Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

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

The Yankees just finished a series with a team they typically dominate, and now they’re welcoming another one to the Bronx. The Athletics have won just five of 31 games against the Yankees since the start of the 2008 season, and they’re already 1-5 against them this year. That domination, homes.

What Have The Athletics Done Lately?

Although they lost Sunday, the A’s are actually pretty hot, having won four of their last six games against AL East competition. Okay fine, it was the Orioles and Blue Jays, but it still counts. They’ve scored just seven runs in the last four games though, the story of their season. The Athletics are well below .500 at 57-70 with a -24 run differential.

Athletics On Offense

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

When Oakland was in town a few weeks ago, it was former Yankee Hideki Matsui that did most of the damage. He went 7-for-13 with two doubles and homer in the three games, and he’s hitting .372/.424/.543 in 33 games since the All-Star break. Josh Willingham is also coming in hot, with a .277/.354/.675 batting line with nine homers in his last 22 games. Recent call-up Brandon Allen (part of the Brad Ziegler trade) is hitting .379/.424/586 in limited time. Those three are the meat of the order, the guys with some pop that can drive in a run even when no one’s on base.

At the top of the order you have Jemile Weeks (.289/.319/.402 with 14 steals in just 64 games) and Coco Crisp (.268/.324/.380 with 37 steals), two guys that will run at will. Further down in the lineup you have David DeJesus (.229/.315/.367), Kurt Suzuki (.230/.291/.381), Scott Sizemore (.235/.333/.358), and Cliff Pennington (.258/.317/.348). Conor Jackson will work his way into the lineup against left-handers as well (.274/.352/.381 vs. LHP). Bench pieces Eric Sogard (.176/.243/.265), Ryan Sweeney (.283/.358/.356), and Landon Powell (.176/.257/.235) don’t pose much of a threat. The trio of Matsui, Willingham, and Allen can do some damage, but the rest of the offense can be pitched too without much of a concern.

Athletics On The Mound

Tuesday, RHP Brandon McCarthy (vs. Bartolo Colon): Other than being a fine follow on Twitter, McCarthy has had a nice comeback year after dealing with injuries for several years. His 2.83 FIP is off the charts, though his ERA (3.74) is much more pedestrian. McCarthy is all about avoiding walks (1.30 uIBB/9) and getting ground balls (47.1%), and he’ll occasionally mix in strike three (5.87 K/9). He’s a big dude (6-foot-7, 200 lbs.) and he uses his size to get good downhill plane on his 90-ish mph fastballs (both two and four-seamer). A high-80’s slider is his third pitch (really second counting the fastballs as one entity). McCarthy’s a tough assignment, he might sneak up on the Yankees.

Wednesday, RHP Trevor Cahill (vs. CC Sabathia): Poor Mr. Cahill, he just can’t beat the Yankees. Hell, forget about beat them, he can’t even put together a half-decent start against them. Cahill is 0-4 in four career starts against New York, allowing 28 runs in 18.2 IP for his career and 14 runs in 8.2 IP in two starts this year. That’s pretty rough. The righty is a sinker-curveball-changeup pitcher, typically getting a ton of grounders (56%) and just enough strikeouts (6.51 K/9). Four games spread out over the last two years is nothing, but you have to feel confident whenever the Yankees step in the box against Cahill.

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

Thursday, RHP Rich Harden (vs. Phil Hughes): The Yankees have been scouting Harden’s recent starts, and now they’ll get a(nother) first hand look at him. He held the Yanks to two runs in 5.2 IP at the end of July, but he walked four and threw 104 pitches. Harden’s coming off his best start of the year, an eleven strikeout, two hit gem against the Jays last over the weekend. He’s still primarily a fastball-slider guy, but he’s mixing in his strikeout splitter more and more these days as he gets further away from his latest arm problem.

Bullpen: All-Star closer Andrew Bailey (2.23 FIP) is back from injury and as good as ever, allowing Grant Balfour (3.27 FIP) and Brian Fuentes (3.92 FIP) to work roles more suited to their abilities (setup, basically). Lefties Craig Breslow (3.36 FIP) and Jordan Norberto (3.18 FIP in a small sample, also part of the Ziegler trade) will matchup with righties Fautino De Lo Santos (3.29 FIP) and Bruce Billings (just 3.2 IP to his credit since being called up). It’s a solid relief corps overall, especially in the eighth and ninth innings.

Recommended Athletics Reading: Athletics Nation and Beaneball


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Barbarisi on Gardner and Granderson’s defense

At the Wall Street Journal this morning, writer Daniel Barbarisi takes a look at Brett Gardner‘s range in left field. It’s subscriber-only content, but there are apparently ways to find it free it you search hard enough. Here’s something that caught my interest from the article:

He is effectively a second center fielder, ranging wide over the left side of the field in ways no other left fielder is doing. He frequently takes balls away from center fielder Curtis Granderson, when traditionally, it’s vice-versa…

Gardner teams with Granderson and Nick Swisher to create one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. Granderson is an established, rangy center fielder who has great in-line speed once he gets moving, and Swisher is an underrated and improving right fielder—his UZR is 10.7, fifth-best in baseball. And they move around significantly, adjusting for where they expect the hitter will place the ball…

The way Gardner covers ground allows the Yankees to use different defensive alignments, shifting Granderson more toward right field in some situations because they assume Gardner can cover all of left-center.

Jay Jaffe has speculated before that Gardner takes balls away from Granderson, and so it’s interesting to see Barbarisi essentially confirm this hypothesis. Like Jaffe, I wondered about Granderson’s poor UZR score since it doesn’t seem to pass the eye test and I’ve yet to find a single person who believes that Granderson is actually a poor fielder. It may simply be that Gardner’s speedy wheels and great instincts, and Granderson’s positioning, are the cause of Granderson’s subpar UZR score this year.

This is a relevant issue as it relates to Granderson’s MVP chances. In traditional categories, Granderson cleans up. He’s second in HR, first in R and RBI, and he’s stolen 24 bases. But in the advanced statistic realm of Wins Above Replacement, Granderson is held back by his poor defensive score. His -9.2 UZR rating means that he’s not as high up the Fangraphs’ WAR leaderboard as guys like Bautista, Pedroia and Ellsbury. Yet if we subbed in a value of 0 for Granderson’s UZR, still a conservative number in my estimation, his fWAR would go from 6.1 to 6.9. If we gave him last year’s value of 6.4 runs, his fWAR would go to 7.6, ahead of Pedroia, Ellsbury and Gonzalez and just a tenth of a point behind Jose Bautista. In other words, it’s possible that the case for Granderson winning the MVP should look even stronger than it currently does.

Anyway, the article is an interesting read and I recommend you take a look. There’s some cool stuff in there about how much Andruw Jones (himself a formerly-elite defender) respects Gardner’s defensive prowess, and also a fun quote about how much Gardner would love to win the Gold Glove. Parenthetically, Barbarisi has been a fantastic addition to the Wall Street Journal‘s coverage of sports. He’s been unafraid to integrate new statistics into his work without getting bogged down in explaining the stats and still maintaining the traditional feel of the newspaper sports column. If he isn’t on your radar by now, he should be.

DotF: Montero’s big day

Mike is on vacation for a few days this week, and so Joe and I will fill the DotF void. Last night, I ran into a clogged bathtub upon my return from Minneapolis and didn’t have a chance to hammer this one out. The big story of the day was clearly Jesus Montero who mashed the ball in two games for Scranton. Freddy Garcia made a rehab appearance too, but while he won, it wasn’t his finest effort. Anyway, here’s the abbreviated DotF for Monday.

Triple A Scranton (Game 1: 11-2 win over Rochester)
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 5, 2 HR, 1 2B, 6 RBI. – He’s now up to 15 dingers on the seasons. That’s some Montero Monday for you.
Adam Warren, P: 2 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 2 K – Threw the first two innings on Sunday before the game was suspended.
Freddy Garcia, P: 4 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K – Allowed one HR to a prototypical AAAA player…threw 42 of 59 pitches for strikes. He’ll likely start this weekend against the Orioles.
Andrew Brackman, P: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K – Got the three-inning save in a blowout…Threw 23 of 31 pitches for strikes…Since 7/29, his line looks good: 11.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 12 K. [Read more…]

Who is eligible for the Yankees postseason roster?

When the Yankees designated Aaron Laffey for assignment, it created a free 40-man roster spot. The Yankees can use this spot in many ways, and may, in fact, eventually re-add Laffey (if he clears waivers and is outrighted to AAA). With the August 31st postseason roster deadline looming though, it could be that the Yankees are saving that for a player currently not on the 40-man roster who they might, just might, like to have on the playoff roster. Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos immediately come to mind. But the Yankees don’t need to use that 40-man spot on either, even if they fully intend to use one or both in the postseason. In fact, neither has to be on the 25-man roster on August 31st.

That might sound a bit confusing, because it runs counter to the old maxim that playoff roster have to be set by midnight on August 31st. While that is technically true, there are a number of exceptions to the rule. In fact, given the way MLB has created the rules, there are few limitations on what players a team can add to its postseason roster.

The eligible pool

Indeed, the active roster as of midnight on August 31st constitutes the immediately eligible players for a team’s postseason roster. Those include all players on the 25-man, plus any players on the disabled list, bereavement list, suspended list, or any other type of inactive list. Any of those players can be added to the postseason roster prior to any series.

The wild cards

Here’s where the rules open up. If any player in the eligible pool is injured at the start of any series, the team can substitute any player that was in the organization on August 31st. This is not limited, then, to players on the 40-man roster. It’s not even limited to players on the 40-man roster at the time of the substitution.

If the Yankees swung a trade in September and used that player every day from September 1 through the end of the season, it would not matter. He would not be postseason-eligible. But a player on the High-A Tampa roster would be eligible, whether or not he was ever on the 40-man roster prior to the series. (Though the Yankees would obviously have to add him to the 40-man roster before they could substitute him.)

The substitutions can be any player for any player. That is, they do not have to be position player for position player and pitcher for pitcher. That occurs in only one instance, which we’ll get to in just a tick.

Postseason substitution

Before every postseason series each team can submit a new roster, from its pool of eligible players. Teams can swap players in and out before each series without restriction.

If a player is injured during a postseason series, the team can substitute him immediately. This bears the position player for position player, pitcher for pitcher requirement. The substitution can be anyone that was in the team’s organization on August 31st, regardless of current roster status. The catch is that the injured player becomes inactive not only for the current series, but for the next one as well. In other words: get hurt in the ALCS, miss the World Series.

The Yankees situation

If the clock had just struck midnight on August 31st, rather than August 22nd, here’s how the Yankees’ eligible pool would break down.

Active Roster: Luis Ayala, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, CC Sabathia, Rafael Soriano, Cory Wade, Francisco Cervelli, Russell Martin, Robinson Cano, Eric Chavez, Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada

Disabled list: Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano, Freddy Garcia, Jeff Marquez, Damaso Marte, Sergio Mitre, Reegie Corona, Ramiro Pena, Colin Curtis

That gives the Yankees a pool of 34 players from which they can choose. But it really opens eligibility to the entire organization. We know that Chamberlain, Curtis, and Corona will not return. Therefore, the Yankees have at least three substitution spots. They could, therefore, add both Banuelos and Montero to the postseason roster before any series, regardless of whether they’re on the active roster, or even 40-man roster, on August 31st. There is a chance that every player on this list, save for Marquez and Garcia, ends the season on the DL. That will give the Yankees carte blanche to create their postseason roster.

Chances are, of course, that the Yankees won’t take advantage of their ability to substitute. Maybe they bring up a burner, as they did in 2009 with Freddy Guzman. There’s a chance, though an outside one, that they take Montero as an extra bat off the bench (and those chances could increase should they make the World Series). But right now they’re quite set in terms of position players. They’ll also likely reduce to an 11-man pitching staff, and so will be set there, too. If something goes awry between now and the end of September, though, the Yankees have their options. Who knew that having a crowded disabled list could come in handy at crucial moments?

Open Thread: Walk this way

Loyal reader Jimbo sent this our way earlier in the month, and considering the Burnett discussion from earlier today it seems highly appropriate in tonight’s open thread. It didn’t go in the post, because that would have taken away from its objectivity. Then again, considering Burnett’s standing among his peers in terms of walk rate, it very well may be the most accurate street name ever.

With that, I’ll leave this thread to you guys. Have at it.

Cashman: “My interest is to stay here”

The Cubs fired long-time GM Jim Hendry over the weekend, another fresh start in a century of futility filled with them. Owner Tom Ricketts has already announced that he will go outside the organization for his next GM and wants someone that will emphasize player development. Naturally, the situation has already spread to New York, as Yankees GM Brian Cashman was asked about joining the lovable losers when his contract expires after the season.

“I have a job I’m doing,” said Cash to Jack Curry. “Hal will evaluate that at the end of the year. My interest is to stay here. [New York] has been home for quite some time.” Some have speculated (myself included) that Cashman’s recent trend of brutal honesty indicates a readiness to leave the only job he’s known in his adult life, but we have no way of knowing his true intentions. He’s been close to leaving before, but always wound up back on a three-year deal. Cashman’s already the highest paid GM in the game, but if nothing else, this Cubs opening will give him some leverage as he negotiates a new deal with the Steinbrenners after the season.

Yankees designate Aaron Laffey for assignment

Remember yesterday, when the Yankees optioned Aaron Laffey to make room for Alex Rodriguez on the 25-man roster? It turns out that they didn’t option him. Instead, reports The Star-Ledger’s Marc Carig, they designated him for assignment. The idea, I’m guessing, is that since he made it all the way to the Yankees on waivers the first time through that he could clear waivers and head to AAA for the Yanks. We’ll see if any NL team puts in a claim this time around, or whether the Yanks were the only team really interested last time around.

This does open a spot on the 40-man roster, so speculate as you will.