankees have a big lead on a playoff spot so they don’t need to sweat that, the only thing this series is about is getting in better position to win the division. SG ran the numbers, and pretty much the only thing the Yankees can do to drastically improve their chances at an AL East crown is sweep. That would be unlikely even if they had Key, Cone, and Pettitte lined up to pitch. Here’s the lineup…

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

CC Sabathia, SP

The game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Alex Rodriguez Update: A-Rod got a cortisone shot in his sprained left thumb today and it would not be surprising if he missed the entire series. For shame.

Four Yankees heading to Arizona Fall League (so far)

Rosters for the Arizona Fall League were released today, though not in their entirety. David Phelps, Corban Joseph, Rob Segedin, and Ronnier Mustelier are the four Yankees farmhands named to the Phoenix Desert Dogs roster so far, but they still have two or three spots to fill. Those will almost certainly be pitchers, but one will not be Graham Stoneburner.

Phelps’ assignment is completely expected after he missed all that time with the shoulder issue, he’s got innings to make up. CoJo’s been hitting well this year and it’s worth getting him the extra at-bats. Interestingly enough, Segedin’s on the roster as an outfielder, so perhaps a full blown transition is going to take place soon. Mustelier is the interesting guy. He’s an older dude (just turned 27) that signed out of Cuba this year, he’s been mashing nonstop since signing (.374/.421/.553 in 134 PA), and he’s played five positions (second, third, and all three outfield spots). It’s unlikely they’d send filler to the AzFL, and I wonder if he’s got a chance to a righty bench bat in the future. We’ll see.

Past Trade Review: Robin Ventura

(AP)

The dust had barely settled after the end of the 2001 World Series, but the Yankees knew they were already going to have to replace several key pieces of the roster in the offseason. Everyone knew that Paul O’Neill was retiring and it was no secret that the aging Tino Martinez was going to be pushed aside as the team prepared to go all out for free agent Jason Giambi, but Scott Brosius’ retirement seemed to catch everyone off guard. By no means was he great, but he was a steady third baseman and suddenly the Yankees had an empty spot at the hot corner.

That’s when something unusual happened. The Yankees and Mets actually got together for a trade, a rare exchange of legitimate big leaguers. On December 7th, two weeks after Brosius called it a career, the Yankees shipped David Justice across town in exchange for Robin Ventura. Justice had been acquired a year-and-a-half earlier for some minor leaguers, a deal that worked out tremendously in 2000. The Amazins’ were set to acquire Roberto Alomar and shift Edgardo Alfonso to third, so they had a spare part and the pieces of the trade puzzle fell into place.

Ventura, 34 at the time, was coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons, a .237/.359/.419 effort in 2001 and .232/.338/.439 in 2000. His glovework at third was second to none though, and the Yankees were just looking for a short-term stopgap until Drew Henson was ready to take over the position for the next decade. Don’t laugh, Baseball America ranked Henson as the ninth best prospect in baseball just a few weeks after the trade, one spot ahead of some kid named Mark Teixeira. The Yankees only needed a band-aid third baseman, and that’s exactly what Ventura was.

Batting fifth behind Bernie Williams and ahead of Jorge Posada on Opening Day, Ventura drew a walk in four trips to the plate. It was an unspectacular debut, but he made his mark in pinstripes in the following weeks. Ventura hit a solo homer two days later, the only run of the game in the team’s first win of the 2002 season. He hit a three-run homer the very next day, chipping in three of the team’s four runs in the win. Another homer followed four days later. Then another. And another and another and another. Before you knew it, Ventura had gone deep six times in the team’s first 14 games and a dozen times in their first 39 games. That was more than half of his season total (21) from the year before.

Ventura cooled off a bit after that but remained productive, hitting .240/.372/.419 with 15 homers the rest of the way to finish the season at .247/.368/.458 with 27 homers, the third highest total of his then-14-year career. The left-handed power he provided was a nice compliment to righty Alfonso Soriano and the two switch-hitters, Bernie and Posada. Ventura made the All-Star Team for the second time in his career and for the first time in a decade. The Yankees lost to the Angels in the ALDS, though Ventura doubled twice and drove in four runs in the final two games of the series.

With Henson not developing as hoped in 2002, the Yankees kept Ventura around in 2003 but had him platoon at third with Todd Zeile. Seriously. Ventura went on another April homerun binge (five in the team’s first 16 games), but his power started to disappear and his season batting line bottomed out at .236/.326/.386 on July 11th. His defense also deteriorated as well, and the Yankees had a bonafide hole at third base on their hands.

The fixed that hole at the trade deadline, sending two minor leaguers and cash to the Reds for Aaron Boone. The 30-year-old was hitting .273/.339/.469 with Cincinnati at the time and was obviously going to play third base everyday in New York. Ventura was a man without a job, but Brian Cashman managed to flip him to the Dodgers just before the deadline. In return for a declining player everyone knew he had to move, Cashman received Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor, two young players that proved to be useful (to varying degrees) in pinstripes.

Ventura never really had a signature moment with the Yankees, at least not that I remember, but he was certainly a solid contributor on a 103-win team in 2002. All told, he hit .249/.359/.433 with 36 homers in 888 plate appearances in pinstripes, and he retired the season after the trade. As for Justice, he never actually played for the Mets. They traded him to the Athletics a week after acquiring him, getting relievers Mark Guthrie and Tyler Yates in return. Justice hit .266/.376/.410 as Oakland’s DH in 2002, and retired the following offseason. It was a deal with little impact for both sides, but Ventura bridged the gap between three very significant players in recent Yankees history – Brosius, Justice, and Boone.

CC Sabathia vs. The Red Sox

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Yankees will be in Fenway Park tonight for their final road series against the Red Sox tonight, and they’ll have their ace on the mound. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last for months, you’re well aware that CC Sabathia has yet to beat Boston this year, a big part of the reason why the Yankees have lost ten of twelve to their biggest rivals. He’s 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against the Sox but 17-3 with a 2.40 ERA against everyone else.

In his four starts against Boston this year, Sabathia has given up 20 runs in 25 innings. He has given the team length, failing to complete at least six innings just once (his first start on April 10th, when he went 5.2 IP), and his FIP (~3.70) looks a lot better than that ERA, but 20 runs in 25 IP is 20 runs in 25 IP. Here’s the weird thing though: 15 of those 20 runs have been scored in just three innings. Look…

April 10th: one run in 5.2 IP overall
May 14th: two runs in six innings, then a four-run seventh
June 9th: six scoreless innings, then a seven-run seventh
August 6th: five-run third inning, but two runs in five innings otherwise

That June 9th game is particularly annoying. Sabathia cruised through the first six innings on just 82 pitches, allowing just two singles and two walks while striking out five and getting six other outs on the ground. He then gave up six hits to the next eight batters and allowed four runs to score before giving way to David Robertson. Robertson allowed all three of the runners he inherited to score before recording the final out of the inning. How often does that happen? As I said, annoying*.

The three big innings, one in each of his last three starts against Boston, suggest an anomaly more than anything. Sabathia’s never had trouble beating the Red Sox before, going 4-2 with a 3.04 ERA and a ~3.30 FIP in eight starts against them in 2009 and 2010, and it would have been 5-2 had the bullpen not coughed up a four-run lead in the eighth inning of this game last May. The Yankees are 5-3 in those eight starts, and it would be 6-2 if not for that bullpen meltdown. The “can’t beat Boston!” shtick is isolated to 2011.

Sabathia’s been just a little off with his command in his last five starts, giving up 46 hits and eight homers in 36.1 IP. His strikeout (35) and walk (five) totals are still stellar, but he’s been just a bit less awesome than usual. Obviously the Red Sox offense will be a tough matchup with or without his usual command, but hopefully he manages to avoid that one big inning tonight. That’s been the biggest problem for Sabathia against Boston this year, bar none.

* I seem to remember some defensive funny business in another one of the big innings as well, but it’s honestly not worth the effort to confirm.

Losing Al Aceves

Photo credit: Jim Mone/AP

The bullpen was not in great shape. Brian Bruney had been lights out, but he’d also gotten hurt. Jose Veras, who showed plenty of potential in the second half of 2008, had an aversion to leaving men on base. Damaso Marte couldn’t keep the ball in the park. Edwar Ramirez‘s changeup magic had worn off. All told it added up to a horrific month for the Yankees bullpen: a 6.46 ERA, 5.41 FIP, and 4.53 xFIP through the first month of 2009. If that team was going to contend it had to improve the bullpen. With one move at the end of April it accomplished just that.

On May 4th, after the Red Sox knocked around Phil Hughes for four runs in four innings, Alfredo Aceves made his season debut. He had made his major league debut just a few months earlier, in August of 2008, and he had thrown a quality 30 innings by season’s end. The peripherals weren’t pretty — 3 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9 and just 4.8 K/9 — but the results impressed. Since the Yankees had a full rotation and bullpen to start the 2009 season he started in Scranton, but he was sure to take the shuttle at first opportunity. The poor bullpen provided that opportunity, and Aceves quickly filled the void.

His appearance against the Red Sox was good, not great, though he did manage to strike out seven in 4.1 innings. During his next few appearances he began to earn Joe Girardi‘s trust. He finished two straight games during Walkoff Weekend against Minnesota. He pitched two innings, three innings — whatever it took. He even threw four innings in relief of an ineffective Joba Chamberlain on July 5th, earning a save in the process. While he did hit a few rough patches later in the year, he was generally among the Yankees’ most effective relievers that year. His presence helped the Yankees go from worst bullpen in April to one of the best by season’s end.

During the 2009 season Aceves experienced back issues. They cropped up in late July, and bothered him through his rough patch in August. He stayed mostly healthy that year, though, but in 2010 he finally succumbed. While delivering a pitch against the Red Sox he aggravated his back and left the game. Reports of his rehab and recovery persisted throughout the season, but every time he got close he suffered another setback. But hey, he’s a pitcher and that kind of thing happens. Best to move on and try again next season, right?

There was no indication of what came next. Maybe it had to do with how he approached his rehab. Maybe there were unreleased details regarding the bike accident that broke his collar bone during the off-season. For whatever reason, the Yankees decided to not tender Aceves a contract this past off-season. It came as something of a shock, given how effective he’d been when healthy and how relatively little he’d cost. It’s not often that you see a player who makes less than a million dollars non-tendered.

Making matters worse, the Red Sox ended up signing Aceves later in the off-season. Things got worse still when Aceves went through a normal spring training and appeared perfectly ready to start the 2011 season. Rock bottom has come recently, as Aceves has been a key member of the Red Sox bullpen. In August he’s been at his best, allowing just two runs while striking out 18 and walking five in 14.2 innings. As a reliever this year he has a 2.15 ERA in 67 innings, holding opponents to a .190/.259/.326 line. It’s one reason that Boston’s bullpen has overcome the question marks it faced earlier in the season.

The Yankees aren’t necessarily missing Aceves’s presence in the bullpen. They rank third in the majors with a 3.02 ERA, and fourth with a 3.30 FIP (just a single point behind the Red Sox). They have their late innings covered by David Robertson and Rafael Soriano, and they have a band of other relievers who have stepped up and have pitched exceedingly well in their roles. In fact, if the Yankees had kept Aceves they might have missed out on one of their most effective relievers this season.

Cory Wade did not start the season in the Yankees’ farm system. In the off-season he signed a minor league deal with Tampa, but they did not recall him by his opt-out date. The Yankees, shorthanded in the bullpen after injuries to Soriano and Chamberlain, scooped him up and added him to the major league roster. In 28.1 innings he’s shown good stuff, resulting in a 2.22 ERA. He’s had the peripherals to go with it, too, a 3.43 FIP and 3.49 xFIP despite a below average strikeout rate. Aceves’s numbers line up comparably: 2.15 ERA, 3.80 FIP, and 4.27 xFIP as a reliever. With those numbers in mind, Wade just might be the better option in 2011. Yet if the Yankees had kept Aceves they might never have discovered this hidden gem. Maybe he would be the one helping Boston’s bullpen currently.

Losing Al Aceves was sad at the time, given all he had contributed in 2009. It hurt plenty when the Red Sox signed him, and hurt even worse when he started to help their bullpen. But it wasn’t all bad for the Yankees. They have one of the best bullpens in the league. Not only that, they discovered one of their most effective relievers at a time when they might not have, had Aceves been on the roster. This doesn’t excuse the Yankees’ decision; they refused to pay Aceves half a million, yet spent $8 million on Pedro Feliciano. But there is a silver lining in this. If they can knock around Aceves in this series, well, maybe the issue will finally lay at rest.