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.

Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(Photo: Flickr user Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau via Creative Commons license)

Weren’t the Yankees just here? And isn’t this like the tenth series they’re going to play in Fenway this season? Anyway, you all know the story by now. The Yankees are just 2-10 against the Red Sox this year and yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah. None of these games are must wins, obviously, but they’re definitely “boy it sure would be wonderful to win this one if they’re serious about going for the division title” games. The Yanks were a Mariano Rivera blown save away from taking two of three from the Sox earlier this month, and I’d happily take my chances in that situation again this time around.

What Have The Red Sox Done Lately?

Well, they haven’t played in a while, since Saturday in fact. The Red Sox scheduled a doubleheader against the Athletics on Saturday to avoid Hurricane Irene on Sunday, plus yesterday was a regularly scheduled off day. They swept the A’s in the doubleheader and won two of three in the series, and before that they won three straight and three of four against the Rangers in Texas. Overall, the Sox are 82-51 with a +163 run differential. Maybe they’ll be flat after the long-ish layoff.

Red Sox On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

As you’ve probably heard, the Red Sox can hit. A lot. They’ve got a .279/.349/.458 batting line (.352 wOBA) as a team, numbers that rank either first or second in all of MLB. They’re even better at Fenway Park, hitting .297/.362/.478 as a team. It all starts with Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the lineup, who’s hitting .312/.369/.521 on the season but a much more human .265/.318/.496 during the last month. Dustin Pedroia is up to .308/.398/.474 on the season and he crushes lefties (.386/.500/.593), but he’s been batting cleanup of late because Kevin Youkilis is on the disabled list with a back problem. Marco Scutaro (.270/.333/.370) has temporarily taken over the two-hole for the time being.

Adrian Gonzalez (.345/.405/.559) might be the best pure hitter in the league, and he recently snapped a lengthy homerless drought (95 plate appearances, still just eight homers in his last 285 PA). He figures to see Boone Logan a few times in the series (.445 wOBA vs RHP, .343 vs LHP). David Ortiz actually leads the Red Sox in OPS (.311/.396/.587) and the last super serious threat in their lineup. Carl Crawford (.251/.285/.388) is terrible, Jed Lowrie hasn’t hit since coming off the DL earlier this month (.242/.279/.306), and the right field platoon of Josh Reddick (.278/.326/.475 vs. RHP) and Darnell McDonald (.215/.295/.468 vs. LHP) is about league average for the position. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has power (.220 ISO), but he’s gotten on base less than 29% of the time over the last two months.

Like the Yankees, Boston doesn’t really have much use for their bench because their regulars are so good. At some point we’ll see Mike Aviles (.321/.339/.358 in limited time since the trade) and Jason Varitek (.234/.310/.432), and there’s a chance Youkilis will be activated at some point during the series (starts rehab today, so he might be back Thursday).

Red Sox On The Mound

Tuesday, RHP John Lackey (vs. CC Sabathia): Lackey’s been pretty terrible this year (5.98 ERA and 4.71 FIP) but he’s pitched slightly better since the All-Star break (4.65 ERA and ~4.40 FIP). His strikeout rate (6.33 K/9) has gotten worse ever single year since 2005, and although his walk rate is solid (2.78 BB/9), his homerun (1.25 HR/9) and ground ball (39.5%) rates aren’t. The Yankees have scored nine runs in eleven innings off Lackey this season, and he works with a pair of low-90 fastballs (two- and four-seamer), a high-70’s curve, and a mid-80’s slider. The lefty bats have to step up in this one, they’ve destroyed him this season.

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

Wednesday, RHP Josh Beckett (vs. Phil Hughes): In most years, a guy with Beckett’s numbers (2.43 ERA and 3.46 FIP) would get some Cy Young love, but he’s thrown about 40 fewer innings than most of the true candidates. He’s shut the Yankees down four times already this year (three runs in 27 IP), but the last two times he faced them he was merely very good and not utterly dominant. It’s all about the curveball for Beckett, if he’s throwing his mid-70’s yakker for strikes on the corners and/or at the knees, he’s as good as it gets. If not, he gets predictable and leans heavily on his mid-90’s heat. Hopefully the fifth time is a charm.

Thursday, LHP Jon Lester (vs. A.J. Burnett): After two straight years of sub-3.20 FIPs and three straight years of sub-3.70 FIPs, Lester is up to a career-worst 3.83 FIP while posting a career-best 3.09 ERA. Go figure. His strikeout rate is down a touch but still excellent (8.44 K/9), and right-handers have really hurt him more this year than ever before. Lester’s a true five-pitch pitcher, throwing a low-90’s four-seamer, a low-90’s two-seamer, a high-80’s cutter, a mid-70’s curveball, and a mid-80’s changeup. He loves to backdoor that curve to righties, it’s got more 11-to-5 break that the usual 12-to-6. He’s pitched well against the Yankees this season but not really great, exactly six innings each time out and either three or four runs allowed (three total starts).

Bullpen: The late game duo of Daniel Bard (2.83 FIP) and Jonathan Papelbon (1.75 FIP) is as good as it gets, but the rest of the cast is a little shaky. Al Aceves (2.15 ERA but 3.80 FIP) is filling the same role he filled with the Yankees in 2009, and Matt Albers (3.33) has been given every opportunity in high-leverage spots but doesn’t seem to want the job (19 baserunners and 13 runs in his last 4.2 IP). Dan Wheeler (3.63 FIP) has been dynamite since coming off the disabled list in May (~2.80 FIP in 34.2 IP), but lefties still pound him (.288/.347/.455 against). Franklin Morales (2.97 FIP) is the only lefty they have out there, but we could see Andrew Miller (3.68 FIP) in relief. Tim Wakefield (5.56 FIP) is another possibility.

Recommended Red Sox Reading: Over The Monster.

‘Tickets, Please’

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Freddy leads Yanks to a win in return from DL

A four-game series with the Orioles that started so terribly on Friday ended with a split on Monday. The Yankees rode some homeruns and strong pitching to the win, putting last week’s ugly stretch further away in the rear-view mirror.

(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Freddy Sez: Nice Job!

It’s been more than three weeks since we’d last seen Freddy Garcia on a big league mound, and if his 21 splitters and changeups are any indication, the cut on his right index finger if perfectly fine. The only blemish on Garcia’s ledger was a solo homer by Mark Reynolds, a fifth inning shot that was the first long ball he’d allowed in 69 IP. That’s a span of eleven starts (the last homer he surrendered was a leadoff shot by Jacoby Ellsbury in the first inning of that 1.2 IP, 4 R disaster on June 7th) and the longest such streak in the AL this season. It was like Freddy never left, he was mixing his pitching and getting hitters to pop-up on soft stuff off the plate.

All told, Garcia threw six full innings on just 88 pitches (six swings and misses), and he probably had another inning in him if need be. I don’t have a problem with Joe Girardi taking it easy on him in his first start back after the long layoff. Sweaty Freddy’s ERA is down to 3.09 on the season, and he’s held the Orioles to just three total runs in three six innings starts this season. He’s been pretty awesome this year, and like I said, it was like he was never gone. No rust whatsoever.

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Smokin’ Hot

There was a time, maybe a month and a half ago, when it looked like Nick Swisher was going to finish the season with maybe 15 homers if he got lucky. He slumped so badly in the first two months of the season that he had just ten long balls through the team’s first 90 games. Then he got hot, hitting four homers in the next nine games, and now he’s hit seven homers in his last eleven games following a two-run job off Alfredo Simon in the fourth inning. It was a no doubter off the bat, and his sixth bomb in his last eight hits. At .177 WPA, it was easily the biggest play of the game. Meanwhile, Swisher is up to .267/.383/.464 on the season, which is a minor miracle considering that he was at .206/.321/.288 as late as May 28th.

Leftovers

The first run of the game came on a Mark Teixiera double in the first, a 3-2 fastball that he hooked into the right field corner. Curtis Granderson (who walked) was running on the pitch and scored rather easily. Robinson Cano also had two hits and nice diving defensive stop, plus Eric Chavez doubled to left-center field. Add in Swisher’s homer, and that’s all the Yankees hits. Five of them, three for extra bases (all three of Baltimore’s hits when for extras, by the way). Brett Gardner drew a walk and stole a base, might as well note that somewhere.

The three-headed bullpen monster of Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera wasn’t as stellar as usual, but they did the job. Soriano walked a batter with one out in the seventh, then struck out the next two guys with some serious heat. He was up to 95 with the fastball. Robertson gave up a solo homer to J.J. Hardy, a poorly located fastball in an 0-2 count. It’s the first homer he’d given up in 366 days, when Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox got him. It’s also the first run he allowed on the road this season. Mo was untouchable in the ninth. Flawless victory, fatality.

Derek can't figure it out either. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Can anyone come up with a logical reason why Andruw Jones didn’t pinch-hit for Jorge Posada with two outs in the top of the ninth against lefty Mike Gonzalez? Maybe because they had a short bench with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez banged up? Otherwise it doesn’t really make sense. Posada hasn’t hit lefties at all, and at least Jones has a chance of running into one for an insurance run. Very odd.

The YES telestrator was off all night, every time Michael Kay or Ken Singleton tried to use it to point something out, they were wide left. This, now this is the type of hard-hitting analysis you expect from RAB.

The Rays lost to the Blue Jays and the Red Sox were idle, so the Yankees are 1.5 games back in the division and 7.5 games up on the wildcard. As you can see in the sidebar, their magic number for a postseason berth is just 23.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerdy stuff, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

Off to Boston for the final Fenway Park series of the season. CC Sabathia will kick things off against John Lackey on Tuesday night. If you’re interested in going to the game, RAB Tickets can help get you there on the cheap.

Banuelos dominant, Montero homers in win

Mason Williams claimed the top spot in Penn League Report’s list of the top 30 prospects in the NY-Penn League. “He has great strike-zone judgment and drives pitches anywhere over the plate,” says PLR. “Many I’ve approached suggested Williams as the number one prospect even before I showed them my list.”

Meanwhile, no Yankees’ farmhands were named to the High-A Florida State League All-Star Team. For shame. Also, Terry Tiffee was apparently released. On behalf of the Yankees organization, thanks for the 112 plate appearances, Terry.

Triple-A Scranton Game One (3-0 win over Pawtucket in seven innings)
Ray Kruml, LF: 0 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 K
Kevin Russo, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 2 for 2, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – the homer was pulled into left … the walk was intentional
Jorge Vazquez, 1B, Brandon Laird, 3B, Greg Golson, CF & Doug Bernier, SS: all 0 for 2, 1 BB – Laird also struck out
Mike Lamb, DH: 1 for 3
Jordan Parraz, RF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 K
Manny Banuelos, LHP: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HB, 10-2 GB/FB – 59 of 98 pitches were strikes (60.2%) … took the no-hitter into the sixth, and based on the play-by-play, he allowed just three balls out of the infield and only one after the second inning (a sixth inning ground ball single through his legs)… dominant, easily his best start of the season and arguably the best of his career … he crushed them with offspeed stuff, getting lots of swings and misses with the curve and changeup

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