One year later, the same Jeter conundrum

Yankee history, personified. Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Derek Jeter picked a bad time to get old.

For nine years, Derek Jeter made the Yanks’ 10-year, $189-million contract they gave him after the 2000 season look like a great deal, and then he turned 36. With one month left before Jeter’s final regular season game under this deal, the Yankee Captain is having the worst season of his career. Mired in a 2-for-30 slide, Jeter is now hitting .266/.332/.376 on the season, and he’s on pace for career lows in every triple-slash category. His OPS is .130 points below his career average, and although he’s out-pacing the average American League short stop, he may put up an OPS+ below 100 for the first time he was just a 21-year-old rookie.

It hasn’t been easy for the Yanks to diagnose Jeter’s problems this year. His isolated patience — on-base percentage less batting average — is .066, not far off from his career norm of .071, but his .298 BABIP is well below his lifetime .356 mark. He’s not striking out, and he’s not really walking. Yet, he’s also not hitting the ball with authority as his ground ball rates are up and his line drives are down. He’s swinging at way too many pitches out of the strike zone and is making bad contact with those pitches. In other words, he’s having a very bad, no-good, rotten season (for him, at least).

We can talk about Jeter’s swing, his personal frustration and his poor approach at the plate — as Frankie Piliere has this afternoon — but for the Yankees, the future matters more than the present. Jeter is a free agent, and as we’ve explored in the past, he wants to get paid. Now, he doesn’t just want a token contract for a reasonable-but-still-high amount; he wants to be recognized as the face of the Yankees. He wants, in other words, to be treated like A-Rod.

The tabloids today tackle just that subject. In his 3UP column, Joel Sherman ponders the nature of Derek Jeter. “If his name were not Derek Jeter,” Sherman writes, “the Yanks would have definitely moved him to eighth or ninth in the lineup and possibly considered playing Eduardo Nunez at shortstop more.” I disagree with playing Nunez more, but Jeter shouldn’t and wouldn’t be batting at or near the top of the Yankee lineup if he were any other short stop with a .332 on-base percentage.

Sherman eventually broaches the delicate topic of money. He doesn’t believe Jeter would get more than a one-year, $7-million deal on the open market — in other words, Marco Scutaro money. Jeter, according to John Harper’s anonymous sources, will expect more. The Daily News columnist rounded up some people who wished to remain nameless, and surprisingly, none of them had nice things to say. “”Knowing Jeet,” one player said to Harper, “he’s not going to let an off-year, if it turns out to be an off-year, play a role in what he thinks he should get paid. He just doesn’t think like that. He’ll be more convinced than ever that he’ll come back and hit .330 next year.”

Another of Harper’s supposed former teammates echoed those concerns: “The question is whether Cashman and the others think this is the start of a decline, and if so, are they going to factor it into the negotiations or just pay him for being the face of the franchise all these years? Knowing Derek, he’ll say all the right things, but he won’t give an inch based on his numbers this season.”

I grew up with Derek Jeter, and it’s tough for me to admit that he’s getting old. No one likes to come face-to-face with their own mortality and their own aging, but that’s very likely what’s happening with Derek Jeter. His eye isn’t as discnering; his bat speed not as quick; his fielding more suspect. But age is not on his side.

Take a quick gander this:


That list represents every single short stop in Major League history who, at the age of 36 or older, played 75 percent of his games at short stop and played at least 200 games before calling it quits. It isn’t a very long list, and it isn’t one filled with successful players. Now, few of these guys could approach peak-era Derek Jeter in terms of offensive production, but history and age aren’t on Jeter’s side.

Any agreement the Yankees and Derek Jeter reach this winter will set the tone for the immediate future of the franchise. They can risk overpaying Jeter for the good will of his 3000th hit and the end of his career. They can play hardball with Derek and risk ill will from everyone. But they can’t expect to pay Derek Jeter $18 million and A-Rod north of $25 million in 2013 and 2014 and compete at a high level. Even the Yankees’ resources are limited, and poor investments at such high levels are tough to overcome.

The easy answer is one of hope. We have to hope Derek Jeter can kick in gear as the Yanks head for October. We have to hope he can defy age. We have to hope he can battle back the question marks. And we have to hope he’ll reach an amicable deal with the Yankees. Anything else might just be too depressing to ponder. After all, none of us are getting any younger.

Jonathan Albaladejo’s big chance

Today’s September 1st, so that means dozens of prospects, former big leaguers, has-beens, never will-bes, and more will join the 30 big league teams as they expand their rosters down the stretch. For most of the clubs, it’s a time to give some youngsters a look or back off their young starting pitchers, stuff like that. For a guy like Jon Albaladejo, who the Yankees will activate before tonight’s game, it’s an audition for a future job.

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Albaladejo, the portly 27-year-old righthanded reliever, failed to make the Yanks’ Opening Day this season for the first time since joining the organization following the 2007 campaign, and that’s because he was simply atrocious in Spring Training. He appeared in five games, recorded just eight outs, and allowed 16 (!!!) hits and 11 runs. He walked a pair and struck out just one. With last year’s stellar relief corps intact (plus some new additions), it was going to be tough enough for Albie to crack the bullpen to start with, but his performance in camp cemented his trip to Triple-A Scranton.

With his sinker-slider approach apparently no longer doing the trick, Albaladejo decided to reinvent himself as a more traditional power pitcher. The sinker was replaced with a more traditional four-seamer that has registered in the mid-90’s, the slider with a 12-to-6 curveball. Well, he still throws the sinker and slider on occasion, but they’re nothing more than his third and fourth pitches right now. That’s pretty good for a reliever.

The results of the change were staggering. Albaladejo struck out 82 batters and walked just 18 in 63.1 innings this season, and opponents hit just .170 off him. A mere 22 of the 113 righthanded batters he faced with Scranton this year reached base, and exactly double that number went down on strike three. Along the way he saved 43 games, setting franchise and International League records. Clearly, the new Jon Albaladejo was a force to be reckoned with, and it’s just a matter of proving himself against big league competition now.

Albie showed off his new approach in a brief late-July call-up, when he allowed a run and struck out three in 2.2 innings of work spread across a pair of appearances. Basically a one inning pitcher all season, he appeared to fatigue in the second inning of his first appearance, when he allowed a single (the baserunner was then erased on a caught stealing) and a walk before giving way to Chan Ho Park, who of course allowed the inherited runner to score when he served up a homerun ball on the second pitch he threw. It wasn’t much to judge the new Albaladejo by, but it was obvious that all the talk of his new fastball-curveball combo was more than just talk, it was reality.

September, like Spring Training, isn’t the best time to evaluate players because of the diluted talent pool, but sometimes we’re forced to do it. That’s what the Yankees are going to have to do with Albaladejo, who’s going to be out of options next season. He’s either going to have to stick with the big league club out of Spring Training in 2011 or be placed on waivers before going to the minor leagues. Given the dearth of quality relievers and Albie’s kick-ass Triple-A performance, there’s a pretty good chance someone will give him a whirl. Hell, someone claimed Chan Ho freaking Park off waivers, Albaladejo’s not making it through.

David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Kerry Wood figure to remain Joe Girardi‘s primary righthanded setup relievers down the stretch and rightfully so, which means Albaladejo’s going to have to make the most of whatever playing time he gets. That’s probably going to be sixth and seventh inning work in close but probably still trailing games or blowouts. And remember, Albie’s not just pitching for a job with the Yankees next year, he’s basically auditioning himself for the other 29 clubs as well. Perhaps the Yanks could net something in a trade after the season than risk losing him for no return off waivers.

Jon Albaladejo’s reemergence this year was just one of several pleasant pitching surprises in the farm system this season, but unlike the rest of the guys down there, the Yanks don’t have the luxury of time in this case. Surely they’ve been evaluating him all season long, but this month they’re going to get a crash course look at what he can do against Major League hitters and use that to make a decision on his future with the organization. Hopefully he takes advantage of it.

Lilly still an option for the Yanks?

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Yesterday it seemed as though the idea of acquiring Ted Lilly came and went. We learned that the Yankees won the waiver claim on Lilly, but also that the Dodgers pulled him back. That seemed like the end of it. The Yankees clearly had interest in re-acquiring Lilly for the stretch run, but the Dodgers apparently didn’t want to deal with just one team — if they wanted to deal with any teams at all. It’s a shame, since Lilly could have helped, but with the August 31 waiver trade deadline in the past, that notion is dead.

Or is it? According to a Daily News report, the Yankees think they can not only acquire Lilly, but also can add him to their postseason roster. This does strike me as a bit odd, because yesterday’s report indicated that the Dodgers pulled back Lilly from waivers. That means, as I understand it, that they can’t trade him without again exposing Lilly to waivers, at which point any team could claim him and the Dodgers could not again pull him back. But the Yankees, “believe there is a loophole that because they were awarded the claim before the first of the month, they could use Lilly on their postseason roster.”

This claim appears out of line with what we know about postseason eligibility rules. The general rule is that any player on the 25-man roster, disabled list, bereavement list, or suspended list can be added to a team’s roster in any round of the playoffs. For the Yankees that includes the 25 active guys plus Damaso Marte, Andy Pettitte, Alfredo Aceves, Lance Berkman, Nick Johnson, and Alex Rodriguez. If any of those players is still hurt come playoff time, the Yankees can substitute him for another player who was in their organization on August 31. Since Lilly can’t have been in the organization by that date, it seems that he would be ineligible for the postseason.

I did ask ESPN’s Keith Law about this. He’s not certain about the rule, but he doesn’t think such a loophole exists. He then asked a front office guy and got a similar response. Again, neither Law nor the front office guy is certain, but they both believe that the Yankees would not be able to pull off such a move. To be certain we’d probably have to leaf through the MLB rulebook, which is not available online (though if you’re a super geek you can find a copy on eBay). But from most indications the Yankees will not get their way here.

We’ve seen some strange things happen, and maybe the Yankees have done their homework and have found the loophole they need. Lilly would be a welcome addition to a staff that has hit something of a rough patch. But he’s not necessary, so it’s not the end of the world if theYankees can’t pull of this maneuver. It’s an interesting thought, but it looks like the Yanks will go to war with the guys they’ve got.

Glove slap to Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.

The low expectations for A.J. Burnett

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

With a patchwork rotation that includes a struggling Phil Hughes, a journeyman pitching way over his head and a 23-year-old with two Major League starts to his name as well as their ace, the Yanks have made it from one to A.J. Burnett start to another without a loss. It’s the first time since early July that the Bombers have won four in a row, and few fans expect Burnett to continue the streak.

We know how bad A.J. has been lately. The glow of his World Series duel with Pedro Martinez has long since faded into Yankee lore, and right now, we’re stuck with a guy who’s 3-10 with a 6.86 ERA since the beginning of June. We’re stuck with the innings eater who’s averaging under six frames a start. We’re struck with the strike-out pitcher whose K rate has dropped to 6.75 per 9 innings. And we’re stuck with the guy making $16.5 million a year through 2013. It isn’t a comforting thought.

Yet, the Yankees have little choice but to hand the ball over to Burnett tonight, and it’s in the club’s best interests to get A.J. straightened out. If we look beyond the numbers to the stuff as presented by MLB’s pitch f/x data, we can begin to see what ails A.J, and it seems to be a combination of a less effective curveball and a fastball without bite. What many have noticed about Burnett’s fastball this year is its velocity. He averaged over 94 miles per hour last year but has been sitting at 93 this year. The velocity chart shows a downward trend too, but a mid-90s fastball thrown thrown with proper movement would still be tough to hit.

Rather, Burnett’s problem appears to be just that movement. The horizontal movement on his fastball is nearly two inches less than what it was last year while the vertical movement is approximately an inch and a half more. So instead of tailing fastballs then run away to lefties and in on righties, his fastball seems to be moving less to the corners. Thus, Major League hitters will tee up on it.

The deuce seems to be giving Burnett problems as well. Last year, Fangraphs rated his curve as a plus pitch, 16 runs above average. This year, they rate it at -4.2 runs below average, and the pitch f/x data says the curve too hasn’t been moving horizontally as much as it has in the past. While Fangraphs didn’t smile upon Burnett’s fastball last year, without the movement on the fastball and with a stale curveball, the results have been, as we’ve seen, disastrous lately.

Right now, though, there are no other options. The Yanks could skip Burnett and hand the ball over to Chad Gaudin or Sergio Mitre for a turn, but they could also do that with Phil Hughes to give him some rest. They can’t take both Burnett and Hughes out of the rotation, and the Bombers need both ready to go come the American League Division Series. Without Andy Pettitte around, then, Burnett will get the ball every five days sink or swim, and to me, the data suggests that an adjusted release point and not more rest could solve some problems.

As a Yankee, Burnett has been an enigma. He signed an inflated contract because the Yanks desperately needed some power arms for their rotation, and his strike out numbers haven’t been where they were when he was in Toronto. He hasn’t been hitting his spots, and his walk rate over those last 15 starts is touching 4.5 per 9 innings. There is no Bad A.J. or Good A.J., only Infuriating A.J. Tonight, as the Yanks hold onto first place and try to ride out a winning streak, some A.J. will get the ball, and I’d be happy with next to nothing. Give me 6 innings, and give up 4 runs. That will satisfy my low expectations.

Yanks rout A’s en route to fourth straight win

Despite their generally mediocre starting pitching and lack of Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees managed to reel off three straight wins coming into Tuesday’s game against the Athletics, and they wasted no time making sure it would be four in a row. The struck early and often with a loud offensive attack that featured homers, double steals, triples from unexpected sources, you name it. They had it all working tonight, which led to a rather easy 9-3 win.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Biggest Hit: Swish Goes Boom

The Yanks showed no mercy to Jersey boy Vin Mazzaro, jumping all over him for three runs in the very first inning. The A’s battled back for a run in the third, but that’s when our beloved Bombers put their foot down. Mazzaro had been flirting with disaster all night, but they weren’t going to let him off the hook anymore.

Derek Jeter started the frame off with a groundout before Mark Teixeira singled over the shift with one out. That’s where he remained when Nick Swisher came to the plate two batters later with two outs in the inning. Mazzaro was mixing his curveball, changeup, and fastball all night, but nothing seemed to work for him. His first pitch curve dropped out of the zone for a ball, then a fastball and changeup sailed up and away for strikes two and three, respectively.

With his quieter and more, dare I say, professional setup at the plate, Swish has turned it loose five times with a 3-0 count this year, getting four hits including a double. Prior to this season, he’d gone after a 3-0 pitch just two times (!!!) in his career. That’s quite a difference. I remember Jorge Posada going deep on a 3-0 count a few weeks ago, so maybe this is a new team-wide philosophy. Anyway, you know what happened next. Swisher swung at Mazzaro’s 3-0 heater, and tomahawked it deep into the second deck in rightfield for a 5-1 lead. The homer improved the Yanks’ chances of winning by 13.4%, easily the most damaging hit of the game.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Honorable Mention: Jorge Goes For Three

We don’t see it often, so when it happens, we’ve gotta mention it. Jorge Posada, whose speed is typically measured in fractions of the Molina scale, hit a triple in this game, the tenth of his career. It was hit first three bagger since April 26th of 2008, and overall the Yanks are 8-2 when he hits manages to hit one.

As you’d expect, it wasn’t a standard rip the ball into the gap and run it out triple, it was a deep fly ball to left that bounced off the top of the wall and away from leftfielder Jeff Larish. Posada slid into third as the ball scooted by Kevin Kouzmanoff for a run scoring triple that put the Yanks ahead by three in the first inning. That’s pretty much when you knew things were going to go New York’s way.

Inefficient Phil

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Much like his last start, Phil Hughes wasn’t at his best in this one, running up a high pitch count and hurting himself with walks. It wasn’t quite as bad as his outing against the Blue Jays, but then again the A’s aren’t as good as our neighbors to the north. Four of the nine batters to reach base against Hughes do so with two strikes, and overall they fouled off 19 pitches, eight with two strikes. He walked five guys on the night (just one strikeout), giving him ten total walks in his last two starts after walking just nine in his previous eight starts combined.

It was just five innings of work, but Phil needed 98 pitches to do it, and just 52 of those 98 pitches (53.1%) went for strikes. Maybe it’s just me, but Hughes definitely looks like he’s in a need of a little breather, he’s been laboring an awful lot of late. Perhaps the Yanks will skip his next start or two to give him a rest, maybe they’ll just wait until later in the month once they have a playoff spot clinched. Yeah, his previous career high is 146 innings, but that was four years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if all the work this season was catching up to him.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

As you can imagine, there were several big performances offensively. Brett Gardner singled, walked, stole two bases, and scored a pair of runs. Teixeira had two hits including his 30th homer of the season. Curtis Granderson ran into one for his 15th homer of the season, his fifth since revamping his swing earlier this month. Ramiro Pena picked up yet another hit, and is now eight for his last 28, a more than respectable .286 batting average.

Speaking of Tex’s homer, the guy that caught it was Rob Iracane’s father. Rob’s been a friend of RAB for quite some time and one of the fellas behind the always entertaining Walkoff Walk. Cool little moment for them, glad they got some face time on YES.

Marcus Thames went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. He’s allowed to have one of these every once in a while. I guess.

Very quietly, Chad Gaudin had himself a nice little August. He threw three innings of one run ball tonight, pushing his ledger for the month to 13 innings, five runs, and ten strikeouts. Three of those five runs came in his last time out, so he was effective much more often than not over the last 31 days. The lone run in this game came on a seventh inning solo homer with the Yanks up by seven, excusable even by the strictest of standards.

Both the Rays and Red Sox lost, so the Yanks now have a one game lead in the division and an eight game lead on the Wild Card. Can’t complain about that. Nope, can’t complain at all.

WPA Graph & Box Score

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love it when these things hug the Yanks’ side for four-plus innings. MLB.com has the box score and the video, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Same two teams tomorrow night when A.J. Burnett tries to straighten himself out against personal fave Brett Anderson. With any luck, the Yanks will make it five in a row.

Varce dominates as Staten Island splits two

Just a heads up, the minor league season comes to an end next Monday (High-A Tampa and Short Season Staten Island finish up a day earlier). Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton have already clinched playoff spots, and Tampa should do the same relatively soon. Low-A Charleston and SI are out of the race. Don’t be surprised if Bradley Suttle gets bumped up to Trenton for the playoffs with Rob Lyerly taking his place in Tampa. The Thunder have been missing a bat since Brandon Laird‘s promotion. There will also be some pitching moves as well, starting today with George Kontos, John Van Benschoten, Bryan Mitchell, Freddy Lewis, and … wait for it … Pat Venditte!

Meanwhile, Jesus Montero, Eduardo Nunez, and Jon Albaladejo were named to the Triple-A International League end of season All Star Team, so congrats to those guys.

Triple-A Scranton (6-0 loss to Lehigh Valley)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 CS – just seven for his last 28 (.250)
Greg Golson, CF & Jesus Montero, C: both 1 for 4 – Golson doubled & K’ed
Juan Miranda, 1B: 0 for 4
Jorge Vazquez, DH, Chad Huffman, LF & Eric Bruntlett, SS: all 0 for 3 – JoVa K’ed twice, Huffman & Bruntlett once
Colin Curtis, RF: 1 for 3 – threw a runner out at second
Brandon Laird, 3B: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 K – two for his last 28 (.071)
Lance Pendleton: 6 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 11-4 GB/FB – 60 of his 104 pitches were strikes (57.7%)
Zack Segovia: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 0-4 GB/FB – 23 of 34 pitches were strikes (67.6%)

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Yanks set to expand active roster

As the Yanks have wrapped play on August 31, they’ll soon have the option to expand their active roster to 40, and according to Chad Jennings, the team is going to take advantage of the added depth. The Journal News beat writer says that Greg Golson, Jonathan Albaladejo and Chad Moeller will be summoned to the big leagues. The remainder of the Scranton roster will have to take aim at the AAA title without its record-setting closer. Moeller’s promotion will require a 40-man move, but there’s a lot of dead weight on that thing right now.

In addition to these call-ups, the Yankees will activate Lance Berkman from the DL on Sept. 1st as well. Alfredo Aceves could rejoin the Yanks too, and A-Rod will be returned to us on Sunday once his 15-day stint is up as well. For now, Jesus Montero will remain at AAA.