Mailbag: Lee, Darvish, Granderson, Bats, ALDS

Are you guys digging the mailbag? I thought it would be a good way to interact with readers, but I don’t want it to come off as cheap, lazy content. I want it to actually be informative and interesting and stuff. Let me know what you’ve thought of the RAB Mailbag experience so far in the comments.

This week we’re going to tackle Cliff Lee vs. Yu Darvish, Curtis Granderson‘s surprising power, maple bats, and the best potential ALDS matchup. If you want to send in a question, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Kevin asks: This offseason say Cliff Lee hits the market, Yu Darvish is posted, and Andy Pettitte wants to come back, which two do the Yankees chase? Or do they try to find a way to get rid of Burnett and chase all three?

If Pettitte wants to come back, he comes back, guaranteed. That’s not a decision that has to be made, it’s a given.

Between Lee and Darvish, I would think the Yanks prefer Lee. He’s a known commodity in the American League, they’re obviously obsessed with him given how many times they’ve tried to acquire him the last year-and-a-half, and there’s bidding process involved. It’s true free agency. While Darvish is a great young pitcher (younger than Phil Hughes!), he’s a complete unknown when it comes to his ability to succeed in MLB and transition to a new culture and everything. Plus the long-term track record of Japanese starters in MLB isn’t great, though they generally have one or two strong seasons before regressing. That may have something to do with going from a once-a-week schedule to a once every five days schedule. There’s simply much, much more risk.

As much as we might want it to happen, A.J. Burnett‘s not going anywhere. Too much money left on the deal ($49.5M), and they’re not going to eat a chunk of it so he could pitch for someone else. For better or worse, A.J.’s here to stay.

Shai asks: Curtis Granderson is a power hitter. How does he generate so much pop, being a small guy who doesn’t look very muscular/strong?

Don’t be fooled, Grandy’s jacked. Watch some Yankees on Deck or something like that when they show him wearing something other than a uniform and you’ll see it. He’s thin, but I bet if you poked him in the chest with your finger it’d be like poking a rock.

Also, pure muscle doesn’t result in homers. A lot of it has to due with bat speed, and too much muscle mass can actually hinder that. Brute strength isn’t everything when it comes to hitting homers.

Joe asks: I was writing to see if you had an opinion on the use of maple bats. Do you think that MLB should ban them from the game for safety? Damon would shatter tons of those last year.

Maple bats are a problem just because they shatter so much more than ash bats. Obviously there was the Tyler Colvin incident a few days ago, but there was also the less publicized Rick Helling incident a few years ago, when a 15-inch piece of a broken bat lodged three inches into his left arm. Yeah, how about that for an under-reported story?

Broken bats are part of baseball, but that’s not a reason to blindly accept the dangers of maple bats. They don’ crack like ash bats, they shatter and splinter and become dangerous projectiles. It’s only a matter of time before a shard of a bat flies into the stands and does something horrible to a fan. I mean, it’s inevitable. Attendance is too high and there are just too many broken bats. Players use maple because they feel like the ball jumps off he bat better, and in fact they’re more expensive than ash.

You would think that the teams themselves would be interested in getting rid of maple bats because those are their players on the field and I imagine they want to protect their investments. The Yanks go to great lengths to monitor Phil Hughes’ workload, but shouldn’t they also want to do away with maple bats to avoid a possible injury to CC Sabathia? I don’t want to tell baseball how to run their league, but the safety of the players and (especially) the fans should be the first thing on their minds.

I guess I never answered the question. Yeah, get rid of them. Easier said than done, of course.

Drew asks: Long-time reader, first-time emailer. I have a slightly controversial question for you and the readers: do we want our Yanks to actually win the Wild Card instead of the AL East? The reason I ask is that the stars appear to be aligning for us to face the Rangers in the ALDS, and I’m more afraid of their rotation than the Twins’. The way the playoff schedule lines up, teams can realistically go with three starters in each series, meaning we’d be facing this Rangers front three: Lee, C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis. For the Twins, it’d be Liriano, Pavano and Scott Baker. I’d rather face the Twins’ three than the Rangers’. And if we win the AL East we’d almost certainly face the Rangers – whether the Twins grab homefield advantage or not – while if we get the Wild Card it’s almost a lock we play the Twins.

What do you think? Obviously I never like my teams to stumble into the playoffs, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing if the Rays won this series and held us off the rest of the way, right?

(This was sent in a few days ago, obviously)

I’d prefer a matchup with the Rangers, for many reasons. One, I don’t think the difference in the rotations is all that big. Yes, potentially facing Lee twice in a five game series is scary, but it’s not like facing Liriano instead would be any easier. The Yanks have had their way with Wilson a few times this season, but Lewis is an admittedly tough matchup because he’s got a good changeup and the Yanks have never seem him before. That’s a big double whammy right there, though perhaps the two negatives cancel out into a positive, I dunno. Pavano, despite his past in New York, has pitched well this season and Baker has actually been tough against the Yanks historically. I’d rather face Wilson (who’s thrown more innings this year than he did in 2007, 2008, and 2009 combined) and Lewis (who’s never been in any kind of playoff race in his life) than the duo Minny has backing up their ace.

Two, the Rangers without a healthy Josh Hamilton just aren’t the same. He’s been getting cortisone shots like they’ve been going out of style for his ribs and whatever else, and there’s still no concrete date for his return to the lineup. That dynamic, anything is possible at any time force is missing from their lineup. Yes, the Twins are without Justin Morneau, but their depth makes his loss more tolerable. If Hamilton’s not 100%, I’d much rather take my chances with Vlad Guerrero, Ian Kinsler, David Murphy, and Nelson Cruz than Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, and Delmon Young. Of course Hamilton might be healthy and productive by the time the ALDS starts and that would change things, but that’s far from a safe assumption.

Three, for most part the Rangers are playoff virgins. Vlad, Lee, and Darren Oliver have been in playoff games before, but that’s pretty much it. Not their number two or three starters, not their closer or setup men or middle reliever, not most of the lineup. The Twins have all been there, done that before. I don’t want to make a big deal of the experience factor, but I absolutely believe it means something in the postseason. Not as much as I might be making it sound, but I don’t think it’s a negligible factor.

I know they seem completely incapable of beating the Yankees in the Bronx and history is against them, but the Twins scare me more in the short series. They’re playing better right now, have been for the last few months really, and they just seem like a deeper and more dangerous club. This isn’t the NFL where the better team basically always wins, anything can happen in a short series in baseball, but I’d still rather face the team that’s gone 30-27 since mid-July than the one that’s gone 45-17.

Yanks lose early lead, drop finale to Rays

That was not the way a pitchers’ duel is supposed to unfold. It looked good for a few innings, but by the sixth it had come undone. CC suddenly lost it, paving the way for a seven-run inning. Joba Chamberlain couldn’t bail him out, and that was essentially the game. It led to a split and a season series loss to the Rays.

Biggest Hit: The entire sixth inning

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It’s one thing to get beat by a team like the Rays. It’s quite another to get beat by the bottom of their lineup. The top guys set the table, but after striking out Ben Zobrist Sabathia should have had an easy time retiring Rocco Baldelli and Willy Aybar — especially considering how well he had pitched to that point.

It started with a dribbler by Rocco Baldelli. The Yanks got bitten by the poorest of poor luck, an infield single and an RBI. That brought the game to within one, but the game didn’t feel in jeopardy. That ball barely traveled 60 feet. But then Willy Aybar followed it up with a single to tie it.

The next two at-bats were positively inexcusable. Walking the eight and nine hitters, and particularly walking the ninth hitter to bring in a run, is — I’m going to use the word — unacceptable. That’s not something that the ace of a staff does unless something is wrong. I’m not sure if CC was just tired by that point or what, but he was not the same guy who threw the first five innings.

Joba then came in to face B.J. Upton and gave up the biggest WPA swing in the Rays’ favor. He doubled over Granderson’s head, leading to two runs and extending the lead to three. Two batters later Carl Crawford cleared the bases with a single and put this one all but out of reach.

Blown chances

When a team scores just three runs on 13 base runners it suggests missed opportunities. That was exactly the case for the Yankees last night. Entering the bottom of the fifth Marcus Thames‘s homer still represented the game’s only runs. The Yanks added one when Greg Golson doubled and Nick Swisher drove him in, and it looked like they were ready to tack on more.

With just one out in the inning A-Rod walked to load the bases. That gave the Yankees two chances to score, but they couldn’t come through on either. Robinson Cano went 2 for 5 in the game, but that wasn’t one of them. Thames then fell behind 0-2 and ended up striking out on a curveball in the dirt. The Rays would rally the next half inning.

By the bottom of the six the score was 8-3, giving the Yanks little chance of coming back. But they did manage to load the bases with two outs. Mark Teixeira jumped on a first-pitch fastball, and while Michael Kay got a bit excited it only amounted to a long fly out.

Miscellany

Javier Vazquez provided comic relief with his seventh-inning performance with three consecutive plunked batters. Somehow he managed to retire six of the next seven he faced.

That’s all I’ve got.

Box and graph

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it.

More at FanGraphs. Also, the box score.

Up Next

Boston comes to town for the final three home games of the season. Andy Pettitte and Josh Beckett will go tomorrow night.

Game 153: CC vs. Price, Part II

This is what an ace looks like. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Last week we were treated to perhaps the most well pitched game of the season when CC Sabathia and David Price locked up for eight or so scoreless innings before giving way to the bullpen. Unfortunately someone had to lose, and on that night it happened to be the Yankees in extra innings. I was in attendance for that one in Tampa, and I certainly had never been to a game where both pitchers were that dominant for so long. I’ll be in attendance again tonight, and if we get anything remotely as exciting as that game, I’ll be thrilled. Of course, a different outcome would be greatly appreciated.

Here’s the lineup…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Thames, DH
Posada, C
Granderson, CF
Golson, LF

And on the bump, it’s Carsten Sabathia.

This one starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on either YES locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Andrew Brackman active for tonight’s game

This whole thing keeps getting weirder and weirder. We know that 2007 first rounder Andrew Brackman (along with some others) is with the big league team to work out with the coaching staff and what not, but now Chad Jennings is reporting that the Yanks have activated Brackman for tonight’s game. Not that I expect him to pitch (at all, the rest of the season), but Brian Cashman did give Joe Girardi the okay to use him.

Brackman was already on the 40-man roster, so no move had to be made. He’ll collect a few days service time but not enough to alter his arbitration or free agent clocks, and his paycheck probably won’t even change since his annual salary is presumably set by his big league contract. He’ll be easy to spot during batting practice and stuff, he’s the tall guy.

The question of the Game 2 starter

It wasn’t always like this. Earlier in the year it appeared that the Yankees had their strongest rotation in years, even with Javy Vazquez‘s troubled start. But then things started falling apart. A.J. Burnett pitched five times in June and allowed more runs, 29, than innings pitched, 23. The league got a grip on Phil Hughes‘s fastball. The situation got better as Javy Vazquez started pitching well, but then they got worse when he fell apart. Andy Pettitte getting hurt was just the last act in a complete rotation downturn.

The situation has improved lately, but the Yankees still have questions about all of their starters after CC Sabathia. Andy Pettitte helped ease some of those issues with a solid start on Sunday, and Phil Hughes continues to battle through starts even when his stuff or his command isn’t the sharpest. A.J. Burnett, too, has shown improvement of late. He might have shown even more improvement, too, if not for rain delays that shortened a couple of his recent starts. But as of now it appears that Sabathia and Pettitte are the clear choices to start Games 1 and 2.

Except that’s not what the Yankees are thinking. During interviews yesterday Girardi expressed a desire to repeat the 2009 playoff rotation, with Sabathia at the head and Burnett following him. The idea, I assume, is to break up the lefties. But given the composition of the rotation, that doesn’t seem like a great idea. If the Yankees want their best pitchers making the most appearances, they’ll ditch the idea of separating pitchers by handedness and just go with their best pitchers.

Sabathia and Pettitte, though they throw with the same hand, are not similar pitchers. This should make enough of a difference that their handedness should not matter. Put another way, what is more important: a theoretical advantage in splitting up starters, or a real advantage in having your best two pitchers not only throw the first two games, but also potential key games later in the series? With the way the ALDS is laid out, the Yankees could start Sabathia on short rest in Game 4 and go back to Pettitte on normal rest in a potential Game 5.

The second strange aspect of Girardi’s and Eiland’s desire to have Burnett start Game 2 is his potential for a blow-up. Moshe covered this topic earlier in the week. Why would the Yankees put themselves in a position where they might lose a game because their starter gives up five runs in the first? If the Yankees cannot be talked out of splitting up their lefties, it should be Hughes, and not Burnett, who gets the ball in Game 2. Hughes has had his struggles, but he has also shown the ability to battle through a lineup and keep his team in the game for five or six innings.

Starting with Sabathia and Pettitte also helps the Yankees remain flexible. If they head into Game 4 up two games to one, they can use either Hughes or Burnett, whoever didn’t start Game 3, and hold Sabathia for a potential Game 5. If they’re down two games to one they can throw Sabathia on short rest and still have Pettitte for Game 5. If they use Burnett in Game 2 then they’re basically committing to stick with Sabathia in a potential Game 5. Using Sabathia on three days’ rest might not seem ideal, but it might be a necessary tactic if the Yankees face elimination. Having him backed up by Pettitte in the final game makes the decision a bit easier.

I’m not aware of a study that examines the effects of starting back-to-back left-handers, but intuitively it doesn’t seem like a bad idea. It doesn’t sound right that hitters would somehow fare better against the second lefty just because they faced a pitcher of the same handedness in the previous game. I hope the Yankees don’t fall victim to the traditional thinking. They have two pitchers who have stood out for them. They should get the ball to start each series. It gives the team the best chance to win.

TBS strives for a better postseason broadcast

Mariano Rivera presides over a subway car in which seats resemble those found in baseball stadiums. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/TBS)

Three billion dollars is no small amount to pay for the rights to baseball games. For any media entity, an investment of that magnitude requires a commitment to the cause, and when two competing media companies throw that much money into one pot as FOX and TBS did in 2006 for MLB rights, the product aired must be of a superb quality.

Last year, as the Yankees marched to their 27th World Series title, TBS’ coverages wasn’t all that. Chip Caray was pilloried in the press, and TBS brass eventually removed him from the broadcast booth. For a game long accustomed to the subpar stylings of Tim McCarver and Joe Buck, the TBS fiasco was just business as usual, and it seemed that baseball would be relegated to an afterthought on the national stage.

But TBS this year is taking its commitment to the game seriously. As I detailed yesterday on Second Ave. Sagas, TBS and MLB have engaged in a groundbreaking advertisement campaign in the New York City subways to promote TBS’ postseason coverage. One of the 42nd St. shuttle trains will be fully branded with baseball superstars, and in-car video screens will show highlights from playoff games and promotions for upcoming contests. While the dollar totals for the deal haven’t been announced, the shuttle branding combined with the display ads represent an aggressive push by TBS to get casual fans interested in their baseball coverage.

“Postseason in New York is always a big moment for sports fans, and this is an opportunity to excite the local fan base and launch a campaign that highlights iconic players in local markets,” Christina Miller, a Turner Sports senior vice president for strategy, marketing and promotion, said.

David Wells has become a reliable fixture on TBS' baseball coverage. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/TBS)

Over at AOL’s Fanhouse, Andrew Johnson picks up on this theme as he explores how TBS is improving its October coverage. In its fourth season of playoff coverage and with Ernie Johnson’s replacing Chip Caray, TBS is striving to bring a better understanding and presentation of the game to the fans. “It’s really important that we know our roles,” Ron Darling said to AOL. “We’re really custodians of these great athletes and great teams that are gonna be chronicled forever and be on DVD forever, so we do feel a responsibility, with Turner doing these games, that we’re part of it. We’re part of history every year.”

Darling and John Smoltz will join Johnson in the booth. The color analysts in the studio will include David Wells, Cal Ripken and Dennis Eckersley. Their analysis might not stray into sabermetrics and advanced statistical viewpoints, but these are players who are both entertainers and baseball supporters. Eric Byrnes and Kevin Millar they are not.

This push by TBS to do better stands in stark contrast to FOX’s coverage which often seems begrudging at best and downright resentful at worst. FOX too has spent the billions, but they don’t listen to the loud groundswell of disgust for the quality of their broadcasts. They continue to turn to Buck and McCarver as the voices of baseball. They plug football nearly as often as they discuss baseball during the broadcasts, and they haven’t engaged in much advertising to promote their cause.

Baseball writing on the Internet has at times grown on the wings of Fire Joe Morgan, a site dedicated to, well, seeing the dismissal of ESPN’s lead baseball color commentary realized. We can’t bash on the bad coverage without giving a nod to the good, and while TBS still makes its mistakes, it’s doing more to promote the game than other outlets who pay the big bucks. As the Yanks will soon be appearing on TBS, we should sit back and appreciate.

Jorge Posada greets straphangers as they board the 42nd Street shuttle. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/TBS)

Baseball America’s Top 20 GCL Prospects

Baseball America started their annual look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league yesterday, and it continued today with the rookie level Gulf Coast League. Three Yankee farmhands made the cut (no subs. req’d), including Gary Sanchez who ranked as the circuit’s number one prospect. 2010 first rounder Cito Culver placed tenth and Ramon Flores 13th. If you’re a subscriber, you can read the scouting reports here.

Sanchez was noted as having “above-average power to all fields, and with a good approach for a young player, he projects to hit for average as well.” They also wrote the best report of his defense that I’ve seen, saying he “consistently generates 1.8-second pop times [that’s really good] and has the tools to be a solid receiver, but he’s still a work in progress defensively.” Culver projects as  a shortstop long-term thanks to “good instincts, plus range to both sides and an above-average arm.” Offensively, they say “he does have a knack for squaring up balls from both sides of the plate” with speed and a little bit of power. Flores is lauded for his sweet lefty swing and his developing power. Despite playing both corner outfield spots and first base this year, they project him best in right because of his “average speed and range to go with a strong, accurate arm.”

The series continues tomorrow, but the next list you have to worry about is the Short Season New York-Penn League one that comes out next Tuesday. The only Yankee prospects with a chance to make that list are Eduardo Sosa, Kelvin DeLeon, and Mikey O’Brien, but don’t be shocked if they get shut out. That team was an uninteresting as it gets this season.